Consequences for academic fraudsters

April 8, 2013

ORI has a new Notice up:

Andrew Aprikyan, Ph.D., University of Washington: Based on the report of an investigation conducted by the University of Washington (UW), the UW School of Medicine Dean’s Decision, the Decision of the Hearing Panel at UW, and additional analysis conducted by ORI, ORI found by a preponderance of the evidence that Dr. Andrew Aprikyan, former Research Assistant Professor, Division of Hematology, UW, engaged in research misconduct in research supported by National Cancer Institute (NCI), National Institutes of Health (NIH), grant CA89135 and National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), NIH, grant DK18951, and applies to the following publications and grant applications:

Standard stuff really. but our good blog friend bill pulled up three fun thoughts on the Twitts.


@drugmonkeyblog @HHS_ORI Still filing patents, too, just as though he were not a known #cheatfuck:


@drugmonkeyblog @HHS_ORI Best I can tell, he goes by “Andranik” these days, and has $150K in SBIR money:


@drugmonkeyblog @HHS_ORI Still editing for PLOS ONE, too:

The infractions for which this guy was busted date to 2001-2003 and he’s apparently been fighting it in court for years. Finally it seems, going by the ORI text, he gave up contesting the issue. And appears to have left the UW and gone to work elsewhere…somewhere that applies for and receives SBIR grants. Now, presumably this award will come under the oversight requirements of the ORI.

Of somewhat greater interest to me is the PLoS ONE editor gig. A search of the journal reveals no articles with Aprikyan as author but four articles (2 in 2012, 2 in 2013) with him as the Academic Editor.


First, now that there is an ORI finding, should PLoS ONE either dismiss or suspend the guy? Me, I’m voting for dismiss.

Second, in the broader issue it shows another side of how the secrecy and presumption-of-innocence (which is good) can work against science. Fraudsters can fight their cases for years while continuing to enjoy many of the benefits of that fraud. That is, additional employment opportunities based on their academic record. In this case the AE benefits are not tangible in terms of pay but there are the intangibles….just as their are intangibles from the mere fact of having once been hired at the Assistant Professor level, having ever acquired a NIH grant, having published papers from those aforementioned benefits, etc.

Third, this continues my side interest in career re-habilitation strategies for the fraudsters. This is way better than hiring one of those reputation-defenders to fake up some websites, right?

Finally, this issue taps my continuing fascination with what PLoS ONE is all about and how it functions. Will they institute a simple question for any additional editors to ask if there have ever been any fraud charges against them? That would seem like a good thing to do.

13 Responses to “Consequences for academic fraudsters”

  1. He’s had one first author paper since 2003 and he’s edited a couple of papers. Not neccessarily a stellar research career.

    What would you suggest happen to these cheatfucks?


  2. drugmonkey Says:

    In this case I’m just more or less lamenting that it took so long and he was able to enjoy the benefits of his cheating for another decade.

    The SBIR grant is something another more deserving person didn’t land, so there’s a victim there. The patent? Well, one hopes that it does not rest in any way shape or form on faked data, right?

    PLoS ONE AE gig….well of course he didn’t stop anyone else from being selected as an editor and I guess I just feel like it is bad that someone with proven willingness to fake science is sitting in a position of judgment over manuscripts.


  3. The other Dave Says:

    The main thing that bugs me, which you mentioned in passing, is the rehabilitation thing. NIH is willing to dump even more money on these criminals?! That’d be fine if budgets were not limiting, but this is a zero sum game. Every dollar to a criminal (and yea, they’d be in jail if it were any other business) means one dollar less toward science. Replace ’em; don’t rehabilitate ’em!

    But you know damn well how the rehabilitation thing happened… A bunch of soft money places with influence and tenured fraudsters lobbied for another chance. And they got it.


  4. Eli Rabett Says:

    Death penalty!

    Should Andrew Aprikyan be given the electric chair for having concocted arguably the most risibly inept, misleading, cherry-picking, worthless and mendacious paper in the history of junk science?

    Should Andrew Aprikyanbe hanged by the neck for his decade or so’s hysterical promulgation of the great scam and other idiocies too numerous to mention?

    Should Andrew Aprikyan be fed to the crocodiles for the role he has played in the fleecing of the American taxpayer and the diversion of scarce resources into pointless projects?

    Well sadly no. (lifted the hyperb from a mouthbreather)


  5. DrLizzyMoore Says:

    Disturbing. He should not be AE of anything.


  6. zb Says:

    The AA case took so long because he fought it (and could, because, among other things, he did not loose his visa when he lost his job, and because, as a faculty member, he had rights that he used to his fullest extent). I think everyone’s hands are pretty much tied in taking away rights or privileges until such cases are resolved (though one doesn’t, in general, have to offer the suspect anything, like a job or a AE slot).

    Maybe AA had the PLoS AE slot before the accusations were out of confidentiality? Alternatively, he may have had a supporter in PLoS. For a very long time, AA did have colleagues who believed his defenses, or at the very least, believed that he should be given a “fair trial”.

    The UW faculty committee that reviewed his case actually recommended against dismissal (or something like that — they may have decided he wasn’t given a fair review, or some other complicated legal decision). The faculty recommendation was over-ruled by the university president).

    You can’t treat someone like they’re guilty of a crime until they’ve been found guilty. Pretty much a bedrock principle of America. Eventually it looks like NIH settles for low-punishment deals because that’s the way to get the accused to plead.


  7. You can’t treat someone like they’re guilty of a crime until they’ve been found guilty. Pretty much a bedrock principle of America.

    Well…not so much in the 21st century, that.


  8. Slangzan Says:

    What’s even more preposterous is the gross PhotoShop’ing on p.51 of the original version of the retracted paper, which wasn’t even deemed to be misconduct:


  9. @Slangzan
    Are you talking about the localization in fig 5? (which seems to be on p 39 in the version you link to). Yeah, it looks pretty manipulated, but the thing is, in the 1990s and early 2000s, this sort of thing was typically accepted on the honor system that you were only adjusting the image to make things clearer. Obviously this sort of thing is ripe for all sorts of shenanigans and many journals now say images are no longer allowed to be manipulated (probably due to the 2005 Woo-Suk stem cell scandal which used such images as part of the fraud), but in 2003 manipulation of images in and of itself wasn’t that big a deal.


  10. Slangzan Says:

    @Jonathan Badger

    Yes, Fig. 5 on p. 39. Sorry about the wrong page number; I need to retract that : )

    No, this is not mere contrast/brightness, selectively applied in PhotoShop.

    Look closely at the trio (or quartet) of cells arranged in an L-like pattern in the upper left of part C. Then look closely at the the trio (or quartet) of cells arranged in an r-like pattern in the upper right of part D. See a resemblance? The cluster in D is rotated clockwise 90 degrees, compared to C. Then look at the neighboring cells; they are different for this cluster in part C compared to part D. Parts C and D are not simply the same photo cropped and rotated 90 degrees (which also would be a problem), but, even worse, parts of each of C and D must have been cut out and pasted together. If you want, you can open the image in PhotoShop (or Gimp or whatever) and adjust brightness/contrast, etc. and you can see the different parts pasted on to a black background.


  11. Ola Says:

    Sorry Jonathan Badger, but that’s just not the case. Image manipulation was, is, and always will be, wrong. There was never a time when this was “OK” or “allowed”. There was a time when people didn’t look for it, so the fraudsters got away with it, but it was never, ever assumed that this was OK, or part of good scientific practice.


  12. @Ola,
    They were plenty of cases in papers back in the day where it was explicitly said that the colors of the images were adjusted or that the “gel” shown was a composite of several gels. It wasn’t that the reviewers or journals didn’t know about it; they just didn’t object to it.


  13. dsks Says:

    “Image manipulation was, is, and always will be, wrong.”

    Well, pretty much all camera-based images are manipulated prior to publication. False color, brightness/contrast etc. Fluorescence intensity measurements must always be done on the raw pics, but if you want to actually show an example frame in a publication, you usually have to tweak the levels (for live cell fluorescence imaging under low light intensity, a raw 12 bit frame is usually pitch black).

    Of course, there’s a pretty wide gulf between tweaking brightness/contrast and creatively splicing images to create new ones, which is what appears to be going on here.


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