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Scientific Policing's Best Weapon: A Gentle (But Alert) Colleague, Study Says

Simmons Professor & Study Co-author Gerald Koocher Finds Informal Intervention Often Ends Misbehavior

BOSTON (July 30, 2010) — Researchers suspected of wrongdoing in the lab — whether by an "honest mistake" or an intentional act, such as ignoring data that disproves a desired hypothesis — are likely to change their behavior when a fellow researcher casually intervenes, according to a new study published by the journal Nature.

The study, which is based on a confidential survey of nearly 2,600 researchers funded by the National Institutes of Health, was led by Simmons Associate Provost and Psychology Professor Gerald Koocher; and Patricia Keith-Spiegel, a distinguished emerita professor from Ball State University. The study found that nearly two thirds of respondents (63%) who shared one or more incidents took some form of action to intervene when they suspected a colleague of unethical behavior. The survey also revealed that attempts to correct misdeeds often remained private, and that informal intervention had a slightly higher correction rate than formal efforts.

For tools to respond to scientific wrongdoing, the survey authors created a free, user-friendly guide available at www.ethicsresearch.com.

Additionally, study authors found that about 39% of incidents ended in a way that left the intervener satisfied or extremely satisfied, and 61% of interveners said they would intervene again.

"We were most heartened to find the large number of people who intervened, given the personal hazards inherent in doing so," said Koocher. "It's also fascinating to learn that many of these interventions proved effective."

The survey authors made several recommendations for researchers to address scientific misconduct, including setting up regular lab discussions about good practices; and in cases where wrongdoing is suspected, engaging in an evaluation process to determine the appropriate type of intervention, whether informal or formal.

Simmons College is a nationally recognized private university located in the heart of Boston. It offers an undergraduate education for women, and renowned coeducational graduate programs in health sciences, education, liberal arts, social work, library and information science, and communications management, as well as the nation's first MBA program designed specifically for women.

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