Two medical papers from a team of researchers of the University of Hong Kong (HKU) have been retracted from a top US journal due to concerns about the origins of images used in the studies.

The University’s Faculty of Medicine told local media that an internal investigation into the papers, published in the American Journal of Transplantation (AJT), has already been launched. Listed as the lead author of the two papers is Professor Man Kwan, with Emeritus Professor Fan Sheung-tat, Professor Lo Chung-mau and six to seven others credited as co-authors.

The papers, both published in 2006, were among 21 reported to mainland academic magazine The Intellectual (TI) by a professor who suspected the authors of academic misconduct.

HKU Professors Man Kwan, Lo Chung-mau and Fan Sheung-tat (from left). File Photo: Wikicommons and Apple Daily.

The retraction notices come seven months after TI first began to investigate the papers, which they confirmed featured images duplicated from other sources.

AJT’s Editor-in-Chief Allan D. Kirk wrote in the notices that “the retraction has been agreed upon due to concerns relating to the origin of images[…] The authors, upon presentation with the figures in question, were unable to satisfactorily mitigate the concerns.”

Managing Editor Jill White told TI that “the discrepancies were not able to be explained or rebutted,” adding that “these statements do not declare the intent or cause of the concerns, simply that they cannot be resolved sufficiently.”

Record of image duplication

Fan Sheung-tat, who says he was not involved in penning the AJT paper, had previously been banned from publishing in Gastroenterology after images in a paper he co-authored in 2008 were found to have been duplicated from other sources, Apple Daily reported.

In 2012, the Faculty of Medicine admitted that they had received complaints about some 2o papers co-authored by Fan and Lo Chung-mau that included duplicated images or that forged results by modifying images. The Faculty issued statements of condemnation to the researchers responsible following an investigation.

The Intellectual was founded by three reputable Chinese scientists: Professor Yi Rao from Peking University, Professor Bai Lu from Tsinghua University and Professor Yu Xie from the University of Michigan. Its mission statement says it is devoted to the promotion of science and the humanities in China.

Lo Chung-mau. Photo: HKU Undergrad.

Lo achieved infamy online in July after he apparently “collapsed” at an HKU Council meeting.

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Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.