Not So “Smart” After All?

by Mallory B Taylor

Do you know what’s or who is behind those articles we as graduate students are summoned to read daily? Well, even if you do take the time to search the author(s) background chances are you won’t be able to tell if the data or images used have been falsified or fabricated.

In the misconduct case of Eric J. Smart, Ph.D., University of Kentucky, former Professor of Pediatrics and Physiology, the public would have continued to be in the dark about Smart’s not so “smart” falsification of data and images over a ten year period. This case beings with the “whistle-blower”, William Everson (I put “whistle-blower” in quotations because he nor the university has explicitly stated he was the whistle-blower), who was hired by Smart to assist in lab research. After working and looking over past research conduct by Smart, Everson realized that there had been false data presented in multiple papers, grants, etc. After this issue was brought to the Dean of the College of Medicine all of Smart’s  lab employees (including Smart and Everson) were given a year to find new jobs. During this year (2011), Smart received his teaching degree while he was on investigative suspension. When Smart left in 2012 his grant funding totaled around $8 million dollars, he never did admit guilt and entered into a Voluntary Exclusion Agreement for seven years (starting on October 23, 2012). This agreement included three main points: 1). he would exclude himself from any contracting/subcontracting with any agency of the U.S. 2). he would exclude himself from voluntarily serving in any advisory capacity of PHS (Public Health Service) 3). It was requested that 10 publications (listed here) would be corrected or retracted.

Ten years passed without any ideas of the misconduct occurring in Smart’s lab and as alarming as that is I find myself more shocked to know that Everson also lost his job as a result. As educators and academics shouldn’t we be leading by examples? Shouldn’t we be acting as the superheros of academia and stop this misconduct? But how can we be these superheros when there are others like Everson who are also penalized for misconduct that they only pointed out? Ferric Fang, Professor of microbiology at University of Washington made a great point in the article when he said, “I don’t think it can be completely prevented (fraud), but it may be appropriate for UK to take a look at what their criteria are for judging someone’s success.” There are some people that we will work with in labs, classrooms or offices that don’t have moral code inscribed in them like we may have or that don’t value success by truth and honesty and instead focus on the bottom line. So what are you going to do? Will you be the superhero of academia and stand up for the students, researchers or general public who are reading these articles or will you stay to the wayside and engage in the misconduct for fear of becoming the whistle-blower?

Update: Smart is currently a chemistry teacher at Bourbon County High School.

For Eric J. Smart’s Case Summary please visit:

http://ori.dhhs.gov/content/case-summary-smart-eric-j

To access Whistle-blower in UK research-fraud case: ‘The system is badly broken’ visit:

http://www.kentucky.com/2012/12/09/2437270/whistle-blower-in-uk-research.html#storylink=cpy

-Mallory

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