Reflection on the case of Anil Potti.

This case is about a researcher who falsified information in preliminary data for a grant and at least one publication. The research focuses around the use of a drug, dasatinib, in treating lung cancer. Data was falsified to make the drug look more effective than it actually is, with seemingly no data to support it is effective in treating lung cancer.

When looking for a case to reflect on, it seemed that many of the ethics violations listed in this resource are related to drug treatments, which seem especially harmful. While lying in any research is not victimless, it’s insane to me how unethical it is to falsify data for a drug that is supposed to treat cancer. In terms of a more general research ethics violation, this individual is extremely well-funded, and this is a total waste of limited resources that could be funding real research for labs that are struggling to receive funding.

The repercussions for this individual seem to be extremely straight-forward, basically outlining how they will be held to a higher standard if they ever want to conduct US Public Health Service supported research again. It does feel like a “you will never work in this town again” kind of response, which is entirely reasonable. I imagine after this type of investigation, it would be extremely difficult to land a research job, and I’m not sure who would want to hire someone with this on their record.

Finally, I think the tone of this report is very objective. There is no justification for Dr. Potti’s behavior, and there is no interpretation of any harm caused by this violation. It simply says what the violation was, what publications had false data and have been retracted, and what the repercussions were. This seems like a very effective means of communicating this information and leaving the interpretation up to others.

While it is optimistic to believe the 36 reports on this site are representative of how rarely false data is published or whatever else, I don’t think that is true. I think this is a really valuable resource and hope we continue to see more investigations.

One thought on “Ethics

  1. Howdy Anil,

    I have a personal connection to lung cancer research. I must admit I found your post intriguing for this reason. Cancer is an ugly thing and I do not want to think of the false hope this falsified report might have given some people. Of course as I write this statement that every notion fills my mind.

    Moving on to a lighter topic there is the tone of the report to consider. The objective nature of the report may have to do with the scope of the review. I think that the reviewer does not want to add in conjecture on how much damage the respondent may have or may not have caused. Rather, the goal is to establish if misconduct has occurred and what actions should be taken in response.

    In review of one of the cases, I found myself postulating about the amount of damage the respondent had caused. It’s tempting to do so. I even grew angry when I considered that this individual was able to keep their job which they had achieved after falsifying data. Yet, even in my self imposed moral authority, I must recognize that judgement was not the goal of the assignment. I am writing for myself now I think. I think I need to be reminded that judgement often obscures the lesson at hand. I think the lesson in this case is that many good students can falter if the pressure is high enough.


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