Press Reports on Another UW Misconduct Case

Update: A King County Superior Court Judge rejected Aprikyan’s request for a temporary injunction to stop the university from firing him. A trial on the case has been set for November.

Hot on the heels of one sensational misconduct case at U Wash, details have been made public about another since the research assistant professor (and UW table tennis coach) at the heart of the investigation, Andrew Aprikyan, has sued in court to save his job.

The Seattle Times reports on “some eye-opening revelations in the court documents — including Aprikyan’s own account that a technician working with him at one point wrote research notes on ‘approximately 30 paper towels,’ and the notes were never transcribed.” Clearly someone missed the seminar on maintaining a good lab notebook.

The case has dragged on 7 years, during which time Aprikyan has continued to publish, secure grant funding, and present his results. This year, UW President Mark Emmert intervened to say Aprikyan should be fired for academic misconduct.

But getting back to that long investigation (Duke watchers take note):

In 2003, when the journal “Blood” posted an Aprikyan paper on its website, another researcher noticed that something looked wrong: An image of a cell in one panel appeared to have been rotated 90 degrees and relabeled in another panel.

Aprikyan later withdrew the paper, which other researchers contributed to, noting that “errors in some of the digital images in the manuscript are under investigation.”

“We … extend our deepest apologies to the scientific community,” Aprikyan wrote on the “Blood” website.

In court papers, Aprikyan said it was a rival faculty member who turned him in after “I had refused to work with him on a research project.”

The UW appointed a committee, composed of three scientists, to investigate Aprikyan’s work. Under UW rules, such investigations are supposed to take 90 days. But the committee got at least 16 extensions as the investigation dragged on. It worked for three years, eventually issuing a report of more than 450 pages.

It took another year for Paul Ramsey, dean of the UW School of Medicine, to review the reports and issue his own findings. Ramsey concluded that Aprikyan had falsified seven figures and tables in two research papers, and that his actions amounted to academic misconduct.

Then things took a turn. Ramsey and Provost Phyllis Wise asked a faculty panel — which included professors of English, Scandinavian studies and several other disciplines — to decide whether Aprikyan should be fired. Aprikyan, in turn, asked the panel to reconsider the entire case against him.

Over the objections of UW administrators, a law professor decided the faculty panel could reconsider the case. Two years later, the panel concluded, in a 70-page report, that while there was plenty of evidence of sloppy methods and erroneous results, there was no evidence Aprikyan had deliberately falsified his work.

Earlier this year, Emmert made his own ruling: The second panel had no authority to review the first committee’s findings. Emmert wrote that he, therefore, accepted those initial findings — that Aprikyan had committed scientific misconduct — and concluded the researcher should be fired.

Whoa … 3 scientists devoted 3 years to preparing a 450-p report about 7 falsified figures & tables in 2 papers?

Wonder what will be left for ORI to say when they finally issue their report.

7 Comments »

  1. bikemonkey said

    Why do these investigations take so long? Anyone?

  2. pete said

    why are these guys risking their whole scientific career and reputation? if science is hard for them, shouldn’t they have chosen something else to do? my impression is people choose science because they love science. don’t understand the logic behind all the recent falsifications. sigh.

    • bikemonkey said

      does this not raise the question of how risky the risk is perceived to be? What is the average latency from first fake to conviction? How many faked figures are used to advance the career before detection? How frequently are cheaters actually caught?

  3. whimple said

    Wonder what will be left for ORI to say when they finally issue their report.
    Oh that’s easy… “Respondent, while not admitting culpability, has voluntarily agreed to stop robbing the taxpayers and further polluting the literature for a period of three years…”

    Pete: my impression is people choose science because they love science
    Yes, but unfortunately the people who choose the people who choose science just want the cash.

  4. BB said

    Lordy, when I was in grad school (back in the Dark Ages, granted) I was told that if I used scrap paper to write something relevant down, even a calculation, I should tape it into my lab notebook. No transcribing needed.

    OTOH, how arrogant is someone who doesn’t think another researcher will figure out that an image has been reused? Reusing images seems to be a common theme lately.

  5. D said

    What I find intriguing is that he is an untenured research assistant professor.

  6. Rob said

    From the post:
    “It took another year for Paul Ramsey, dean of the UW School of Medicine, to review the reports and issue his own findings.”

    Well, that means that we can expect Dean Andrews at Duke to take another 6 months to read the report issued by the Hellinga misconduct panel.

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