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The Repercussions

A former Iowa State University researcher has been sentenced to four and a half years in prison for making false statements in research reports, according to the Associated Press. Dong-Pyou Han must also pay $7.2 million back to the US National Institutes of Health.

Han pleaded guilty in February to the charges, which stem from work he did while at Case Western Reserve University in Michael Cho's lab and continued at his own lab at Iowa State. Han said he first accidentally mixed human blood with rabbit blood, which made the experimental HIV vaccine they were testing look like it was working. He then continued to spike the samples to avoid disappointing Cho after the field became excited about the results, the AP says.

The fraud was uncovered in January 2013 by Harvard researchers, and in December 2013, the US Office of Research Integrity found that Han had faked his results, which had been included in seven national and international symposia, three grant applications, and multiple progress reports, Retraction Watch notes. He received a three-year research ban.

The case, though, came to the attention in February 2014 of Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who said the punishment is "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." He went on to call for an attempt to recover the misspent grant funds. Han was arrested a few months later.

At the Des Moines Register, Retraction Watch's Adam Marcus and Ivan Oransky note that prosecution for research misconduct is quite rare and say that Han isn't even one of the worst offenders. Still, they argue that "[i]f Han's stiff sentence serves to deter future would-be fraudsters, that would be an example worth setting."