A senior researcher and faculty member at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s medical school has been convicted by a disciplinary court of misrepresenting research findings on two occasions.
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The judgment against Prof. Yaron Ilan, who heads the Department of Internal Medicine A at Hadassah University Hospital, Ein Karem, was issued by the university’s disciplinary court for academic faculty.
But the court gave him a relatively light punishment considering the seriousness of the offenses: Until the end the upcoming academic year, in October 2014, he will be suspended from teaching and supervising students, denied the right to receive any research funding from the university or through its auspices, and barred from managing any research funds.
In the first incident, Ilan was found guilty of misrepresenting research findings in an article that appeared in the International Journal of Immunology in August 2007. In this article, he presented data from an earlier experiment, conducted by a different research team under his leadership on a different strain of mice, as if it were part of the new trial he was describing. This led people to believe that the treatment supposedly tested in the new research worked.
In the second case, Ilan combined the results of several experiments so that they seemed to be a single test, without explaining that they were actually different experiments. This was in an article published in June 2005 in the American Journal of Physiology − Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology.
The disciplinary ruling essentially ratified a compromise reached between the university and Ilan after two years of discussions. The original complaint, filed in August 2011 by Hebrew University’s then rector, Sarah Stroumsa, also accused him of aggressive behavior toward researchers under his guidance.
Under the compromise, Ilan was cleared of two lesser charges: failing to properly preserve his data and document his research, and failing to provide full details of his research when seeking a waiver of the need to request approval from the hospital’s Helsinki Committee for experimentation on humans.
The story first broke in June 2010, when Stroumsa sent an unprecedentedly harsh letter to the faculty about Ilan. In it, she accused him of negligence in two studies conducted under the university’s auspices and of aggressive behavior toward young researchers under his tutelage. The letter, which was based on the findings of an informal inquiry committee, also announced her decision to suspend Ilan from teaching and supervising students, and bar him from submitting any requests to university research funds, for three years.
In November 2010, Prof. Miriam Gur-Arye, who oversees discipline for the university’s academic employees, announced Ilan would be charged with disciplinary violations.
Hadassah’s administration unequivocally backed Ilan, who served until 2005 as vice dean of the Hebrew University Hadassah Medical School, and leveled harsh accusations against the university’s handling of the matter.
Prof. Avinoam Reches, who at that time chaired Hadassah’s senior council of physicians and today chairs the Israel Medical Association’s Ethics Board, wrote an unusually harsh letter condemning Stroumsa’s handling of the matter. He argued that Stroumsa had exceeded her authority and violated the university’s regulations, which do not allow for an informal inquiry committee to be set up.
“The origin of the word ‘rector’ is Latin, and it means ‘despot,’” he wrote. “Unfortunately, the rector adopted a far-reaching definition of her job and served as prosecutor, judge and executioner.”
Reches said the ruling was a sad end to an affair born in sin, and it would have been better had it not been made.