Category Archives: Ethics

Assessing the damage in Yankaskas case

The News & Observer wraps up the story of Dr. Bonnie Yankaskas of UNC-CH and the computer security breach that cost the epidemiologist her job and a significant amount of money.  It also put the future of her 15-year research project, the Carolina Mammography Registry, in doubt.

UNC-CH, Yankaskas reach settlement

UNC-CH has settled a case in which it was attempting to fire a faculty member over the the hacking of a cancer research database.  Dr. Bonnie Yankaskas has agreed to retire, and the university has agreed to restore her rank and salary, which were reduced in the wake of the hacking of her project’s database.  The UNC-CH campus newspaper reported this week that the settlement was announced last Friday.  In 2009, it was discovered that the personal information of some 180,000 patients and research subjects had been exposed when a hacker successfully attacked the database of the Carolina Mammography Registry. Yankaskas, as the PI on the project, was held responsible.  She contended that the security of her database wasn’t her responsibility.

Research controversy vs. football controversy: Comparing two high-profile cases in Chapel Hill

Scandal comes to Chapel Hill, and what happens?  Epidemiologist Bonnie Yankaskas gets punished.  Football coach Butch Davis gets a big hug from the chancellor.  How different are the two cases? The editor of The News & Observer gives his opinion.

UNC-CH Chancellor Holden Thorpe, in the "Carolina" jacket, and Butch Davis after the coachs scandal-ridden football team beat Duke last fall.

Vulnerability of research database results in controversial demotion of UNC-CH prof

Here’s a wake-up call for PIs who collect personal information about people participating in their research projects:

A cancer researcher at UNC-CH is being held responsible for a vulnerability in her project’s database that allowed a hacker to access 180,000 patient files.  Epidemiologist Bonnie Yankaskas has been demoted from professor to associate professor; her pay was cut almost in half.  But it could have been worse — the university initially wanted to fire her.

The case is going into mediation, so it’s unclear what the ultimate outcome will be for Yankaskas.  But for now, at least, the researcher is being held personally responsible for the security of her research data.   A group of faculty members at Chapel Hill and elsewhere have signed a petition supporting her.  Click here for details from The News & Observer.

Follow-up: Duke researcher Anil Potti resigns

Three weeks ago, we provided a link to news coverage of the troubles of Dr. Anil Potti of Duke University.  The News & Observer and other newspapers reported Saturday that Potti has faced the apparently inevitable and resigned from the university (Click here for the brief News & Observer report on Potti’s resignation). That doesn’t quite signal the end of the Potti’s troubles; his research is still being reviewed.


Duke cancer scientist asks to retract journal article, sparking negative news coverage

An academic integrity/research misconduct case at Duke is generating some very negative coverage for the university.  A professor with Duke’s s Department of Medicine and Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy has requested that a journal article be retracted after his co-author re-assessed the data and determined that they didn’t support the article’s findings (others previously raised questions about the research).  The researcher, Dr. Anil Potti, had already been suspended over questions surfaced about his resume. Click here for the article in  The News & Observer of Raleigh on Saturday.  An N&O columnist decided to pile on with a critical piece in this morning’s edition, showing how quickly a such a situation can go from bad to worse.  And it doesn’t look like the issue will go away.  As bad as it is for Duke’s reputation, the case is bad news for all researchers and research institutions, considering the increasingly hostile views toward science being promoted by many politicians (which, admittedly, are also held by many members of the public).

Research news: Research dollars are getting tight, so agencies are tightening their processes

With federal research funds declining, agencies are streamlining and tightening up their review procedures.  Getting the proposal right the first time has never been more important.  What does this mean for you?  We have answers for you in the next issue of the research newsletter.  It will arrive in the mailboxes of faculty and grad students soon, but it’s available today right here through the PDF below.

Other items of interest: an overview of A&T’s research compliance committees on human subjects, animal care and use, biosafety and radiation safety; news of a new requirement from NSF on data sharing; and July and August funding awards.

NEWSLETTER — 2010-09 Final

Supplement — Research compliance committees membership lists 2010-09

Supplement — Links to NSF data-sharing information 2010-09