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:
“Olivier Voinnet received the EMBO Gold Medal in 2009. The Medal is awarded annually to young scientists for outstanding contributions to the life sciences in Europe.
Recent investigations following concerns about data manipulation in Olivier Voinnet’s publications have resulted in the retraction of several papers and the correction of others of which he is an author. To ensure that the prestige of the EMBO Gold Medal and the reputation of science more generally are maintained, EMBO Council at its 2015 annual meeting set up a committee to assess the allegations of data manipulation in Olivier Voinnet’s publications, and based on this assessment to determine what actions to take.
The committee consisted of the current and two former Secretaries General of EMBO: Paul Nurse, Anton Berns, and Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard. I was present as an observer at the committee.
In addition to considering the allegations concerning Olivier Voinnet’s publications that are already in the public domain, the committee carried out an independent investigation, focusing on the papers submitted as part of the nomination for the Gold Medal. The investigation identified a number of further cases of data manipulation in these publications in addition to those already discussed in the public domain, corrigenda and journal retraction notes.
The committee concluded that the manipulation of data in the publications authored by Voinnet was unacceptable for the proper reporting of research and devalued both science in general and the Gold Medal in particular. The committee therefore decided that EMBO would revoke its award of the Gold Medal to Olivier Voinnet.
This decision was communicated to Olivier Voinnet, who recognized the importance of protecting the integrity of scientific research and agreed to return the Medal.
Prof. Maria Leptin
“We have recently become aware of the presence of duplicated images in the Figures 3 and 4 and Supplementary Figures 5 and 6 in our publication Nat. Genet. 41, 365–370, 2009, that were assembled according to the specified author contributions. We therefore retract the publication for the sake of the high standards we expect for research and scientific journals. All the authors have signed this statement”.
“I confirm that EMBO is taking the matter seriously and has set up its own committee to investigate the allegations, paying particular attention to those papers that formed the basis for Sonia Melo’s application for an installation grant. EMBO will make a decision once a comprehensive and careful investigation has been carried out. And, as usual, until our investigations are completed, we will refrain from commenting publicly”.
“all the committee files on the selection of grantees, including the proposal, are confidential”.