MIT announced today that Luk Van Parijs, an associate professor in biology, has been terminated for research misconduct.
The university launched an investigation in August of 2004 when members of his research group brought allegations of research misconduct by Van Parijs to the attention of the MIT administration. During the course of the investigation, Van Parijs admitted to fabricating and falsifying research data in a paper and several manuscripts and grant applications. The investigation found no evidence that his co-authors or the members of his research group were involved in the misconduct or were aware of it when it occurred.
"In this case a single individual admitted that he fabricated and falsified data," said Associate Provost and Vice President for Research Alice Gast, who oversees allegations of scientific and academic misconduct at MIT. "We are very concerned that his actions not cast a shadow over his co-authors or members of his research group, none of whom was involved in the misconduct."
"Integrity in research and scholarship is a bedrock principle of MIT. Research misconduct violates this principle and MIT takes any allegations of research misconduct very seriously," said Gast. "We acted immediately when the allegations were brought to our attention and began a very thorough and confidential investigation to determine the extent of the misconduct and whether other individuals were involved."
Van Parijs was placed on leave immediately after the allegations were reported and has had no access to his lab or office since then.
Van Parijs' area of research is in the use of short-interference RNA (or RNAi) in studying disease mechanisms, especially in autoimmune diseases. It can be categorized as basic scientific research related to normal immune cell function and defects in these cells during disease development. His work did not involve medical treatments. RNAi is an important area of research, and scientists in the field of RNAi, including many researchers at MIT, continue to make legitimate and important advances, some of which are related to the treatment of such diseases as cancer, diabetes and arthritis.
MIT is working in collaboration with the co-authors and in consultation with the Office of Research Integrity in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the federal agency that oversees these investigations, to see that retractions are published. In cases where research involves federal funding, as some of Van Parijs' work did, federal regulations specify how allegations of scientific misconduct should be investigated. Under MIT's own policies for such investigations, which follow the federal requirements, the associate provost and vice president for research appoints an impartial committee to investigate the allegations.
Federal and MIT rules require that investigations be conducted in strict confidence to protect the integrity of the review process and to avoid unjustified damage to the reputations of individuals, including innocent colleagues and collaborators.
The final report of the investigation will be sent to the Office of Research Integrity, which will conduct its own confidential review of the matter and make the findings public when that review is complete.