Oklahoma postdoc admits to faking data in grant application, submitted paper

bin kang
Bin Kang

A postdoc at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation faked data in a submitted paper and in a grant application, according to a new report from the Office of Research Integrity.

Bin Kang admitted to the misconduct, in which he

knowingly falsified and/or fabricated Western blot gel images by duplication, reuse and relabeling, and/or alteration through contrast, rotation, and/or scale of the images.

Those images included all of the figures in a manuscript submitted to Molecular Cell, “Asb2 regulates the activity of SCF E3 ubiquitin ligases by antagonizing CAND1-mediated exchange of F-box proteins,” as well as a revision of that manuscript. They also included many of the figures in a National Cancer Institute grant application and a revision of that application.

Kang, who is listed as an assistant staff scientist in Xiao-Hong Sun’s lab, agreed to have his research supervised for three years, and not to serve on any peer review committees for the same amount of time.

13 thoughts on “Oklahoma postdoc admits to faking data in grant application, submitted paper”

  1. Perhaps someone could explain to me: what are these gel images, and why do they seem to show up in so many retractions?

    1. (1) You can learn all about western blots here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Western_blot

      (2) Western blots are commonly used in biomedical research, making them an intrinsically popular target for manipulation/falsification (as an analog, the Honda Accord is one of, if not the, most commonly stolen car in the US not because it is aesthetically popular with thieves, but simply because it is one of, if not the, most numerous model of car). Western blot images are easily manipulated digitally, can easily be improperly reused/recycled across “experiments,” and often require a reader/reviewer/editor to closely inspect the image to detect any improper manipulation.

    2. These so-called gel images come from Western Blotting analyses of proteins extracted out of a given biological sample. The proteins can be separated by electrophoresis in polyacrylamide gels (see SDS-PAGE & Western Botting for more details), transferred onto membranes on which the pattern of separation by molecular mass obtained in the SDS-PAGE gel is kept. Antibodies are then applied on the membrane to specifically detect proteins of interest.

      The actual size of a gel and blotting membrane is typically 10 cm wide x 7 cm high or bigger and depending on the type of gel the range of molecular mass scale is distributed on 7 cm high. A molecular mass ladder composed of proteins of known molecular mass is used as a reference to evaluate the apparent molecular mass of any detected signal and typically consists of 5-10 points form lightest to heaviest.

      So you generally obtain a result as an image of about 7 x 10 cm, (unless you cut your membrane to do the Western Blot on a particular zone of apparent molecular masses). Given the size restrictions imposed by most journals Western Blots are shown in small panels containing the signal (the band) of interest. In worst cases, the whole “gel image” is cropped so tight to the band that it becomes impossible to report one of the few points of the molecular mass ladder. (google images “western blot published” you’ll get some examples). Whole gel images are at best shown as unedited gels in the supplementary data since some journals (J Clin Invest as an example) encourage authors to show them. But as far as i know, none of them made it yet an obligation.

      So when somebody tells you in an article that the tightly cropped band is indeed at an apparent molecular mass of 75 kDa and was detected with a given antibody recognizing his/her favorite protein, you cannot really do anything but believe this information and try to reproduce the observation if you want to build a solid hypothesis on it.

      Technically, if you have the will to cheat and to generate results that show the message you want to tell, Western Blot manipulation is sadly very easy. For example by flipping the same stretch of bands. With a simple Western Blot detecting let’s say ACTIN in cultured cells (very easy), it becomes possible to build a figure showing whatever you want.

      Some examples here:

      Hope i made it clear

  2. “agreed to have his research supervised for three years, and not to serve on any peer review committees for the same amount of time.”

    is this all?

    1. Agreed. He has committed a fraud if not a crime. He has deliberately misused taxpayer (my) funds. He and his Supervisor should be suspended and billed for the fraudulently used funds. Te announced actions aren’t even a slap on the wrist.

  3. How is the damage caused by the following is going to be remedied?
    Contaminating of the literature
    Misleading scientists and labs worldwide
    Citing fraudulent data in subsequent works
    Costs incurred in attempts to reproduce the results
    Awards, promotion and salary raises granted based on fraudulent achievements
    Denying a more deserving competent scientist the job offered for a scientist with phony achievements.

  4. Leonid Schneider
    It would help if also such rather symbolic punishments would be taken seriously by those who decide about jobs and funding.

    This is indeed a good question. Do we have actually any empirical studies that would have examined the impact of past misconducts on, say, promotion and tenures? If not, why? Surely it would be possible to gather a dataset for this.

  5. Research misconduct of this sort may lead, ultimately, to research clouded ,treatments delayed, humans harmed. Bin Kang should serve significant jail time.

  6. It seems odd that so many people manipulate the same images, why not just make more images to use when faking so that nobody ever sees the duplication?

    Seems like with about the photoshop skills of a 12 grader you could do this without ever getting caught…

    1. I have no doubt such papers are out there. But it is like dark matter – you can deduct it existence but you can not detect it.

  7. Kang […] agreed to have his research supervised for three years
    So his work was not supervised previously? Perhaps the laboratory has larger problems.
    If I were in that field, I would be looking very closely at future publications from a laboratory with a known faker on the staff.

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