Research at Johns Hopkins Medical School that focused on the role of genetics in human disease, which was published in the nation’s most prestigious medical journals–and which was funded by millions of dollars in federal grants–has fallen under a cloud of doubt. The controversy led to an apparent suicide by a scientist affiliated with the study. Another researcher was fired after he raised questions about the validity of his colleagues’ work.
Over and over, Daniel Yuan, a medical doctor and statistician, couldn’t understand the results coming out of the lab, a prestigious facility at Johns Hopkins Medical School funded by millions from the National Institutes of Health.
He raised questions with the lab’s director. He reran the calculations on his own. He looked askance at the articles arising from the research, which were published in distinguished journals. He told his colleagues: This doesn’t make sense.
“At first, it was like, ‘Okay — but I don’t really see it,’ ” Yuan recalled. “Then it started to smell bad.”
His suspicions arose amid growing incidents of reported misconduct in scientific research and questions about how universities, academic journals and the federal government, which pays for much of the work, deal with them.
Eventually, the Hopkins research, which focused on detecting interactions between genes, would win wide acclaim and, in a coup for the researchers, space in the pages of Nature, arguably the field’s most prestigious journal. The medical school even issued a news release when the article appeared last year: “Studies Linked To Better Understanding of Cancer Drugs.”
What very few readers of the Nature paper could know, however, was that behind the scenes, Yuan’s doubts seemed to be having profound effects.
In August, Yu-yi Lin, the lead author of the paper, was found dead in his new lab in Taiwan, a puncture mark in his left arm and empty vials of sedatives and muscle relaxants around him, according to local news accounts — an apparent suicide…
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