Saturday, March 13, 2010

UCalgary prof accused of plagiarism, financial misconduct

Back in 2003, there was a post from the University of Alberta titled Researchers generate electricity from tap water describing work done by Daniel Kwok, with the post including patent implications:

The environmental benefit of clean energy conversion using safe, renewable materials is motivating the team to explore how their prototype device may be developed into a battery for commercial use. The inventors are working with the U of A's Technology Transfer Group (TTG) to develop a commercialization strategy for the work. A patent application has been filed by the university . The TTG is conducting an in-depth evaluation of the market opportunities.

Fast forward to the year 2010, and one finds Daniel Kwok the subject of a different story Star scientist hit with 'indefinite' grant ban which story begins:

Canada's largest research-funding organization has slapped an extraordinary ban on a star scientist who is accused of "plagiarism" and spending up to $150,000 in government grant money on custom car parts, televisions, home entertainment systems and other equipment "inconsistent" with his research proposals.

Yes, there is a connection to the New York Times:

Kwok, a nanotechnology whiz whose work has been fêted on Parliament Hill and in the pages of The New York Times, now also has the dubious distinction of being one of a very few researchers ever banned from receiving NSERC grants, the lifeblood of science careers in the academic world.

One recalls the New York Times also fêted fraudster Hwang Woo Suk.

The University of Alberta is mentioned:

Then, in 2005, Kwok walked away from the University of Alberta amid scientific and financial misconduct investigations and took a new job at the University of Calgary, which was not told of the controversy at his previous posting.

The University of Calgary hired Kwok as an associate professor and arranged for him to receive a $500,000 Canada Research Chair under a federal program meant for "exceptional emerging researchers." The university set him up in a state-of-the-art lab, and Kwok resumed teaching -- and receiving more research grants.

One recalls how the University of Montreal hired fraudster Eric Poehlman without checking out his past. See
Univ. Montreal discusses Poehlman issue

Note the separate article titled Researcher barred from receiving funding
Case exposes accountability flaws in Canada's multimillion-dollar research system
, which includes
Kwok did his masters and PhD in engineering at the University of Toronto.

Returning to the invention, note the international application PCT/CA2004/001435, inventors Kwok and Kostiuk, which is titled APPARATUS AND METHOD FOR PRODUCING ELECTRICAL ENERGY FROM FLUID ENERGY. The basic claims in the application were found anticipated by and obvious over US Patent No. 6,440,600 to Michael Starzak, titled Apparatus and method for generating electrical power from fluid flow through charged pores .

The abstract of the PCT of Kwok/Kistiuk stated:

An apparatus and a method for producing electrical energy from fluid energy using electrokinetic and hydrodynamic principles. In an apparatus form the invention is an energy conversion apparatus including a channel assembly, where the channel assembly includes a channel, a first terminal located at a first axial position and in communication with the channel, and a second terminal located at a second axial position and in communication with the channel. In a method form, the invention involves the steps of providing the energy conversion apparatus and passing a fluid through the channel in order to produce the electrical energy. In a preferred embodiment the energy conversion apparatus includes a plurality of channel assemblies which are electrically connected together in a parallel configuration in order to increase the amount of electrical energy which can be produced by the apparatus

The first claim stated:

1. An energy conversion apparatus for producing electrical energy from fluid energy, the energy conversion apparatus comprising a channel assembly, the channel assembly comprising: (a) a channel; (b) a first terminal located at a first axial position and in communication with the channel; and (c) a second terminal located at a second axial position and in communication with the channel.

There is no evidence of national phase entry from the PCT application, so it appears the PCT died a quiet death and the strategy "to obtain broad, early protection of the invention" died with it.

**Also on the subject of fraud, see
The Fudge Factory. A hard look at how Lehman masked the horrors of its balance sheet.
wherein Lehman boss Dick Fuld "denies knowledge of the accounting trickery employed to mask Lehman's seriously deteriorating finances and keep all interested parties, emphatically including its own shareholders, blissfully in the dark." and
"And, as usual, the so-called independent accountants seem to have been out to lunch when the stealthy mischief was being wrought."

One wonders how UCalgary did not know what had happened at UAlberta???

***UPDATE, from the Vancouver Sun:

St-Denis says the scientist not only misspent science grants but was also found to have engaged in “plagiarism,” without clarifying what was involved. She says NSERC currently “has no authority or mandate to correct the research record” — a situation a leading ethics expert describes as “really sad.”

“If there is plagiarism, other people in the field ought to know about it. The journal editors should have notified, and the record should be corrected,” says Michael McDonald, founding director of the centre for applied ethics at the University of British Columbia. If NSERC won’t take steps to correct the record, he says it must ensure the university does.

McDonald says the case points to serious and long-standing problems with oversight of Canadian research. And he supports Prentice’s idea of naming scientists who have engaged in misconduct.


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