I'm current an undergraduate student working on a research project for my thesis.

In my project, I obtained quite a large number of inconsistent or strange result for my lab analysis of my samples and I just couldn't get a reliable or sound result for my analysis. I have been struggling in repeating the experiments for a prolonged time and done a lot of attempts, yet I still have not got a good result for it.

While my viva session and thesis submission date is approaching nearer, I am really stressed and have thought about modifying my lab results so that it is more presentable for my thesis since time is running out.

However, I really am not sure whether that is it ok for me to do so. I got a guilty feeling that I am doing something that is against my morality for submitting results that are not 100% originated from my own work. On the other hand, if I report my original results that didn't look appealing for my supervisor, I'm also afraid that she would require me to redo my whole experiment and delay my graduation date.

I really hope I can get an advice from a reliable researcher or student about my case.

  • 22
    It's a bit unclear as to what you're asking. It does at the moment read like you are asking whether or not you should falsify your experimental data; that's probably not what you intended to ask, is it?
    – 410 gone
    Sep 9, 2015 at 8:16
  • Ya I was asking whether would it be ok if i edit my experimental results(sorry for the uncleared question) however after hearing ff524's advice I think I will still report my original results and try my best to justify in my discussion
    – user40838
    Sep 9, 2015 at 8:31
  • 49
    Falsifying your data is not "editing your results". Don't mislead or justify it to yourself like that. It's dishonest, harmful to the community, and could ruin your career. Don't do it, ever.
    – Moriarty
    Sep 9, 2015 at 8:45
  • 4
    thank you so much to all of your advices...I truly understand the consequences of falsifying results as it is against the ethical issues in the educational research field...now I clearly know what I have to do. Many thanks!
    – user40838
    Sep 9, 2015 at 8:51

4 Answers 4


I am really stressed up and conceived the notation of modifying my lab results so that it is more presentable for my thesis since time is running out.

No, no, no

Never do this - it is highly unethical. If your deceit is discovered, you are likely to lose your degree, and may possibly face other consequences. (For example, if you have a job based on that degree, you may lose the job when the degree is revoked.)

It is always disappointing when a project doesn't work out the way you hope it will, but there is always that risk when you set out to do something that isn't completely straightforward. See, for example, this related question: What to do when research leads to poor results?

Even experiments that are "known" to work (in the sense that someone claims to have previously achieved "good results" with that experiment) can't always be repeated reliably. See Estimating the reproducibility of psychological science, in which the authors attempt to repeat 100 published psychology experiments, and "replicated the original result" in fewer than half of them.

The correct response is to write your thesis giving all the details of your work as it happened: the background, the experiment design, and the results. This serves to document your efforts, and may prove to be useful to other people who might try the same experiment in the future. You may also explain why you think the experiment may not have yielded the results you expect, and possibly propose a new experiment (if you have any ideas for improving your work).

Note that even when scientific findings do not match our expectations, the study is still considered a success (of sorts) if we can learn something from it. Even if what we learn is "this experiment does not yield consistent results in many cases." In contrast, false results might look nice, but are worse than worthless.

A lack of "good results" does not necessarily doom your thesis. To quote another answer:

My PhD thesis was trying to demonstrate the nature of the relationship between stress and psoriasis symptoms (many people say "stress worsens psoriasis" - it's taken as a given truth, but it's never been empirically demonstrated). I was trying to answer things like what kind of stress, how long does it take, does it differ between people? I never found any evidence that stress did worsen psoriasis. Nor that psoriasis worsened stress (or any other psychological symptom).

A PhD is an educational process. One should demonstrate that one has learned. The most important thing about a PhD is showing what you know, what you have learned, and what you understand. If anyone gets to the end of a PhD and says "Well, those results were all positive, just as I expected", they've learned little. At the end of your PhD (or any research project) you should want to start again, and this time do it properly.

The excerpt above is about a PhD, but applies at all levels of study.

If I report my original results that didn't look appealing for my supervisor, I'm also afraid and doubt that she would require me to redo my whole experiment and delay my graduation date.

You should talk to your supervisor now - don't surprise her the week before your submission date and tell her that the experiment failed! Talk to your supervisor and ask for her advice on how to proceed with your experiment. Presumably she has more experience than you in this area and may be able to suggest a solution you haven't thought of. (And she probably does not want to delay your graduation any more than you do...)

  • 1
    Thank u so much for your advice! I also really don't want to edit my results as my workings will be contributed to the educational world. I also realize it will be unethical to do so, so I will try my best to dicuss my results in my discussion and tell my supervisor about it
    – user40838
    Sep 9, 2015 at 8:34
  • 14
    You should talk to your supervisor now - don't surprise her the week before your submission date and tell her that the experiment failed! Totally nails it!
    – Klaster
    Sep 9, 2015 at 15:36
  • 23
    Don't tell her that the experiment failed! "There is no discernable link" IS NOT FAILURE.
    – user12726
    Sep 10, 2015 at 9:03

Have you considered asking your supervisor for help in this case? That's what a supervisor, especially on undergraduate levels, is there for: Advising you, when you need it. I have supervised several Bachelor Theses so far and cases like yours happen more often than you think.

In some cases I could point to some literature which had similar issues. There the students often found helpful insights which showed them what might have caused the somewhat "strange" results. It also helped them a lot to know that they're not the only one struggling with that particular issue.

From your question I concluded that you have no idea yet what your problem actually is (you just have not "reliable" and "sound" results). I suggest you do further analyses together with your supervisor and see if you can pinpoint the problem.

Maybe you also simply found out that other people's results were wrong. Maybe the experiment is not supposed to show their results but yours are actually correct. There might be reasons why the look not "reliable" and "sound" to you.

Things like this can happen. Empirical results are empirical results. If the outcome differs from the expectation even though the experiment has been carefully conducted then the probability is high that the expectation was wrong.

  • 9
    +1 "Talk to your advisor" is the best solution to a significant number of questions on this site.
    – ff524
    Sep 9, 2015 at 9:12
  • It just seems to me the most logical step to take first :) It was for me as a student and now, as a supervisor, I even ask from time to time if my advise is needed. Research is teamwork in every area. Sep 10, 2015 at 11:24

Submit your results as they are. When you give your plan, your hypothesis, your procedure, then say "But, nothing really turned up.", you gain respect. Yeah, she may want you to repeat everything if she sees something you missed, but that's sort of the point!


You should never falsify data. It is literally the highest sin you can commit in science.

Bear in mind that in my lab (and likely yours too) we have and use bachelors and masters theses as reference documents on various methods and apparatus that were worked on by past students. If you falsify your data, your academic dishonesty can have real effects and unwittingly waste a lot of the group's time.

  • 4
    literally the highest sin you can commit in science - Hmm, arguably not the highest sin. See e.g. Tuskegee syphilis experiment, Nazi human experimentation, Unit 731, etc. But I agree that falsifying data is Very Very Bad.
    – ff524
    Sep 9, 2015 at 21:21
  • @ff524: Falsified data regarding side effects of vaccines has killed a few too, although not as many as your examples Sep 10, 2015 at 13:11
  • Maybe the worst scientific sin?
    – cfr
    Sep 11, 2015 at 0:39

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