A former University of Hong Kong assistant professor has slammed the school for its poor whistleblowing policies after he was apparently victimised for lodging a complaint related to the falsifying of data by a research team. He also expressed concern that the incident would prompt a flood of falsified research data, as no one was held responsible.

Last week, Apple Daily reported that Professor Yang Dan and two PhD students at the University of Hong Kong allegedly published false data in the Journal of the American Chemistry Society in July 2014. The complaints were initially made by Dr. Roger Wong Hoi-fung, a former research assistant professor of HKU’s chemistry faculty.

Press conference on the HKU research scandal Monday. Photo: Apple Daily.

After nearly two years of investigation, the university announced that the data was invalid, but the complaint against Yang was dismissed as it was accepted that she was not aware of how the data had been falsified. A separate disciplinary hearing against the students, which did not include any chemistry experts, dismissed the charges without any explanation.

‘Retaliation’

Speaking to reporters at a press conference on Monday, Wong slammed the university for its handling of the matter, saying that although the school has a whistleblowing policy in place, it was practically nonexistent in reality. Wong said that he and several other whistleblowers faced acts of retaliation, including being issued a letter of termination, being barred from the laboratories, and being accused of stealing computers and data. He resigned last July, Ming Pao reported.

“I was very disappointed by the handling of [the incident] by the university’s management. In order to maintain my stance, I quit [my job],” Wong said.

Yang said in a statement released by HKU that Wong’s accusations were based on one-sided, incomplete and selective data. She also said that Wong had never made any complaints about the paper until he was issued a notice of termination in 2014. However, Wong said that he did not receive the termination notice until after lodging the complaint, and that the letter was backdated to 2014.

Yang Dan. Photo: Apple Daily.

Lawmaker Albert Ho Chun-yan, who is assisting Wong, said that Yang’s claims about Wong’s firing could be defamatory, Apple Daily reported. He also said that falsifying data may constitute dishonest use of computer.

Wong said that he has sent a letter to the school’s governing council chairman Arthur Li Kwok-cheung, as well as The University Grants Committee, asking them to follow up on the matter and for the investigation’s report to be publicised.

Wong also said that he, along with the unions of the University of Hong Kong and the Baptist University of Hong Kong, are establishing an “academic research honesty concern group” to offer help to other whistleblowers.

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Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.