In an unusual move, The Ohio State University (OSU) in Columbus last week released a detailed account of the scientific misbehavior of one of its former faculty members. The 75-page report was damning: It concluded that cancer researcher Ching-Shih Chen—once lauded as an "Innovator of the Year" and the winner of millions of dollars in federal funding—had committed misconduct in eight papers. The problems prompted the university to suspend a clinical trial of an anticancer compound Chen had identified, and led to his resignation last September.
Typically, the public might not have learned any of these worrying details for months or years. Most institutions conduct misconduct investigations privately and then—if the federal government funded any of the affected research—forward the results to the relevant funding agencies. The agencies can then take their time in deciding how to respond, and when to release the findings.
In this case, however, OSU officials opted to short-circuit that process. In their report, they announced Chen was guilty of "deviating from the accepted practices of image handling and figure generation and intentionally falsifying data" in 14 instances. OSU recommended all eight affected papers be retracted immediately.
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The report's release won praise from advocates of transparency. But the applause came in the wake of criticism of how OSU has handled other recent cases of alleged and proven misconduct. In 2011, for example, federal officials asked the university to redo an investigation of a pharmacy researcher, according to The Columbus Dispatch. The school had initially concluded that problems with some published images were due to the researcher's disorganization, but the re-examination concluded they were the result of misconduct. Last year, a former associate professor resigned after an investigation into a now-retracted paper that incorrectly reported injuries related to the CrossFit workout program, prompting lawsuits.