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Mizzou retracts fraudulent study

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Kaushik Deb, a former MU research fellow, falsified scientific images.

By Jim Matheny, KBIA

Columbia, MO –

- To hear an interview with Michael Roberts, a professor who helped author the study but was cleared in any wrongdoing, click here - To read the retraction, click here

Friday's edition of Science magazine retracts a University of Missouri study where one of the researchers intentionally manipulated data. The university requested the retraction after a fifteen-month investigation into the validity of the study.

The study on the development of mouse embryos was published by Science in February 2006 and was co-authored by four MU researchers. Scientists quickly became suspicious of the data and the university launched an investigation to examine the study.

The investigation concluded one of the researchers and lead-author, Kaushik Deb, intentionally committed research fraud by falsifying some of the images of mouse embryos. Deb was a post-doctoral research associate in the lab of co-author and MU professor Michael Roberts. Roberts and the other authors in the study were cleared of any wrongdoing.

"Science is based on trust," said Roberts. "An unscrupulous associate, particularly one whom you trust and have faith in, can really pull a trick like this probably relatively easily."

Deb no longer works for the university. Rob Hall, vice chancellor of research at MU, led the investigation and called this type of scenario an "ultimate nightmare" for a scientific team.

"We have a total of four authors on a paper, and three of those have been held up to public embarrassment because of the thoughtless action of one individual," said Hall.

Both Hall and Roberts say it is unlikely this incident will stigmatize MU as a research institution since the university acted promptly and fairly. Although Roberts was not directly involved in the deception, he accepted full responsibility for the fraudulent study since it occurred under his supervision.

"It also takes a huge piece out of your self-confidence," said Roberts. "You begin to question your own ability to oversee a group."

Coworkers of Roberts were said to have been supportive throughout the investigation. Roberts says he's sleeping better now that there's some closure to the incident, but acknowledged its impact on his lab as a whole.

"It's been very difficult for the people in my laboratory because they've had to live with it as well." Roberts added, "Many of them knew Dr. Deb quite well and liked him, and they were completely fooled as well."

Roberts says his track record is long enough to keep his good reputation intact. Yet, he admits there will likely be some residual effects on how he operates professionally.

"I think it will affect me for the rest of my career in the sense that I will look more suspiciously at data." Roberts continued, "But I hope I don't make people feel as though I'm suspicious of them as individuals. You have to maintain a balance."

Roberts said the study may have had some valuable findings that cannot be deciphered in light of Deb's fraudulent behavior. The lab plans to conduct the study again in its entirety from scratch.

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