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When recklessness becomes misconduct

Augusto ZambonatoAmerican neuroscientist Christian Kreipke, dismissed for misconduct in 2012 by Wayne State University and the Veteran Affairs Medical Center, both in Detroit, USA, has managed to partially overturn his 10-year ban on federal research funding handed down by the US Office of Research Integrity (ORI). In a 126-page verdict issued in July, Judge Keith Sickendick reduced the ban by half, having found evidence of 23 instances of misconduct—as opposed to the 64 considered by the ORI—in two articles for which Kreipke was the lead author and in a number of proposals and reports related to three research projects he led. The accusations included data falsification and image duplication.

Kreipke’s case is notable because there is no evidence that he is directly responsible for the manipulations and duplications—in his defense, he claimed to have used images produced by researchers he trusted and says that many of the allegations were fabricated by Wayne State University for political reasons. Although this may be true, Kreipke acted negligently by not personally validating the authenticity of the information, which itself constitutes misconduct, according to the decision. In an article published on the Retraction Watch website, his lawyer, Richard Goldstein, highlights that the verdict will help to better define the concept of “reckless” behavior by deeming it unacceptable for scientists to use materials produced by others “without proper care and caution” or to act with indifference to the risk that the material was false, fabricated, or plagiarized. According to the judge, the head researcher on a project or the lead author of a scientific article is responsible for its content and must strive to validate data produced by third parties. “A lead researcher cannot just accept ‘on faith’ that the data were correctly labeled and were accurate representations, even if it was coming from a longstanding collaborator or a trusted scientist in one’s own lab,” wrote Goldstein, who believes the case could be used as a precedent in other judgments.

Kreipke had another victory last year when the courts ruled that he could return to work at the Veteran Affairs Medical Center, but he chose not to resume his career. He currently works in a tire factory.

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