High-profile Chinese scientist approves allegations of fraud and plagiarism with more than 60 papers


Cao Zatao was freed from scientific misconduct, but still faces punishment.

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By Denise Normile

A prominent Chinese scientist facing charges of image manipulation in dozens of papers has been cleared of serious misconduct, although he has been ordered to fix “misused images” in articles and has received several other punishments . Yet many scholars involved in or following the case are dissatisfied with the results, with some saying they should have been forced to resign.

A brief notification posted on 21 January on the website of China’s Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) said that a group drawn from several ministries and agencies suspected data fraud in papers written by immunologist Cao Jietao, president of Nankai University And was an academician at the Chinese Academy of Engineering. Cao is one of the most prominent Chinese scientists implicated in misconduct allegations in recent years.

The investigation was launched in San Francisco in November 2019 after an independent consultant microbiologist Elizabeth B.C., who specializes in finding theoretical data, questioned several images in a 2009 paper Journal of immunology Co-authored by Cao. After Beek posted his criticism on the magazine discussion site PubPier, other contributors noticed problems in additional Cao papers.

There was no evidence of fraud, plagiarism or duplication in the 63 papers involved in the MOST investigation, according to the same paragraph in the statement, although “misuse images in many laboratories reflected a lack of rigorous laboratory management.”

Cao will be barred from applying for national science and technology projects, will lose his qualifications as a scientific specialist, and will be prohibited from hiring graduate students, all for 1 year. The notification also ordered him to examine and correct the papers. It appears that he will hold his job as president of Nankai University, one of China’s most prestigious universities. (On Nankai’s English-language website, Cao is also listed as one of the university’s two vice chancellors.) Cao did not respond to an email.

The BC questioned the findings. In a series of tweets made yesterday, he presented some letters co-written by Cao in which the reuse of images could have been honest errors. but still “Many Cao papers where this is not very likely, an ‘accident’ has occurred, “BC tweeted, saying the repetitions” suggest an ‘intent to mislead.’ ‘Others also criticize investigations and punishments. “I am not very happy with the findings of the Chinese government,” says Huang Fatao, a scholar of Chinese higher education at Hiroshima University in Japan. In his position, Cao should set an example of research integrity, Huang says: “He should resign” or lose his position as president of Nankai University.

Huang also says that the investigation took too long and the report criticized the lack of detail. China has adopted rules and issued guidelines to remove the tide of dubious papers; Cao descended lightly, Huang says, presumably because of his position and connection. Imposition of punishments explicitly specified in the new instructions “depends on who you are,” Huang says.

Cao Kang, a science policy expert at Nottingham’s campus in Ningbo, China, called the investigation “very disappointing”. There is no description on who carried it out, what evidence was examined or how it was concluded. “It discredits the mechanism of maintaining the integrity of the research to say the least,” says Cao Kang, who is unrelated to Cao Zietao.

Cao Zietao’s four papers were withdrawn in 2020 Journal of biological chemistry, Which in 2015 a Cao Zietao paper was withdrawn according to the website Retraction Watch. Three additional Cao Zuettao letters were given expressions of concern last year.

The MOST notification also includes allegations against several other individuals. The panel found no fraud in two papers by neuroscientist Rao Yi of Capital Medical University, and five papers by Geng Miu of the Shanghai Institute of Materia Medica of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, which focuses on traditional medical medicine . Geng’s research led to GV971, a drug for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, which was approved for use in China in 2019, even though there was little data on efficacy. Geng’s commercial partner, Green Valley Pharmaceuticals, is planning a global Phase III trial, according to Alzforum, a website tracking information related to Alzheimer’s treatment.

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