Married UK professors and staff research scientist lose jobs over major health research misconduct

  • Two University of Kentucky (UK) professors and a staff research scientist have lost their jobs after
    being found guilty of ‘significant research misconduct’ in several published papers, the university
    reports.
  • UK has started the termination process for professors Xianglin Shi and Zhuo Zhang in the
    Department of Toxicology and Cancer Biology in the College of Medicine, Provost David Blackwell
    shared. He also said the married couple will be fired if they don’t willingly resign. The exact logistics
    of how they will sever ties is yet to be determined.
  • Donghern Kim, an eight-year staff research scientist who worked in Zhang’s lab, has already been
    fired.
  • Unless approved by UK’s Legal Office, the three have been barred from contacting any members of
    the UK community or visiting campus, unless it is for medical care.
  • UK’s investigation of Shi, Kim and Zhang began more than a year ago, after it received an allegation
    that they had falsified data in a grant application. The trio was notified in September they were
    being investigated for research misconduct allegations.
  • The investigative committee members investigated roughly 60 papers, which included grant
    applications that Shi, Zhang and Kim published between 2012 and 2018. Nineteen items were
    flagged and investigated further by the committee and included seven grants and a dozen published
    articles. Investigators found 109 pages of falsified or fabricated data.
  • The actions to terminate were announced less than a day after the university investigation
    committee submitted more than 1,000 pages of findings showing “several examples of falsified or
    fabricated data” throughout the articles and grant applications in question.
  • The committee report read the trio made “an intentional effort to deceive” and a “reckless
    handling” of data that was used for grants and publications, calling the behavior a “systemic
    problem”. UK is also seeking a retraction of the papers.
  • In his response to the report, Shi said there were “several flaws” in the committee’s findings,
    including how the committee issued its findings “without providing any opportunity … to express
    [our] views.” Had that happened, he said, “most of these issues could have been addressed.” He
    also noted, many of the items the committee noted, were “honest errors or mistakes.”
  • According to the university, there has only been one other instance in the last decade where
    research misconduct led to faculty termination proceedings. In 2012, Eric J. Smart, an associate
    professor and vice chairman of UK’s pediatrics department, resigned after officials alleged he
    falsified data in at least 10 published papers and multiple grant applications.