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A former Harvard professor has been banned from performing government-backed research for three years after he submitted plagiarized material in a grant application and attempted to frame a student for the misconduct, according to documents issued by the federal government last month.
Ali A. Sultan, an award-winning assistant professor of immunology and infectious diseases at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), resigned from his position Sept. 3.
“There was an allegation of plagiarism that the school investigated promptly,” said HSPH Director of Communications Robin C. Herman.
A committee at the school was formed last year to investigate charges that Sultan plagiarized on a National Institutes of Health grant application to study chemical genetics and malaria drug development, Herman said. The results from HSPH’s inquiry committee were turned over to the government’s Public Health Service, an agency that investigates issues of scientific misconduct.
The report issued last month by the Office of Research Integrity (ORI), a watchdog agency of the Department of Health and Human Services, said that Sultan plagiarized text, data and images on the grant application and had additionally tried to falsify the results for one experiment on malaria strains.
When Sultan was confronted with the allegations of misuse, he “fabricated portions of an e-mail from his postdoctoral student that he presented to the HSPH inquiry committee purportedly to falsely implicate the student in the submission of the plagiarized materials,” according to the report.
Sultan’s punishment from the government comes in the midst of a series of cases of plagiarism across the University. Since the start of the academic year, two Harvard Law School professors, Laurence H. Tribe ’62 and Charles J. Ogletree, have admitted to misusing sources in books they authored.
HSPH officials stressed that Sultan’s misconduct did not undercut the academic work that he performed while a professor at Harvard.
“Let me emphasize that this was on a grant application—not research,” said Herman.
Sultan submitted the grant application to solicit federal funds from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases for his study of malaria parasites.
HSPH’s faculty handbook states that “the school will impose appropriate sanctions” if a professor is proven to have committed misconduct.
Sultan resigned on Sept. 3, and agreed to a “Voluntary Exclusion Agreement” with the United States on Oct. 19. In addition to restrictions on performing research for the federal government, Sultan is prohibited from advising it in any fashion.
Sultan’s current whereabouts are unknown, although the Boston Globe reported on Thursday that a Harvard official said he had moved to Qatar. He did not respond to e-mail requests for comment from The Crimson.
“He planned to relocate after resigning,” Herman said, adding that the school had not heard from him.
Sultan is still listed as an instructor for courses this semester and next spring in the school’s course catalog. Herman said HSPH is still in the process of removing his name from school-related material.
Sultan joined the HSPH faculty in July 2000. He won an award from the Ellison Medical Foundation in 2003 for his research on malaria that the foundation said “could provide the basis for new vaccine candidates and drug therapies.” He is one of eight academics charged with misconduct this year by the Department of Health and Human Services, according to statistics on closed cases provided by the ORI.
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