Former University of Washington researcher faked data, say Feds

Edward J. Fox, a former faculty member at the University of Washington in Seattle, faked data in a manuscript submitted to Nature and in an NIH grant application, according to new findings from the U.S. Office of Research Integrity (ORI).

Fox, who initially confessed to some of the misconduct when confronted by the university, “neither admits nor denies ORI’s finding of research misconduct related to grant application R01 CA193649-01A1,” the ORI said in an announcement. However, he

acknowledges that his research records were poorly maintained and lacked the documentation necessary to support the reported preliminary results.

Fox, according to the ORI,

engaged in research misconduct by intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly:

  • fabricating data and analyses in a manuscript submitted to Nature, which was subsequently voluntarily withdrawn. These fabricated data and analyses also appear in Figure 1 of grant progress report R01 CA193649-02. Respondent stated during the inquiry that two abstracts that appear in Cancer Research are based on the fabricated data and analyses.
  • fabricating or falsifying data and analyses in the preliminary results section of grant application R01 CA193649-01A1, section C.1.a(iv).

For example, Fox faked data in two figures

to show that the frequency of unique subclonal mutations in normal cells increases as people age, while the frequency of subclonal mutations in cancerous cells does not

and in another figure

to show a pattern of subclonal mutations for the fabricated data from Figures 1c and 1d and fabricated the statistical analysis results to show statistically significant differences between tumor and normal mucosa…

Fox — who agreed to a year of supervision for any federally funded research — did not respond to a request for comment.

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7 thoughts on “Former University of Washington researcher faked data, say Feds”

  1. Fox “agreed to a year of supervision for any federally funded research.”
    Goodness, such severe sanctions!

  2. Any retractions or questionable papers (actually published, not just conference abstracts, grant applications or manuscripts) by this author?

  3. this is going to be big – the last author has published some breakthrough mutation theories for cancer. I use them in my teaching….Hopefully, he has not used these data while proposing the theories.

    1. The mutator theory goes back decades, so is probably safe. But I think it’s accurate to say that we don’t know yet how much this misconduct has damaged the field.

  4. I wish the exposition of ORI/PHS findings could be more explicitly phrased, as they (usually) were in “Olden-Days” (sigh), so one could understand “how” or by “what” means the data was falsified or fabricated. Specifically, what was questioned data: numbers, scattergrams, blots, images, whatever? This information is otherwise inaccessible in an unfunded grant application or a withdrawn manuscript, but it would aid a critical reading of any other publication or application by a respondent.

  5. Fox — who agreed to a year of supervision for any federally funded research …

    If a CEO was caught embezzling, or a bank teller was caught stealing from the cash drawer, would they be sentenced to a “year of supervision” handling other people’s money?

    Why is this crook not banned for life from living on the taxpayer dole? Who sets these rules for punishment, and how can they be changed? It’s not like we have such a dire shortage of second rate scientists clamoring for grant money that we need to give them a second chance when they are caught cheating.

  6. Who sets the rules for “punishment”?

    The CEO (or bank teller) would be guilty of an infraction in “criminal law,” whereas research misconduct is an infraction in “administrative law” (AL). The respective standards of proof differ, as do the respective intents underlying the consequence for the offender: Violations in AL are met with ,“sanctions” whose intent is corrective, not punitive.

    Yeah, lotsa “pretty words” one should rightly say; but in the end, these sanctions represent exactly the system the academic research community wanted when ORI was set up in 1993.

    But if Today’s light federal sanctions devolve from a fear of government intrusion into academic perogatives, there is still nothing stopping institutions from exercising their rights to impose corrective measures that meet their own standards.

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