A Career in the Balance
Peter was just months away from finishing his Ph.D. dissertation when he realized that something was seriously amiss with the work of a fellow graduate student, Jimmy. Peter was convinced that Jimmy was not actually making the measurements he claimed to be making. They shared the same lab, but Jimmy rarely seemed to be there. Sometimes Peter saw research materials thrown away unopened. The results Jimmy was turning in to their common thesis adviser seemed too clean to be real.
Peter knew that he would soon need to ask his thesis adviser for a letter of recommendation for faculty and postdoctoral positions. If he raised the issue with his adviser now, he was sure that it would affect the letter of recommendation. Jimmy was a favorite of his adviser, who had often helped Jimmy before when his project ran into problems. Yet Peter also knew that if he waited to raise the issue, the question would inevitably arise as to when he first suspected problems. Both Peter and his thesis adviser were using Jimmy’s results in their own research. If Jimmy’s data were inaccurate, they both needed to know as soon as possible.
Major federal agencies have instituted policies requiring that research institutions designate an official, usually called the research integrity officer, who is available to discuss situations involving suspected misconduct. Some institutions have several such designated officials so that complainants can go to a person with whom they feel comfortable.
Someone in a position to report a suspected violation of professional standards must clearly understand the standard in question and the evidence bearing on the case. He or she should think about the interests of everyone involved and ask what might be the possible re-