Bioethics Blogs

A Stiff Penalty for Research Misconduct, but what about institutions?

Several months ago, I read an interesting article written
by Sara Reardon and published in Nature titled
Uneven response to scientific fraud”. The Science and Nature
journals are great at providing news surrounding scientific topics, including discussions
on scientific fraud. In this article, the author discusses a case of
misconduct, which is typical to other cases and certainly not the most
egregious in terms of harming patients in a trial or a danger to public health.
Yet despite this, the penalties this researcher received were quite harsh. And
as I have written in previous blogs, it seemed no one else is to blame
including research institutions.

On July 1, 2015, Dr. Dong-Pyou Han was sentenced to 57
months in prison for research misconduct. Dr. Han is a biomedical scientist who
was let-go from Iowa State University for fabricating and falsifying data of a HIV
vaccine research study where he spiked rabbit blood samples with human HIV
antibodies which made it appear that the rabbits were developing immunity. In
addition, he has also been fined 7.2 million dollars. Because Han’s research
was supported by the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), the
investigation was performed at his home university with reports sent to the
U.S. Office of Research Integrity (ORI). He admitted to misconduct and
explained his actions by saying he tried to cover up a mix-up in samples he had
made years ago. As such, ORI debarred him from funding for up to 3 years. In
the article by Reardon, several experts of misconduct explained that receiving
a 57 month prison sentence is quite rare.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.