Lack of transparency in ERC funding decisions, by Shravan Vasishth

Lack of transparency in ERC funding decisions, by Shravan Vasishth

Academic research is dependent on funding, and funding agencies, both public and charity ones, play a crucial gatekeeper function in deciding who will go on to continue researching or even working in science, and who will not. With great power comes great responsibility. Unfortunately, funders traditionally end up serving the interests of select elite scientists by confusing the needs of those with the greater good of science as such. Money is dumped on the biggest pile, either to established star researchers or to their privileged academic scions. In this zero-sum game of science funding, many early career researchers see their grant applications rejected and are forced out of academia. The logic seems to be that this research proletariat would have spent it on booze and candy anyway, while the high elite will be investing it wisely to produce great science. Or whatever the funders, advised by that very elite, perceive to be great science. The guest post below by Shravan Vasishth, professor for psycholinguistics and neurolinguistics at the University of Potsdam, Germany, tells of a peer reviewer experience of his when it hit against such attitude from the most prestigious EU research funder, the European Research Council (ERC).

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Ciaran’s success story

Ciaran’s success story

Trachea is a very difficult organ to transplant, because its blood supply happens through many tiny blood vessels and it is practically impossible to connect them all (same is true also for the oesophagus). An organ transplanted without blood supply will die, and this is where the regenerative medicine of Paolo Macchiarini and Martin Birchall comes in: a treatment with stem cells and growth factors will somehow magically ensure quick vascularization and bring the dead tissue to life. There is no independent evidence for this, and most patients died as the consequence or became dangerously ill when their new tracheas, made from plastic or from dead, decellurised cadaveric organs predictably failed.  One boy has survived: Ciaran Lynch. His current clinical state is not too rosy, even by Birchall’s own admittance, but nevertheless the sole fact that Ciaran (unlike almost all other trachea transplant patients) is alive, sufficed for Birchall to have one or two more patients operated (both dead) and to push through a clinical trial in UK with a much larger follow-up trial EU-wide. The difference though: that boy never had much choice anyway, since he had no real trachea in the first place. He received very early on a pickled trachea homograft from dead human donor tissue which functioned very well for many years, but at some point urgently needed replacement in order to save his life. Now Birchall however wishes to remove the live airways of stable patients outside any life danger, who suffer from tracheal stenosis, and replace them with his regenerated dead ones (see this report). Noone seems to wonder why these tracheas are to be prepared in a radically different way from that of the sole success, Ciaran Lynch: Birchall’s bioreactor vs so-called “bionic” method of Macchiarini.

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Judge in Jungebluth trial announces to uphold his injunction, dismisses all evidence

Today I stood my second injunction trial (previous here), and once again, the evidence was irrelevant. Today’s trial of Philipp Jungebluth against myself in the Berlin regional court was set for 30 minutes and this is also how long it took. The reason: the judge (and two co-judges) already made up their decision to uphold Jungebluth’s injunction against me (see story here and here), regardless of all evidence from my side about this doctor’s past. They were perfectly free to do so, because it was a speed trial, where (in theory)  I was supposed to get my chance to finally defend myself after the very same judge passed that injunction without my prior knowledge or involvement, based on the claims submitted by Jungebluth. Such is the German law on press freedom, take it or leave the country. Also now, I didn’t get to say much, while Jungebluth and his lawyer were welcomed to explain their case to the court once again. My lawyer and I hardly got a chance to squeeze a word in. Continue reading “Judge in Jungebluth trial announces to uphold his injunction, dismisses all evidence”

CNRS lab of Voinnet’s right hand Patrice Dunoyer dissolved by director’s decree

CNRS lab of Voinnet’s right hand Patrice Dunoyer dissolved by director’s decree

The hammer has fallen. The lab of misconduct-tainted plant scientist Patrice Dunoyer at the CNRS Institut de Biologie Moléculaire des Plantes (IBMP) in Strasbourg, France, has been closed with a 48 hour notice, following the decision of the institute’s director Laurence Maréchal-Drouard. The (now former) lab members were informed by general mailing list announcement; the reasons for closure were officially “not related to integrity concerns”. The only good news for Dunoyer is that he is tenured, and cannot be sacked for his previous research misconduct, because CNRS already punished him for it with a whole one-month suspension.

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Sumitran-Holgersson and Olausson guilty of misconduct and unethical experiments on children

Sumitran-Holgersson and Olausson  guilty of misconduct and unethical experiments on children

Game over apparently near for the indestructible Swedish regenerative medicine researcher Suchitra Sumitran-Holgersson, after investigations at her University of Gothenburg  draw to an end. It is about experimental transplants of decellurised veins “regenerated” with the patient’s own bone marrow cells into three child patients, all of whom ended up in life-long medical care, one patient received  a liver transplant after her graft failed, another child suffered severe complications (see this earlier report about an external investigation by Bengt Gerdin into that matter). The University of Gothenburg then established an investigative committee, which followed up on the Gerdin report and specific concerns voiced by a journal editor and a colleague. I publish below the two decisions which revealed that Sumitran-Holgersson and her surgeon partner Michael Olausson never performed any animal testing before recruiting their human patients, they also failed to obtain ethics permits for these operations. Instead the two lied in their publications (Olausson et al, Lancet, 2012; Olausson et al EBioMedicine, 2014) about having obtained ethics votes (something I already uncovered before). During the investigation, Olausson and Sumitran-Holgersson were caught submitting false information to the committee. They were now found guilty of misconduct and ethics breach in both these publications. Continue reading “Sumitran-Holgersson and Olausson guilty of misconduct and unethical experiments on children”

COPE, the publishers’ Trojan horse, calls to abolish retractions

COPE, the publishers’ Trojan horse, calls to abolish retractions

Four private scientists without any agenda whatsoever published a research result preprint on the portal BioRxiv. The “new results” reported in the article are actually new ideas which are just as good as any research results, because they are supposed to bring the field of scholarly communication forward. The question is, where to, and why should anyone go there. Because the idea is to abolish the only tool science now has at hand to punish research misconduct: retractions. Fraudulent papers are to receive instead an amendment, which will notify those particularly inclined readers that research data or ethics approval (for clinical studies) might have been falsified or missing. Those proposing to remove the only punitive measure available in scholarly publishing are in fact the very people who are supposed to be overseeing the editorial integrity. The goats whom science welcomed as gardeners now dropped the pretence and declared their true vision for the garden. Continue reading “COPE, the publishers’ Trojan horse, calls to abolish retractions”

Will words or actual evidence count in the Walles case?

Will words or actual evidence count in the Walles case?

On March 16th I stood a court trial by the trachea transplanters and University of Würzburg professors  Heike and Thorsten Walles against myself. The judge (it was the same who passed the injunction against me) will announce his decision on April 6th, just as I will stand trial in Berlin against their trachea transplant colleague Philipp Jungebluth (see this report). I publish here an extended memory-based protocol which I first published on Facebook. Meanwhile, several large institutions built a protective wall of silence around Walles and their tracheal transplants. The German Medical Association refused investigation in a bizarre letter which I also publish below.

The court hearing

It was the so-called speed trial, so instead of examining evidence, everyone was free to tell the judge their views. Mostly, Walles and their lawyer spoke, occasionally, my lawyer and I were able to squeeze a word in to reject the outlandish or false claims. For example, while her lawyer insisted the tracheal transplants were full success despite dead patients, Heike Walles challenged me to compare her transplants with the first heart transplant which failed. I pointed out that this is exactly the same argument Paolo Macchiarini uses to defend his own failed trachea transplants (for example, here). Continue reading “Will words or actual evidence count in the Walles case?”