Responsible Conduct of Research Discussion Cases

Discussion 1 - Plagiarism

Background:  June is a second-year graduate student working in Professor Tanner’s laboratory. When she entered the lab, Dr. Tanner gave her copies of both his American Heart Association (AHA) and National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant applications. She selected a project described in the NIH application for her dissertation research.

Part 1: June started working on the written portion of her qualifying exam in February. Her graduate program rules forbid selecting a topic related to the dissertation research. Since the subject of Dr. Tanner’s AHA grant was different from that of his NIH grant, June decided to base her proposal on his AHA grant topic. Was this a good idea? Why or why not?

Part 2: In the process of writing her proposal, June read all of the references in the AHA grant as well as other articles. She formulated two specific aims. One was similar to a specific aim in Dr. Tanner’s AHA grant, the other was completely distinct. In her written proposal, June cited all the references she had used but did not acknowledge the grant itself. Has June committed plagiarism?

Part 3: After she turned in her proposal, one of June’s committee members noticed that the writing style in parts of the background was very different from that in the experimental section. He also remembered that a post-doctoral fellow in Dr. Tanner’s lab was working on a related project so he contacted Dr. Tanner. The ensuing conversation lead to the discovery that June had copied large sections of the introduction directly from the grant without acknowledging the source. Her examination was stopped at this point and the case was referred to the Dean’s office. After a review of the facts, the dean expelled June for plagiarism with the stipulation that she could reapply for the next academic year. What is wrong with what June did? What should she have done? Do you think the Dean’s decision was reasonable?

Discussion 2 - Notebooks

Background: During the first year of graduate school, Tom has been taking courses and doing laboratory rotations. While in Professor Alan's laboratory, Tom makes several exciting observations. Professor Alan tells Tom that the results will be publishable in a major journal.

Part 1: When Professor Alan goes to write the manuscript a month later, she finds that Tom did not record in his notebook the incubation medium and times for one group of experiments. Also, the computer files where Tom thinks he saved the information were accidentally erased. Can Professor Alan still write the paper? Would it make a difference if Tom said he could remember the details even though he didn't write them down? Would it make a difference if a technician working on the project said that he remembered even though Tom could not?

Part 2: Professor Alan writes the paper, which is accepted for publication. Tom finishes his first year and returns to Professor Alan's laboratory. He begins where he left off, but in two attempts he cannot repeat the original finding. What should he and Professor Alan do about the paper, assuming it has not yet been published? What should they do if the paper has been published?

Part 3: Professor Alan receives a manuscript to review that contains experiments whose results make clear why Tom has been unable to make further progress with his experiments. Can Professor Alan share this information with Tom? What if the information was contained in a grant proposal?

Discussion 3 - Authorship

Background: A second-year graduate student named Jill and a postdoctoral fellow named Laura work in Professor Green's laboratory. Laura suggests to Jill several different experimental strategies for studying her problem. Within a few months, enough new information has been learned to warrant publication. Professor Green prepares a manuscript with himself as the first author, Jill as the second author, and Laura's contributions mentioned in the Acknowledgements.

Part 1: Jill thinks that she should be the first author, but Professor Green says Jill is just a beginner and wouldn't have accomplished anything without being told what to do. When Laura learns that she has been left off the paper, she argues that she should be a co-author since most of Jill's experiments were based on her ideas. Without her input, Jill would not have been able to do the experiments. Who should be the authors of this paper, and what should be the order? What does it mean to be an author on a paper? How could this problem have been prevented?

Part 2: Professor Green asks Jill to write the Introduction section for the paper. Jill's introduction is a slightly paraphrased section of a review article previously published by Professor Green. Is this plagiarism? Would it make a difference if the review were published by an investigator from a different laboratory?

Part 3: When she reads the discussion section of the manuscript, Jill believes that Professor Green has ignored some of the data and reached the wrong conclusions. She explains her concerns. Green responds by saying "You don't give up a good hypothesis just because not all the data fit." Jill persists, however, and wants the Discussion to reflect a different interpretation of the data. Professor Green responds that if Jill isn't comfortable with his interpretation of the data, then she doesn't have to have her name on the paper. What should she do?

Discussion 4 - Laboratory Dynamics

Background: Mike is a graduate student working in Professor Blue's laboratory. Just before winter break, he gets a surprising result that suggests a new line of research.

Part 1: Professor Blue finds the result very exciting and tells Mike to repeat the experiment. Mike says that he will do so as soon as he returns from a family vacation. Professor Blue says that Mike should cancel the vacation plans and repeat the experiment immediately. What should Mike do?

Part 2: Actually, Mike doesn't want to work on the new observation at all. Mike has been a graduate student for 5 years and thinks he should be writing his thesis. He already has published two papers and has almost enough data for a third. Professor Blue tells Mike that graduate students in the Blue Laboratory never finish in less than six years. Now, what should Mike do?

Part 3: Suppose that Mike is a second-year graduate student and wants to focus on his new observation. Professor Blue, however, wants Mike to continue working on the main laboratory research. Professor Blue's NIH grant comes up for renewal in six months. Progress has been adequate but not great. Mike says that he is in Professor Blue's laboratory to get training, not just to be a technician on Professor Blue's research grant. Professor Blue says that without the grant there would be no training. Who is right?

Discussion 5 - Intellectual Property

Background: George is a graduate student working with Professor Young. He reads a paper published by researchers at Genecom Corp, who describe a monoclonal antibody against a newly discovered cell regulatory kinase. Having the antibody would benefit George greatly. Professor Young telephones Genecom and asks for a sample of the antibody. Genecom sends the antibody after Professor Young signs a technology transfer agreement (TTA). The agreement states that Genecom will have first rights to any patented technologies that develop from the studies and that Professor Young will provide Genecom with a preview of any work to be published 60 days before it is submitted.

Part 1: At the Cell Biology meetings, George hears that another laboratory is about to scoop them if he and Professor Young don't publish their findings quickly. He tells Professor Young, but Young says that they have to send the manuscript to Genecom Corp for 60 days before it can be submitted for publication. What can George do? If he had known about the TTA beforehand, would he have still wanted the antibody?

Part 2: George is preparing for a postdoc interview. After George's practice seminar, Professor Young tells him not to disclose the results obtained with the Genecom antibody because of the TTA. George says that Professor Young signed the agreement and that he (George) did not, and he was not obliged to honor the secrecy clause. What do you think? What if there were no companies involved, but Professor Young had a policy that students and postdoctoral fellows could only present information already published or in the press?

Part 3: Suppose instead that the Genecom Laboratory did not ask Professor Young to sign a technology transfer agreement, but says that the Young laboratory can have the antibody only if the postdoc at Genecom who prepared the antibody is listed as a co-author on publications in which the antibody is used? Is that reasonable? Would it make a difference if the research leading to the production of the antibody was supported by an NIH grant?