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I would like to point out that this question is from a dubious and unverified claim that I had encountered. I thoroughly searched the internet for any information on such claims but could not find anything so please close if you feel it is a poor question.

On the bus, I typically see University of Pittsburgh advertisements for various medical and psychological research studies. (Eg. Are you a smoker between the ages of 25-55). On one bus I saw was a study, Are you the parent of a child that is emotionally stable between the ages of 8-12?

Someone had vandalized the ad with a permanent marker. On the very top of the poster was:

WE NEED MORE AND MORE FUNDING

After the description of the voluntary participants that they are looking for was written:

NO MATTER WHAT, WE WILL FIND SOMETHING WRONG WITH YOUR CHILD

Then at the very bottom after the address of the research center:

WE HAVEN'T PAID ANY TAXES SINCE 1951

There really are several highly charged claims in this vandalism. The first statement suggests that they are highly self-serving and much more concerned about securing funding and grants than any noble cause such as helping children. This claim is probably too generic by itself. We all know that there are some unethical professors and research assistants.

The second claim particularly bothered me. It seems to suggest that they are purposely looking for emotional and psychological disorders in these children to further their own agenda and purpose, perhaps their purpose to continue existing and collecting grants. What is more is that since these are children they are incapable of making such a voluntary choice to participate in such a study. It really has to do with the parents volunteering their own children for this study.

The study itself claims they are looking for Emotionally Stable children however, which seems highly subjective criteria to me anyway. Why would a parent who actually believed that their child was emotionally stable submit them to a study like this unless they had a seed of doubt in their mind to begin with?

Perhaps this is just an enraged fantasy by a parent living in denial about some real psychological issues with their child that these researchers had made known to the parent?

But then there is the third claim about them not paying any taxes which might be true, but why deface the ad with that information unless you are just looking for faults? The mostly tax-free status of the many presitigouos and lucrative Pittsburgh higher education institutions is a highly politically charged issue for this region and am wondering if all of these claims simply exist as a political retaliation.

As stated earlier I scoured the internet mostly looking for information on child behavioral studies that are scams but turned up nothing. I was hoping to find more information on that.

  • 2
    I don't think this is really a notable claim... just a poorly designed study – nico Apr 25 '12 at 20:29
  • 2
    They could be asking for emotionally stable children as a control group, maybe not as the experimental group. – Andrew Grimm Apr 26 '12 at 10:25
  • @AndrewGrimm As intrigued as I am about the study, I find myself more fascinated with the claims made in the vandalism. I would have liked to hear his/her side of the story and their experiences. – maple_shaft Apr 26 '12 at 11:21
9

Researchers are driven by their research interest. As in any occupation, fraudsters exist. However, the types of fraud involving grants are, to my knowledge, in the paperwork domain. For example, researchers may grant people outside a research project money, for example, a spouse who is not entitled to the funding.

For example: This Swedish article from SvD Nyheter (English translation) describes one researcher who fell under suspicion of misusing funds from a European Commission funding agency.

Children

When it comes to research on children, one might become concerned about the vulnerability of children. However, US researchers are required to:

  • gather informed consent - signed approval - from parents or guardians prior to any participation.
  • to compensate participants when the research is time consuming.
  • (In clinical research,) gain approval from an Ethic Committee (most often an Institution Review Board (IRB)). They are generally very strict.

Psychological researchers are required to adhere to ethical principles, such as:

Funding

Securing "funding" in research usually translates to one of the following for researchers: "my salary" and "I get to keep my job". To achieve certain promotions in academia, you have to show evidence that you are able to independently secure funding (among other criteria). Otherwise you loose your job. In academia, funding is about self-maintenance.

Example of call for application (professorship): "Applicants are expected to demonstrate research experience on an international level as well as a successful track record in acquiring external project funding and carrying out externally funded projects." Source

Recruiting Participants

Often, researchers require participants to fulfil certain initial criteria for their conclusions to hold. For example, if a research group aims to draw conclusions about children in general, emotionally unstable children might bias their conclusion, making it difficult to generalize. At other times, emotionally unstable children might not benefit from the intervention (if any) or need to be excluded from participation for their own sake. In some cases, behavioural "screening" is applied.

Diagnostic Criteria

In clinical research, there are established standards of diagnostics. For example, there is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), currently in its fourth edition. Thus, fishing for "new" diagnoses is very unlikely to occur, because they are not within the scope of the DSM.

Basic Research

All research is not clinical. Much of psychological research aims to understand people better, and the way they think. This approach is known as basic research. Some consider it to be less "noble" - as you say. However, applied research (e.g. clinical research) heavily relies on findings from basic research

Conclusion

I hope to have answered some of your questions. I am currently not in a position to comment about taxes. Some researchers are funded by the National Institutes of Health, a governmental body. Why would the government pay taxes?

Finally, I would personally not give vandals too much legitimacy. For all I know, this could be a group of graduate students cracking a joke.

  • +1. "Why would the government pay taxes?" It would be possible to set up a tax system where government employees and government-funded bodies don't pay tax (and hence can be paid less). In Australia, PhD scholarships are set up that way, for example. However, in most cases that is not the way it is done. – Oddthinking Apr 28 '12 at 11:33
  • Do let me know if questions remain. – noumenal Apr 28 '12 at 21:00
  • Legitimate research is not usually hyped with ads in all capital letters. Any responsible organization must take human subject research, especially research on children, as having large potential liability. University researchers using human subjects must usually obtain approval to begin research from a Committee for the Safety of Human Subjects. Certain harmless categories of research are often exempt, such as economics, marketing, or game theory. The committee exists in part so that participants who believe they were harmed by a study can have their complaints heard and the study stopped. – Paul May 7 '12 at 14:40

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