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Iowa State AIDS Researcher Admits To Falsifying Findings 141

Posted by timothy
from the seemed-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time dept.
theodp writes "'With countless lives depending on their work,' writes Brett Smith, 'it seems unthinkable that AIDS researchers might falsify their work. However, that's just what Iowa State University assistant professor Dong-Pyou Han has admitted to, according to federal documents.' Han resigned from the project in October after admitting to tampering with samples to give the appearance that an experimental vaccine was causing lab animals to build up protections against HIV. According to the NIH, Han apparently spiked rabbit blood with human blood components from people whose bodies had produced antibodies to HIV. 'This positive result was striking, and it caught everybody's attention,' said the NIH. However, researchers at other institutions became suspicious after they were unsuccessful in duplicating the ISU results. The Iowa State AIDS research project had been awarded $19 million in federal grants over the past several years. Han has agreed to be banned from participating in any federally-financed research for three years."
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Iowa State AIDS Researcher Admits To Falsifying Findings

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Han has agreed to be banned from participating in any federally-financed research for three years.

    That's it? I would expect a little more than a slap on the wrist.

    • In contrast, teenagers that break windows with a total worth of $550 get felony jail time [criminalde...lawyer.com].
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Lumpy (12016)

        Poor people MUST be punished to the extent of the law.

        If you think there is anything "fair" in justice, then you are incredibly Naive.

        If you are rich you get away with nearly anything, if you have the ability to fight back they tend to not push you into the ground as hard. But if you are poor and stole a loaf of bread? Expect the death penalty.

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by jo_ham (604554)

          It's really cute that you think academic research-based scientists are rich.

          Is this overspill from the whole "climate change is just a cover for scientists to get rich off the back of lucrative grants" stuff?

          • by Sarius64 (880298)
            Because the evidence shows that scientists have no bias, are moral, and simply throw money from grants to the poor street rats when they receive it. /sarcasm
          • The Iowa State AIDS research project had been awarded $19 million in federal grants over the past several years.

            There's money in it for someone. And plenty of it.
            "Iowa State University assistant professor Dong-Pyou Han" may not have the money for fancy lawyers but "Iowa State AIDS research project" or the "Iowa State University" most probably have some on they payrolls.

            • *their payrolls.

            • by the gnat (153162)

              "Iowa State University assistant professor Dong-Pyou Han" may not have the money for fancy lawyers but "Iowa State AIDS research project" or the "Iowa State University" most probably have some on they payrolls.

              Correct, and ISU would much rather see headlines that say "ISU researcher barred from seeking federal grants for three years" than "ISU researcher sentenced to five years in jail for fraud."

              I'm not sure why people don't actually go to jail for this, other than the fact that the NIH can't actually brin

          • Re:Poor Han (Score:4, Informative)

            by fuzznutz (789413) on Sunday December 29, 2013 @01:30PM (#45812349)
            Principal investigators are paid fairly well. Research assistants and technicians might not. A good PI brings in millions of dollars to a state university and that is how they fill those budget voids. Our research overhead is 55%. That is money taken right off the top for the privilege of working in a university owned lab building. All equipment and supplies come out of the rest. Those grants need a good PI name to get funded.
            • by jo_ham (604554)

              I am also funded out of such a grant (and the PI is my direct supervisor), but my point was that in the context of this discussion, the oft-repeated cliche that poor people are subject to different rules to rich people is somewhat affected by the fact that very few scientists are rich. Especially research scientists.

              When that trope is commonly used, the difference in wealth is usually poor person vs investment banker/senator/etc. By that standard, we're nowhere on the curve.

          • by gl4ss (559668)

            well.. some of 'em are...

            because they double dip for funding from both meds corps and the state.. the bigger the studies expenses, the bigger their cut.

        • by hairyfeet (841228)

          For proof of that just look at how McAfee was treated like a celeb after spending the weeks leading up to the murder of his neighbor in a drug fueled haze banging underage girls and championing bath salts, all evidence points to him killing the father of three but is treated like a hero? Or the IIRC DuPont heir that managed to get acquitted of murder even though he had the decapitated head in a bowling bag in his closet. I mean for fucks sake, he had a HUMAN HEAD in his fricking closet! What does the guy h

      • In China, he'd probably get a bullet. (Or perhaps not, it's possible that scientists could get a pass there, unlike more ordinary embezzlers.)
    • by Mikkeles (698461)

      He will, however, be the darling of pharmaceutical and private medical clinics for his research methodologies.

    • The government never does anything to any established university or the elites that populate them. This has to be counted as an industry, like the Too Big To Fail banks and the oil companies and the telcos, whose members are elites and have an entirely different set of rules applied to them.

      Consider the price of university; it's purely a product of government subsidies with no relation to either the overall economy or the customer's ability to pay. In order to sustain these prices, bankruptcy protec

    • Re:Poor Han (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Samantha Wright (1324923) on Sunday December 29, 2013 @10:19AM (#45811365) Homepage Journal
      It's not. After this no one will touch him; his career as a researcher is over. For professors, three years of no federal grants is generally enough to kill the entire lab, and a three-year lapse in publishing is enough to kill any career on its own, with the possible exception of the most hard-boiled tenure.
      • by the gnat (153162)

        It's not. After this no one will touch him; his career as a researcher is over. For professors, three years of no federal grants is generally enough to kill the entire lab, and a three-year lapse in publishing is enough to kill any career on its own, with the possible exception of the most hard-boiled tenure.

        True, but he attempted (?) to defraud the federal government out of several million dollars. If you tried that with Medicaid, you'd go to jail. On the other hand, considering that our jails are alread

        • Well, it's sort of complicated.

          On one hand—it's probably worth pointing out that the American punitive system is absolutely insane, and the mildness of this should not be taken as evidence of a defective process simply because it doesn't follow suit. Indeed, there are some fairly involved legal and philosophical reasons as to why the punishments aren't more extreme. Here [arxiv.org] is a paper on it. (I haven't read all of it, but it seems sensible enough from the first few pages.) One of the key points is that a

  • ...and that kid barred from practicing medicine or research EVER. Getting caught cheating in a professional field where people's lives are at state should be a capitol offense.

    • by Coeurderoy (717228) on Sunday December 29, 2013 @08:31AM (#45810873)

      ...Getting caught cheating in a professional field where people's lives are at state should be a capitol offense.

      You got that right, this is the kind of offense regularly done at the Capitol..
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Capitol [wikipedia.org]

    • ...and that kid barred from practicing medicine or research EVER. Getting caught cheating in a professional field where people's lives are at state should be a capitol offense.

      Or just give him AIDS and let him decide if he wants to fuck with the research again.
      [Sorry, that was really mean.]

  • It is the same society, or should I say global system of power, which features:
    - pollution for a theoretically and practically impossible continuous growth model;
    - introduction of new substances with incomplete testing;
    - laws against honest labelling...

  • ISU cannot afford to allow such a small punishment for a breach in their scientific intergrity. Oh no, no government funded research projects for three years. How about ever? And a requirement to disclose this information before taking any position. Peoples lives depend on this research. Maybe false hope is better than no hope to the average person, but that doesn't fly in science.
    • by jma05 (897351) on Sunday December 29, 2013 @08:42AM (#45810913)

      It likely that this is just a standard procedure which fits the general category. Since this is pretty eggregious, I doubt that he will ever get a research grant again. For one, he will need to be a part of a research institution to get a grant. Which research university will hire him now, given the competitiveness of these positions? He might be able able to teach in some low level place, but his research career has ended.

    • Re:Unconscionable (Score:5, Insightful)

      by jovius (974690) on Sunday December 29, 2013 @09:15AM (#45811017)

      Well, surely lives should not depend on unverified and non-peer reviewed research as the summary sensationally implies. Because of the due process the falsified results were revealed before any actual danger. Most likely the falsified results were also publicized for immediate consumption well before any verification, which actually created new ground for false hopes.

      • You would have a different point of view if you were in the labs that took the risks to check, in hopes of being early publishers. We are talking Post-docs who every minute spent on wasted time is that far behind on the next possible position. Or is your time that valueless that this concept is difficult.
        Society and science wins in the end - of course, but like war - there really is no winners when it comes to parent-less or destroyed families.
        Let's open our perspective to include the little guys.. cause if

      • by sjames (1099)

        Lives depend on it because they need a successful cure. Fraud like this siphons off research money that might lead to the cure and puts it in the hands of people who produce only fraud.

  • Wait, 3-year ban? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Ecuador (740021) on Sunday December 29, 2013 @08:26AM (#45810845) Homepage

    For many researches it takes more than 3-years to get a federal grant (if they don't falsify results that is), how is a 3-year ban from federally-financed research any sort of punishment for such dishonesty?

    • by martinux (1742570) on Sunday December 29, 2013 @09:07AM (#45810985)

      It's a defacto lifetime ban. Short of moving to another country he will have the stigma of this for as long as he tries to get a job in science. Any research he previously reported will now be subject to significant scrutiny.

      Just imagine him, or anyone attached to a group he's attached to, trying to get future federal funding; "We've decided to turn down your application for [insert any reason]."

      He's now a liability to any university or research group. The only people who might hire him are some unscrupulous company who need a yes-man who will provide 'sympathetic' findings. Even then the work will most likely be under a pseudonym and will have to survive all of the extra scrutiny a 'sponsored' research study gets.

      Thankfully, science is a self-correcting mechanism as this uncovering has demonstrated.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        So what you're saying is that his academic career is over but he has a bright future in industry "research"?

        • by Anonymous Coward
          I work in private industry, just like most scientists. We wouldn't touch him with a ten foot pole.
      • It's a defacto lifetime ban.

        Absolutely. No matter how he spins this, everyone will know Han shot first.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      It doesn't take 3 years to get a grant accepted, it takes 3 years to fail to get a grant a few times before it is accepted. Also, 3 year ban basically wipes out any of the current students that the researcher may be working with, forcing them to start with a clean slate.

    • I think most researchers usually start submitting grant proposals 3 years before their previous grants run out to ensure continuous research funding. The researcher in this article already had federal grants, which have now been revoked. The 3 year ban on participating in federally funded research will ensure that the researcher will not be able to get any new grants to replace the funding that was just revoked.

    • by iroll (717924)

      The ban is for participating. He will certainly never be awarded a grant as a principle investigator ever again, which has already crippled his career. At best, in the future, he might be able to limp along somewhere as a second-rung researcher.

      What this means he can't work for any federally-financed research in any capacity (as an employee, collaborator, in-kind supporter, etc.) for three years. Since pretty much all research in his field includes some federal component, that's a three year exile from his

      • by the gnat (153162)

        Since pretty much all research in his field includes some federal component, that's a three year exile from his entire career, and about as close as you can get to a career death sentence.

        And since pretty much any prospective employer is going to find out about this, even the privately-funded research groups will treat him like he's radioactive.

  • shame shame shame (Score:2, Insightful)

    by blooddiamond (3469183)
    sounds like a conspiracy to me. There has to be more to this story than just a professor doug tampering with samples and resigning
  • by acoustix (123925) on Sunday December 29, 2013 @09:35AM (#45811121) Homepage

    He basically stole $19M. That's $19M that could have been used for *real* research to help people.

    He's a piece of crap.

    • by rtb61 (674572)

      Reading the article he was just one member of the team. It seems like he has fallen on his sword and taken full blame to protect the school administrators and other members of the team. It also seems like investigators are suspicious of these.

      This of course is the inevitable result of pushing too much competition in research, where the reality is negative results and as necessary and positive results in achieving the final solution but right wing knee jerk thinking demands only positive profitable result

  • in 2009, the FDA paid for a test on electronic cigarettes. The test came back screaming formaldehyde, acrolein and heavy metals. What the public later found out, the tests were done on dry e-cig cartridges (ie: no liquid was used, so the cartridges burned up), but to this date, the FDA claims that "they don't know what's in them". The recent CDC study on teen e-cig use is also as equally flawed.

  • I wonder how many peer reviewed papers he has had published?
  • Criminal fraud? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by DoofusOfDeath (636671) on Sunday December 29, 2013 @10:49AM (#45811503)

    I don't understand why he's not being charged with criminal fraud.

    • by gweihir (88907)

      Indeed. With the light slap on the wrist he got, he is free to commit more fraud soon, with better technique this time.

  • Didn't they also get 'more' money to continue the research? If so, when are they going to give it back? In another article I read on this it stated to the effect, "It's not customary for universities to return such funds." I also found this quote interesting... “As a matter of fact, I think the team came up with more novel ideas during the past four months than the past four years I have been at Iowa State University,” Cho wrote. Translation: "Han's work got us the money, but we weren't counti

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