For the past 15 years, epidemiologist Bonnie Yankaskas has received federal funding to maintain and analyze a database of mammography results from North Carolina women. Two years ago, her employer, the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, discovered that her server’s security had been compromised.
Although Dr. Yankaskas had hired a computer expert to oversee the database, the medical school ultimately found her responsible for the breach as project PI. The school first tried to fire the professor. Then they tried to demote her. In a settlement, Dr. Yankasas will retain her title and salary, but retire at the end of the year.
Even without evidence of harm to the subjects in the database, it is clear that the PI is responsible for training and overseeing the personnel who manage the data. Along with the prestige of conducting important research comes the responsibility for maintaining ethical standards.