Two counts of misconduct
The Office of Research Integrity announces two new findings of research misconduct
The United States Office of Research Integrity (ORI) found former University of Michigan postdoc Vipul Bhrigu guilty of research misconduct for altering experiments and thus the data record, according to a linkurl:report;http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2011/2011-10150.htm published yesterday (April 27) in the Federal Register.
"We are very happy that the ORI has been able to come to this conclusion," linkurl:Theo Ross,;http://www.sitemaker.umich.edu/rosslab/home Bhrigu's former PI, of the University of Michigan told The Scientist
in an email. "Ecstatic may be a better word."
|Image: Wikimedia commons|
Last year, one of Ross's graduate students, Heather Ames, noticed that she kept making the same mistakes while performing experiments, and that as she corrected these errors, new ones would pop up. She grew suspicious, especially after successfully running her experiments in her boyfriend's lab, and accused postdoc Bhrigu of intentionally manipulating her experiments, including switching the labels on cell cultures, adding alcohol to her culture media, and tampering with materials related to western blots. Bhrigu was eventually caught on tape bringing a bottle of alcohol to the fridge where her media was kept. Upon seeing the video, Bhrigu confessed.
In June 2010, Bhrigu pled guilty to misdemeanor charges for malicious destruction of property in district court, landing him 6 months of probation and nearly $10,000 of initial fines and costs. And now the ORI has concluded the actions also constitute research misconduct, and have banned Bhrigu from contracting or subcontracting with any US government agency or serving in an advisory capacity to the US Public Health Service.
While the statement from ORI notes that he "knowingly and intentionally tampered with research materials," normally cases in which research materials are destroyed or otherwise "sabotaged" are considered destruction of property, wrote ORI spokesperson Ann Bradley in an email. But because the materials were in his own lab, and because his actions effectively altered the experimental results, this case falls under ORI's jurisdiction, she wrote. "The case is unlike any that [ORI senior staff] have seen," Bradley said.
The ORI also announced another linkurl:finding;http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2011/2011-10157.htm of research misconduct yesterday -- that of Junghee Shin, who was a PhD student in the laboratory of linkurl:Felipe Cabello;http://www.nymc.edu/People/Felipe.C.Cabello/index.html at New York Medical College. The agency concluded that Shin engaged in misconduct when she altered microscopic immunofluorescence images in papers she submitted for publication after graduating from the institution.
According to an emailed statement from Donna Moriarty, a college spokesperson, a "reviewer raised questions about the data" submitted by Shin for publication. The paper, which reported studies of an immunogenic lipoprotein made by the bacterium that causes Lyme disease, was submitted to Infection and Immunity
but never published. Another of Shin's papers containing manipulated figures, however, was linkurl:published;http://iai.asm.org/cgi/content/full/72/4/2280 in an April 2004 issue of Infection and Immunity
. It was later linkurl:retracted;http://iai.asm.org/cgi/content/full/76/10/4792 in October 2008 after the questions arose regarding the new manuscript.
"We have found that the results presented in Fig. 5 cannot be verified in the data record," the authors wrote in the retraction. The figure illustrated the results of immunofluorescence experiments that provided evidence for the partial exposure of an immunodominant protein on the surface of Lyme disease bacteria. It seems that Shin had copied and pasted images of cells staining positive for the same protein. By the time the paper was pulled from the record, however, another study had documented similar results, confirming the retracted paper's conclusions.
Because Shin's work was funded by R01 National Institutes of Health, ORI conducted its own investigation, finding Shin guilty of research misconduct and requiring Shin to be closely supervised when participating in government-funded research for the next 3 years.
Correction: This story has been updated from its original version to correctly state that it was not Ames herself who caught Bhrigu on videotape.
The Scientist regrets the error.
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