Fabrication.

Don is a first-year graduate student applying to the National Science Foundation for a predoctoral fellowship. His work in a lab where he did a rotation project was later carried on successfully by others, and it appears that a manuscript will be prepared for publication by the end of the summer. However, the fellowship application deadline is June 1, and Don decides it would be advantageous to list a publication as “submitted.” Without consulting the faculty member or other colleagues involved, Don makes up a title and author list for a “submitted” paper and cites it in his application.

After the application has been mailed, a lab member sees it and goes to the faculty member to ask about the “submitted” manuscript. Don admits to fabricating the submission of the paper but explains his actions by saying that he thought the practice was not uncommon in science.

The faculty members in Don’s department demand that he withdraw his grant application and dismiss him from the graduate program. After leaving the university, Don applies for a master’s degree, since he has fulfilled the course requirements. Although the department votes not to grant him a degree, the university administration does so because it is not stated in the university graduate bulletin that a student in Don’s department must be in “good standing” to receive a degree. They fear that Don will bring suit against the university if the degree is denied. Likewise, nothing will appear in Don’s university transcript regarding his dismissal.

  1. Do you agree with Don that scientists often exaggerate the publication status of their work in written materials?
  2. Do you think the department acted too harshly in dismissing Don from the graduate program?
  3. Do you believe that being in ”good standing” should be a prerequisite for obtaining an advanced degree in science? If Don later applied to a graduate program at another institution, does that institution have the right to know what happened?

“Fabrication” is Part 11 of our “On Being a Scientist” series, where we explore the culture and practice of science within the context of society. Stay tuned for Part 12 of our 13 part series of articles.

Further Reading: On Being a Scientist, National Academy Press

 

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