24 October 2016
Yang Dan, a professor at the HKU Department of Chemistry, said she did not carry out the experiments on which her research was based. Photos: HKEJ, HKU
Yang Dan, a professor at the HKU Department of Chemistry, said she did not carry out the experiments on which her research was based. Photos: HKEJ, HKU

HKU dismisses research misconduct case despite tampered results

The University of Hong Kong has dismissed a complaint of research misconduct filed against a chemistry professor, although it has been confirmed that the experiments involved in the alleged research were not properly handled, Apple Daily reports.

An HKU panel concluded that the experiments were conducted by two doctoral students, and the professor was not aware of the details.

The two students, who allegedly manipulated the results of the experiments, were earlier found of not guilty by a disciplinary committee formed by the university.

The panel appears to conclude that no one should be held responsible for the research project that was funded by public money, even if it has been confirmed that the results of the experiments had been manipulated.

The case emerged after Roger Wong, a former assistant chemistry professor at HKU, reported to the university in 2014 his suspicions about the results of a research study by Yang Dan, a professor at the HKU Department of Chemistry, entitled “Molecular Imaging of Peroxynitrite with HKGreen-4 in Live Cells and Tissues”, which was published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society (JACS).

Wong said he made many attempts to replicate Yang’s paper but almost all the results were negative.

He said some of the images submitted by Yang’s team were composites from different experiments completed under different conditions.

A university disciplinary committee investigated the two students involved in the paper and found that they incorrectly presented some of the research but were not guilty of misconduct.

Dr. Lam Yun-wah from the City University of Hong Kong was assigned to monitor one of the students who was asked by the HKU to redo the experiment.

Lam said in his report to the HKU that the student could not replicate the findings stated in Yang’s research findings.

Lam also said in his report that the complaint filed by Wong for research misconduct “appears to be valid”.

He pointed out that it was possible to manipulate the results of the experiment by adjusting the intensity of laser beams used in the experiments.

In July 2015, HKU vice-chancellor Peter Mathieson ordered a committee to be formed to investigate Yang regarding her research.

Gareth Jones, a chemistry professor at the Imperial College London, was hired to be the expert witness.

Jones noted that it was unacceptable to compare results from experiments under different conditions without citations.

The investigation panel confirmed that the raw data submitted by Wong was true and valid and that the alleged manipulations by Yang’s team had taken place.

According to the Ming Pao Daily, a report by the HKU investigation panel has ruled that three instances in Yang’s research were “not accurate”.

Yang subsequently defended herself by saying that she did not carry out the experiments and she did not observe the raw data before publishing her research.

Yang also said the editor of the JACS has accepted her supplementary experiment raw data on April 17, 2016, and that the results of her research have been adopted by laboratories overseas and published in other international academic journals, according to Ming Pao Daily.

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