From the Archives of Scientific Fraud – Karen M. Ruggiero

 ID-100262129Photo by winnond,

A psychology professor recruited by the University of Texas in Austin last year has resigned amid charges that she falsified research data when she worked for her former employer – Harvard University. Karen M. Ruggiero also asked two journals, which published her research on discrimination, to withdraw her previously published articles. Ms. Ruggiero was recruited to Austin in September with a $100,000 start-up package as an assistant professor primarily for her work on the attitudes of women (and other groups) towards discrimination. She resigned in June, after Texas officials were notified that Harvard University was investigating fraud charges against her.[1]


Ruggiero’s research results become questioned during attempts to replicate her studies. A number of institutions were involved in the investigation, including U. S. Public Health Service, Office of Research Integrity, Harvard University and National Institute of Mental Health. The investigators concluded that Ruggiero fabricated data of three experiments, including data allegedly obtained from 240 subjects participating in her trials. The results were published in one of the world’s most prestigious and recognized journals – Journal of Personality and Social Psychology[2]. She later used the same faked results in her application for a research grant submitted to the National Institute of Mental Health in October 1999. Ruggiero admitted to fabricating her results. However, this was not the end of her “sins.” In a similar fashion, she simply made-up all the results of a trial conducted on 360 “participants” that “contributed” toward two experiments published in her next article. The “results” were later included in the application form for another research grant. She also confessed to misconduct in this case. She later used fake research results three more times in her efforts to obtain financing for her work.

The penalty was not severe. Ruggiero agreed that for five years she would not sign any contract with any institution funded by the US government, neither as a contractor nor as a subcontractor. She also agreed not to participate in any research financed by the Public Health Service. The period mentioned in her sentence passed on November 26th, 2006. However already in February 2005 she appeared on the 15th Anniversary ConferenceOn State Mental Health Agency Services Research under the aegis of Texas Department of State Health Services. Early in 2006 she already worked as an Editor-in-Chief of Behavioral Health journal published by the same institution. The journals, where Ruggiero published her fake results, issued appropriate notifications (errata) informing of retraction of her articles. Unfortunately full-text versions of her fraudulent work are still publicly available, not only in printed versions of the journals, but also in electronic databases. It seems that her fraud did not prevent her from continuing her career in the field.

[1] Jacobson, J. (2001). A psychology professor resigns amid accusations of research fraud at Harvard. Chronicle of Highier Education, 47, p. A10.

Ruggiero, [2] K. M. & Marx, D. M. (1999). Less pain and more to gain: Why high-status group members blame their failure on discrimination. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77, 774-784.


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