The career of a promising young social psychologist lies in ruins following her admission that she "fabricated" five experiments on social discrimination that she conducted while at Harvard University. In addition to retracting four published studies, Karen Ruggiero is banned from receiving federal research funds or serving on government advisory committees for 5 years, according to an agreement signed in November and published in the 12 December Federal Register . A woman who answered the phone at her Texas home declined to discuss the case.
Ruggiero, 33, who last year moved to the University of Texas (UT), Austin, was prominent in an emerging field called "the psychology of legitimacy," in which scientists examine how and why the underdogs in social hierarchies adapt to, and even endorse, the systems of which they are a part. Her support included $38,707 from the National Institute of Mental Health. A Canadian who received her Ph.D. in psychology at McGill University in Montreal, Ruggiero spent 4 years at Harvard before accepting a tenure-track position at UT last year.
After her departure from Harvard, according to documents released by the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) of the Department of Health and Human Services under the Freedom of Information Act, Harvard received allegations that two of her published studies might contain fabricated data. According to an article in the Austin American-Statesman , a graduate student notified Harvard after Ruggiero balked at giving him her notes. In a 21 August letter to Harvard's Standing Committee on Professional Conduct, Ruggiero says that she "did not run" 600 subjects whose data were reported in two papers. She resigned from UT in June.
Ruggiero retracted both papers this summer and has agreed to retract two more. In her letters to the journals she takes full responsibility for her actions, and ORI director Chris Pascal says that neither Harvard nor ORI believes that any co-authors were involved in the misconduct.
Harvard psychologist Herbert Kelman says Ruggiero's admission of misconduct "came as a complete shock." He characterizes her as "very well organized, very hard-working. ... In some respects quite a perfectionist." Pascal says that ORI has just begun a $1 million grants program to find out more about why some scientists cheat.