USGS finds data fraud, closes chemistry lab
Alleged misconduct and data manipulation at a U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) laboratory may have affected thousands of environmental quality measurements processed between 2008 and 2014, according to the Interior Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG).
As many as 24 research projects, representing some $108 million in funding for the laboratory, may have been impacted, OIG said earlier this month. “At least seven reports have been delayed, and to date, one report has been retracted.”
The misconduct, which was discovered by USGS management in 2014, involves analyses performed using inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry by the Inorganic Section of the USGS Energy Geochemistry Laboratory in Lakewood, Colo.
“Some data were manipulated both to correct for calibration failures and to improve results of standard reference materials and unknowns” and raw data were not retained, USGS says.
Having run an ICPMS lab, I understand the temptation well. While ICPMS is insanely sensitive (it literally counts atoms) , it is very susceptible to matrix effects, and it can be difficult to get the "right" results for standard reference materials using standards from clean matrices. However, it is always fraudulent to "adjust" the data based on SRM recoveries. You just don't do that.
Although USGS notified affected lab customers, some collaborators, and relevant journals about the misconduct investigation, OIG faulted the agency for taking too long to issue a public notification.
USGS permanently closed the lab on March 1 and issued a public notification on the lab’s website last month ahead of the OIG report. The lab routinely processed samples as a service for USGS scientists and scientists from other organizations.
It's going to be a nightmare to sort out what's good from what's bad. Georgia may know some of the people affected.
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