Why remediate researchers? A Response to Concerns

The RePAIR Program provides a formal method for rehabilitating researchers who have engaged in research misconduct or questionable research practices.  This novel concept has raised an important questions. Why should researchers who engage in wrongdoing be allowed to be remediated? Do they deserve a second chance?  Is it fair to other researchers that diligently seek funding?

James Dubois, the director of the RePAIR Program, provides information (below) that helps answer some of these question. Let us know what you think.

On November 19th the ORI blog published a story on the Restoring Professionalism and Integrity in Research (RePAIR) program. The RePAIR program will offer intensive professional development education for researchers who have engaged in wrongdoing (such as data fabrication) or persistent noncompliance (such as conflict of interest or adverse event reporting failures). The ORI story attracted responses that suggest that remediation is inappropriate because we should have a zero tolerance policy. I would like to offer a few reasons why remediation makes sense in many cases:
  • Just as 95% of all prisoners eventually re-enter society, we think most researchers who have been in trouble will return to work in research—with or without remediation education. The RePAIR program hopes to assist researchers in returning to work with new skills that enhance the integrity and quality of their work.
  • Many studies—including Milgram’s obedience studies and Zimbardo’s prison experiment—indicate that good people will behave badly under some circumstances. While some research behaviors are clearly right and others clearly wrong, sometimes the distinction between ethical and unethical researchers is gray.
  • Accordingly, the RePAIR program will never excuse wrongdoing in research; but it is also more interested in fostering behavior change than in blaming and punishing. Drawing from extensive psychological data and remediation training programs for physicians, we believe we can foster positive change.
  • When researchers are defunded and terminated, the damage can be high: The field may lose a talented and productive investigator in whom many have invested heavily; institutions lose funding; and post-docs, coordinators, and others in a lab may lose their employment.
  • Given these high costs, if permanent debarment from funding and termination is the inevitable outcome of whistleblowing, colleagues and subordinates—who are in the best position to intervene when they observe wrongdoing—may be very slow to intervene. We believe that the RePAIR program offers a reasonable alternative, which may make people more likely to intervene in an early and effective manner.
I continue to believe that there is a time and a place for termination of employment and debarment from funding. But in many cases, remediation provides a very reasonable first response to wrongdoing or noncompliance. 
Information on the RePAIR program can be found at: http://www.RepairProgram.org. Your comments on the program and the idea of remediation are very welcome.
James M. DuBois, DSc, PhD, Director of the RePAIR Program



My opposition to this has nothing to do with zero tolerance or grey areas.  It's just about good use of limited science funding.  The money going to rehabilitate liars could have been used to fund a grant from someone doing honest science.


This is just an outsider view from a Brazilian researcher interested in scientific integrity.

I believe, as a general principle, that the moral aim is to stop crimes and recue the criminals. In another words, to stop bad science saving the faulty scientists. That is the ethical gol. Even death penalty did not decrease criminality. Why not try new moral orientation for those that had commited faults? As human we all have bad and good sides; let us improve the good one.



While the points above may be logical the fact remains that the public whose tax dollars supply the funding for scientific research already has a poor opinion of how research dollars are spent. Any appearance of tolerance for scientific misconduct on the part of the National Institutes of Health will be badly recieved and is likely to jeopardize funding for all researchers. I would support a strengthening of the penalties for unethical conduct rather than remediation. 

-a researcher who has served on a misconduct investigation


There are all levels of misconduct.  Perhaps this approach is okay for misconduct that involves a bit of photoshopping to clean up the results, but not change the conclusion (in the olden days, dodging was not uncommon in the darkroom).  However, I do not believe that investigators who have committed outright fabrication should ever be allowed in the lab again.  The cost of fraud is just too great.  Take as examples, some of the cases in which papers with fraudulent results have been cited scores or even hundreds of times.  Funds have been wasted trying to replicate; careers have been put on hold; experiments that should have been done have not.  No, I agreewith "Regardless...."  Strengthen the penalties for the most serious crimes.

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