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Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Former Tokyo Tech materials researcher sanctioned after bringing forward evidence of data fabrication

with 20 comments

A materials researcher faced three months without salary, retired from his research position and may have to return a portion of a grant worth $1 million US as punishment after a postdoc in his lab was caught fabricating data.

Seizo Miyata, formerly a materials researcher at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, headed a group that worked on carbon alloy catalysts. Last year, Miyata told Retraction Watch, he found evidence that postdoc Wu Libin had fabricated data.

Reached by Retraction Watch by phone, Miyata didn’t say who uncovered the evidence, nor how, but when he confronted Libin, the postdoc confessed. Miyata said he alerted Texas Tokyo Tech administrators last year, and requested the retraction of “Preparation of carbon-based catalysts for PEFC cathodes from aromatic polyamide with Fe compound,” which appeared in Applied Catalysis A: General in July 2011. That retraction notice reads:

This article has been retracted: please see Elsevier Policy on Article Withdrawal (http://www.elsevier.com/locate/withdrawalpolicy ).

This article has been retracted at the request of the Authors.

The authors have stated that the manuscript contains fictitious data. The scientific community takes a very strong view on this matter and apologies are offered to readers of the journal that this was not detected during the submission process.

None of the editors of Applied Catalysis A: General responded to our requests for comment, but Lily Khidr, the journal’s publisher, referred us to the authors “regarding the details of their misconduct.”

The university’s press office sent us a link to a press release in Japanese, but would not answer further questions. (As always, we welcome help from Retraction Watch readers who can help translate.)

The mention of “fictitious data” in the notice hints at the fact that Tokyo Tech officials concluded that Libin had indeed fabricated data in Miyaka’s lab starting in July 2009. Libin was dismissed in March of this year, and we haven’t been able to locate him.

But the university also suspended Miyata and an associate researcher he managed, Masa-aki Kakimoto, for three months without pay.

Miyata told Retraction Watch that he managed associate researchers such as Kakimoto, who in turn managed postdocs such as Libin. He left day-to-day operations to his underlings.

I didn’t know exactly what they were doing in the lab, how they were producing data. I visit only once a week to meet with scientists.

Miyata said he stepped down to save the research group from more fallout:

Even though I didn’t know exactly what happened, I was head of that project that is why I have to take responsibility to resign.

Miyata is a busy researcher — see his CV in the middle of this document – with part-time appointments at Waseda University and Keio University.

Miyata said that Texas Tokyo Tech sent him a letter suggesting he may have to give back part of the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO) grant, worth $1 million US, used in the project. Miyata, now a researcher at the University of Electro-Communications in Tokyo, told Retraction Watch:

I have no right to spend any money, I am just leader of the project, but all the money sent to the president to Texas Tokyo Tech and he spent the money. If they charge, I’m planning to sue at court.

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20 Responses

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  1. I think you need to change Texas Tech to Tokyo Tech in the third para

    Charles Day

    August 30, 2012 at 9:37 am

    • I think Texas Tech is mentioned twice.

      Toby White

      August 30, 2012 at 9:51 am

    • Fixed, thanks — those were errors introduced in editing.

      ivanoransky

      August 30, 2012 at 9:56 am

      • Chirality is correct. You still have one uncorrected in the last paragraph.

        Toby White

        August 30, 2012 at 11:19 am

        • Not sure why that fix didn’t take with the last ones, but should be correct now. Thanks for flagging.

          ivanoransky

          August 30, 2012 at 12:01 pm

  2. “Miyata is a busy researcher” – he sounds more like a manager. He probably provides the recognizable name and grant money in exchange for research results and papers. In any case, many Westerners who do not hesitate to throw “a technician who is no longer around” under the bus to save their own skin could learn a lot from Miyata.

    chirality

    August 30, 2012 at 10:30 am

  3. Actually, this raises a more general question on funding and retractions.
    Grant money goes to a (a)project, but with some (b) goes to university overhead.

    Suppose a retraction occurs, not for error, but for clear misconduct.

    Must any of the money (a) or (b) or both be returned?
    is this commonly done? If so, are there ever penalities?

    John Mashey

    August 30, 2012 at 12:34 pm

  4. This report also raises the question of the degree of responsibility of the mentor in a case of misconduct by a trainee. In this case the mentor has paid a very high price ( literally)
    .
    However, I do not believe there is a mechanism in place within the current ORI system which addresses such situations. David Wright, the current Director of ORI, reported a significant percentage of instances where mentors could reasonably be held to have contributed to the misconduct of their trainees. (1)
    I have suggested in an earlier post and publication that the quality of mentoring would very likely improve if such instances were reported to the mentor’s institution and trainee funding agency. (2)

    DSK

    1. Wright,DE, Titus,SL,Cornelison,JB Mentoring and Research Misconduct: An Analysis of Research Mentoring in Closed ORI Cases. Sci.Eng Ethics 2008(7), 323-336

    2. Kornfeld, DS, , Research Misconduct: The Search for a Remedy, Academic Medicine 2012 (7), 877-882

    Donald S. Kornfeld, M.D.

    August 30, 2012 at 3:49 pm

    • Dear Dr. Kornfeld, will you make some of the illustrations from your book available for teachers? that will be useful…

      Ressci Integrity

      August 30, 2012 at 8:43 pm

      • Dear Ressci Integrity,

        The paper by Dr. Wright to which I refer would be the best source of examples.

        DSK

        donald s kornfeld, m.d.

        August 31, 2012 at 11:16 am

  5. There are loads of big managers like Myiata, very “busy” all around, putting a lot of pressure on their post docs and associates, without even knowing what are they really doing on their benches… Fellow of the X society, or Hons Fellow Bla Bla Blaof the Y Society. Rewtriting the same reviews in the last 10 years. Discussing “top science” and stucked in time with a network of collaborations sustained only by KO mice or patented reagents. Seeing fresh and complex results and thinking about figure 1 (a or b) without even knowing how many experiments were done. Giving phone calls, inviting trendy speakers and citing and re-citing their own papers without invest in the young and fresh promising scientists of his/her own building. Calling “friends” every other very “busy” scientist and forcing their associates to collaborate with these “friends”. Visiting their post docs rooms once in a week to ask if are they “happy”, talk about football or politics and just leave opening his/her mail smiling to people that he/she never talked before. This is real life in most part of the labs, this is sick, and this is an everyday sience fact. Not motivating at all for any young scientist…

    Deus ex Machina

    August 30, 2012 at 4:16 pm

    • Spot on! These are the big PIs that get the funding, this is what is appreciated. Which of course is unfortunate.
      But as a post doc you are a researcher, and an rather independent such (if the lab is reasonably good). Higher pressure does not mean that it is understandable to fabricate data. Science is tough, as a grad student, as a post doc, and at higher levels.

      Boel

      August 30, 2012 at 5:49 pm

      • Science is tough, we should work hard (as in ANY other profession), but might (and must) be clear and well discussed. Might be slowly humanized to achieve it’s initial principle of knwoledge-spreading. A lot of PhDs at the second year don’t even talk about continuing in Science! This is a worldwide phenomenum and growing every year. A post doc has a certain degree of freedom when he/she is allowed to, including establish collaborations, start some pilot tests and spread his network abroad with a minimum support. You can’t just buy support at amazon.com, and not even with “good” data you might consider having a change to ask for support nowadays with these superPI’s. Being stucked in a lab working for a guy stucked in the past drinking the Martini of victory with his ready-to-retire pals is quite frustrating, specially when you sell the job (i.e. when you invite post docs) like if they are supposed to engage the most motivating thing in the world in a rich and open collaborative atmosphere. And then after 2 years, people without support, collaborators or people to discuss and expand his (not anymore) fresh ideas, this guy may eventually “fake” or overrate some data to try the milk of paradise together with the protected guy next door. Difficult to describe it in better ways, but it’s true. In different levels, but it is.

        Deus ex Machina

        August 31, 2012 at 10:03 am

    • You have described to a ‘T’ every PI I’ve ever previously worked for.

      Dan

      August 30, 2012 at 7:56 pm

  6. Wu Libin is Chinese researcher.

    Clocktwice

    August 30, 2012 at 7:51 pm

  7. Sounds a bit like overkill. The same as firing Kazuko Matsumoto for funding irregularities when she didn’t actually steal any of the money to use personally but did it to get around some rules so that she could pay some students more.

    eugene

    September 7, 2012 at 10:23 am

  8. There’s another retraction related to this saga:

    http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.carbon.2012.12.028

    Marco

    March 5, 2013 at 9:13 am


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