Yoshinori Watanabe data manipulations: much worse than officially presented

Yoshinori Watanabe data manipulations: much worse than officially presented

Earlier this months, a research misconduct scandal in molecular cell biology broke out in the big news. Yoshinori Watanabe, Japanese researcher of cell division and how cells separate their replicated DNA during mitosis and meiosis, was found guilty of scientific misconduct by his University of Tokyo (read the news here and here). This followed an investigation initiated in the fall of 2016, after anonymous whistleblowers submitted to the university a report accusing 6 Tokyo research groups of data manipulation, first and foremost, Watanabe (I managed to obtain this dossier, and publish it below).

As the outcome of the University of Tokyo investigations, which concluded on May 31st 2017, misconduct was determined in 5 publications from Watanabe’s lab, which appeared between 2008 and 2015 in the elite journals like Science, Nature and Nature Cell Biology. However, the whistleblower dossier lists 7 papers, one of them a paper in Cell from 2015 with duplicated gel images, and a 2011 EMBO Reports paper which contains a western blot which was obviously digitally retouched to remove unwanted bands. Watanabe’s assistant professor Yuji Tanno was also found guilty of misconduct, and indeed his 2015 Science paper with Watanabe looks like a total train wreck of data manipulations.  Yet it seems there is a tendency to present Watanabe’s deeds as mere mistakes (though grossly inappropriate ones) by a great genius scientist, who was confused by the complexity of rules on data acquisition and incidentally broke some while producing outstanding and absolutely reliable top-level research. Some of his peers seem to be calling for leniency or at least some understanding for Watanabe. The selected evidence from the whistleblower dossier which I post below suggests that Watanabe knew perfectly well what he was doing, and he did so in order to produce desirable results which his lab experiments failed to deliver, and which he needed in order to impress the choosy elite journals.

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The one who asked questions: interview with Johannes Wahlström, by Alla Astakhova

The one who asked questions: interview with Johannes Wahlström, by Alla Astakhova

Below I am re-publishing an interview which the Russian health journalist Alla Astakhova conducted with the Swedish journalist Johannes Wahlström. Wahlström’s work for the Swedish television SVT, together with Bosse Lindquist, was decisive in uncovering the patient abuse by the fallen star surgeon Paolo Macchiarini (see here the full list of trachea transplant patients). Without the dedicated work of the Swedish journalists, Macchiarini would probably still be experimenting on humans with his cadaveric and plastic tracheas, generating even more death and suffering in the process. In the interview with Astakhova, Wahlström tells about his research for the famous SVT film Experimenten, and how the SVT team found out about the four Karolinska Institutet whistleblowers Oscar SimonsonKarl-Henrik Grinnemo, Matthias Corbascio and Thomas Fux (see my reports about them here, here and here).

For Wahlström, the scandal is not just about Macchiarini. The central figures here are the abused patients, most, if not almost all of them no longer alive. And Macchiarini is not the only one guilty. Wahlström explains how everyone else orbiting that grandiose thorax surgeon was co-responsible, by looking away, covering things up or contributing their small share to the grand horror. The multilingual Swedish journalist specifically criticises the irresponsible dishonesty of Macchiarini’s Russian surgeon partners Vladimir Parshin and Igor Polyakov in the face of the catastrophe they participated in, or the bizarre attitude of Macchiarini’s biographer and Megagrant-manager Elena Kokurina, who seems to have been deliberately avoiding learning the real fate of his patients. Wahlström also questions the ethics of German TV producers who decided to air their Macchiarini-extolling documentary Supercells! in Germany and France despite knowing that its protagonist, Yulia Tuulik, was not cured at all. She was miserably dying. Continue reading “The one who asked questions: interview with Johannes Wahlström, by Alla Astakhova”

Unpublished Macchiarini manuscript confirms 5 forgotten trachea transplant patients, Jungebluth’s surgery practice in Italy

Unpublished Macchiarini manuscript confirms 5 forgotten trachea transplant patients, Jungebluth’s surgery practice in Italy

I have been forwarded a manuscript by the scandal surgeon Paolo Macchiarini, which was originally intended to present in detail all of his known 9 cadaveric trachea recipients (only 4 are recorded officially). The compilation follows exactly all the patients who are already listed on my site, with the small difference that the paper (allegedly rejected at Nature Communications) presents their clinical evolutions quite differently from reality. One of these now fully confirmed victims of Macchiarini’s research was his second patient from Barcelona, whom Macchiarini transplanted in secret; five were operated in Italy (including Keziah Shorten and the Czech patient MK). The manuscript also confirms that Macchiarini’s acolyte Philipp Jungebluth was directly involved in the transplant surgeries of these patients, despite his most probably not having a permit to practice medicine in Italy.  This makes Jungebluth co-responsible for up to 13 trachea transplants, 10 of them lethal. The German doctor is currently suing me in court for alleged libel, insisting that all these patient deaths and his proven research misconduct in Sweden would never ever disqualify him from developing trachea transplants and training as thorax surgeon at the University Clinic Heidelberg, where he however doesn’t work anymore.

The first author of this lost and now found unpublished paper is Johannes Haag, Macchiarini’s other acolyte and former MD student from Hannover Medical School (MHH) in Germany. Haag is apparently still employed at the Thoraxklinik at the University of Heidelberg, where Jungebluth used to be. The manuscript, which was supposed to be Haag’s big paper, was written to deal with the fact that too many of Macchiarini’s cadaveric trachea recipients died or developed very severe complications. To this end, the team hatched an idea to do “reverse translational experiments“, where rat experiments would follow those on 9 humans, prove that the cadaveric trachea technology works in principle and it was the human patients who were making problems. This notion was to be supported also by their earlier pig study Go et al, Biomaterials 2010, where Macchiarini and Jungebluth claim, without a shred of evidence, that the large animal testing was performed before the first patient, Claudia Castillo, received a cadaveric trachea in 2008 (details here, here and here).

Continue reading “Unpublished Macchiarini manuscript confirms 5 forgotten trachea transplant patients, Jungebluth’s surgery practice in Italy”

Voinnet’s sidekick Dunoyer welcomed at Nature Plants, despite retractions and admitted misconduct

Voinnet’s sidekick Dunoyer welcomed at Nature Plants, despite retractions and admitted misconduct

The Olivier Voinnet scandal of almost two decades-long research misconduct and data manipulations has reached its logical conclusion. The French plant pathogen researcher, and everyone who helped him manipulating and publishing dishonest (and occasionally retracted) papers was either forgiven or declared as fully reformed. The siRNA-co-discoverer Voinnet who, cynically put, was too big to fail, remained professor at ETH Zürich and kept his ERC funding. He is meanwhile back to publishing in exactly the same elite journals where he had to retract and correct papers for manipulations. Of all his “partners-in-crime”, only his dependent right-hand man (or sidekick) Patrice Dunoyer was ever investigated, and as punishment suspended for an entire month by his French employer CNRS. His lab was about to be dissolved, but the Nature Publishing Group came to rescue and accepted his paper (Incarbone et al 2017) just in the nick of time (it’s not even Dunoyer’s only recent publishing success, another one is Montavon et al 2017 in Nucleic Acids Research). The accompanying editorial in Nature Plants, written by the chief editor Chris Surridge can only be described as bizarre, and is titled: “Giving research a sporting chance“. Surridge, who apparently sees data manipulation as a professional sports in race with doping detectives, wrote:

“Dunoyer has been a long-time colleague and collaborator of Olivier Voinnert, and recently a number of their studies, three with Dunoyer as first author, have been retracted while a number more have had formal corrections published to address problems with presented data. However, these instances were investigated by the CNRS and Dunoyer served a temporary suspension as a result. We therefore treated the study we received as we would any other. It was accepted following two rounds of review, during which it was seen by four reviewers. The published paper contains substantial supplementary information (SI). Along with 10 additional figures, there are a further 12 pages presenting the raw data from which the presented figures have been assembled”.

Continue reading “Voinnet’s sidekick Dunoyer welcomed at Nature Plants, despite retractions and admitted misconduct”

Data integrity conspiracy against German research senator Roland Lill?

Data integrity conspiracy against German research senator Roland Lill?

Roland Lill is the quiet star of German molecular biology. The 63-year old professor works at the University of Marburg, on mitochondria, using yeast as a model organism. Lill is also since 2014 member of the Senate at the German Research Foundation (DFG), re-elected just recently, where he represents the interests of German molecular biologists and decides on federal funding distribution and research policies. Since 2016, the Marburg professor is also Senator for Biochemistry and Biophysics at the Leopoldina, which is the German Academy of Sciences. Furthermore, Lill is EMBO member since 2013 and he also used to be Fellow of the Max Planck Society.

Lill’s research focus is on iron-sulfur biogenesis, and his achievements for German science are indeed strong as iron, as evident by his awards and medals (including the Leibniz Prize of €1.55 Mn in 2003), his impressive funding acquisition success and publication record. Recently however, a sulfuric smell of rotten eggs emitted from the whistleblowing platform PubPeer, tainting his legacy. Currently 9 Lill papers are affected, the evidence looks worrisome, and might indicate possible data manipulations. Mostly it is about apparently duplicated gel bands. Luckily however, most papers are 13 and more years old, nobody would expect Professor Lill to have stored the original data for so long, even if it was ever available. The despicable attack on Professor’s Lill research record will be surely thwarted by the journals’ reluctance of dealing with problems in old papers, and of course by the tremendous respect and influence this Senator enjoys in German academia. In fact, both DFG and the two research integrity Ombudspersons of the University of Marburg refused to comment on the PubPeer evidence. Leopoldina announced to me to have the “accusations” addressed by their Ombudsman; DFG mentioned to have had the PubPeer information “forwarded inside the house”.

Continue reading “Data integrity conspiracy against German research senator Roland Lill?”

Human Brain Project and other Flagships: is EU outsourcing funding decisions?

Human Brain Project and other Flagships: is EU outsourcing funding decisions?

The EU €1-Billion-Flagship Human Brain Project (HBP) started in 2013 as an closed enterprise run by three men. The triumvirate is no more:  the visionary founder Henry Markram sidelined into almost insignificance after a coup, his Lausanne colleague Richard Frackowiak almost retired, only the German Karlheinz Meier, physics professor at University of Heidelberg, still seems to hold quite a lot of sway. The control of HBP is now basically in German hands: the “independent” mediator of the anti-Markram coup and director of Forschungzentrum Jülich (FZJ), Wolfgang Marquardt, is key member of the all-decisive HBP Stakeholder Board representing Germany, his FZJ colleague Katrin Amunts is the new scientific director of HBP. The bombastic goal of HBP used to be simulating the human brain in a supercomputer, including various brain diseases and even consciousness (read here and here for HBP background). That Markram’s “brain child” was silently mothballed, the big plan is now only revealed to select insider audiences (who occasionally blab on Twitter). The once high and mighty Markram, whose not-so-groundbreaking Cell paper (Markram et al, 2015) was once touted as HBP’s mega-success, was apparently forced to publish his recent brain simulation research in his own publishing outlet Frontiers (Reimann et al 2017), where he proclaimed a discovery of nothing less but a “Multi-Dimensional Universe in Brain Networks”. Regardless of what Markram thinks he is doing or what fairy tales HBP graduate students are told: dissolving the monster HBP and redistributing its EU funding onto smaller projects was obviously not an opinion. The new purpose of HBP seems to be:

  • distributing the EU Flagship money, in the way HBP see it best fit, thus
  • sparing the EU Commission the tedious work of research grant reviewing and management

Continue reading “Human Brain Project and other Flagships: is EU outsourcing funding decisions?”

Anil Sood and other questionable stars of MD Anderson

Anil Sood and other questionable stars of MD Anderson

The MD Anderson Cancer Center, part of the University of Texas and located in Houston, is a giant hub of huge cancer research money, even for US standards. They also do a lot of science there, which only purpose seems to be publishing in big journals in order to generate even more money. If there is any genuine interest to help cancer patients with actual research: this stands in a stark contrast with MD Anderson’s evident attitude to research reproducibility and data integrity. A number of their star researchers who published in most respectable journals papers, had their data flagged on the whistleblowing platform PubPeer as highly problematic. Yet MD Anderson apparently cannot care less. Their star cancer researcher and businessman Raghu Kalluri was never investigated for many problems in his publications, either in those with or those without his misconduct-tainted Portuguese co-author and ex-MD Anderson employee Sonia Melo. When nobody ever investigates your research practices (e.g., because your research institution is blinded by the investor money you brought in), you will per definition never be found guilty of any misconduct. This is probably exactly why the elite journal Nature recently accepted a new paper from the Kalluri lab (Kamerkar et al 2017), on the same topic of exosomes as cancer biomarkers as his irreproducible earlier masterpiece with Melo (Melo et al, Nature 2015). The new Nature paper even again features the same disgraced co-author, who lost a Nature Genetics paper (Melo et al, 2009) and her EMBO Young Investigator funding due to data manipulation.

There is more evidence for research misconduct at MD Anderson. Continue reading “Anil Sood and other questionable stars of MD Anderson”