The “I” in our University of Virginia Health System ASPIRE value system, which stands for “integrity,” has been on my mind as of late. A few years ago, while at Indiana University School of Medicine, my colleagues and I published an article in Science Translation Medicine (STM), on which I was the senior investigator. I later hired a fellow to reproduce the data in my lab. He was unsuccessful. Simply stated, he was unable to match the success illustrated in the article.
I looked into why this was happening. We discovered that another post-doctorate fellow, the first author on the STM article, had manipulated data. I requested that the institution’s research compliance committee conduct an investigation into possible research fraud. During this investigation, it was discovered that handwritten data did not match the data on the hard drive of an oximeter. This confirmed our suspicion that this post-doctorate fellow had manipulated the data. Because of this incident, the STM article in question will be retracted later this year.
The point: integrity matters.
Science requires open and clean data. This is one of the reasons why our collaboration with AstraZeneca has been so successful — in the lab, our teams work side-by-side with their teams. Additionally, because data requires integrity, I’ve asked Peggy Shupnik, PhD, Senior Associate Dean for Research, to explore how we can help our faculty ensure that what happened to me does not happen to you. As part of an ongoing discussion, we will be exploring options to increase openness, integrity, and reproducibility of research.
Please learn from my experience. As a biomedical enterprise, it is incumbent upon all of us to closely monitor the data we generate. Discovery is not discovery if the data is fiction. I ask all of you to be aware of what is happening in our labs.
While all of the letters in our ASPIRE acronym are important, none of them are worthwhile without the “I” of integrity.
David S. Wilkes, MD
Dean, UVA School of Medicine
James Carroll Flippin Professor of Medical Science