Nanotech researchers cleared of fraud but failed to supervise cheating grad student: University – Retraction Watch

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An institutional investigation of a group of nanotechnology researchers in Japan has concluded that a former graduate student in the lab began his cheating ways “on a daily basis from a very early stage” after joining the team in 2015.

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According to a Google translation of the report, Yuuta Yano – whom the document identifies as “former graduate student A” and with other oblique references, committed sweeping fabrication of data and other misdeeds: 

over a period of four years or more, the number of forged data is extremely large, and even concealment work is performed, so it is evaluated that the maliciousness of the act is high. … The impact is great. In addition, it was published in a wide range of academic journals and has a large social impact. 

Yano also was found to have thrown away lab notebooks in order to hide his culpability. 

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As we reported previously, Kenichiro Itami and Hideto Ito had called for an investigation into their group’s work in the wake of the retractions of papers in Nature and ACS Applied Nano Materials. Yano was first author of the Nature paper and one of the ACS articles, and second author on the second ACS paper.

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The report clears Itami and Ito of misconduct, but it faults them for failing to catch Yano earlier: 

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although both of them were found not to be involved in the fraudulent activity, they have a duty to supervise the research fraud of former graduate students, and failure to do so can be said to be an indirect cause of this case. A Former graduate student is measuring all the data for which research errors have been revealed by himself, and is performing data processing and drawing. During this time, the responsible authors, Associate Professor Ito and Professor Itami, trusted former graduate students A, and scientific communication was not sufficient, and the guidance and supervision of the responsible authors was insufficient

In a March 16 statement, Nagoya University wrote

The paper “Graphene nanoribbon (GNR) synthesis by living condensed ring π expansion polymerization” by the research team of Professor Kenichiro Itami of the Institute of Transformative Biomolecules, Nagoya University was published in the scientific journal “Nature” in June 2019. However, when the data used in the paper was found to be suspicious and requested to be withdrawn, it was withdrawn from the journal on November 25, 2020. In addition, two other papers on GNR issued by the team were also withdrawn upon request for withdrawal.

We have set up the Fair Research and Investigation Committee to investigate this matter, but we would like to inform you that the investigation has been completed and fraud has been confirmed.

We sincerely regret that such a situation has occurred and sincerely apologize for causing a great deal of inconvenience to everyone.

In order to prevent such a situation from happening in the future, we will thoroughly implement research ethics related to research activities and make a university-wide effort to prevent recurrence.

In a statement apologizing for their role in the case, Itami and Ito wrote

We deeply apologize to everyone who was affected by this incident; our collaborators, the university, related departments, people concerned, current and past laboratory members, research funding agencies, the scientific community, and journal publishers. 

Taking the results of the surveys sincerely, we will continue to conduct research ethics education and research data storage, management, and verification more carefully and meticulously. We are striving to build a solid system to restore trust and ensure no recurrence of such research misconduct. We will continue our research even more seriously.

Hat tip: Lemonstoism, author of World Fluctuation Watch

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