Skepticism about science and medicine

In search of disinterested science

$$-millions fraud gets little slap on the wrist

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2013/12/31

“Dr. Dong-Pyou Han, an assistant professor in biomedical sciences at ISU [Iowa State University], added human blood components to rabbit blood to make it appear that a vaccine was working to fight HIV . . . . The research had generated at least $19 million in funding from the federal government. . . . Dr. James Bradac, who oversees AIDS research for the National Institutes of Health [said] . . . . ‘It’s difficult to pull this off and it’s difficult not to be detected. . . . This went on for several years and it wasn’t detected until January 2013’. Han agreed to exclude himself from any contracting or subcontracting work with any federal agency for three years, and to not serve in any ‘advisory capacity’ to the U.S. Public Health Service” (ISU researcher Dr. Dong-Pyou Han resigns for faking AIDS research worth millions, 25 December 2013). 

Millions of dollars have been misappropriated over a period of years. False reports have misled some unknown number of other researchers on the extraordinarily important issue of whether a vaccine against AIDS is possible: “Han’s so-called breakthrough made headlines in the scientific community, raising the possibility that an AIDS vaccine was not far off. . . . More than half of the money [$19 million] was awarded to ISU after Han had reported his doctored results showing rabbits buildings defenses against the HIV virus”.
A possible HIV vaccine would be a truly exciting possibility, given that 3 decades of attempts have so far failed to turn up even a good clue as to a potentially feasible approach to making a vaccine [1].

Surely that guilty researcher should be in jail, instead of just being barred from getting grants for a period of 3 years. He should have been banned for life from any association with medical or scientific research or any contact with students. He should have been disbarred, kicked permanently out of every medical and scientific profession.

“Han was working for a research team led by biomedical professor Michael Cho, but Han acted without knowledge of anyone else on the team”.
How on earth could one member of a research team claim a staggering breakthrough without any of his colleagues, or the leader of the project, being interested enough to enquire into the nitty-gritty details? Any such interest would surely have exposed the deception quite promptly.
What does team-work mean, if not productive interactions where every member benefits from what the others find and is therefore familiar with what everyone else is doing?
At a minimum, the principal investigator on that research should have been found guilty of gross negligence and also punished — and by more than a slap on the wrist.

Bradac’s comment that it’s difficult not to be detected is certainly true insofar as it pertains within a properly functioning research group This fraud over a period of years demonstrates culpable negligence on the part of Michael Cho and his colleagues.
But insofar as researchers elsewhere are concerned, there is no reason why they should have been able to sense the deception just by reading the published research reports. Hundreds of thousands of articles have been published about HIV and AIDS, with excruciatingly specialized technical details that arouse interest in no one who is not working in precisely the same tiny little aspect of the field.

In so complex a field as HIV/AIDS, where so much has been published without much general understanding being arrived at, it is extremely easy to get away with fraud.

—————————————————————-
[1] See sections 3.2.2.8, 3.3.7, 4.1.7, 4.2.2, 4.2.3, 4.3.5, 6.3.3, 7.2.1.1 in The Case against HIV

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3 Responses to “$$-millions fraud gets little slap on the wrist”

  1. Dan Kegel said

    Scientific fraud is wider than HIV/AIDS.
    http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/23705/title/Scientific-fraud–Is-prosecution-the-answer-
    talks about the wider issue a little, and about why prosecutions are rare.

    (What does get prosecutors’ attention? Evidently when money or investors may be involved. e.g.
    http://www.justice.gov/usao/pam/news/2012/Grimes_11_30_2012.htm, where a researcher actually stole half a million dollars;
    http://blogs.law.stanford.edu/lawandbiosciences/2013/10/07/u-s-v-harkonen-should-scientists-worry-about-being-prosecuted-for-how-they-interpret-their-research-results/
    where a scientist/CEO issued a press release falsely claiming that a stage 3 clinical trial yielded positive results. )

    The site http://retractionwatch.com/ looks like a great resource for those interested in the topic.

  2. artwest said

    If anyone questions AIDS (or CAGW) it’s often the cry that “surely you aren’t suggesting that the world’s scientists are conspiring together!” But often it seems it’s a relative handful who work on narrow aspects of the actual raw material and all the rest (apparently even in the same lab!) can’t be bothered to check for themselves or raise questions. They just shout down anyone from outside the bubble who does.

    • Henry Bauer said

      artwest:
      Yes. People who point to flaws in mainstream theory or practice are often accused of claiming that there’s a conspiracy, but making errors is human, and going with the herd is also human, and missing the forest by concentrating on the trees is also common human behavior.
      The histories of science and of medicine are stories of errors and modifications, of progress by discarding mistakes.
      What’s new is the scale of some of the erroneous juggernauts, in particular HIV/AIDS and human-caused global warming,, see my Dogmatism in Science and Medicine

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