Research comprises the bulk of revenue for many universities, drawing added pressure to the researching sector — a trend that Stefan Franzen, N.C. State University professor, thinks is compromising research ethics.
Franzen knows firsthand the quagmire that comes from lapses in research ethics after being embroiled for the past nine years in a research misconduct case.
In 2005, Franzen joined then-NCSU professors Bruce Eaton and Dan Feldheim, along with graduate student Lina Gugliotti, in a project to create palladium crystals by using RNA — a potentially lucrative process.
A federal investigation confirmed that research from 2004 had been falsified in a report released last month.
“I used to believe people only fabricated things for fame, but now I believe it is for money,” Franzen said.
He left the project when he discovered falsifications in the group’s research, and after the other members refused to deliver a correction in their published work, Franzen worked to refute their claims.
The National Science Foundation found that Eaton, Feldheim and Gugliotti had recklessly omitted experimental details and overstated their results, although the report did not use their names.
Franzen said two-thirds of academic research cannot be reproduced in the manner it was first performed, which he believes stems from a focus at universities to use research as an economic engine.
“Investors come in when you promise you can do something, but you know you can’t,” he said. “There really isn’t anyone there to check.”
UNC receives just less than $800 million a year in rewards for research. Private companies are responsible for 6 percent of research funding, and 80 percent comes from the federal government as well as federal money given to private companies to invest in research.
“Research brings more (revenue) than any other source,” said Barbara Entwisle, UNC’s vice chancellor for research. “It brings in more than tuition, more than private giving and more than state support.”
Entwisle said UNC ensures research integrity with pre-emptive education and a confidential, multi-level process.
She said questions of misconduct should be brought to faculty, and the University has an anonymous compliance and ethics hotline.
These complaints are handled by the University’s research integrity officer, who organizes a team of senior faculty that determines if an investigation needs to be made — and if the investigation ultimately finds misconduct, the outcome is determined by the dean or provost.
“Research integrity is fundamental to the conduct of the research itself,” Entwisle said, adding that documentation and peer review are also important checks.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.