- Education and Science
10 Scientists Who Turned Out to be Frauds
10. . Haruko Obokata
Obokata was a well respected scientist and researcher at the Riken Center who started out as a guest researcher and eventually became the head of the cellular programming.
In 2013 she caused a stir in the scientific community when she published her findings on research which found a new and simple way of creating pluripotency stem cells referred to as Stimulus-Triggered Acquisition of Pluripotency (STAP).
At first the implications for such a simple process of making regenerative cells was great but soon it was discovered that something was amiss with Obokata’s study. Allegations of scientific misconduct began to appear on several sites and blogs, promptly followed by other scientists’ failure to replicate Obokata’s experiments and results. This train of events triggered an investigation by the Riken Center which found that Obokata was indeed guilty of scientific misconduct which included manipulation data images from two different experiments.
In the aftermath she retracted her paper from Nature on 2nd July 2014. The scandal almost brought down Nobel laureate Shimya Yamanaka and led to the suicide of her mentor and co-author, Yashiki Sasai.
9. Andrew Wakefield
Andrew Wakefield was a prestigious surgeon and researcher working at the Royal Free Hospital when he and 12 other authors published a paper in 1998 which showed a link between bowel disease, autism and the MMR (Measles, Mumps and Rubella) vaccine.
Shortly after the publication Wakefield began conducting press conferences and video news releases advocating for discontinuation of the MMR vaccine. The news triggered worldwide panic as parents refused to have their children vaccinated which led to serious illnesses and fatalities.
Investigations by several health committees soon found out that Wakefield had committed scientific misconduct when he failed to reveal that the hospital and himself had received monetary compensation to conduct the study or that some of the children’s parents had been recruited by a lawyer who was preparing a lawsuit against MMR manufacturers. Wakefield even went as far as purchasing blood samples from his son’s birthday party at £5 each.
As a result Wakefield was asked to resign from the hospital on December 2001 and has been banned from practicing his skills in the U.K and U.S.A. Unfortunately Wakefield still sticks to his study despite the overwhelming evidence against it.
8. Linus Pauling
Linus Pauling was a genius with impeccable credentials having earned two unshared Nobel prizes in Chemistry and Peace. However he began to claim that large doses of Vitamin C could cure colds, cancer, mental illness and even H.I.V.
Studies conducted by his peers found that vitamin C did reduce the severity of colds but did nothing for cancer patients. While he was never reproached for his conduct several facts reveal that his study was flawed.
When Arthur Robinson joined the Linus Pauling Institute as president he began his own research that showed that mega doses of vitamin C actually promoted certain types of cancers in mice. When Robinson took these results to Pauling he was asked to resign and then Pauling went on to attack Robinson’s work. Robinson sued Pauling resulting in a $575,000 award.
Pauling also failed to reveal that the Linus Pauling Institute was sponsored by Hoffman-La Roche, the world’s leading Vitamin C manufacturer. In fact recent studies have shown that vitamin C may interfere with some anti-cancer drugs.
Pauling led the campaign in weakening FDA laws that should protect against dubious nutrition claims and died of prostate cancer believing in this theory.
7. Hwang Woo-Suk
Hwang Woo-Suk was by all means a star who was even dubbed the “Pride of Korea” in South Korea. Hwang first gained notice when he first cloned a dog, which was celebrated by much of the scientific community.
In 2004 he caused a worldwide sensation when he announced that he had created a human stem cell by cloning while working at Seoul National University. As a result he was even named in Time Magazine’s “People who mattered in 2004”.
The fraud unraveled with the resignation of Gerald Schatten, a researcher working with Hwang, following concerns about oocyte (egg) donations. It turns out that Roh Sung-ill, a member of Hwang’s team, was paying women to donate eggs. This eventually led to an investigation in 2005 by the university which found that Hwang fabricated results, misappropriated research funds and allowed female members of his team to donate eggs.
His 2004 and 2005 papers were retracted, and in 2006 Hwang finally issued an apology for the whole scandal but did not take any personal responsibility. He was eventually convicted in South Korea but is now staging a comeback with continued cloning in dogs.
6. Diederik Stapel
Before Stapel became one of the biggest con man in academic science he was regarded as a respectable professional in the field of psychology and had fans from the Netherlands to abroad. He first came into the public spotlight when he sparked curiosity with his study “Meat eaters are more selfish than vegetarians”.
The Tilburg University professor was outed when three junior researchers in the psychology department after months of observing Stapel’s work found irregularities and brought to the attention of the head of the department. What is more alarming is that several junior researchers and colleagues had expressed their concerns over the years but no action was taken.
An investigative committee found that Stapel hid his fraud for so long by using his power and prestige to sway research results in his favor, crush doubters, poorly scrutinized and criticized his students’ work, and used secrecy in handling data and results. His misconduct spans for several years, affects 55 publications and questions the legitimacy of dozens of masters and doctorates, and scientists who unknowingly used fabricated data.
In 2011 Stapel was suspended from the university and is now pursuing criminal prosecution.
5. Dipak K. Das
Das was a stellar scientist and researcher who worked as the director of the Cardiovascular Research Center at the University of Connecticut Health Center. Das is best known for his study of red wine and its health benefits.
Investigation of Das’s work began in January 2009 after the university received anonymous allegations in 2008 about research irregularities in his lab. The investigation produced a 60,000-page report that found 145 instances of fabrication of data.
It is believed that the fabrication began in 2005 when there was no one in the lab with the expertise to prepare western blots and affects at least 26 publications. So far 19 of his papers have been retracted after he was found guilty of 100 counts of scientific misconduct. Das was eventually fired from the university in May 2012 however in January 2013 he filed a $35 million defamation suit against the university but died on 19th September 2013 before the case could proceed to court.
4. Mark Hauser
Mark Hauser was a renowned Harvard professor best known for his research with animals which showed they had cognitive abilities which were thought to be unique to humans. He even wrote a well received book “Moral Minds: How Nature Designed Our Universal Sense of Wrong and Right”.
Allegations of misconduct from whistle-blowers begun to emerge in 2010 forcing Harvard to investigate the claims. He was found guilty of scientific misconduct in a series of 6 cases and defended himself by claiming that the fraudulent data was a result of his heavy workload at the university. However the 85 page Harvard report revealed that it was more than just negligence and that Hauser did manipulate and fabricate data to create desired outcomes.
The case itself drew mixed reactions from the scientific community as the Harvard investigation was shrouded in politics and secrecy as the names of the whistle-blowers and investigating committee were removed from the report.
After taking a year-long absence from the university Hauser eventually resigned and now collaborates with works that works that support at risk children and has even released a new book “Evilicious: Cruelty = Desire + Denial”.
3. Prosper- René Blondlot
Blondlot was a French physicist who had a credible reputation until the discovery of N-rays in 1903, which was corroborated by several other scientists.
As other scientists begun to replicate Blondlot’s experiment they failed and many became skeptical. Nature Magazine sent out physicist Robert W. Wood of the John Hopkins University to investigate. Wood already suspected that N-rays were a grand delusion and slightly tampered with Blondlot’s machine by removing an important part of the machine unknown to Blondlot and his assistant. The tampered machine should not have worked yet when the assistant conducted the experiment he saw N-rays.
After the experiment Wood tried to replace the missing component but the assistant saw him and thought that Wood had instead removed the part. So when the assistant conducted the experiment he claimed he could not see any N-rays yet in truth it should have worked since the machine was complete and in full working order.
While the scandal did ruin Blondlot’s reputation he did continue with his professorship, continued to believe in N-rays as opposed to common myth which suggests that he went mad and died after being exposed.
2. Dr. Martin Fleischmann and B. Stanley Pons
On 23rd March 1989, Dr. Martin Fleischmann and B. Stanley Pons announced to the world that they had achieved nuclear fusion in their lab using a jar of water, an electrical current and a cathode of Palladium. The theory was that by passing an electrical current into the water the Palladium would allow hydrogen atoms to fuse and release a burst of energy. A process which they referred to as N-fusion but the press later dubbed it cold fusion.
At first the implications were staggering but replications by eager scientists proved the experiment to be a failure. Another criticism was how they disseminated news to the rest of the scientific community which was done through holding a press conference on CBS news program “60 Minutes”.
After the claims Pons and Martin moved to France in 1992 to work at a Toyota sponsored lab which closed in 19998 after spending tens of millions with no results. Pons has remained outside the public’s view while Fleischmann died on the 3rd of August 2012 still believing in cold fusion.
The cold fusion controversy continues to plague the scientific community.
1. Dr. Alfred Steinschneider
Dr. Steinschneider was considered an expert when it came to matters of Sudden Death Infant Syndrome (SIDS) for over two decades before a chilling confession put his work into question.
In the 1960s an American family, the Hoyts, came to Dr. Steinschneider for help after they lost their first child. The Hoyts went on to have four more children all who unfortunately died despite the fact that they had all been monitored by Dr. Steinschneider.
Finally in 1972 Dr. Steinschneider published a paper linking sleep apnea to SIDS which was based on the Hoyts’ children. The paper generated a lot of buzz at the time and led to Dr. Steinschneider receiving a research grants and promoted the industry of breathing monitors
The most notable experiment to disprove Dr. Steinschneider’s theories was that of Dr. David Southall yet no one batted an eye. Dr. Steinschneider’s works went on to influence 400 more papers and propagated the myth of sleep apnea and SIDS.
Fortunately in 1994 his cover was blown when Waneta (Juanita) Hoyt confessed to smothering all five of her children. Even though she recanted her confession before the trial it put a spotlight on the legitimacy of Dr. Steinschneider’s work.