NIH researcher doctored 11 figures in 2016 paper, says ORI

A former Research Training Awardee at the National Institutes of Health “falsified and/or fabricated data” in 11 figures in a 2016 paper, according to the U.S. Office of Research Integrity.

This is the first finding of misconduct issued this year by the ORI.

According to the finding, published in the Federal Register, Brandi M. Baughman — formerly at the National Institute of Environmental and Health Sciences (NIEHS) — tweaked data and text in a PLOS ONE paper about screening for compounds that inhibit an enzyme known as inositol phosphate kinase. According to the notice, however, some of those experiments didn’t proceed as described:

ORI found that Respondent falsified and/or fabricated data and text published in PLoS One 2016, in Figures 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, S1, S2, S3, S4, and S5, by claiming that a screening strategy of the kinase focused libraries, PKIS and 5K, was performed, when original data do not exist to support the claims. Respondent also claimed that three (3) inhibitory compounds for the inositol phosphate kinase, PPIP5K, were identified from the 5K library, when these compounds, UNC10112646, UNC10225354, and UNC10225498, were not part of the data set for the 5K library.

All told, the report concluded:

ORI found that falsified and/or fabricated data were included in eleven (11) figures…

A High-Throughput Screening-Compatible Strategy for the Identification of Inositol Pyrophosphate Kinase Inhibitors” has not yet been cited, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science.

The National Institutes of Health has recommended that the paper by retracted.

Baughman has agreed to have her research supervised and cannot serve on any peer review committee for the Public Health Service (which includes the NIH) for three years, among other sanctions.

An email to Baughman’s NIH address bounced; the PLOS ONE paper also lists an affiliation at the University of North Carolina, but we were unable to locate contact information.

Last year, the ORI issued only seven findings of misconduct, compared to 14 in 2015 and 11 the year before. Earlier this year, Director Kathy Partin explained why the agency’s activity appears to have taken a downturn. 

Update, 16:24 UTC June 20: A spokesperson for PLOS told us the paper is going to be retracted:

PLOS ONE is aware of the concerns noted and has been in touch with the authors and the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) at NIH. In light of the concerns about the data and in line with the recommendation of the ORI, the authors and the editors of PLOS ONE are proceeding with the retraction of the publication.

Update, 19:35 UTC June 21: Kerry Grens just let us know a retraction has now been posted:

The authors of the above paper retract this article due to concerns about the integrity of the data and the validity of the conclusions. The first author, Brandi M. Baughman, has admitted to the co-authors and the Office of Research Integrity at NIH that she falsified and/or fabricated data and text concerning Figs 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, S1, S2, S3, S4, and S5, for which she takes sole responsibility.


Subsequent to the paper being published, further experiments by co-authors Wang, Stashko, and Pearce have verified that a major conclusion of this article is invalid: UNC10112646, UNC10225354, and UNC10225498 are not inhibitors of PPIP5K, contrary to the claims in the published paper.

In light of these concerns, all of the authors have agreed to retract this article.

Hat tip: Theresa Defino

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3 thoughts on “NIH researcher doctored 11 figures in 2016 paper, says ORI”

  1. An entire year without a misconduct finding would’ve been unimaginable when I was a RIO. ORI is dead now dead.

    As a RIO, I worked with Chris Pascal, David Wright, Alan Price, John Dahlberg, and a little with Susan Garfinkel over a 10 year period. ORI had always been a great resource for universities. RIOs that I know are worried about the new ORI. I hate to quote Trump but, SAD.

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