There has been another development in the case of Dong-Pyou Han, the former Iowa State University (ISU) researcher who admitted last fall to spiking rabbit blood samples to make it look as though his team’s HIV vaccine was working in the animals.
A spokeswoman told the Register on Monday that the agency has decided not to make the final, $1.38 million payment on a grant to the ISU team. The team, which includes researchers at other universities, was awarded $14.5 million in such grants over several years, officials have said. Much of that money was awarded because of the team’s dramatic reports of vaccine success, which turned out to be bogus.
The university has already agreed to return $496,000 it received for Han’s salary and other costs over the years.
Han pleaded not guilty last week to four felony charges stemming from the fraud. Such criminal charges are very rare in scientific misconduct cases. The Register notes:
Public records indicate that neither ISU nor the NIH notified law enforcement authorities about his alleged fraud. The indictment came several months after the case drew media attention.
NIH’s decision to withhold the $1.4 million from ISU came after critics, including U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, questioned whether the agency responded strongly enough to the allegations of brazen fraud. The Iowa Republican offered support Monday for the agency’s move. “As the federal agency in charge of research funding, NIH needs to make sure the taxpayers aren’t left holding the bag in fraud cases,” he said in a statement released through his spokeswoman. “It’s not clear how much permanent loss of taxpayer money will occur in this case and any others like it around the country.”
Having to repay grants in misconduct cases is as rare as criminal charges. Our impression is that having grants withheld is also quite rare.