Whistle Blowing Discussion

First, it is useful to remember that available (though not definitive) evidence indicates that data fabrication is rare in physics, so while the student is likely in a position where she must take some action, she should keep open the possibility that she has misinterpreted the situation. 

This comment, however, should not be used to justify looking the other way on the possibility that she is wrong. The question about the data needs to be resolved. If there is going to be a formal inquiry of this matter, then it will be very important to preserve as much physical evidence as possible. 

At some universities, lab notebooks and other relevant material are impounded immediately upon receipt of a formal allegation of research misconduct. Preserving the evidence makes it much easier to arrive at a definitive conclusion regarding the existence of misconduct or the grounds for full exoneration. With this in mind, any actions the student takes should be consistent with the goal of preserving the evidence.

A formal inquiry into a misconduct allegation is kept confidential out of respect to both the accused and the accuser. Anything the student does prior to making a formal allegation should be consistent with this principle. This means that the student should not ask numerous people for their opinion on the matter, but rather advice should be sought from one or two trusted department members or from the university official who is likely to conduct the inquiry.

Nearly every university has someone designated as their Misconduct Policy Officer (or a similar title) who has the responsibility for initiating inquiries in response to formal allegations. The student may well need to take her allegation to this official. While it is nice to try to handle things internally (for instance working within the department), failed attempts at reaching an internal solution can make the inquiry much harder to pursue. For instance, an individual who is tipped off about a pending allegation by an attempt to resolve the issue internally has more time to cover his or her tracks and to alter or destroy physical evidence.

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