Forged Academic Research by PRC Professor, No ConsequencesTranslated by Chen-t'ang 鎮棠, written by Lam Wai-chung, Apple Daily reporter
|Yang Dan, the accused professor.|
HKU has made the final ruling on YANG Dan, a Chemistry chair professor who has involved in a fake article scandal. Apple Daily has learnt that the school has confirmed the malpractices in the experiment, but HKU has ruled the complaint invalid as the school has satisfied that the experiments were conducted by her students, and she "knew nothing about it". The two doctor candidates (also from PRC) who were involved in the faked experiments have been ruled not guilty by a Disciplinary Committee which was not formed by scientists. The absurd result is no one has to be responsible for this fake research scandal.
Roger Wong Hoi-fung, a former assistant research professor in Dept of Chemistry HKU, revealed this to the school. Wong accused the article Yang and her team published on Journal of the American Chemical Society (JACS) on HKGreen-4 fluorescent probes for Peroxynitrite. Yang Dan and her two doctor students, Wong Nai-kei and Hu Jun were complained.
HKGreen-4 was meant to detect Peroxynitrite, a harmful substance in cell. In the experiement, Yang compare cells with and without E. Coli, and said the former cells would shine under a confocal microscope, showing that the probes can effectively detect the Peroxynitrite from the cell.
The results were handed to Wong's team to research on its application, but Wong cannot get the result Yang could, so he doubted the experiment of Yang. Wong collected original data from Yang, and saw three suspicious ways of testing, including using stronger laser settings in the microscope to deal with bacterial samples, causing a shiner image; also, compressing seven images into one, while others use five images into one, causing a shiner image. Finally, Wong found out that the pictures used in the essay were not the result from the same experiment, but rather from different dates [in 2011].
Wong started a written complaint in 2014 towards Wong Nai-kei and Hu Jun, and then complained Yang Dan. However, the two complaints were dealt separately, and the former complaint was dealt with Disciplinary Committee, which is used to tackle usual disciplinary problems; and Yang was followed up by an investigation committee on fake research.
The Disciplinary Committee convened a meeting in April 2015, and the members are all formed by members of Senate, who are all not scientists. The committee appointed Lam Yun-wah [CityU Associate Professor of Department of Biology and Chemistry], Dennis Ng [CUHK Associate Vice-President and Professor of Department of Chemistry] and Chow Kam-pui [HKU Associate Professor of Department of Computer Science] as technical consultants. The university representative also sought professional opinion from Wong Wing-tak [PolyU Chair Professor & Head of Department of Applied Biology and Chemical Technology]
Among the professional witnesses, Lam Yun-wah monitors Wong Nai-kei's reenactment of the experiment. Apple Daily gets the report, stating that Lam has discovered that with the same amount of laser, cells with and without bacteria showed the same luminance; and if laser amount increased on both cells, both cells' luminance will increase at the same time. Lam also said the complaint "appear to be valid" as Yang's team can fake the results by controlling the amount of laser. Wong Wing-tak said the samples have to be subjected under same conditions, and data from different settings and experiments are INVALID.
Yang denied the accusations, saying that the initial data of the experiment were changed and selectively handed by Roger Wong to HKU; meanwhile, when Yang replied to Retraction Watch, a website on checking the validity of essays, Yang still accused Roger Wong of changing the initial data, turning Wong from plaintiff to the accused.
In an oral evidence to the Disciplinary Committee, Chow Kam-pui said it is highly unlikely that the initial data have been changed. Chow said unless with professional training on computer and reverse engineering, otherwise the initial data cannot be changed. However, the Disciplinary Committee still rule the complaint to the two students invalid without DISCLOSING THE GROUNDS.
In July 2015, HKU vice-chancellor Peter Mathieson has decided to set up a formal committee to delve into Yang Dan, and hired chemistry professor from King's College in London, Gareth Jones, to be a professional witness. Jones, who has used the same microscope in the experiment, said the initial data cannot be changed without traces, and said comparing samples with different laser settings without stating them is "unacceptable". Therefore, the report draft of this committee satisfied that the data from Roger Wong were genuine, and confirmed the three faked situations were true.
Yang suddenly changed her tack after being found out the "change data" thing was not accepted. She admitted the samples were from different experiments, and the pictures were compressed from more than 5 pictures, but she said she is NOT FAMILIAR with biological experiment. She also passed the buck of using the confocal microscope was carried by Huang Naiqi, and Yang has not looked at the initial data before the article was published, so she did not know the problem. This committee finally said there is no sufficient evidence showing Yang was informed, so the misconduct complaint to her was unsubstantiated.
After two committees and one year probe, HKU has proved that the article was faked but no one has to bear consequences. After reading the essay, a local biological professor said the method was "certainly problematic" in the experiment. The professor added that it is inappropriate to conduct samples with different settings.
He said the investigation [latter] committee satisfied that Yang did not know about the data, but Yang, as a correspondent of the article, is the chief of the whole experiment and should know about the key data in the research. Yang, who was "sentenced no guilty", should withdraw her article as the probe has shown the experiment was forged. HKU should inform the journal after the probe.
Apple Daily journalist went to her office in HKU, but she said "I don't want to say anything to you", and demanded her students to call the police. She even pushed the journalist and yelled "ask the police to kick these three people out", without answering any questions. Peter Mathieson said the probe was internal affairs of HKU, and was completed. Currently the school is waiting for information from JACS, but he did not answer other questions.