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Science Fraud

An Iowa State University lab manager, Dong-Pyou Han, has pleaded not guilty to making false statement related to charges that he falsified research for an AIDS vaccine so that he could reel in millions in federal research funding, the AP reports.

Han has been charged with spiking rabbit blood samples with human antibodies to make an experimental HIV vaccine appear to be much more promising that it was.

Investigators say he confessed to tampering with the blood samples in a letter he wrote to ISU officials before he resigned, last fall. He allegedly told the university that he undertook the fraud in 2009 because he wanted his research results to look better, and that no one else was involved in the fraud.

"I was foolish, coward, and not frank," he allegedly wrote, the AP reports.

Not only did he falsify an application and project reports to NIH to acquire a $5 million grant, but his deception raised hopes in the scientific community that a breakthrough was on the way, before scientists at Harvard discovered that the samples had been spiked.

It is "extremely rare" to see criminal charges for academic fraud, but the wrongdoing in this case was seen as "extraordinary," AP says.

These cases are rare because the US Office of Research Integrity doesn't have the authority to bring prosecution, Retraction Watch's Ivan Oransky says. This case, however, was "particularly brazen."

ISU has agreed to pay NIH back nearly $500,000 for the cost of Han's salary, the AP reports.