Faking data earns stem cell researcher a ban on federal funding

Screen shot 2014-12-09 at 12.01.19 PMThe Office of Research Integrity (ORI) has sanctioned Kaushik Deb, a former post-doc at the University of Missouri-Columbia, who “engaged in misconduct in science by intentionally, knowingly, and recklessly” fabricating data in papers in both Science and Nature (which ultimately rejected his manuscript).

Deb was big news in 2007, when Science retracted his paper. Articles about the case appeared in many outlets, including The Scientist and USA Today. At the time, Missouri’s research integrity officer, Rob Hall, told the Columbia Tribune that:

With the publication of this retraction, Dr. Deb is going to be subjected to the absolute worst punishment that any scientist can have … because he is going to be held up before the international scientific community as a fraud.

According to the ORI report,

Based upon the evidence and findings of an investigation report by the University of Missouri-Columbia (UM) transmitted to the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Office of Research Integrity (ORI) and additional analysis conducted by ORI in its oversight review, ORI found that Dr. Kaushik Deb, former Postdoctoral Fellow, Life Sciences Center, UM, engaged in misconduct in science in research that was supported by National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), National Institutes of Health (NIH), grants 2 R01 HD021896 and 5 R01 HD042201-05 and National Center for Research Resources (NCRR), NIH, grant 5 R01 RR013438-07.

ORI found that the Respondent intentionally, knowingly, and recklessly fabricated and falsified data reported in the following published paper:

  • Deb, K., Sivarguru, M., Yong, H., & Roberts, R.M. “Cdx2 gene expression and 2 trophectoderm lineage specification in mouse embryos.” Science 311:992-996, 2006 (hereafter referred to as “Science 311”); this paper was retracted on July 27, 2007

An earlier version of Science 311 had been previously submitted to Nature on or about June 24, 2005 (hereafter referred to as “Nature #1”). It was revised and resubmitted to Nature on or about August 24, 2005, and ultimately was rejected by Nature on September 14, 2005 (hereafter referred to as “Nature #2”).

Under the terms of the decision, ORI has levied a three-year ban on Deb from receiving any federal research funding.



6 thoughts on “Faking data earns stem cell researcher a ban on federal funding”

  1. I had high expectations when I read the story’s headline. By the time I reached the last sentence, I was bitterly disappointed. Another flop production by ORI. When will ORI get it? A 3-year ban is an excellent chance for this individual to take some of the masses of money he received, in funding and salaries, and take a nice summer holiday. Although the ORI report (http://regulations.justia.com/regulations/fedreg/2014/12/09/2014-28859.html) does spell out very nicely, and in considerable detail, what exactly was wrong, it seems odd that it took 7 years to reach such a conclusion. Most PPPR sleuths who are not paid a dime could detect these problems in less than a week (or in some cases, within one day), so this undermines the efficiency of this agency. Personally, I prefer to see harsher approaches, like an indefinate ban, pro bono community (science) service, and a payback of grants received, especially salaries and extras like travel costs to sympsia to present fake data, etc. Public shaming is a nice start, but it brings no real justice ot the tax-payers, who were the ones who were ultimately defrauded. One important aspect of PPPR is to also determine if other studies (his or of others) were in any way directly or indirectly affected by these sham results and retracted paper. How about earlier papers like this one, that may have served as precursor methodology for the now-retracted paper?

    1. I feel exactly the same. Three years seems like nothing to me. And then it took them seven years to figure it out. It’s just pathetic. People should get fined (proportionate to the amount of funding they wasted) and banned for serious periods, more like decenia instead of a mere few years. I still can’t believe that people can get away with all this fraud in science. In any other situation you’ll get into serious trouble.

  2. It took that long for a number of reasons, primarily that it does not appear to have been a voluntary settlement, that is, ORI after going thru the required processes, administratively sanctioned Deb. If “respondents,” as they are called, fail to settle, ORI must go through an HHS Office of General Counsel attorney to get a charging letter. This office has been described to be as unbelievably slow, unresponsive and ineffective, despite being paid huge sums out of ORI’s budget. It should also be noted that the most ORI ever does is a 7-year exclusion. I am not sure when it has ever done a lifetime, expect in the case of criminal charges.

  3. The punishment does not meet the crime.A long standing problem and consequently
    another lost opportunity to possibly cause others to think again before
    playing with the data.

    If the data were submitted in a grant application, that’s a Federal crime,fraud..
    A significant amount of taxpayer dollars were invested in tbe research.
    There have been a handful of such prosecutions.
    I believe it took an inquiry by Senator Grassley to initiate the last one.

    Also, this investigator was a post-doc. Is his faculty supervisor not also culpable ?
    If more such “mentors” were also held responsible, the quality of training would improve
    and research misconduct by trainees would probably also be reduced.


  4. Not quite accurate, Theresa. As I noted on RW in April 2014, the “standard” or typical debarment from federal funding that is imposed by ORI and other federal agencies for serious research misconduct is 3 years (85 by ORI since 1992). While ORI has imposed or negotiated 1 year (13 by ORI) or 2 years (3 by ORI) in lesser cases, the fact is that ORI has also imposed in 40 other cases considerably more years (beyond 7 years), up to lifetime in 3 “medical” cases:

    – 4 years (Washbaugh 1996, Hajra 1997, Tracy 2002, Xu 2004, Sperber 2008)
    – 5 years (Lee 1993, Rosner 1993, Tewari 1994, London 1997, Angelides 1999, Simmons 2000, Garey 2001, Arnold 2002, Handa 2002, Ruggerio 2002, Smith 2002, Yao 2002, Eagan 2003, Ganz 2003, Muenchen 2003, Hiserodt 2004, Jacoby 2005, Aronica 2006, Leadon 2006, Robinson 2007, Roovers 2007, Uzelmeier [Marcus] 2007, Van Parijs 2009, Sezen 2010, Zach 2012)
    – 7 years (Brodie 2010, Smart 2012, Thiruchelvam 2012)
    – 8 years (Poisson 1993)
    – 10 years (Dreyer 2001, Gelband 2004, Thomas 2009)
    – lifetime (Poehlman 2005, Kornak 2006 [and prison], Sudbo 2007).

    According to federal counsels, the federal administrative actions are not intended to be “punitive” but instead are imposed to protect the federal interest (i.e., taxpayer dollars) for a given period — expecting that those who are so publicly outed (at least by ORI) for research misconduct will hopefully not repeat their bad acts (a few have been recidivists in ORI cases, however, and they were re-debarred (e.g., Lin 2001 and 2004, 3 years each).

    [see case summaries in the ORI Annual Reports since 1993 at http://ori.hhs.gov/annual_reports ]


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