There isn’t a satisfying amount of information in the recent U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Research Integrity (ORI) case summaries. If you want to know more you have to go digging, and even then, it seems like you would have to work pretty hard to get the full story. So, by way of discussion I’ve written a story based on what I came across regarding this case. It’s based on the facts, but I tried to imagine some details about why Mr. Sauer would falsify research results and what he was thinking along the way.
Striving to get ahead, Frank Sauer, formerly a professor at University of California, Riverside, presented 7 falsified/fabricated images in 3 publications and 7 grant applications– yikes! I guess he thought his falsification was minor, and he didn’t get the memo that his university takes this kind of falsification seriously and considers any falsification or fabrication of research wholly unethical. The university, no doubt, understands how the actions of one can impact many (other researchers at the university, other researchers building on Mr. Sauer’s work, students, people benefiting or harmed by the application of the research–just to name a few). His university discovered the fabrication and started a chain reaction of review and investigation. ORI “found by a preponderance of the evidence that the Respondent [Sauer] engaged in research misconduct…” and charged Mr. Sauer as such. “This will end my tenure,” thought Mr. Sauer, “What can I do?” By this time, after participating in investigation after review, after investigation, Mr. Sauer finally realized the potential repercussions of his actions. Still, he could not bear to be set back. He requested a hearing before the Administrative Law Judge of the ORI Department of Appeals Board, where he claimed that the falsification, although generated by him, was not his fault. “I’ve been hacked!,” he explained, but again he was found to be fabricating. His elaborate story of his data being hacked was easily tested since he supplied a falsely notarized statement from the supposed German data hacker. Little did he know that the German government keeps a record of notarized documents and upon being asked, German officials explained that the statement and notarization was likely forged. You can get the facts from the ORI blog post, “Falsification and Forgery: Administrative Law Judge Upholds ORI’s Findings of Research Misconduct Against Former Biochemistry Professor.” So even though ORI just sanctioned him and according to Retraction Watch, “What a report into scientific misconduct reveals: The case of Frank Sauer,” did not recommend that he be fired, how could the university ignore such fabrication followed not by apology, but by another fabrication? It seems that Mr. Sauer’s case proved him to be unethical and rather incompetent, so all of that work got him fired. You have to wonder, what if he had used his energy for good? And, where is he now?