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Bigger Consequences

In a letter, Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) asked the US Department of Health and Human Services why a researcher who was found to have committed fraud received only a three-year ban from federally funded research, reports the Des Moines Register.

“This seems like a very light penalty for a doctor who purposely tampered with a research trial and directly caused millions of taxpayer dollars to be wasted on fraudulent studies,” Grassley wrote.

The case Grassley refers to involves a former assistant at Iowa State University, Dong-Pyou Han, who admitted to spiking rabbit blood samples with human antibodies so it would look like the vaccine he and his colleagues were working on was protecting the rabbits from HIV, the Register's Tony Leys writes. Han resigned from his post in the fall after taking responsibility for the fraud.

Grassley asks, though, why no efforts were made to recover the federal grant money spent on this work — Leys says that Han and his colleagues received some $14.5 million, including about $1.5 million that has not yet been spent — and whether the case was referred to other federal agencies for investigation.

Retraction Watch's Ivan Oransky notes that "fines and criminal penalties for scientific fraud are quite rare" and that many cases don't involve "outright bans on funding such as the one Han received."

Still, Oransky asks his readers whether such scientific fraud should be classified as a crime, something he and his co-blogger Adam Marcus have discussed before and address in a new column at Lab Times. There, they say it is likely time to criminalize research fraud and send a message to would-be fraudsters.

And their readers seem to agree. So far, 'yes' is leading in the Retraction Watch poll.