The author of a paper “under editorial review” at the Journal of the American Chemical Society has told us the results the paper have been replicated, contrary to claims made by a former member of her lab.
What’s more, the author said she has submitted a correction to the paper, which is currently flagged with an expression of concern, to provide uncropped images.
We originally reported on the case in February from the perspective of Roger Wong, a former chemist at Hong Kong University who said he hasn’t been able to replicate the findings out of the lab of Dan Yang, a current chemistry professor at HKU (who is female, despite the fact that “Dan” is frequently used as a male name in English). We unfortunately failed to reach Yang in February because of an email glitch; once we contacted Yang, she told us she does not believe Wong’s side of the story:
In the story on Retraction Watch, Dr. Roger Wong claimed that “his lab spent most of 2014 trying to replicate the paper” and that “[they] got almost all negative data. At a very late stage, after almost a year, [they] just wanted to take a look at the raw data to see if there’s something [his] entire team did wrong”. This is completely not true. To my best knowledge (based on emails, lab notebook records, and oral and written reports), Dr. Roger Wong and his task team never used HKGreen-4/4A (peroxynitrite probes) or did any experiments to validate results of the HKGreen-4 paper.
One of Wong’s concerns was that some of the images were composites from different experiments completed with different conditions. Yang told us that she has submitted a correction for the paper that includes uncropped images:
Regarding our JACS paper, the chief editor made the decision in January 2016 and reconfirmed last week: asking us to submit an Addition/Correction to JACS by adding all uncropped tissue imaging in the supporting information. The journal editors requested the Addition/Correction in order to ensure that a more complete understanding of this fluorescence system is made available in the scientific literature. The addition/correction was submitted by JACS editorial office on March 11 and the final decision letter should be received very soon.
The editor in chief of JACS, Peter Stang, would not confirm that the EOC had been resolved as a correction. He said:
We are still working on this and will update the status of the Expression of Concern upon completion of the editorial review.
Yang told us more of the backstory, from her perspective — that she had terminated Wong prior to him filing the complaint:
It was because of his unsatisfactory work performance in my group that I informed Dr. Roger Wong on the phone (December 19, 2014) about my decision to terminate his RAP contract with 4-month prior notice. In late December 2014, Dr. Roger Wong initiated the tissue cropping complaint with JACS, and subsequently filed complaint to the university against his ex-coworkers in my group in January 2015.
She alleged that some of the data Wong used in his analysis was likely “incomplete and untrustworthy:”
From January, 2015 until his departure from my group (April, 2015), Dr. Roger Wong and his subordinates unlawfully copied away our lab materials, including raw data, patent applications and unpublished manuscripts. Some raw imaging data were selectively removed and withhold by them. It is highly likely that the data provided by Roger Wong have been manipulated and repackaged to his advantage during university investigations. Therefore, any analysis based on this incomplete and untrustworthy set of data could be misleading and irresponsible.
She added that her students have replicated the findings:
…as early as April-May, 2015, several students in my lab re-performed all cell imaging experiments in HKGreen-4 paper with highly reproduced results, and later in June-July, 2015, validation trials were performed under the most stringent conditions supervised by a third-party imaging expert from another university, as requested by HKU investigators. The validation experiments showed that our probe worked reliably and the results were consistent with those shown in the HKGreen-4 paper. The HKU DC (Disciplinary Committee) made the final verdicts that cleared the students of all charges in September 2015.
Wong told us:
We stress that all raw data submitted for whistleblowing were lawfully acquired. If one required to ask for permission before he or she is allowed to lawfully collect evidence of data falsification within the same research group, the scientific field worldwide will come to an end for no case of research misconduct would have been reported and the word “research misconduct” will be erased from this world.
A disciplinary committee investigated two students on the paper, and — according to an email to Wong from Kenneth Leung, the Associate Dean Faculty of Science — found that they incorrectly presented some of the research but were not guilty of misconduct.
Leung declined to provide more information to us:
In the light of the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance and confidentiality, it is not appropriate for me to respond to or comment on the enquiries.
Like Retraction Watch? Consider making a tax-deductible contribution to support our growth. You can also follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook, add us to your RSS reader, sign up on our homepage for an email every time there’s a new post, or subscribe to our new daily digest. Click here to review our Comments Policy. For a sneak peek at what we’re working on, click here.