Mark Tuttle pointed me to this article by Amy Ellis Nutt, who writes:
Since 2000, the number of U.S. academic fraud cases in science has risen dramatically. Five years ago, the journal Nature tallied the number of retractions in the previous decade and revealed they had shot up 10-fold. About half of the retractions were based on researcher misconduct, not just errors, it noted.
The U.S. Office of Research Integrity, which investigates alleged misconduct involving National Institutes of Health funding, has been far busier of late. Between 2009 and 2011, the office identified three three cases with cause for action. Between 2012 and 2015, that number jumped to 36.
While criminal cases against scientists are rare, they are increasing. Jail time is even rarer, but not unheard of. Last July, Dong-Pyou Han, a former biomedical scientist at Iowa State University, pleaded guilty to two felony charges of making false statements to obtain NIH research grants and was sentenced to more than four years in prison.
Han admitted to falsifying the results of several vaccine experiments, in some cases spiking blood samples from rabbits with human HIV antibodies so that the animals appeared to develop an immunity to the virus.
“The court cannot get beyond the breach of the sacred trust in this kind of research,” District Judge James Gritzner said at the trial’s conclusion. “The seriousness of this offense is just stunning.”
In 2014, the Office of Research Integrity had imposed its own punishment. Although it could have issued a lifetime funding ban, it only barred Han from receiving federal dollars for three years.
Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) was outraged. “This seems like a very light penalty for a doctor who purposely tampered with a research trial and directly caused millions of taxpayer dollars to be wasted on fraudulent studies,” he wrote the agency. The result was a federal probe and Han’s eventual sentence.
I do agree with Sen. Grassley that a 3-year ban on federal dollars is not enough of a sanction in that case. Spiking blood samples is pretty much the worst thing you can do, when it comes to interfering with the scientific process. If spiking blood samples only gives you a 3-year ban, what does it take to get a 10-year ban? Do you have to be caught actually torturing the poor bunnies? And what would it take to get a lifetime ban? Spiking blood samples plus torture plus intentionally miscalculating p-values?
The point is, there should be some punishments more severe than the 3-year ban but more appropriate than prison, involving some sort of restitution. Maybe if you’re caught spiking blood samples you’d have to clean pipettes at the lab every Saturday and Sunday for the next 10 years? Or you’d have to check the p-value computations in every paper published in Psychological Science between the years of 2010 and 2015?
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