Category Archives: research

Taiwan government to set up Office of Research Integrity in wake of NTU scandal

Taiwan’s Ministry of Science and Technology will clamp down on research fraud following a scandal at National Taiwan University (NTU). NTU biology professor Kuo Ming-liang was found to have breached research standards in 11 of 18 published papers that he co-authored. He has since been dismissed by NTU.

The scandal began after participants on PubPeer raised concerns about fabricated data in articles published in Nature Cell Biology and the Journal of Biological Chemistry in 2016, which led to an internal NTU inquiry. The President of NTU, Yang Pan-chyr, was also investigated as part of the case, as he was co-author on some of Ming-liang’s papers. Pan-chyr was cleared of wrongdoing.

The Science Ministry is seeking to recoup NT$1.54 million given to NTU in awards for Ming-liang’s publications. It has also announced it will establish an Office of Research Integrity to enforce research standards for Taiwanese researchers and institutions.

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Karolinska Institute looking for new vice-chancellor after botched misconduct investigation

Stockholm’s prestigious medical university, The Karolinska Institute (KI), is seeking a new Vice Chancellor. Its former head, Anders Hamsten, resigned in the wake of criticism for clearing Dr Paolo Macchiarini, a visiting professor to the institute, despite mounting evidence regarding serious misconduct by Macchiarini.

Dr Machhiariani was accused of falsifying evidence in publications related to his experiments developing artificial tracheae. Initially hailed as ground-breaking surgery, Macchiarini was subsequently accused by colleagues of exaggerating the prior health status of his patients and the success of his techniques. Six of eight recipients of his artificial tracheae subsequently died of complications. It is alleged that some of those patients did not have life-threatening conditions prior to the surgery.

Hamsten’s resignation followed Urban Lendahl stepping down as secretary general of the Nobel Assembly for his role in the appointment of Macchiarini at KI.  KI’s dean of research, Hans-Gustaf Ljunggren, has also offered to step down.

The medical journal The Lancet, which published Macchiarini’s research, had initially defended the work, but is now awaiting the results of new investigations into Macchiarini before making a decision on whether to retract the research. One of the co-authors, Karl-Henrik Grinnemo, a thoracic surgeon at KI who asked KI to investigate Macchiarini, has requested his name be removed from the work.

Macchiarini’s employment at KI had been extended for one year by Hamsten after dropping the misconduct charges. KI is now seeking to terminate Macchiarini’s appointment prior to the expiry of his contract.

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Global report: university corruption is rife

Transparency International has released a global report on corruption in education. With contributions from authors around the world, the report looks at some of the key drivers for misconduct among universities and explores a range of solutions.

According to the report, universities are at risk of corruption in the form of “illicit payments in recruitment and admissions, nepotism in tenured postings, bribery in on-campus accommodation and grading, political and corporate undue influence in research, plagiarism, ‘ghost authorship’ and editorial misconduct in academic journals.”

In an article titled “Corruption in the academic career,” Dr J. Shola Omotola, lecturer at Redeemer’s University in Nigeria, notes that “even in academic environments largely free from corruption, there remain opportunities for subtle politics to sway outcomes in hiring and promotion” (p.186). Selection criteria used in the advertising of positions, for example, can be tailored to fit the CVs of preferred candidates. According to Dr Omotola: “The starting point is to review not only the existing legal frameworks for hiring, promotion and tenure but also the existing methods for addressing corruption.”  He goes on to say that such a review “should emphasise transparency and accountability, but also look closely at the ways in which subtle systems of interpersonal politics, common to any organisation, can unfairly shape hiring and promotion decisions” (p.187).

According to Marta Shaw, from the University of Minnesota, increasing competitiveness between universities to attract students and research funding, growing pressures on staff to publish, lack of job security for untenured staff and centralisation of oversight into fewer staff are factors increasing misconduct among academic staff.

David Robinson, Senior Adviser at Education International, highlights the problems caused by the influence of commercial entities on university research. The influence of pharmaceutical companies in funding medical research is identified as particularly problematic.

The report suggests that commitment to the rule of law and systems of accountability are the key factors that lead to lower rates of corruption within universities. The full report is available from Transparency International’s website: http://www.transparency.org/gcr_education

 

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UQ investigation concludes Parkinson’s study never took place

Hot on the heels of QUT’s stem cell research scandal, neighbouring university, the University of Queensland, has had to request the retraction of a published research paper on Parkinson’s disease on the basis that no evidence can be found to substantiate that the research even took place.

In a paper titled, “Treatment of articulatory dysfunction in Parkinson’s disease using repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation,” published in the journal European Journal of Neurology, Professor Bruce Murdoch and colleagues claimed to have obtained successful results using transcranial magnetic stimulation to improve the speech ability of patients suffering Parkinson’s disease.

Professor Bruce Murdoch - no trace found of his data
Professor Bruce Murdoch – no trace found of his data

After a whistleblower raised the alarm, UQ undertook an investigation that concluded that the research was never undertaken. UQ Vice-Chancellor Professor Peter Høj announced in a statement that “no evidence has been found that the study described in the article was conducted.” In addition to requesting the retraction from the journal, the university returned a $20,000 grant from a non-government organisation that it believed was provided on the basis of the “discredited paper”.

Professor Murdoch, who founded the Motor Speech and Neurogenic Language Disorders Research Centre at the University of Queensland in the early 1990s, resigned prior to UQ commencing their investigation.

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QUT stem cell research scandal not over yet

Queensland University of Technology (QUT) may not be off the hook with a long-running scandal over erroneous findings from a stem cell study undertaken by a group of QUT researchers, as the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) calls for an independent investigation into QUT’s exoneration of the researchers involved.

Alarm bells were raised by QUT PhD student Luke Cormack when his research failed to reproduce the apparent success of his colleagues in sustaining human stem cells in what was claimed to be a ground-breaking study.

After his PhD was rejected by his examiners, Cormack uncovered evidence of what he suspected were smudging of results in a paper published in Stem Cells and Development, in which he was listed as co-author. He reported his misgivings to QUT Vice Chancellor Professor Peter Coaldrake.

An internal investigation by QUT concluded that there were serious errors in the findings, but cleared the researchers involved of deliberate falsification of results. Lead author, Dr Kerry Manton, claimed that inconsistencies in the research were unintentional. Queensland’s Crime and Misconduct Commission accepted the outcome of the internal investigation.

But questions have been raised about whether QUT’s internal investigation may have involved a conflict of interest. QUT (as well as some of the authors) is a shareholder of a spin-off company, Tissue Therapies, that was set up to commercialise the patented product VitroGro used in the stem cell research.

The National Health and Medical Research Council, which approved a grant of $275,000 to the team responsible for the research in 2009, has recently requested that the handling of the internal investigation that cleared the researchers of misconduct be reviewed by the Australian Research Integrity Committee.

In light of the errors, a published paper in December 2010 reporting the findings was retracted in January 2013 by the publishing journal, Stem Cells and Development.

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U. of Minnesota accused of being misleading on suicide case

Dan Markingson and his mother Mary
Dan Markingson and his mother Mary

In a blog on the Scientific American website, Dr Judy Stone claims that the University of Minnesota has been evasive in responding to her requests about the case of Dan Markinson. University of Minnesota researchers, Drs Olson and Schulz, are said to have recruited Dan Markingson, a seriously mentally ill patient, against his mother’s wishes.

His mother, Mary Markinson, claimed that her son was unable to provide informed consent. Mr Markinson committed suicide in 2004 during the study. Dr Stone notes that there is also an inconsistency in the date of the informed consent provided to Mr Markinson, which she says is dated a few days after he was already recruited into the study.

A petition is currently being organised for Gov. Mark Dayton (Minnesota) to launch an independent investigation of the case.

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