University of Kentucky to Fire Professors for Research Misconduct
University of Kentucky to Fire Professors for Research Misconduct

University of Kentucky to Fire Professors for Research Misconduct

The institution completed an internal investigation into two professors and a staff researcher for duplicating images and fudging data.

Aug 26, 2019
Chia-Yi Hou

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The University of Kentucky will begin the termination process for Xianglin Shi and Zhuo Zhang of the Department of Toxicology and Cancer Biology in the College of Medicine if they do not resign, according to a statement on the school’s press office website published on August 23. The internal investigation found that Shi, Zhang, and Donghern Kim, a staff research scientist, were “responsible for significant research misconduct in a number of scholarly papers.” Kim has already been fired.

The investigation began more than a year ago when the university received an allegation that Shi, Zhang, and Kim had falsified data in a grant application, reports the Lexington Herald-Leader. University of Kentucky (UK) administrators notified Shi and Zhang, a married couple, that they were under investigation for research misconduct in September 2018, according to the Herald-Leader. Three papers were retracted for image duplication, Retraction Watch reported in October 2018.

The internal investigation committee produced a 1,000-page report and shut down Shi and Zhang’s labs on Thursday (August 22). The committee found “several examples of falsified or fabricated data that were among numerous irregularities in seven grant proposals and at least 13 scholarly papers sampled from their work,” according to the UK statement.

The Herald-Leader reports that Shi wrote on July 16 in response to the committee’s findings that many of the fabrications and falsifications were “honest errors or mistakes” and criticized the committee for accusing himself, Zhang, and Kim for research misconduct “without considering the fact that students or postdocs performed the study, analyzed the data, and generated the figures.”

The committee stated that the researchers provided “very little” of the original data requested for the investigation and concluded that the data’s absence was “inconsistent with NIH or UK expectations and resulted in an inability to validate” how the data were represented in grants and publications, according to the UK statement. The findings were handed over to the federal Office of Research of Integrity, which handles misconduct cases that involve federal grants.

The university says it will work with the students and staff members who have lost their positions because of the closure of the two labs.

Chia-Yi Hou is a freelance science writer. You can follow her on Twitter @chiayi_hou.