Science Fraudster Pays the Price

Han is sentenced to 57 months in prison and must repay $7.2 million for tampering with blood samples.

By Stephen Ornes|Monday, November 30, 2015
Dong-Pyou Han’s tampering with HIV vaccine tests led to him facing serious criminal charges, including prison time.
Charlie Neibergall/AP/Corbis

In July, an Iowa District Court sentenced biomedical researcher Dong-Pyou Han, formerly of Iowa State University, to 57 months in prison and $7.2 million in restitution for scientific misconduct. The unusual sentence sparked debate among scientists on whether the punishments fit the crime.

Han altered rabbit blood samples to artificially boost HIV vaccine test results, leading to millions in grant money. A 2013 investigation by the U.S. Office of Research Integrity uncovered his misdeeds. The agency imposed a three-year research ban on Iowa State, which returned $500,000 in grant money. Criminal charges followed in June 2014 after the case gained widespread attention.

Extreme fraud like Han’s is rare, but subsequent legal prosecution is almost unheard of, says Daniele Fanelli, a meta-researcher at Stanford University. Fanelli believes similar prosecutions may follow. “This might have serious consequences on scientific progress,” he says, both positive and negative. “If you turn a judgment about scientific truthfulness into a legalistic manner, then scientists may get away with fraud thanks to having a good lawyer.”

[This article originally appeared in print as "Big Fine for Fraud."]

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