The Fraud Examiner
By Jaime deBlanc
ACFE Research Editor
For five years, a group of scientists at Iowa State University had been hot on the trail of a scientific breakthrough: a vaccine for the HIV virus. Their initial results showed that rabbits treated with the vaccine developed antibodies to HIV — an incredibly promising outcome, since it suggested that a human vaccine could also be created. The lab’s findings generated enormous excitement in the scientific community; the National Institutes of Health (NIH) awarded the research team millions of dollars in funding to continue its research.
The only problem? The research team’s remarkable results were faked. In mid-2013, the university discovered that Dr. Dong-Pyou Han, a member of the research team, had doctored the lab samples to make the vaccine appear effective. Han’s colleagues on the project were now looking at years of wasted work, and Han faced four felony counts of making false statements to a government agency.
It’s rare for scientists to face criminal charges for research fraud. However, in Han’s case, the enormous amount of money involved — almost $19 million in grants from the NIH over the course of several years — prompted the state to file federal charges against him, making Han one of only a handful of scientists in the past 30 years to be brought to trial for research fraud.
The publicity over the Iowa State scandal has sparked discussion on the topic of scientific fraud. How common is it? What are its effects? And how can anti-fraud professionals assist in preventing it?
What is Scientific Fraud?
Scientific fraud can take two forms: (1) falsifying or fabricating research data and (2) using research funds for personal purposes. Often, these two forms of fraud occur in tandem — as in the case of South Korean researcher Hwang Woo-Suk, who not only fabricated data in his cloning research but also embezzled $3 million of research money for his personal use.
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