Former UMich postdoc earns five-year ban on Federal funding, after admitting to misconduct and then lying

A former postdoc at the University of Michigan admitted to research misconduct, but lied about how extensive it was, according to a new finding by the U.S. Office of Research Integrity (ORI).

The ORI doesn’t describe Venkata Sudheer Kumar Ramadugu‘s misconduct — that detail will likely come later in the Federal Register, according to their relatively new practice [see update below] — but says that as a postdoc in Michigan’s department of chemistry he “engaged in research misconduct” in work supported by two NIH grants.

Ramadugu agreed to a five-year ban on Federal funding. The penalty was that severe, according to ORI’s annoucement, because Ramadugu

also made a false statement in his first admission that no other data were affected in his papers…

Last month, the Royal Society of Chemistry retracted a paper from Chemical Communications on which Ramadugu was first author. Here’s the notice, signed by all four authors, for “Polymer nanodiscs and macro-nanodiscs of a varying lipid composition:”

The Royal Society of Chemistry hereby wholly retracts this Chemical Communications article with the agreement of the authors, following a full research misconduct investigation carried out by the University of Michigan.

The Royal Society of Chemistry has been contacted by the corresponding author of this article and the Research Integrity Officer at the University of Michigan regarding concerns of scientific misconduct affecting this article.

The Research Integrity Officer has informed us that Dr Venkata Sudheer Kumar Ramadugu has admitted that research misconduct (data fabrication/falsification) has taken place as follows: The spectrum shown in Fig. 2 at the top left (A) is incorrect and was likely modified from a previous experiment (with the x-axis shifted). Two spectra shown in Fig. 3 (DSPC at right-most bottom) are likely falsified or fabricated as they are identical spectra with the axis manipulated and the original data files could not be located. The spectra shown in Fig. S4 are likely manipulated, as the original data files could not be located.

When we contacted Ayyalusamy Ramamoorthy, the corresponding author of the paper, earlier this month to ask for more information about the retraction, he told us:

Our research compliance department has been working on this. Once I receive a final report from them, I will be able to share it with you.

As 2018 ends, this marks the 13th finding for the ORI, which puts them closer to their typical average after a few years of lower numbers. One of the findings led to an additional sanction for a scientist punished in 2017, for similar reasons as in the Ramadugu case.

Update, 1400 UTC, 12/28/18: The Federal Register notice about the case has been published, and in addition to the now-retracted Chemical Communications paper, Ramadagu committed misconduct in two other papers and a conference presentation:

ORI found that Respondent engaged in research misconduct by knowingly and intentionally falsifying and/or fabricating data reported in the following published papers and poster presentation:

  •  Chemical Communications 53(78):10824-10826, 2017 (hereafter referred to as “Chem. Comm. 2017”).
  •  Angewandte Chemie-International Edition 56(38):11466-11470, 2017 (hereafter referred to as “Angewandte Chemie-International Edition 2017”).
  •  Angewandte Chemie-International Edition 57(5):1342-1345, 2018 (hereafter referred to as “Angewandte Chemie-International Edition 2018”).
  • Polymer macrodiscs for solid-state NMR structural studies on aligned lipid bilayers.” Presented at the 58th Experimental Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Conference in Pacific Grove (Asilomar), California, March 25-30, 2017 (hereafter referred to as the “ENMRC Poster 2017”).

ORI found that Respondent intentionally and knowingly falsified and/or fabricated NMR spectroscopy data for structure and dynamics of nanodiscs in thirteen (13) figure panels included in three (3) published papers and one (1) poster presentation by manipulating previously generated NMR data from unrelated experiments to falsely represent NMR spectra for completely different experiments. Specifically, Respondent falsified and/or fabricated NMR spectra in:

  •  Chem. Comm. 2017.

— Figure 2A.

— Figure 2B, top and bottom panels.

— Figure 3, bottom two panels of the right most column.

— Figure S4, second, third, and the bottom panels from the top.

  • Angewandte Chemie-International Edition 2017.

— Figures 4E and 4F.

  • Angewandte Chemie-International Edition 2018.

— Figure 4B.

  • ENMRC Poster 2017.

— Figure labelled “Magnetic Alignment of Macrodiscs,” bottom two panels of the right most column.

Neither of the Angewandte Chemie-International Edition papers appears to have been corrected or retracted, but one has a comment on PubPeer to which Ramamoorthy responded.

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2 thoughts on “Former UMich postdoc earns five-year ban on Federal funding, after admitting to misconduct and then lying”

  1. I think 5 years is lenient. If this level of blatant falsification is caught at the post-doc level, I would want to take a good hard look at their doctoral thesis. Surely research integrity is a vital skill that should be ingrained from the very beginning, and this person clearly never received or integrated that into their scientific practice.

  2. I’d be very surprised if a ban of any length doesn’t put a hard stop on a career in the US, and most likely everywhere else. The length is somewhat immaterial – it just serves to indicate how egregious the conduct was.

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