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'Manipulation' nets virologist a 10-year journal ban

An internationally prominent Japanese virologist has received a 10-year ban from publishing in any American Society for Microbiology journal after being found guilty of manipulating data.

Naoki Mori, a professor at the University of the Ryukyus in Okinawa, has had five papers on which he is named as an author retracted by the journal Infection and Immunity.

The papers, written between 2000 and 2009, all relate to the viral causes of leukaemia.

Ferric Fang, editor-in-chief of the journal and professor of laboratory medicine and microbiology at the University of Washington, told Times Higher Education that the journal had been alerted after the University of the Ryukyus found Professor Mori guilty of "manipulating images".

After conducting its own review, the American Society of Microbiology decided to impose the 10-year ban on Professor Mori.

Professor Fang said sanctions could also be imposed on Professor Mori's co-authors, some of whom work for drug companies, if further investigations by their institutions indicated that any of them shared responsibility for the misconduct.

In August, Professor Mori retracted two 2010 papers from the journal Blood. He cited "multiple inaccurate and inappropriately duplicated" images, for which he said he took "full responsibility".

However, Professor Fang downplayed the impact of the manipulations on Professor Mori's research field and rejected the suggestion that publishers should impose a collective ban on researchers guilty of serial misconduct, citing doubts about the legality and proportionality of such a move.

"For a scientist, this could effectively represent a career-ending move," he said. "Where would one draw the line on the degree of misconduct deserving of such a severe penalty? It is my view that only the author's institution or perhaps a funding agency would have sufficient resources to conduct an appropriate investigation and conclude that such measures were (merited)."

Professor Mori did not respond to an invitation to comment.

paul.jump@tsleducation.com.

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