French inquiry to look into thesis fraud

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France's Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) and the Centre de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) have jointly set up a panel of inquiry to investigate the circumstances surrounding the apparent fabrication of data in a doctoral thesis by a young graduate student, and the ‘structural factors’ that initially allowed the fraud to take place.

The situation concerns a researcher who appears to have manipulated her results to make them correspond to the conclusions she was seeking. Although doubts had arisen over the quality of her data when she presented her thesis, she was still recruited by the CEA as a postdoctoral researcher.

Several months later, however, it became clear that some of the data had been fabricated. The researcher — who has not been named — was removed from her post, and two publications in which the results appeared are now under review.

Catherine Cesarsky, director of the department of science of matter at the CEA, says that this is the first clear example of scientific fraud she has come across. She adds that it is “very rare” for students in her department to be left alone to work on data, as most work in large teams, making fraudulent activity virtually impossible.

But the CEA now faces the question of how the student was able to publish her results, obtained while she was working in a laboratory run jointly with the CNRS, and include them in her thesis. This will be one of the main questions to be addressed by the inquiry. “We want to reassure ourselves that a student is never again left with data that no-one else has checked,” says Cesarsky. The panel will report within six weeks.

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