UConn prof “recklessly” used false data in NIH grant applications, says Federal watchdog

Li Wang (via UConn)

A liver physiologist at the University of Connecticut with millions of dollars in Federal U.S. funding included false data in half a dozen grant applications, according to the U.S. Office of Research Integrity.

Li Wang, according to the ORI,

cooperated fully with UConn and ORI, has expressed remorse for her actions, and took full responsibility for her reckless behavior.

“None of the applications received funding, and three were withdrawn before review,” the ORI writes in its report.

Wang agreed to have her research supervised for a year, and to not serve on any peer review committees at the National Institutes of Health for the same period of time.

‘An expert at procuring grant funding’

Wang, according to a 2015 university press release, overcame significant barriers in China to pursue an education as the Cultural Revolution was “losing its anti-intellectual grip.” With $5 million in funding at the time of the 2015 release, she “has a reputation as an expert at procuring grant funding,” the release notes.

She’s earned 27 grants in total, including five current National Institutes of Health grants and the Veterans Administration Merit Award. She also enjoys helping other faculty in the Department of Physiology and Neurobiology with their grant applications. Since national funding for science research continues to see cuts, Wang says she’s worked hard to perfect her grant writing skills.

“It’s very difficult to get funding,” she says. “Many investigators are struggling. So I had to keep learning, to think of new techniques and ideas that would target important fields.”

Wang did not respond to a request for comment. She is still employed at UConn, according to a university spokesperson, and no other research is affected.

She does not appear to have ever retracted any papers. She is a middle author on a paper that had a figure corrected earlier this year.

UConn declined to release the report of the investigation into Wang’s work — something we have urged universities to do. We asked why the case was different from that of the late Dipak Das, who was found to have misconduct in 2012, culminating in the release by the university of a voluminous report. The spokesperson wrote by email:

The incident involving Dr. Das in 2012 involved false information that was included in published studies, in what appeared to be a pattern of dishonesty. He disputed the findings of the review, which prompted the need for the longer report that the University undertook and later released.

In this case, Dr. Wang and university shared a commitment to having the erroneous information clarified. Also, the data in question were never part of published research or produced as part of a funded grant.

The word “reckless” or “recklessly” appears twice in the ORI findings about Wang. It came up recently in the case of Christian Kreipke, readers may recall. There, according to our commentator, attorney Richard Goldstein, a judge said that

including false or fabricated data without validating its accuracy is reckless if one “used materials without exercising proper care or caution and disregarded or was indifferent to the risk that the material were false, fabricated, or plagiarized.”

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12 thoughts on “UConn prof “recklessly” used false data in NIH grant applications, says Federal watchdog”

  1. I’m wondering how the UConn official was able to say “. Also, the data in question were never part of published research or produced as part of a funded grant.” If that was the case, how come ORI was involved? They don’t have any remit beyond NIH funded research.

    1. Not so. The definition in the Federal Regulations includes the phrase “proposing research,” or something equivalent. That phrase expands PHS “authority” to cover lying in an unfunded grant application.

    2. PS: Your last sentence about “remit” raises an interesting juridictional issue regarding an allegation involving FFP in “reviewing research,” an activity that arrived only with the 2005 revision of the 1993 (definition at CFR 43 part 50). The latter had involved only “proposing, conducting, or reporting” research. But how one now applies jurisdiction (“remit”) when reviewing research has not been tested. It might mean that a former peer reviewer could be nailed for submitting material that was plagiarised from an NIH application to a non PHS entity. (Maybe the logic is that the reviewer got ‘paid’ (sic) for their service. In short, “remit” may be more expansive than is generally thought.

  2. The statement appears accurate, and the remit of the ORI is very clearly defined in the Code of Federal Regulations to include proposals for PHS support. See 93.102(b)(1): This part applies to allegations of research misconduct and research misconduct involving: (i) Applications or proposals for PHS support for biomedical or behavioral extramural or intramural research, research training or activities related to that research or research training…”

  3. It’s interesting how little information that was released regarding the situation. E.g., Recklessly using false information raises lots of questions: Did she fabricate the false information? Or else, where do you find false information to support one’s grant application? 6 applications – isn’t that a lot? (1 is a lot) How is this not a problem for UConn?

  4. One year? What a joke. For the amount of money involved, the good professor should stop feeding from the federal teet for a decade or so. UConn should change their name to WeCon.

  5. Wang is the first author of a 2006 paper retracted from Mol. Endocrinol in 2008: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18757780

    It’s definitely her because the paper (the non-retracted version!) is listed on the publications page on her lab website: https://wanglab.pnb.uconn.edu/all-publications/

    There are also a few random issues with western blots spread across her papers from the mid 2000s. Here’s one – https://pubpeer.com/publications/80916603D7E2A5489B61D58C9A1BF3#1 I’ll post others on PubPeer when I get the time.

  6. These lying phonies need to be jailed. Instead the institutions and regulators give a slap on the hands for show only. And you wonder why most published research is false? Academe is a joke costing taxpayers billions

  7. I knew it the minute I saw (and read) the judge’s decision in the case of Kripke: reckless/unintentional misconduct is the new norm.

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