Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Betrayal by a Polymer Scientist

Falsification of results in polymer science is very rare compared to other high profile fields such as biotech and medicine. It's probably because the potential fame and fortune just isn't there, and the ability to revolutionize the field is so much less. But such a scandal has now appeared close to our home.

Kyu-Soon Shin, an engineering professor at Seoul National University, has been accused of faking research results published in the highly respected journal Nature Materials back in 2007 (unfortunately, not open access). The work studied polymer mobility in extremely confined spaces (nanoscale) and found a higher mobility than was expected. The results could not be duplicated at two other locations, and the author was unable to provide adequate evidence to support the claims when questioned.

This strikes me as a strange area to be dry labbing results, but it appears that Prof. Shin was an assistant professor and likely trying to get tenured (if job titles translate across the Pacific), and maybe he thought that no one would attempt to duplicate the results. Regardless, such a scandal is always a sad affair, as there were many coauthors of the paper who may have had little or nothing to do with the fabrication and are being labelled in the same manner. In the age of the internet with eternal memory, this affair will also never disappear for those involved. Imagine trying to find another job when someone can quickly google your name and this black spot shows up.

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