Undark/Retraction Watch - May 14, 2018
This story is a product of a collaboration between Undark and Retraction Watch.
By: Alison McCook
Sometime after 2010 — he isn’t exactly sure when — Richard Miller, a professor of pathology at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, looked up a former faculty member who had worked in his lab on the popular government research database, Medline. When he saw that the researcher, Ricky Malhotra, was publishing new work out of the University of Chicago, Miller said he was “surprised and upset.” That’s because he knew something about Malhotra that he bet Malhotra’s new employers didn’t.
Many universities halt investigations after an accused scientist departs, leaving future employers blind to the researcher’s history of allegations.
If someone had called Miller to discuss his former mentee, he could have told them Malhotra left his lab — which focuses on the genetics of aging — after confessing to fabricating data. It wasn’t a minor case: In 2007, Malhotra admitted to performing 60 percent or less of the approximately 80 experiments expected from him, among other infractions.
But no one called Miller, and now that he knew Malhotra was conducting research at another institution, he was torn. On the one hand, he thought “it would be good for the scientific community to call the University of Chicago and tell them what was going on,” Miller said. At the same time, the University of Michigan was still conducting an investigation of Malhotra’s misdeeds there, and that investigation was confidential. “I wasn’t sure,” Miller said, “how to reconcile those two separate obligations.”
So he said nothing.