Texas Student Admits To Falsifying Data | Chemical & Engineering News
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Web Date: December 8, 2014

Texas Student Admits To Falsifying Data

Scientific Misconduct: Student’s actions put multiple research papers in doubt
Department: Science & Technology
News Channels: Organic SCENE, JACS In C&EN, Materials SCENE
Keywords: scientific misconduct, falsifying data, mechanochemistry

An investigation into chemistry research at the University of Texas, Austin, has concluded that scientific misconduct occurred. The finding casts doubt on several research papers in the field of polymer mechanochemistry, where chemists use mechanical force rather than light or heat to make and break bonds.

Questions about research from Christopher W. Bielawski’s lab at UT Austin were raised earlier this year when the journal Science published an editorial expression of concern over a high-profile 2011 paper from his group (DOI: 10.1126/science.1207934; C&EN, June 30, page 7).

In recent weeks, two more editorial expressions of concern about research from Bielawski’s group have appeared in the journals Polymer Chemistry (DOI: 10.1039/c4py90087a) and Chemical Science (DOI: 10.1039/c4sc90048k).

Officials at UT Austin tell C&EN that their investigation into the matter has concluded: “One author of several papers in question told UT officials that he or she—acting alone—had falsified and otherwise misrepresented data or figures in the papers, which led to the finding of scientific misconduct.”

University officials say federal privacy laws prohibit them from divulging any further information, such as the identity of the student. Aside from Bielawski, however, the common coauthor on all three papers is Kelly M. Wiggins, a former graduate student in Bielawski’s group. Neither Bielawski nor Wiggins has so far replied to C&EN’s requests for comment.

The finding of scientific misconduct also calls into question other papers published by Wiggins and Bielawski, including a 2011 paper in the Journal of Polymer Science Part A: Polymer Chemistry, a 2012 paper published in Angewandte Chemie, and several papers that appeared in the Journal of the American Chemical Society (JACS) over the course of multiple years.

Glenn S. Ruskin, director of the American Chemical Society’s Office of Public Affairs, tells C&EN that UT Austin has been in touch regarding the JACS papers. “In light of these communications, we are presently working with relevant parties to determine an appropriate course of action in response,” he says. ACS also publishes C&EN.

Bielawski is no longer on the faculty at UT Austin. He’s moved to Ulsan National Institute of Science & Technology, in South Korea.

Wiggins joined the Beckman Institute at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, as a postdoctoral fellow in 2013. Officials there say she left the institute for personal reasons.

 
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Comments
Chhanda Charan Danta (December 9, 2014 6:21 AM)
Data provided by authors should be analysed repeatedly to avoid falsifying and misconduct of science.
Zach Dromsky (December 9, 2014 1:41 PM)
Ideally, yes it should be. Unfortunately, I don't believe we have the right incentive structure in the modern scientific community to support deliberate, rigorous validation of published work on a large scale. I do think that there are ways to improve the system we have, but at some point we will always have to settle for "The best we can do." This kind of news, while disappointing, is a case of the best we can do working out for us - in a way.
Tam (December 10, 2014 3:12 AM)
With all due respect the claim that a single student is solely responsible for this mess is laughable because:
1. as reported by CEN on June 27 in response to the expression of concern (EoC) issued by Science regarding one of the papers from this group, 'Bielawski says that his lab “repeated the experiments in question and found that the conclusions of the report were unchanged.”'. The EoC suggested that more than half of the data in the Science paper was unreliable. Either Bielawski had lied, or whoever "reproduced" the findings had also committed fraud.
2. Wiggins is not the lead author of the Science paper yet we are to believe that she was responsible for at least half of all the scientific data in that paper... Doubtful.

On a separate note, Ruskin's response is cute. Does it mean that Science, Chemical Sciences and Polymer Chemistry require lower level of proof to issue EoCs than JACS?

One wonders if Wiggins is a lamb sacrificed to preserve the careers of Bielawski and the reputation of the university.
Henry (December 11, 2014 3:14 AM)
In response to point 2: the authors say that there is doubt about the origin of data in 50% of the figures, not necessarily that she produced more than half of the data in the paper. And even if she had produced that quantity of data, author placement is not always proportional to the quantity of the data produced.
Bright (December 16, 2014 12:13 PM)
Regardless of whether Bielawski was aware of the falsification or not, he should be equally punished. This should not be a case of “unable to reach parties involved”. It is time PIs develop a method for proofing their own publications. In fact, when papers become high profile we are quick to credit the corresponding author; same token should be extended to publications that are fictitious. This is really bad news for science community and should be taken seriously to discourage an increasingly ugly trend!
A.Chandrasekaran (December 29, 2014 11:12 AM)
I agree. Credits go up, blames go down! It looks same as the politics played in tribes/village or corporate level. "Scientists" seem no better! The PIs have little to lose and have good incentive to keep a "blind eye"!!!

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