I disagree with Vijay from the “Fabrication in a Grant Proposal” scenario, and believe that researchers do not typically exaggerate the publication status of their work when reporting on their publications. After all, honesty is the first of the core values culled from several codes of conduct of research integrity, along with openness, accuracy, and reliability. It could be argued that all of these values have been violated with Vijay’s fabrication regarding the publication status of the paper. At first glance, it would be easy to say that the graduate program was overly harsh in dismissing Vijay. However, considering the idea Macrina (2014) presents of integrity being an expectation among scientists, that science absolutely requires both trust and honesty, Vijay’s intentional departure from these values cannot be tolerated. Since his dishonesty was used in an attempt to procure a fellowship position outside of the university, it needed to be treated more seriously than fabrication would need to be treated in a classwork assignment, or even a fellowship position within the university where he was part of the graduate program.
Neither is acceptable, but the greater potential impact of his lie in the current situation than if his lie had occurred within the confines of the university warrants a harsher consequence. Had Vijay not been caught, he might have been given the fellowship position, selected over students who had exhibited honesty and had less impressive credentials. There is also the potential for the falsification to snowball if he had not been caught; if the paper was published under a different title and the author list was not the same as indicated on Vijay’s application, it could have been called into question what happened, which would have either resulted in Vijay admitting to having lied on his application, or resulted in additional falsification in an attempt to cover the original lie. Although Vijay stated that he thought it was a common practice to exaggerate the status of a paper, the previous paragraph shows that he had intentionally made the decision to fabricate the status of the paper, as having his name on a submitted publication after one year of graduate school would be advantageous in a pool of applicants such as one might expect for a fellowship with the National Science Foundation. After all, the crucial distinction between falsification and error is the intention to act with deception, and Vijay made this claim with intention.
Based on the quality of openness included in Macrina’s (2014) annotated list of core values, any graduate schools Vijay applies to later have the right to know about this fabrication and Vijay’s subsequent removal from the graduate program. Most graduate school applications that I have seen require students to divulge whether they have ever left, or been asked to leave, a program, and a place is given to outline the details of such an incident. Such a question is the applicant’s first test of honesty and integrity, and falsifying it could result in dismissal from the program if the truth was ever found out. Additionally, if Vijay asks anyone to write a letter of recommendation who is knowledgeable of the terms under which he left the university, as long as they are not bound by confidentiality rules, it is their obligation to include that information in their recommendation letter. That being said, if an institution does not ask whether applicants have been dismissed from a previous program, I’m less inclined to believe that applicants are expected to include such information about themselves if it is not requested.
In many cases, it would be a non sequitur in the typical required essay, and it would seem that a graduate program would request the information if they wanted the applicant to divulge it. I’m uncertain what Vijay’s advisor’s responsibilities were in this situation. If the application required an advisor’s signature, then it was his advisor’s duty to carefully read the application prior to signing, and Vijay’s falsification would have been caught before it had been submitted. In such a situation, Vijay would probably still be in his graduate program. Since the scenario does not specify that he was required to have his advisor’s approval on the application, all of the blame lies with Vijay himself. Perhaps my perspective is different as an online student, but in my first year, interactions with my advisor were very limited, with our few communications centering around which courses I should take next. Had I been in a position to apply for a fellowship at the end of my first year, it may not have occurred to me to even discuss it with my advisor unless it required their signature.
- Institute of Medicine. (2009). On being a scientist: A guide to responsible conduct in research(3rd ed.). Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.
- Macrina, F. L. (2014). Scientific Integrity(4th ed.). Washington, DC: ASM Press.