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The Science of the Research Protocol: Principal Investigator Meetings with the Research Team

August 14, 2013

Efforts towards improving integrity in biomedical research have often ignored the environmental, research protocol management aspects that provide the “opportunity” for misconduct (Adams and Pimple, Accountability in Research 12(3):225-240,2005).

> At times this has been an intentional oversight.

Not long after I began work in the Cell Biology Ph.D. program at the University of Vermont in 1988, it became evident that a Post—Doc with whom I was working, Eric T. Poehlman, was not following some basic practices vital to scientific research.  Some of these poor practices have not been addressed in the investigations and reviews of the misconduct for which Poehlman later plead guilty.  Nor have they been adequately dealt with in research integrity publications and communications in general.

The single biggest factor allowing for Poehlman’s data fabrication and falsification was the absence of weekly meetings of the Principal Investigator with the research team.  During meetings all staff, clinical and lab technicians, new scientists in training (graduate students) and those with more experience (post–docs, fellows, other faculty) participate in, and learn from, the regular review and discussion of the benchmarks of data collection and management.  I pushed to get these meetings organized, and when they did occur, it made it easier to detect and prevent Poehlman’s manipulation of data, and made it easier to recover original, unaltered data.  It also reduced the hours and stress involved in conducting the protocol.

This observation became part of the “data” I collected for my “thesis” in this Cell Biology Ph.D.–turned–Research Integrity Ph.D. program.   I used this in a submission to PRIM&R for its annual Advancing Ethical Research Conference. emtoPRIM&R AERC09 Idea

This became a  workshop I presented with Greg Koski at the AER 2010 conference titled “Towards Ensuring Research Integrity: Appropriate Communication and Delegation of Responsibilities by the Principal Investigator”    (

Research leaders need to recognize, and stop ignoring, the importance of following practices vital to conducting scientific protocols, such as regular meetings of research team members with the Principal Investigator.  As I found with Poehlman’s misconduct, following basic practices inherent in conducting scientific protocols is the most direct route to integrity in science.  This approach makes some resources that have been spent on improving research integrity, such as the ill—defined “Mentor” role, appear redundant.  It is one issue that suggests a need for a review of the work of the Office of Research Integrity, and the Responsible Conduct in Research field in general.

–David R. Van Houten,  Closter, NJ

Note:  I have posted Comments on PI meetings on other sites.  You may read them, and their Replies, at the links below. DVH

–A  blog by Peter Murray-Rust
–Science, “Live Chat, Are We Doing Science the Right Way?” 6 February 2013.

  1. Raphaël Lévy permalink

    Reblogged this on Rapha-z-lab and commented:
    Better be more consistent with my lab meetings now that I have re-blogged this excellent post…


    • Thank you for reading the Blog, for sharing this post, and for your Comment.

      As I wrote in the Post, the regular at least 1x/week lab meetings attended by the the Principal Investigator and all those on the research team (Post-Docs, Fellows, Grad Students, Lab Technicians, Coordinators, collaborating faculty, etc.) allow all to hear each person update the bench-marks of their data collection and management work. Thus, the “Mentor” for training new scientists is the day-by-day operation of the PI and research team working on the research protocol. (see: ).

      Thank you, Raphael, for your valuable Blog ( ) and continued communications on materials science and effective management of research protocols.

      David R. Van Houten
      Closter, NJ USA
      Feb 17th, 2015


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