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Scientist Turned In by Grad Students for Misconduct Pleads Guilty

28 June 2010 3:17 pm
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Four years after a group of graduate students faced the agonizing experience of turning in their mentor for apparently falsifying scientific data, she has pleaded guilty to a criminal charge in the case. Elizabeth Goodwin, who was a biologist at the University of Wisconsin (UW), Madison, until resigning in February 2006, admitted "that she included manipulated data" in a grant progress report "to convince reviewers that more scientific progress had been made with her research than was actually the case," the Department of Justice announced on Friday. Goodwin has agreed not to participate in federally funded research for 3 years and will pay $50,000 to the Department of Health and Human Services, according to the Justice Department press release.

Four years ago, Science reported on the difficult experience of the students after Goodwin resigned and how the case impacted their own futures in science.

The six students, working in her genetics lab, happened upon the misconduct by accident when, suggesting a new project to one, she showed the student a grant application that the student believed contained data that were misrepresented. What followed were several months of discussion and debate, as the students considered whether to share what they'd found with university officials. "My biggest worry was what if we didn't turn her in ... and different grad students got stuck in our position," said Mary Allen at the time, one of the six.

The university praised the students for having done the right thing. A university investigation subsequently concluded that Goodwin had falsified data on grant applications and cast doubt on three papers, all of which were later cleared of any problems. Goodwin resigned. But the outcome for several students, who were told they had to essentially start over, was unenviable. One, Chantal Ly, had gone through 7 years of graduate school and was told that much of her work was not useable and that she had to start a new project for her Ph.D. (The reason wasn't necessarily because of falsified data but rather, Ly and the others thought, because Goodwin stuck by results that were questionable.) Along with two of the others, she quit graduate school. Allen moved to a school in Colorado. Just two students chose to stay at UW.

One of those who left reflected about the case in the Science story published in 2006. "Are we just stupid [to turn Goodwin in]?'" Sarah LaMartina said. "Sure, it's the right thing to do, but right for who? ... Who is going to benefit from this? Nobody."

Goodwin will be sentenced on 3 September on the charge of making false statements and faces up to 1 year in jail and a $100,000 fine.

The story has been corrected. Due to an editing error, this story originally said the Science article was published last year; it was published 4 years ago.

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