Ethics row hits research body

September 8, 2006

Students want Canadian council to review alleged misconduct, writes Philip Fine

A Canadian research council is under fire after refusing to investigate a case that appears to have broken copyright laws and buried negative research findings in one of its funded projects.

Calls by the national student lobby that the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) should investigate the issue have gone unanswered despite evidence that the federal agency breached its duty to uphold research standards.

The Canadian Federation of Students has sought a judicial review in federal court, claiming that complaints of misconduct were dismissed without fair process.

The case centres on the use of substantive material from a just graduated student's thesis by a University of Toronto professor and his colleague from Indiana University in two publications from 2001 and 2002.

One of the articles named the student, Chris Radziminski, as lead author.

But Mr Radziminski said that he had discovered his name on the articles only while catching up on some journal reading.

The NSERC-sponsored research, a field trial on a small municipality's drinking water system that used an alternative water-purifying technique, was part-funded by the company that patented the on-site chemical generator and manufactures the chemical.

Numerous news media reported residents' complaints about laundry coming out bleached, water smelling of chlorine and small pets dying during the trials. The town, Wiarton in Ontario, terminated the research two weeks before it was scheduled to end.

Despite the negative reports, nothing in the two papers, published in the Journal of Environmental Engineering and Science and Water , points to any negative results in the trial. A key sentence from Mr Radziminski's thesis mentioned that levels of chlorine exceeded norms established by the US Environmental Protection Agency.

He said he was threatened with an action for defamation when he complained to the journals, one of which has since decided to retract the article it carried.

Toronto agreed to conduct an internal investigation but cleared both professors of any wrongdoing. However, an investigation carried out at Indiana resulted in one of the professors apologising for failing to keep Mr Radziminski informed.

The NSERC would not offer any comment on Mr Radziminski's case, citing the fact that the matter was before the courts.

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