Guest Post by Larry Dignan
Despite their ostensible intelligence, academics are not at all immune to engaging in risky behaviors that erupt in spectacular displays of controversy. Even if they ultimately prove innocent or unaccountable, their situations always pose inevitable questions about the ethics and legalities behind the research and publication process. The following incidents in particular managed to spark fireworks on an epic scale, inciting a flurry of insight into what needs to be done to better prevent any potentially damaging abuses.
- Stephen Ambrose:
This popular historian and professor enjoyed bestseller status and mainstream recognition for his inquiries into World War II, most notably The Wild Blue, and biographies of presidents Eisenhower and Nixon. By 2002, however, it came to light that Stephen Ambrose quite shamelessly plagiarized much of his research from lesser-known contemporary Thomas Childers, the author of Wings of Morning. Forbes launched a painstaking investigation into his oeuvre and unearthed entire passages lifted from other historians with no attribution whatsoever — in at least six books and his doctoral thesis, no less! Just as scandalously, the interviews compiled into his allegedly solicited biography of Eisenhower proved to be complete phonies as well.
- James Crick, Francis Watson, and Rosalind Franklin:
Both James Crick and Francis Watson scored themselves some sweet, sweet Nobel Prize lovin’ for discovering the double helix structure of DNA. Missing from the honors? Rosalind Franklin, whose research and X-Ray photographs proved integral to the groundbreaking find. The snub remains one of the most prominent controversies regarding the invisible role women played (and, occasionally, still play) in the sciences. While Watson and Crick cannot be said to have plagiarized since they built everything on top of her foundation, the scandal comes in their failure to properly acknowledge her contributions.
- Jan Hendrik Schon:
Bell Labs physicist Jan Hendrick Schon enjoyed a brief stint as the darling of all things nanotechnological — specifically, transistors — and the journals Science and Nature scrambled to publish his findings as quickly as he could write them. His fellow scientists, however, noted completely different results when replicating the experiments, with many of them openly questioning how exactly he came to his conclusions. Seeing as how this article isn’t about honest folks doing honest things (for the most part, anyways), what came next won’t shock anyone except for those with the absolute worst reading comprehension skills. When Schon’s employers and Stanford University set about confirming his findings, they found many of his notes missing or deleted, and his machinery too damaged to use. University of Konstanz stripped him of his Ph.D., the journals in question ripped out his offending articles, and the scientific community whipped itself up into a frothing mess arguing over peer reviews and accountability.
- The Stanford Prison Experiment:
The results may have proven both original and verifiable, but the infamous Stanford Prison experiment blew up over major ethical concerns. Psychology professor Philip Zimbardo set up volunteers in a jail simulation, assigning them roles as either prisoners or guards. Without interfering, he planned to study the dynamics of power abuse and submission/domination scenarios. And study he did, although the students assigned to the unregulated prison guard positions began displaying some distressingly aggressive behavior, going so far as to delight in beating their cowering classmates. Critics expressed understandable worry over what sort of psychological damage the environment and policy of nonintervention might instigate. However, in 1971, the American Psychological Association did grant Zimbardo permission to carry it out.
- Ward Churchill:
Mentioning former University of Colorado at Boulder ethnic studies professor Ward Churchill in certain settings raises tempers, whether directed at the school who fired him or the man himself. Controversies over whether he’s even of Native American descent aside, he wound up facing seven charges of academic misconduct, including allegations regarding plagiarized, falsified, and misappropriated data. Five of these proved egregious enough for the school to commence with the firing, which outraged both Churchill and his supporters. They believe his dismissal an attack on the First Amendment and his radical activist leanings, particularly his September 11 essay “On the Justice of Roosting Chickens,” which painted the terrorist attacks as inevitable and even deserved.
- Duke University cancer research:
Even after Jan Hendrik Schon inspired fiery discussions about peer editing academic research, Duke University’s scandalously falsified reports of a possible cancer cure managed to slip through and raise the serious issue all over again. Although he did not work alone, Dr. Anil Potti serves as the “face” of the potentially life-threatening controversy. His team published findings regarding predicting the spread of lung cancer cells in The New England Journal of Medicine, drawing excited gasps from healthcare professionals pondering the possibilities. But when MD Anderson Cancer Center researchers started testing and asking questions, the potentially earth-shattering article crumbled. Confirmation regarding their alleged manipulated results and stolen theories led to looks into Potti and academic partner Joseph Nevins’ credentials, and it came out that the former lied about a Rhodes Scholarship. Unsurprisingly, Potti resigned from his position at Duke in 2010.
- Nancy Olivieri:
Kids with serious blood disorders such as thalassemia traveled from all over the world to the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. There, hematologist Nancy Olivieri tested some new drugs underneath the sponsorship of pharmaceutical giant Apotex, hoping to find cures for their painful conditions. This meant stacks and stacks and stacks of papers governing confidentiality while she conducted her research, and scandal bubbled to the surface when she defied the paperwork and published findings revealing some nasty side effects in the patients who trusted her. Both the Hospital for Sick Children and University of Toronto joined Apotex in chastising Olivieri for breaking her contract, but she still expressed concern with The New England Journal of Medicine, ethics boards, and the Canadian government. Her boldness issued forth some challenges regarding what should really come first: contracts or the safety of patients?
- Diederik Stapel:
For well over a decade, Diederik Stapel of University of Groningen, University of Amsterdam, and University of Tilburg printed up more than a dozen psychological studies, which landed him success in both academic journals and mainstream news outlets. His 2011 suspension happened as a direct result of pretty much all of it being straight-up garbage. More than 30 publishing outfits found themselves duped by falsified research, plagiarism, and all other fun, grossly unethical good times. Although they maintain their anonymity for perfectly understandable reasons, it’s suspected that his notoriously abused graduate students – and maybe even a colleague or two – finally went and told the school what was up. Stapel currently contends with criminal charges filed by University of Tilburg for compromising the academic success of everyone who relied on his research.
- Marc Hauser:
Funny enough, this Harvard psychology professor specialized in cognition and morality. And then he wound up resigning in 2011 after a staggering eight counts of scientific misconduct. Both the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Office of Research Integrity went after him following accusations of falsified and incomplete data regarding his work with tamarins, much of which appeared in the journal Cognition. Back in 1995, Hauser’s reputation already flickered in and out because of manipulated claims regarding monkey behavior as far back as 1995, but it wasn’t until 2010 when he really had to start answering for his ethical violations.
When Johns Hopkins Hospital harvested Henrietta Lacks’ cervical cancer cells in 1951, no laws existed governing the ethics of using (or profiting off) them in medical research without the person’s consent — and especially not for an impoverished African-American woman. Journalist Rebecca Skloot’s inquiry into the history of how these perpetually-replicating biological marvels led to the creation of the polio vaccine and other earth-shattering scientific breakthroughs, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, renewed interest in the humanity behind the healthcare; in particular, questions regarding why so many made money from HeLa cells while her survivors remained in economic despair. It’s a complex, intricate situation to navigate, to be certain, and one whose scandal never fully coagulated until more than half a century later.
published here also