List of research fraud grows as MIT star is fired for faking data

November 4, 2005

A high-flying US associate professor has been fired for making up data in a published scientific paper, grant applications and manuscripts.

Luk Van Parijs, a biologist at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was considered a rising star in immunology research.

The 35-year-old had been a postdoctoral student in the lab of Nobel prizewinner David Baltimore at the California Institute of Technology and had co-authored at least 40 research papers in the past eight years.

Then, last August, his research group suspected malpractice when they could not find some of the data he had published and reported him to MIT administrators.

The gene disease specialist, who is a Harvard University graduate, left the MIT campus on paid leave for 14 months while the allegations were investigated.

Last week, he was summoned to the university and sacked.

The revelation is one of several cases of research fraud to have dogged higher education in recent years.

In April, Neil Winn, a senior Leeds University lecturer, was forced to admit he had copied a US-based scholar's work when a Harvard undergraduate uncovered evidence. The European studies academic has been disciplined.

In 2002, the physicist Jan Hendrik Schon, from the US-based Bell Labs, was found to have falsely claimed to have created transistors out of single molecules.

A spokesperson for MIT told The Times Higher that they could not confirm which of Van Parijs' papers contained the fake data. But a scientific journal published an erratum in May this year to a paper for which Van Parijs was the main author. The erratum said the paper's claim about the genetic modification of mice could not be verified.

The dismissal is a serious blow to MIT and also to the institutions where Van Parijs previously worked. These include Caltech and Brigham and Women's Hospital.

An investigation into Van Parijs' research findings will be sent to the US Department of Health and Human Services by the end of the year.

The sacked professor could face a lifetime ban on federal funding for his research.

Professor Baltimore said: "He was a very personally attractive, excited and thoughtful guy who cared about a wide range of science. When I first heard there was a question about his work, it came as very great surprise."

None of Van Parijs' co-authors has been implicated in any misconduct.

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