Nanotech researchers cleared of fraud but failed to supervise cheating grad student: University

An institutional investigation of a group of nanotechnology researchers in Japan has concluded that a former graduate student in the lab began his cheating ways “on a daily basis from a very early stage” after joining the team in 2015.

According to a Google translation of the report, Yuuta Yano – whom the document identifies as “former graduate student A” and with other oblique references, committed sweeping fabrication of data and other misdeeds: 

over a period of four years or more, the number of forged data is extremely large, and even concealment work is performed, so it is evaluated that the maliciousness of the act is high. … The impact is great. In addition, it was published in a wide range of academic journals and has a large social impact. 

Yano also was found to have thrown away lab notebooks in order to hide his culpability. 

As we reported previously, Kenichiro Itami and Hideto Ito had called for an investigation into their group’s work in the wake of the retractions of papers in Nature and ACS Applied Nano Materials. Yano was first author of the Nature paper and one of the ACS articles, and second author on the second ACS paper.

The report clears Itami and Ito of misconduct, but it faults them for failing to catch Yano earlier: 

although both of them were found not to be involved in the fraudulent activity, they have a duty to supervise the research fraud of former graduate students, and failure to do so can be said to be an indirect cause of this case. A Former graduate student is measuring all the data for which research errors have been revealed by himself, and is performing data processing and drawing. During this time, the responsible authors, Associate Professor Ito and Professor Itami, trusted former graduate students A, and scientific communication was not sufficient, and the guidance and supervision of the responsible authors was insufficient

In a March 16 statement, Nagoya University wrote

The paper “Graphene nanoribbon (GNR) synthesis by living condensed ring π expansion polymerization” by the research team of Professor Kenichiro Itami of the Institute of Transformative Biomolecules, Nagoya University was published in the scientific journal “Nature” in June 2019. However, when the data used in the paper was found to be suspicious and requested to be withdrawn, it was withdrawn from the journal on November 25, 2020. In addition, two other papers on GNR issued by the team were also withdrawn upon request for withdrawal.

We have set up the Fair Research and Investigation Committee to investigate this matter, but we would like to inform you that the investigation has been completed and fraud has been confirmed.

We sincerely regret that such a situation has occurred and sincerely apologize for causing a great deal of inconvenience to everyone.

In order to prevent such a situation from happening in the future, we will thoroughly implement research ethics related to research activities and make a university-wide effort to prevent recurrence.

In a statement apologizing for their role in the case, Itami and Ito wrote

We deeply apologize to everyone who was affected by this incident; our collaborators, the university, related departments, people concerned, current and past laboratory members, research funding agencies, the scientific community, and journal publishers. 

Taking the results of the surveys sincerely, we will continue to conduct research ethics education and research data storage, management, and verification more carefully and meticulously. We are striving to build a solid system to restore trust and ensure no recurrence of such research misconduct. We will continue our research even more seriously.

Hat tip: Lemonstoism, author of World Fluctuation Watch

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9 thoughts on “Nanotech researchers cleared of fraud but failed to supervise cheating grad student: University”

  1. When I was a PI, I actually supervised my PhD students and postdocs. Where are the consequences for the abject failures of notable PIs? Four years of forged data, and they didn’t notice? I suppose those Nature papers were too good to pass up.

    1. I guess it depends on exact field one works in, but I certainly wouldn’t claim that if a postdoc I’m supervising forged data carefully, I would have definitely noticed. With PhD students cheating would most likely be much easier to spot, at least when they are just beginning.

      1. Why do people forge data?
        a PI could do it to get more papers or grant, then be tenured. One prof at University of California got tenured while having an investigation for data forgery…that’s how much they care. More grants means more money, tenured means a salary for life.

        A postdoc or student has no financial reasons to forge data. The only reasons I see are 1) they are lazy and don’t care but in this case, why being a postdoc or PhD student? or 2) the PI asks a lot and doesn’t help at all…
        So I blame the PI for this. Not being able to see data forgery in 4 years from a PhD student (a low paid trainee who is under his supervision) is not acceptable.

  2. I see your comment as more of an indictment of the typical way of working in academia rather than a reason to let this slide. As long as all PIs have to do is apologize, I guess there’s no incentive for them to pay proper attention.

    1. I don’t mean to be an apologist for sloppy PIs, but I’m just saying that in some cases it’s completely unrealistic to expect them to detect all cheating. Luckily in most cases cheaters are extremely lazy and not that hard to spot with proper attention.

    1. We shouldn’t. There is no room for this kind of nonsense in science. In my own career as a professor, I’ve seen the scientific process corrupted repeatedly because no one wants to challenge the old boys’ club.

    2. I have heard the benefit of the doubt from several PIs, how magnanimous.
      If you PIs do not have time to supervise and guide your graduate students because you are too busy writing grants and papers then you should not accept grad student in your laboratory. Hire research associates or fully formed scientist (that’s too expensive right?)
      My supervisor used to say that phrase all the time. The minute I arrived to the lab I was told that it depended on how fast my hands were I would get a paper. I did not have training, or anyone showing me around on experiments that were very complex. The supervision consisted on once every month (if lucky) meeting where I was told the data I was missing or that I was doing the work wrong because the data didn’t resemble what was expected. Long story short, I got to the point of publishing and my mental health went to the drain. I had to repeat so many experiments that I did at the beggining of my “training”. I realized so many mistakes I made. I couldn’t reproduce many of them. So in the end I am there struggling with my self worth and feeling like a failure while my Pi was just waiting for the data for one more paper. I tried my best with what I had learned in those years but I feel so insecure about it. I still have nightmares thinking that my results will not be reproducible or that mistakes will be found. What will happen then… i already know it, my PI will say I gave them the benefit of the doubt and throw me under the bus like I am garbage. I have no sympathy for PIs, they always put on this martir/good Samaritan mask when we grad students are the ones just starting out careers. We are the ones moving your labs somtimes even taking care of administrative and managerial stuff. We are the ones living with miserable salaries and being completely powerless and at the mercy of your recommendation letters. So no, don’t use that benefit of the doubt bullshit, take responsability for being a shitty PI. Believe me grad students are the first heads to roll when shit hits the fan.

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