Need help or suggestions in reporting data falsification
August 11, 2017 11:01 PM   Subscribe

I work for a contract company in a Science-y Field doing tech transfer. During our latest process, A Thing failed but was fixed quickly. It made 1/3 of the data collected in real time look awful. Cleaning up at the end of the process, I turn around to see my co-worker "fixing" a screenshot of the data in MS Paint.

My boss is leaning over his shoulder commenting on how nice it looks now. This is Not Okay in many ways. I tried to suss out over the course of a few hours what they were actually planning on doing with this false data and too late realized that they sent out just the falsified data to our client. At the same time, boss and co-worker are explaining to me how there was no problem with the data, there is only the falsified data, and that's the end of it.

I have a co-witness to all of this who seems very willing to speak up about the whole situation. I have redundant back-ups of the real data. The falsified data is saved in the culprit's outboxes and in the clients' hands. I am not in a management position, position of authority, etc. Given that the falsified data reached the client, I am under no illusions as to how very badly all of this will end for the whole team, regardless of the above.

My current plan is to email the project manager and request an urgent meeting tomorrow morning. The other immediate option is my boss's boss, the VP of our division. The last thing I intend to do at the moment is go to our local HR rep who is, at the best of times, flaky and unresponsive to issues (as simple as change of address, for instance).

Any suggestions or advice as to what to say, not say, do, not do, whether my current plan is awful, etc?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'm not clear on exactly what happened here. You say the data "looked" awful and cleaning it up in paint sounds to me like fixing the appearance of the data rather than changing the underlying raw data itself. So could you clarify whether there's something wrong with the actual raw data or whether it's a presentation issue?

Also does your company have an official whistleblower policy? If you do decide to step forward about this which morally you should if you know the data was falsified, then go in with your eyes open. Very sadly stepping forwards could be career limiting. When you do discuss this stick very carefully to the facts and do not insert any of your own opinions into what you say to whoever you choose to approach.
posted by hazyjane at 11:48 PM on August 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

Whatever you decide to do, document everything with as much detail and truthfulness as possible. Contemporaneous notes are extremely valuable when dealing with these matters. Document the incident and the measures you take to inform the Project Lead or Vice President. Include times, copies of emails, etc. Document the conversation you have with these people. Keep your own copies of everything.
posted by xyzzy at 12:29 AM on August 12, 2017 [3 favorites]

Is the project manager at the client? Your boss's subordinate? I would attempt to address this internally first before escalating to the client. If you live in a one-party-consent state for recording (check first!!!), I would record any internal conversations about the problem. If not, take copious notes during the conversation and, if the internal person promises to do [xyz] to correct the problem, send them a "confirmatory" email of your understanding of their promises.

This is the right thing to do, but you should be aware that there is a real possibility of retaliation. HR is very unlikely to be on your side in any of this.
posted by praemunire at 12:32 AM on August 12, 2017

Since this was submitted anonymously and you mention a meeting tomorrow morning, I'm guessing you already went through with this, but is your boss also the project manager? I would probably ask the boss about the fake data, which is sounds like you tried to do, and then if that doesn't work, go above his head and show his boss both sets of data and raise your concerns. The problem is, everyone might be in on this, so you might need to think about the dynamic of your company and trying to protect yourself somehow. If you can present a united front of concern, even better.
posted by AppleTurnover at 1:12 AM on August 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

Since nobody's explicitly said it yet, keep your notes and copies of stuff that you are legally allowed to keep somewhere that is not your work site. Also if it were me, I'd start having a plan for finding a new job in the event that the company chooses to protect your boss instead of you.
posted by deludingmyself at 11:19 AM on August 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

Don't say one word about this. Not one word. Not to anyone.

Yes, it's absolutely "wrong" but your boss doesn't give a damn. Other team members are on board also. You will be treated terribly for the rest of the time you are there, and they will poison the waters of anywhere you want to go.

Let. It. Go. It's not your business. If it bothers you to be working cheek to jowl with such unethical ppl, start a new job search immediately
posted by dancestoblue at 5:10 AM on August 13, 2017 [2 favorites]

i hate to say this but dancestoblue clearly has had the kind of experiences I've had.....unless lives are at stake, only you ill suffer for taking this further. I have seen numerous egs of whistlblowing in the health services where lives were literally at stake. ALL of the whistleblowers suffered tremendous consequences..
posted by Wilder at 7:34 AM on August 13, 2017

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