The Fruitlessness of Reporting False Results to the Research Ethics Committee

I have not told my story, because it has been useless to do so. Perhaps in the context of your piece, it will do some good.

In 2001, I began a postdoctoral fellowship at an unnamed prestigious American private university. It gets millions and millions of dollars in grants from the federal government. The two senior researchers I was working with assigned me to analyze some data related to homelessness and race. They were out of town.

I did as instructed and found no significant results. They wrote me back a few angrily saying they would do the work if I couldn’t, and asked me to send them the data. They then sent me back an abstract with significant results and insisted I submit our results to an upcoming conference. They were both abusive all the time anyway, but that wasn’t the issue. The male of the two sexually harassed every woman he worked with. I played the game and ignored that. The female of the two would berate her underlings so harshly they’d cry at staff meetings.

I stuck with all that. My problem came when I went to reanalyze the data to write the paper after we presented our results at the conference. I couldn’t find the results they found. Finally, I went to the Dean of Medicine. He warned me that reporting them would harm my career. He was right.

I reported our team to the university research ethics committee for presenting false results to the research ethics committee. The day of the hearing, I faced university attorneys and faculty members. No one represented me. I told them what happened. I shared my evidence. They proceeded to treat me like I was lying. I asked what motive I would have. They couldn’t respond.

They were so hostile, I felt like I had been put on trial for murder and found guilty. Then, they returned their verdict. No guilt could be determined. The evidence could not have been more clear. Then, a couple of select faculty began to bully me. One in particular, physically intimidated me in my office.

So, I sued. Only I couldn’t really afford an attorney. So I settled for peanuts. And a non-disclosure agreement. So they get away with everything.

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