Ohio State pharmacy professor tampered with research data, hit with ‘severe’ federal sanctions
Published: Monday, January 7, 2013
Updated: Monday, January 7, 2013 23:01
An Ohio State professor plans to retract some of his research after investigations by OSU and government officials concluded that he had tampered with data in federally funded research.
According to an investigatory committee that concluded its inquiry in July, Terry Elton falsified or fabricated data in journal articles and grant applications. Elton is a pharmacy professor and a researcher at the Dorothy M. Davis Heart and Lung Research Institute. The Office of Research Integrity, which had been notified of possible misconduct by an anonymous source in 2010 and had obtained proof of misconduct, asked OSU to investigate the situation.
“In this case, our research misconduct policy worked as it is designed, to fairly and thoroughly investigate misconduct and deal with it appropriately,” said Jeff Grabmeier, senior director of research and innovation communications, in an email.
Elton has been penalized with federal sanctions, according to the ORI case summary. He has agreed to retract five of his published articles and enter a “Voluntary Exclusion Agreement” with the ORI. The agreement dictates that he exclude himself for three years from contracting with any government agency and from advising the U.S. Public Health Service.
Further penalties from OSU will also be imposed, according to The Columbus Dispatch. Elton will not be able to supervise any graduate or undergraduate students for three years. He will have to submit any papers and grant applications to university officials for five years. He will also have to undergo “mandatory counseling on research misconduct and complete formal training on research ethics.”
“The penalties are quite severe for a researcher. Dr. Elton’s research program has been essentially shut down,” Grabmeier said.
Robert Kelly Garrett, an assistant professor in the School of Communication, also said that the penalties were severe.
“These things will be serious obstacles for him moving forward professionally,” he said.
He added that while he was “cautious to speculate about the appropriateness of the penalty,” he thought that “very severe penalties are appropriate” due to the serious ramifications of the misconduct. He also emphasized that the news of the research misconduct was bad not only for Elton, but for other researchers.
“It’s a big problem. Scientific progress is premised on honest reporting of results,” he said. “When you fabricate results, it raises questions about the field, about scholarships in general. It’s just a terrible thing. It makes the funders ask questions, it makes the public ask questions.”
Asim Hussain, a professional student in pharmacy, agreed.
“It’s a growing problem, and it needs to be addressed,” he said. “It’s bad for health care all around, not just pharmacy. These studies influence the way patients are treated.”
Hussain said that there were two different ways of looking at the news, as a student and as a future pharmacist.
“My opinion as a student … I am here to get a quality education. If he interferes with that then that’s a problem for me. And I would complain at that point to OSU. But until then, as a pharmacy student I have other stuff to worry about,” he said. “My opinion overall is, you’re affecting the integrity of pharmacy, you’re affecting the integrity of health care and putting patients in risk, and that’s not OK.”
The investigation of the misconduct was conducted by the College of Pharmacy. Each college has its own program guidelines for researchers to follow, Grabmeier said. He also said that this type of case was rare.
“Other than Dr. Elton, there have been only two other cases that have gone on to investigation at Ohio State since 2008,” Grabmeier said. “To put this in perspective, Ohio State has more than 7,000 people involved in research.”
Elton did not immediately return requests for comment, and ORI representatives declined to comment on the case.