How to prevent fraud in your lab

What would you do if you found that an article of yours was flawed? First-hand experiences will be shared in the upcoming Kavli workshop on Thursday, September 8, 2016.

It‘s every scientist's nightmare. To have a prestigious publication, in this case in Science magazine, and then to have to withdraw it on account of 'inappropriate data handling'. It happened to Professor Wilfred van der Wiel (University of Twente) who is brave enough to share his experiences in the upcoming Kavli workshop. He will be joined by Dr. Derek Stein from Brown University. After their talk, you’ll be less sure that fraud will not happen in your group.

Doubt began to rise when a PhD student could not reproduce the results that the Indian postdoc had published. The postdoc had left after the publication, and he was not very forthcoming in helping the new researcher along. In fact, as questions became more probing and insistent, answers became more evasive and rare.

Professor Van der Wiel decided to delve into the laboratory journals and began feeling like a detective in a crime story. After careful reconstruction by him and his colleagues, some of the data turned out to be inappropriately composed out of several experiments.

"We always assumed we could trust the researchers in our lab," he said over the telephone. "But we have discovered in retrospect that we have been too naïve. An article in a prestigious journal can be a life-changing event for a young postdoc. It can be their ticket for a tenure-track. I guess we have underestimated our postdoc's drive."

Van der Wiel has learned his lesson. He now insists that researchers work together in both experiments and the data processing. Collaboration reduces the risk of fabricating the desired outcome. Also, he proposes that original data from experiments are stored and locked.

These and other measures will be discussed at the Kavli workshop "Fraud in science – not in your group?" in the TU Delft Aula lecture room D on Thursday, September 8, 2016, between 12:00 and 13:15. More information on the Kavli website