A researcher who confessed to spiking rabbit blood samples to make the results of an HIV vaccine experiment look better has been sentenced to 57 months of prison time, according to The Des Moines Register.
Dong-Pyou Han has also been ordered to repay more than $7 million to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, and will have three years of supervised release following his prison term.
In December, 2013, the U.S. Office of Research Integrity announced that Han, formerly at Iowa State University (ISU), had faked his results to make an HIV vaccine look more powerful. The faulty data made their way into seven national and international symposia between 2010 and 2012 (resulting in a retracted poster in 2014), along with three grant applications and multiple progress reports. Han agreed to a three-year research ban, and resigned from ISU in October the following year.
The NIH never sent the final $1.38 million grant payment of more than $10 million awarded to Han’s boss, Michael Cho, and ISU returned nearly $500,000 it had received for Han’s salary and other costs.
However, the case also resulted in criminal charges against Han, which, as Ivan and Adam wrote about the case in the New York Times, is almost unheard of in cases of scientific misconduct. What seems to have been different here, however, was that U.S. Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) was unsatisfied with the ORI’s response to the case and made some noise. In June, 2014, Han was arrested on felony charges.
In January, Han signed a plea agreement that included agreeing to plead guilty to criminal charges of making false statements.
Update 7/1/15 8:07 p.m. eastern: Our own Adam and Ivan weigh in on the sentence in The Des Moines Register, and argue that bringing criminal into fraud cases isn’t such a bad thing:
Scientists who steal grant money — and make no mistake: fabricating data is as much a form of theft as selling someone a piece of forged artwork — probably aren’t hardcore criminals. But that doesn’t mean they should be given a pass by the criminal justice system. If Han’s stiff sentence serves to deter future would-be fraudsters, that would be an example worth setting.
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