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Medical engineer under investigation for fabrication

By Zhang Zhihao in Beijing and Yang Cheng in Tianjin | | Updated: 2019-11-18 11:07
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Noted medical engineer and President of Nankai University Cao Xuetao expressed that he is still confident in the validity and strength of the scientific conclusions and reproducibility of his papers, which were recently accused of fabrication. Cao nevertheless apologized for his lack of oversight in a number of published papers.

Last week, US scientist Dr. Elisabeth Bik claimed to have found traces of possible image duplication in graph results from 18 papers supervised by Cao. In a Twitter post last week, she said she is not accusing anyone of academic misconduct, since the investigation is still ongoing.

The claims have gone viral on Chinese social media over the weekend, and Cao posted a response to Bik on science publication evaluation platform PubPeer on Sunday night.

The response has been reposted on Chinese question-and-answer platform Zhihu, and Nankai University confirmed with China Daily on Monday that the response is genuine and official.

Cao said in the post that the papers in question were from research conducted at the National Key Laboratory of Medical Immunology and Institute of Immunology at the Second Military Medical University, with Cao as the corresponding author — that is, the personnel responsible for overseeing the research.

"I appreciate your interest in our work and your commitment to protecting the accuracy of scientific records and the integrity of research pursuits. They are of the utmost importance to meas well," he said, adding he has made it his highest priority since the notification of the issue and immediately launched an investigation.

Cao said he will look into concerns raised by Bik with the team and collaborators and carefully re-examine manuscripts, raw data and lab records. He will ask to collaborate with the relevant journal editorial office(s) immediately if the investigation indicates any risk to accuracy.

Based on current feedback and analysis, "I would like to add that I remain confident about the validity and strength of the scientific conclusions made in those publications and our work's reproducibility," he said.

"Nevertheless, there is no excuse for any lapse in supervision or laboratory leadership, and the concerns you raised serve as a fresh reminder to me about just how important my role and responsibility is as a mentor, supervisor, and lab leader; and how I might have fallen short."

"I feel therefore very heavy-hearted and tremendously sorry, to my current and former students, my staff and colleagues, my peers, and the larger community. I most sincerely apologize for any oversight on my part and any inconvenience it might have caused," he added.

"I'll use this as an invaluable learning opportunity to do better not only in advancing science, but also in safeguarding the accuracy and integrity of the field," he concluded.

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