The Scientist recently ran “Parkinson’s Researcher Fabricated Data” regarding the Office of Research Integrity’s finding of scientific misconduct against Mona Thiruchelvam, a former assistant professor at the University of Medicine and Dentistry, New Jersey. Thiruchelvam falsified cell count data reported in two federal grant applications (R01 ES016277 and R01 ES015041) as well as two published papers (Environmental Health Perspectives and Journal of Biological Chemistry). This data was used to inaccurately support the role of pesticides in dopaminergic cell death – the key neurotransmitter implicated in Parkinson’s disease (PD). While Thiruchelvam has agreed to retract the papers as well as enter into a voluntary exclusion agreement for 7 years, the results of these fabricated data have consequences beyond this one scientist’s career.
At a time when grant funding is scarce, Thiruchelvam beguiled both the NIH and the Michael J. Fox Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to finding a cure for PD, into funding this erroneous research. But, stealing money from other researchers is only the start. The scientific misconduct affects more than just the United States tax payers who ultimately foot the bill for academic research. Combined, both papers have been cited over 100 times. Countless numbers of collaborators, post-docs, and graduate students unknowingly used this fabricated data to support their own research. These are the individuals who have lost the most; the scientists who spent the better part of 7 years dedicating their careers to this line of research. Do you think Thiruchelvam considered the negative impact this would have on their careers? I think this question is as easy to answer as the validity of Thiruchelvam’s data.
Has this research affected your scientific endeavors?