‘Lab shenanigans’: TikTok influencer faked data, feds say

Darrion Nguyen

A well-known content creator and former lab technician at Baylor College of Medicine in Texas admitted taking “several shortcuts” in work that has been found to contain falsified data funded by the National Institutes of Health, according to a U.S. government watchdog.

Darrion Nguyen, who has more than a half-million followers on his TikTok account “lab_shenanigans,” engaged in research misconduct while working at Baylor by “intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly falsifying and/or fabricating experimental data and results” of several research records, two manuscript figures, a research progress report, a poster, and a presentation, the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) said.

The ORI’s findings primarily concern the research report, “Illuminating GABAergic Signaling in Neurodevelopmental Disorders,” submitted to the NIH in July 2021. The report contained fabricated data of the number of mice used, their interactions, as well as enhanced mice brain measurements and symptom severity, according to the agency. 

“I was in a lab environment where I was mentally struggling, and I took several shortcuts to produce more data. This stemmed from the fear of my [principal investigator], the pressure to meet expectations to keep my job as a technician, and my personal struggles to keep up with the demands of that lab,” Nguyen told Retraction Watch. He said his situation underscores the dangers of the “publish or perish” culture prominent in academia.

Nguyen has been posting online videos and TikToks since 2019. While working as a lab technician, he often found himself meshing “late nights into creative sessions,” according to his website. He left Baylor in September 2020 and is now a science communicator who “makes fun, easily digestible science content.” 

ORI’s findings concern grants funded for more than $1 million. Hsiao-Tuan Chao, the principal investigator on the grants to Baylor, did not immediately respond to emails seeking comment. 

Nguyen agreed to have his research supervised for three years, and must submit supervision plans and certification of evidence if he is to be involved with any research funded by the U.S. Public Health Service, which includes the NIH. 

“Upon the launch of this investigation, I immediately stepped forward and maintained complete transparency throughout the process. I take full accountability for my mistakes and recognize the importance of owning up to them,” Nguyen said.

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5 thoughts on “‘Lab shenanigans’: TikTok influencer faked data, feds say”

  1. “Respondent entered into a Voluntary Settlement Agreement (Agreement). Respondent neither admits nor denies ORI’s findings of research misconduct. This settlement is not an admission of liability on the part of Respondent.”
    I know it’s legalese, but it doesn’t really match up with his statement of taking full accountability.

    1. Generally when people say they are “taking full responsibility” they don’t actually do so, and it’s just an attempt to diffuse the situation.

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