As a full-time toxicologist and cancer biologist at the University of Kentucky who has worked at the institution for over a decade and who was once the assistant dean of research at the school’s College of Medicine,resigned based on allegations of research misconduct dating back several years.

The resignation of Xianglin Shi, who studies metals toxicity and cancer, went into effect on June 15, just a day before the university’s board of trustees was due to vote on whether to dismiss and dismiss him. His departure ends a saga that began in 2018 when the university’s research bureau was made aware of possible fraud in several papers Shi was involved in. Shi denies any wrongdoing.

Later in 2018, three publications were co-authored and published in the school by Shi and his wife Zhuo Zhang – a professor in the school’s toxicology-biology department Journal of Biological Chemistry (JBC) between 2014 and 2017 were withdrawn due to multiple image duplications. Shi then lost his title as chair of cancer research and his role as deputy dean.

The university’s more than a year-long internal investigation culminated in an August 2019 report that concluded that Shi, Zhang, and a research fellow were responsible for “significant research misconduct” in a series of publications. The university announced that it would withdraw the offending papers and begin releasing Shi and Zhang if they did not resign. The research assistant who worked in Zhang’s laboratory had already been fired.

In 2019, the university’s committee of inquiry highlighted several examples of falsified or fabricated data in its report, which were related to numerous irregularities in seven grant applications and at least 13 papers. The panel found “patterns of potential data inconsistencies” as well as some examples of “willful attempts at deception” and “careless and reckless use” of experimental data and numerical constructions for research grants and publications. Shi and Zhang’s laboratories were closed in 2019 and denied access to the university’s equipment and campus.

“It wasn’t taken lightly,” says Jay Blanton, a university spokesman. “A panel of experts took more than a year to examine this – this very complex topic – in order to get to the bottom of it and do justice to those involved,” he explains. Two separate faculty boards agreed to the report that there was misconduct.

Zhang finally resigned on January 25, 2021. Both Zhang and Shi continued to be paid until they resigned. The university’s salary database shows that Shi’s annual salary in 2021 was more than $ 240,000 (£ 172,000). “This matter is closed for the university,” says Blanton.

Ready for retirement

Shi, who was born in China and came to the United States in 1985 to do a PhD in chemistry and obtained citizenship in 1997, relates Chemistry world that he is completely innocent of the allegations of wrongdoing. He says he resigned before the board of trustees meeting because local media coverage indicated that the university had already decided to remove him from office and fire him.

Shi says he probably didn’t have the opportunity to present his side at the hearing. “I felt like I wasn’t being given a chance to tell my story,” he says. He is 64 years old and now wants to retire. As a foreign scholar who was also the deputy dean, Shi suggests that he has fallen victim to “a lot of jealousy” and discrimination.

Shi describes the university’s internal report as “a lot of small stuff they called fake and fiction”. The worrying numbers in the withdrawn papers were all created by a particular postdoc, Shi adds. “I don’t even know how to do numbers,” he says. Shi says he sent the university letters dated April and July 2019 from the postdoc in question, in which he admits to generating the data and creating the numbers in the three indented JBC Papers.

He emphasizes that after discovering that data in several publications may have been fabricated by the postdoc, he immediately turned to the journals and withdrew the relevant papers.

Shi argues that there is no evidence that he or Zhang fabricated or falsified data, or that they prompted laboratory workers to do so, and that there was no reason for them to tamper with the data, as none of the problems identified were interpreting issues changes the numbers, research grants, or publications. He also claims that the committee reached its conclusions without having appropriate expertise in areas such as cell biology, metal carcinogenesis and microscopy.

Shi says he also submitted letters to the university from several experts in his field who reviewed the report and concluded that the errors found in his work were unintentional and did not constitute scientific misconduct. They admitted that he and Zhang may have been negligent, but stated that they were negligent in not checking the results against the original raw data, which they found discrepancies before publication.

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