Copyright Issue -------File a Compliant for Scientific Misconduct on Former Mentor?
Recently, my former PI of 12 years copied two figures from my copyrighted and published dissertation. He then published these figures in a recent publication without giving me authorship. This publication was published in October of 2019. The dissertation was published and copyrighted in 2011. Further, the PI did not ask my permission to use these figures and he was aware of the dissertation being published. He was also provided all original electronic figures in all publications where I was an author and hard copies of the dissertation in 2011 when I left his employment. Most of the dissertation was published shortly before leaving his employment in 2012. I worked for him at one University and got my degree at another University close by. The degree granting University issued me a copyright on the dissertation and it is mine to defend (I have confirmed this with the University and a well educated copyright attorney).
It should be noted my former PI is a difficult and unethical person who treats his employees badly. His behaviors include writing inaccurate letters of reference that include statements that are factually incorrect about one's accomplishments and outright distortions of the truth; plus, he has condoned outright fabrication of data by lab member(s) in the name of increasing publication productivity in high impact journals (for which I can prove with data). He left the University in a cloud of controversy given his behaviors and was not well liked by his peers. However, the Dean was his biggest backer despite numerous complaints. He left to become a Dean at a medical school in another state. Since his departure, he has continued to lie about my accomplishments despite a cease and decease letter being sent to his new employer and has interfered with my job search efforts. Now, he pulls this stunt. I have decided finally to take the offense and confront this jerk; otherwise, he will continue these behaviors.
So, I have been in communication with the research integrity officer (RIO) at the new school where he works. I have advised the RIO of all the incidents and bad behaviors of my former PI as well as any incidents of misconduct by my former lab mates; including my PI willingness to ignore and encourage such misconduct. I have done this because I have finally had it with my former PI's conduct and interference with my efforts to find and maintain employment using false statements.
After talking with the RIO, we both agree this is obvious case of plagiarism fabrication and double publishing of data. The journal seems disinterested and the editor is trying to tell me that the University owns the data. This is factually incorrect and the RIO has confirmed this. The data was generated on one NIH grant in 2011 at another University and now the PI has another NIH grant at the new medical school. He lost his grant in 2012 and regained a new grant in 2014 while at the new University.
The RIO has offered to confront the PI and get a letter of apology from the PI. He has also promised to have the journal to issue a correction with my name listed as an author on this publication. Yes, I am very familiar with the laws related to patent and copyright infringement. I have worked with a patent law firm and VC firm as a patent analyst and as an expert witness on such matters. The damages for a willful infringement are up to 120,000 per incident and the damages for contributory infringement are 30,000 per incident. My attorney is a Harvard educated lawyer and close friend who is willing to due me a favor. So, I have instructed him to keep as much of the damages as needed to encourage him to take this case seriously. I am willing to pay him for the demand letters and don't really care about the damages. Plus, we are considering going after the journal for contributory infringement. The RIO has talked with his attorneys at the University; they have confirmed that the PI's actions do infringe on my copyright and his actions have put the University at risk for being sued by me.
What do you feel about this situation? (Of note, most academics I who talk with seem so cowardly to take actions in such matters whereas people in the real world say sue the jerk).
What can backfire here and would you do this if you had such a PI? (Of note, I quite secure in my job, it would be difficult to find my employer since I am a consultant, and I live out of state whereby I could ignore any subpoenas for a civil suit.)
Why do the journals seem to ignore these situations?
If the RIO can't find a compromise, should I let my attorney sue the University and the PI plus any coauthors? Further, should we send a demand letter to the NIH study section explaining the situation and a demand for a compromise, threatening legal action if the PI does not comply?
PS: I have copies of all employment documents while working for this PI including all emails for 12 years. I also have a employment reference check performed by a private eye and employment attorney proving what the PI is saying about my accomplishments. Thus, I can support my claims with data.
I recommend you walk away as you've already raised the issue and university will proceed.
Thereafter, the rest you describe seems like a lot of energy spend, and distraction, from what I recommend you should be thinking of, Career. Be it strengthening a skill, gap-filling knowledge, or searching for new job is that's the situation.
This situation described had its roots so many years ago, that I can't see the impact to current and future career. I would say let it go. Attornies, aye aye. What's the end result you want? Is it worth it to your career, next step, next job, and importantly next paycheck? No?..waste of time then.
If yes, go to town. And may the force be with you.
To let it go is not cowardly - its rather decided what to do and how to allocate very limited resources when it comes to career building, time..and energy. 12 years go is a long time for anything to have any relevance to career today. Is this how you want to spend time and energy?
I was in Strategic Marketing not to long ago, and there was one BIG learning I got out of it. In fact it was my Number 1 learning and I find it nearly relevant to all that I do and it applies nicely here.
Here it is: Disproportionate Investment, gives Disproportionate Returns!
What it means, if you direct your resources at one target, the impact (return) you get, is much more than if you spread them out. Target time and energy at one objective and the return will be more than spreading out, being distracted and potentially wasting those resources. In other words: Focus.
Good luck but mind the career and eliminate energy, time draining, distractions, which this sound like to me.
Stuff happens, move on.
Thanks for your thoughts and I appreciate your help. This problem has existed for about twenty years. Many times I have tried to reach an agreement with this PI. The day before for my last day working for him; I asked "Donald, I have worked hard for you and accomplished much which has been documented in my performance evaluations. Yet, you have decided not to reciprocate my efforts and have said items in my references for graduate school, jobs, and other opportunities that are inconsistent with my accomplishments (which are inaccurate and an out right lies or distortions). This is wrong; however, I tried to find a compromise many times over the last ten years. Why don't we do this? Don't say anything about my employment with you and I will not say anything about the XXX laboratory. Just dates of employment and title, that's it. Let's shake on it."
His reply to this was "I am entitled to my opinion." My reaction to this was you arrogant prick. Nobody that I have known as a supervisor would ever not say no to that. This response underscores just how much of a self-centered narcissistic jerk he really is. There are many accomplishments that were achieved for his benefit and he couldn't refer to them in a reference but chooses not to do for selfish reasons. He has NO legal right to interfere with my career and professional aspirations. I know that this has cost me many graduate school and professional opportunities and for what his own personal ambition to be Dean.
When he left the University, his name was mud and it made it impossible for me to find a job at the University. His bad reputation as a jerk rubbed off on me. Personally, I worked damn hard for my accomplishments and this is the treatment that I get. When I went on several interviews at this University, I was brushed off or they insisted that I give them a reference from this PI. One interview in particular was strange. Several minutes in the interview, the manager PI and head of the cancer center said to me that "your boss is a real jerk and SOB." I was going to play it cool and side step the reference. Finally, I just said "tell me something new." He continued to rant. Then I asked him, "Dr. S. if said this same thing to you about my PI would you hold it against me" Dr. S.'s reply was "yes, I would." Finally, I asked him "Are you really going take me serious for this position?" He replied "No." My thought then why in the hell are you interviewing me, A hole? Look at my publications and dissertation good people can work for bad people; Duh!
Before my final day, I arranged a meeting with the department head via a prominent scientist. I politely laid out my case and provided him with documents which proved my arguments. Then he proceed to lecture me on the story about King Solomon in the Bible about splitting the baby. After a brief pause in his lecture, I mentioned that there might be violations of scientific misconduct. Then he adamantly said "I don't want to hear this be quite." All the time this is happening I am looking at this picture of him shaking the hand of Lance Armstrong sitting on his desk. Remember this was after the cheating scandal was revealed and he has a picture of Lance on his desk. Thinking the following: "What a F ing coward this guy is? Split the baby and see if I care. You are enabling misconduct and cheating in your department. Just like a stupid administrator, endorse the cheating of Lance Armstrong because his foundation gave you a large grant; you are enabling his behavior and endorse him as a role model. Now there is the more appropriate analogy!! I could file a ORI complaint and have you digging out of paperwork for the next three years, coward." Retrospectively, I should told this coward off with this!
This is just part of what I have had to endure for doing a good job and trying to do the right thing. When you turn a blind eye to a bully engaged in bad behavior and misconduct, it will only enable his behavior and he will continue doing it. This why academia has a problem with scientific integrity and data fabrication; they act like idiots and bury their heads in the sand. Hello, it only enables the problem! It is like a bully on the playground that you have to punch the insecure bastard straight in the nose and don't let up. I have tried to ignore this but I know given his demeanor he will continue to say things that are inaccurate and interfere with my career until he retires. So, there are narcissistic bully bosses out there that can't be compromised with and should be punished for their actions. Otherwise, they will continue abusing others selfishly.
One last point is that somehow I am expected to make excuses for this guy in an interview. BS on that one. I didn't do anything wrong and have made significant accomplishments to back it up. But like Dr. S. said he can openly talk about the bad behavior of my former PI but I am expect not only to have a reference but also only say positive things. Not even a "he was an unreasonable guy." I guess I am expected to lie about him or not be considered for this opportunity. This is why I have worked as a consultant for some close personal friends over the last seven years since leaving his lab. The whole incident has profoundly made me skeptical of working for any boss (other than myself) and I will consider only options involving a contract (not at will options).
I surmise after this incident:
1) Rarely will a boss ever have your back and/or reciprocate for a job well done.
2) A boss can not to be counted on to make sure that your job is funded. His problems in the organization will be your problems and you will be judged by the company (boss you have) you keep.
3) You will be blamed for the bad actions of your bad boss.
4) Nobody has the right to interfere with your career and ability to maintain employment; paying your bills.
5) In this situation, it is probably easier to fight him than try to side step this guy's reference for the rest of my working career.
6) Never work for a boss with a questionable background and/or not well received by his peers.
7) In this situation, it is probably easier and more lucrative to create my own business. Plus, I know the right thing to do and I don't have to ever be accountable to a prick boss again. By owning my business or being a consultant, I can pick and choose my coworkers and bosses; no jealous coworkers or dysfunctional supervisors who only care about themselves.
8) A PhD or bench scientist should never work for a MD that does not have a PhD in any capacity. They should only work for scientists not clinicians which might have a research or diagnostic laboratory. A MD only will not never respect the efforts of a PhD scientist; they will only respect their fellow peers in the clinic not an experimentalist that does work for them. There is too much of a cultural different to get ahead in these situations.
8) 12 years of my life wasted. Nobody will ever appreciated my accomplishments during this period of my life because I made the mistake of working for a self centered jerk. So, dammit I will create my own options using my talents, connections, and my own money without the help of anyone else. If the right people want to help, that's great but I am not trusting any selfish schmuck that wants a syphocant for an employee. Can't trust my financial security to the wrong people.
DX, maybe you can explain these reactions that I received and offer any suggestions on how to handle this if the RIO can not reach an agreement with the PI. Don't worry about me; financially I can take of myself and he will never find my clients or collaborators. I have told my business partner that I might sue him and he has told me that he has my back on this.
Dx, there is one lesson we, including myself could learn for this story is how to avoid these types of bosses? Can one arm yourself with the right questions and career strategies to avoid a bad match of employee and supervisor? But without turning off a potential good supervisor. Maybe one should wait until you get the offer then ask the tough questions. Unfortunately, I think it is too late for me and I will have to wait for a contractual position or just grow my own business; too many unreliable bosses in this industry to risk my financial stability by trusting them with my career again.
I first recommend you go back to your post and edit out the questionable language.
And without being too circular, as mentioned from your current situation 20 years, walk away, holding grudges does not work.
As far as bosses go, it is what it is and you find the bad ones..then quit. Move on.
It is Ok during an interview to ask the "tough" questions. For me, I ask questions on working style, and I'm blunt. It's like a date. I ask a lot of key questions - I..e management style, working style, I ask about their MTBI (I'm a ISTJ) or DISC (I'm S with a bit of C), I tell them mine. I also have a network, so in many cases I can also get off-line feedback as they can for me. And it comes down to, "do I like em or not". I have been in many interviews where, I didn't jive with the boss. Our date...would be not be repeated. As you grow you'll see it becomes rather easy to figure it out really fast, so I'm pulsed in. I walked away. i.e. no thank you, not sure this will be a fit at this stage.
Other times, it was great. For my current job, I remember we finished our interview talking about what my expectations where for a boss and her expectation of me, we shared our challenges, i.e. me as an introvert, her as a person who takes on too much, her challenge with others, and organization, we got to a point where she was putting everything on the table so I knew what I was getting into and she knew what she was getting. So no issue. It was a good "date". The same with my new boss, he came in after a organizational change, and we just hit it off.
And some with my last company, my future boss then and I just hit it off, she even went to CEO level to advocate for my hire. We just connected. Why? because we got to those deeper questions on workstyle, management style, expecations, challenges... opportunities, etc. etc.
Remember in an interview, it's your job to also ask questions - nothing wrong with that and no boss will get offended. To your question, interview them as they interview you. Because of all the questions that they may ask you, or you may ask them, there is only one important question. One Fundamental question, the question that's on top of every other question that can possibly exist..... and it's this one:
Do I want to work with you?
And that question - the burden is carried by the people sitting on both sides of the table.
So tell me all your technical blah blah and how great you are. Great wonderful, nice. Box ticked. But..Do I want to work with you?
So, for the bosses I've worked for, I've been backed up. I've been empowered. I have authority over my remit and supported. Finanically, I've been backed as well.
My current boss, supports my career and my work-life balance needs. And, contrary to your experience, he has a MD degree and places no barrier on the fact i'm a non-physician - I have full authority over my remit and full sign off, and final say over my functional accountabilities. It is expectation I carry that authority beyond reproach - he has no time to manage me so he needs to trust me. He is my partner and that's how we work, with full trust.
Hope this helps you and forum in terms of interviewing your future bosses...it's ok to ask questions. And please, don't hold grudges. Move on.
You are very courageous and I am happy for you that you feel secure in doing this. I've seen many friends going through miserable time with their PIs. Eventually, no one spoke up because they didn't think they would succeed and they believe they will need the reference at some points. However, many of them continue to suffer even after graduation. Those miserable days just can't be easily forgotten. For some people, the experience deeply affects how one would approach things and people, eg. don't know the meaning of hard work, less willing to help others because one consistently feels miserable for oneself. It could turn a happy person into a barely alive one. In your case, it changes your attitude towards MD being a PI. For that, I understand how you feel and why you want to take actions. I also feel you are helping future students. Regarding to your benefit, I agree with DX that it will cost you a lot of energy to get this "closure" and it is perhaps easier to let it go if you can. I don't have suggestions like I did to my friends, a good company was the only thing I could offer. I just want to say we need more supports for the students/employees who are always in the weak spots. There should be a mechanism to objectively evaluate the situation and take the power away from irresponsible PIs/employers when necessary. I wish everyone a healthy work environment.
The healthy work environment is sadly lacking in many, and I almost said "most," academic departments. I investigated one recently that was reported to me, because it was so extreme, and what I learned sickened me. The abuse that was dumped on this young scientist whose only goal was to learn and contribute back to science . . . Unbelievable and like many, the result of ego on the part of the Professor.
Dave Jensen, Founder and Moderator
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The RIO is going try to reach a settlement which includes authorship and a positive apology. Plus, he is permanently banded from making statements about me. If he does not comply, they will open an scientific misconduct investigation on him. Of note, the active RIO had to retract themselves from this matter since she/he worked under this PI as a professor. So the former RIO of thirty years is going to negotiate the matter with this PI dean. The active RIO privately agrees with me on this even though she/he is not suppose to take sides. Both RIOs agree that this is serious case of plagiarism fabrication. The PI was suppose to get my permission first. Here is what the law says about this:
"According to 17 USC 504 c2, an infringement is considered “willful when the defendant has engaged in acts that infringed the copyright and knew that those acts infringed the copyright, or the defendant acted with reckless disregard for, or willful blindness to, the copyright holder’s rights.” Further, it should be noted that there are statutory damages associated with the willful copyright infringement for a maximum of $150,000 (plus attorney fees)."
If he does not comply, the misconduct investigation is on and my attorney sends a demand letter seeking all possible damages.
What I have learned from this experience is often narcissistic and self centered individuals never change; thus, must be stood up to even if it requires an investigation or law suit.
The best approach is to screen out this type of supervisor by asking tough behavior questions of the potential supervisor. DX we agree on this point.
Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said: “Sunshine is the best disinfectant.”
Dear Forum, I wanted to give everyone an update. I was given authorship after the research integrity officer (RIO) and VP of research approached my former PI with a demand letter from my attorney. The demand letter outlined how my former PI infringed on my copyright for my dissertation; my former PI copied figures from my dissertation w/o my authorization and any attribution. However, he refused to provide a factual and accurate letter of reference. During this process, incidents of scientific misconduct (fabrication and plagiarism) and improper laboratory management were conveyed to the VP of Research and the President of the University. The University attorneys verified the copyright on my dissertation. Thus, a cease and desist was issued to him by the RIO such that he can not provide any reference for me or any former employee. Since he refused to cooperate with the letter, I have an agreement with the University that I can sue the University for infringement if he violates the cease and desist. The RIO even offered to write a character reference if I needed it. The University is communicating their findings to the NIH study section. Frankly, I think my former PI deserved his fate.
There are many lessons I learned from this:
1) When you create a dissertation, you generate a copyright which is codified by University policies. It is important to register it in case someone, like a former boss, copies it w/o your permission. Registration you gives legal leverage.
2) When someone tries to push you around and take credit for your efforts, push back and fight. It is important to fight back when you did everything right.
3) Ask tough behavioral questions before accepting a job. Pay attention to their reaction and how they answer the questions. Remember you are also interviewing them. For example, one might ask a potential boss after an offer: Would you ever write a negative reference for a productive employee just because you disliked that individual? In this case, this PI could NOT separate his personal feelings about an individual from objectively evaluating their accomplishments and qualifications.
4) MDs w/o a PhD and who have significant clinical obligations are not well trained as a "bench scientist" or experimentalist. There are many professors of medicine (MD only and clinical obligations) who think a 2-3 research residency trains them to be a scientist who have labs that accept graduate students and post-docs. Further, these MDs will never respect and appreciate a PhD or someone with significant research training at the bench (i.e. an experimentalist). Avoid these MDs unless you are a resident or medical student. Trained many residents in the lab and have dealt with "clinicians" who fit this profile "dabbling" in the lab between seeing patients.
Thanks DX. Interesting update, the PI agreed to the authorship five months ago but never notified the journal. So, I called and asked for confirmation. Finally, the Dean stepped in and called the journal; then I get an email from the editor saying it will be done in 3-5 weeks. Then I find out that the PI was to resign his post as Dean and Chair of Medicine and is actively looking for a new position. Glad to know it was not me. As the faculty in the department said you were right karma does come full circle that's why he is looking.Tenured professor with three seven stints at three different medical schools. Don't treat people like crap professionally; it will haunt you.