ORI comes down (hard) on Bengu Sezen, Columbia chemist accused of fraud

The Office of Research Integrity has thrown a heavy book at Bengu Sezen, a former chemist at Columbia University, alleging that school and agency investigators turned up 21 instances of research misconduct by the disgraced scientist.

According to the agency:

Based on the findings of an investigation by Columbia University (CU) and additional analysis conducted by the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) during its oversight review, ORI found that Bengu Sezen, former graduate student, Department of Chemistry, CU, engaged in misconduct in science in research funded by National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), National Institutes of Health (NIH), grant R01 GM60326. Specifically, ORI made twenty-one (21) findings of scientific misconduct against Dr. Sezen based on evidence that she knowingly and intentionally falsified and fabricated, and in one instance plagiarized, data reported in three (3) papers* and her doctoral thesis.

The three papers, published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, were retracted in 2006.

According to Chemical&Engineering News, Columbia officials are seeking to have Sezen stripped of her doctorate. When we asked Retraction Watch readers about this step in general, the response was clear: More than 90% said a dissertation built on fraudulent research must not stand (well, what they really said was that if a paper stemming from dissertation research wound up being retracted for reasons of fraud, the degree should be revoked).

Although for-now-doctor Sezen certainly deserves her punishment, we’re curious about how the ORI decides to mete out justice. So far in 2010 the agency has issued reports on eight cases of misconduct. Of those, all but two researchers — Sezen and Scott Brodie, a former University of Washington virologist who falsified figures in NIH grants and progress reports, as well as several published papers — received debarment of no more than three years. Brodie tops the list at seven years.

Sezen’s case is similar to that of Emily Horvath, who falsified figures while doing graduate work at Indiana University on NIH-sponsored projects. For her misdeeds, which resulted in three retractions, Horvath received a three-year sanction from ORI.

We’ve asked ORI’s John Dahlberg to comment on the penalty issue. We’ll update this post when we learn more.

6 thoughts on “ORI comes down (hard) on Bengu Sezen, Columbia chemist accused of fraud”

  1. Interestingly a Bengü Sezen, presumably the same person, received a “second” PhD in 2009 from the University of Heidelberg. There is one publication in Pubmed from this lab with her name on it (PMID: 19571182). According to her ex-lab web site (http://www.zmbh.uni-heidelberg.de/schiebel/alumni.html), she now seems to have a position at a university in Turkey. Not clear how much impact the NIH or CU sanctions will have.
    Dr. Bengü Sezen
    Group Leader
    Yeditepe University
    Date of graduation: 18 August 2009

    1. Her work should be thoroughly scrutinized not by just one or two persons but by three or four. Just like a parolee who should not be allowed to commit a crime again.

  2. You have investigated before whether the number of retractions has increased in recent years. 8 cases of misconduct in a year by the ORI seems high – do you know if there has been an increasing trend in those numbers recently?

    1. Thanks for your question.

      According to the ORI website, the agency issued reports on 14 cases in 2009 and 8 in 2008—the same as this year to date. Prior to that the annual numbers appear to be much lower, in the 2 to 5 range. So, while the sample is pretty small, you might fairly say that ORI has been more active in recent years.

  3. Bengu Sezen is an assistant professor (yardimci docent) in a university in Turkey :
    Gebze Institute of Tchnology – Bioengineering Department
    (Gebze Yuksek Teknoloji Enstitusu – Biyomuhendislik Bolumu)

    * http://www.gyte.edu.tr/phonebook/list.asp

    Acceptance of Bengu Sezen to Gebze Institute of Technology (02.12.2011 – December 02 , 2011) :

    * http://www.gyte.edu.tr/ebulten/sayi88/atama.htm

    Bengu Sezen may have a relative academician in Gebze Institute of Technology at Management Dept. :
    B….. Sezen (associate professor – docent)

    * http://www.gyte.edu.tr/Dosya/546/DUYURULAR/Danışmanlıklar.htm

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