When you fudge data in a high school chemistry experiment, your teacher admonishes you and lowers your lab grade a point or two. But when you fake statistics in a cancer research project at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), you lose your job and the respect of your colleagues.
That's what happened to Dr. John C. Long, assistant professor Pathology at Harvard-affiliated MGH, after he admitted making up the results of an experiment for an article on Hodgkin's disease which the Journal of the National Cancer Institute published last year.
After the article's publication, two of Long's colleagues suspected the authenticity of the data. One of the researchers reconstructed the experiment and determined that Long could not have completed it in the time he said he did.
The researcher brought the information to Dr. Robert McCluskey, Mallinckrodt Professor of Pathology and chief of pathology at MGH, who confronted Long with the evidence. Long admitted falsifying the data shortly after McCluskey met with him.
Long resigned last January, but the hospital did not disclose the incident until June. Although Long declined comment, his wife said in June that he had seen a psychiatrist on a regular basis after leaving MGH and that he had found a job in clinical medicine in another state. MGH officials had told him his future did not involve research.
MGH and Medical School officials said they could not recall a similar incident involving falsification of scientific data occurring within the University or at one of its affiliated hospitals.
The hospital released a statement in June saying that although the incident did not harm scientific research, "a very real regret is even the slightest injury that might possibly result in the faith researchers and the public have in the integrity of medical investigation."
The statement concluded, "The individual most hurt by this incident was Dr. Long himself."