Olivier Voinnet loses EMBO Gold Medal, Sonia Melo investigated by EMBO

News piece:

The former star plant scientist Olivier Voinnet, currently professor at the Swiss elite university ETH Zürich has now had the most prestigious award bestowed by the European life science research society EMBO, the EMBO Gold medal, revoked. Prior to this, he admitted misconduct and data manipulation in dozens of his papers, seven of which were retracted. His funding by the Swiss National Fund was frozen and he was banned from further funding for 3 years.


Below the announcement of EMBO director Maria Leptin, sent out to EMBO members on January 28th, 2016: Continue reading “Olivier Voinnet loses EMBO Gold Medal, Sonia Melo investigated by EMBO”

Research “parasitism” and authorship rights

Two seemingly opposing medical editorials on the subject of data sharing have recently been published. One, by the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) appeared in all of its member journals, a non-paywalled version can be freely read at PLOS Medicine. Its lead author is ICMJE Secretary Darren Taichman, professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. The message goes:

(ICMJE) believes that there is an ethical obligation to responsibly share data generated by interventional clinical trials because participants have put themselves at risk […]

As a condition of consideration for publication of a clinical trial report in our member journals, the ICMJE proposes to require authors to share with others the deidentified individual-patient data (IPD) underlying the results presented in the article (including tables, figures, and appendices or supplementary material) no later than 6 months after publication”

Continue reading “Research “parasitism” and authorship rights”

Olivier Voinnet case: correcting the uncorrectable

Olivier Voinnet case: correcting the uncorrectable

The case of the former star plant scientist Olivier Voinnet is being quietly concluded. After now seven paper retractions, more than twice as many controversial corrections and after his misconduct was made official by the investigative commission of the ETH Zürich, the institutions, journals and a number of scientific peers are showing all the intention for this scandal to become quietly forgotten, as some kind of damage control. Some of them may have learned this lesson in research integrity and drawn consequences. Others: quite the opposite, which sends a dangerous message to the academic community and public about their attitude to problematic science.

Some weeks ago, the journal RNA has issued a controversial corrigendum where every single figure was “corrected” due to excessive data manipulation (Moissiard et al, 2007). And now, the elite journal Science has decided NOT to retract, but instead to correct a certain Voinnet paper (Deleris et al, 2006), despite earlier retraction decision by the investigative commission and the numerous data manipulations Voinnet now admits. Thus, Science editors have placed their authority above that of the scientist peers who were thoroughly examining Voinnet’s misconduct. This is so far the crown of a series of rather controversial corrections for Voinnet.  The journal also corrects two other Voinnet papers (Navarro et al, 2006 and Dunoyer et al, 2010, the latter has been already corrected twice previously). With these two Errata in Science (here and here), it is Dunoyer who takes all responsibility for manipulated data.

More of this creative correcting, or “Voinnetting”, of further publications by the EMBO Gold Medalist Voinnet is to be expected. Continue reading “Olivier Voinnet case: correcting the uncorrectable”

War, politics and academic publishing

War, politics and academic publishing

The Euromaidan revolution of winter 2013/2014 in Ukrainian capital Kiev toppled the Moscow-friendly president and quickly led to an establishment of a democratically elected EU-oriented government in Ukraine. Shortly after the collapse of the corrupt pro-Russian regime became evident, Russia, led by its dictatorial president Vladimir Putin, has moved to illegally occupy the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea through a method of military invasion, sham elections, and subsequent annexation of Crimea on 18 March 2014. None of this has been internationally recognized, neither by UN, United States or European Union (EU). In fact only six countries recognize Crimea as part of Russian Federation, including Syria, North Korea and Cuba.  EU has issued sanctions against Crimean politicians and businesses until the autonomous peninsula is governed by Ukraine again. However, many western businesses are keen on doing business in and with Russia, and sometimes it means recognizing the Crimean occupation. Some of them are the academic publishing giants Elsevier and Springer.


Continue reading “War, politics and academic publishing”

No laughing matter

A small, highly specialized medical journal makes its first attempt at satire in 21 years. The New Year’s Eve spoof paper in question was a pretend randomized controlled trial (RCT), where toddlers were claimed to have been deliberately exposed to pain in order to study the efficiency of their mothers’ kisses at alleviating it. The author and the journal’s editor-in-chief intended this satire of evidence-based medicine (EBM) exclusively for their dedicated clinician readers, and did not expect a wave of anger, ridicule and confusion over social networks. Much less so, they did not expect being accused of predatory publishing. Now both found themselves in the need of explaining the humoristic nature of their publication and the original target of the satire.

The paper, which appeared on December 29th 2015 in the Wiley-published Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice (JECP) was easily recognizable as satire to anyone who spent at least a minute considering its title or reading its abstract.

It was titled: “Maternal kisses are not effective in alleviating minor childhood injuries (boo-boos): a randomized, controlled and blinded study”. Authored by “The Study of Maternal and Child Kissing (SMACK) Working Group”, it claimed to have exposed almost one thousand children to “experimentally induced minor injuries”, by tricking them into touching a 50°C hot plate or bump their heads under the table. The toddlers’ mothers were then supposed to either kiss or not kiss the injuries, while “‘sham’ kisses were delivered by a trained researcher”. Children’s pain was then measured using “a 15-point, five-domain, non-verbal tool”. Continue reading “No laughing matter”

Frontiers Christmas Carol

Frontiers Christmas Carol

The Swiss academic publisher Frontiers, owned by the EPFL professor Henry Markram and his wife Kamila (plus some investors, including the publishing giant Holtzbrinck, owner of SpringerNature), is not at all prepared to accept being placed by the US librarian Jeffrey Beall on his list of potential, possible, or probable predatory scholarly open-access publishers. The Lausanne-based publishing house, represented by its Executive Editor Frederick Fenter, battles on many fronts to defend its respectability. As I report below, this includes a personal pre-Christmas visit to Beall at his university library in Denver, as well as some publisher-mediated attempts at ensuring editorial and peer review quality, which occasionally appear somewhat ham-fisted.

Seasons Greetings 001

Frontiers has joined some respectable organizations like the Open Access societies OASPA and DOAJ, got self-enlisted as following editorial ethics guidelines with ICMJE, and finally became member of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE). It the latter case, the double function of the Frontiers journal manager Mirjam Curno as COPE council member and trustee might have been only coincidental with Frontiers joining COPE just after Fenter has sacked almost all of Frontiers medical chief editors for demanding editorial independency. Continue reading “Frontiers Christmas Carol”