The President of Stanford University, Marc Tessier-Lavigne, is choosing to step down (before being forced to) following an investigation by a panel of scientists into his various research papers. Inside their research, they discovered that some of his reports were filled with horribly manipulated research data. While the panel claims he contributed, they admitted they saw no evidence Tessier-Lavigne knew or played a role in the manipulation.
In total, the panel researched 12 of his papers. Tessier-Lavine is listed as the principal author on five of them. He says he will be retracting three of the papers completely and issuing a correction on two others. No word has been given about the other seven papers. In his open resignation letter to the school, he has set an effective date of August 31st, but he will be allowed to remain on the Stanford faculty.
Tessier-Lavigne found himself under the microscope starting back in November when a series of articles in The Stanford Journal started questioning his research. A subsequent Special Committee report found that the presentation of the research data was deeply flawed. Additionally, the data had been manipulated by other researchers.
Led by former federal judge Mark Filip and five scientists, the review looked at a mountain of analysis from the papers. This included work done by forensic image specialists, over 50,000 pages of research documents, as well as dozens of interviews with scientists.
Writing in response, Tessier-Lavine stated, “I agree that in some instances I should have been more diligent when seeking corrections, and I regret that I was not. The Panel’s review also identified instances of manipulation of research data by others in my lab. Although I was unaware of these issues, I want to be clear that I take responsibility for the work of my lab members.”
This kind of admission is a brutal one for the scientific community.
Any scientist worth their salt knows that if their name is on the paper, it is up to them to verify the data is correct. While you can trust others to be honest, corruption, greed, and an immensely overwhelming sense of desire to achieve the desired results can lead anyone to falsify their work quite easily. As such, they need to check over everything before submitting it for review.
When work stands out enough so a Special Committee can say easily claim there were “serious flaws in the presentation of research data” and “apparent manipulation” of data by contributors, you messed up. This kind of evidence usually isn’t spelled out for everyone to see easily, but here it is plain as day.
For the students of Stanford, this is an incredibly troublesome issue. To hear that manipulated and clearly fake research will only result in you losing a Presidential position but still being allowed to be a professor should be insulting. For an institution that prides itself on being one of the premier institutions for learning, its standards should be significantly higher than they are.
As this clip showcases, many were surprised by his resignation, but it certainly seems warranted.