The 3rd editor and failure of ‘proper channels’

The 3rd editor and failure of ‘proper channels’

A scientist finds serious measurement errors in three publications of his former collaborators. He alerts the journals and makes his concerns public, openly under his own name. The errors would make obsolete several key observations of an established German neurophysiology lab. Indeed, one journal retracts the criticised paper, another issues a correction describing the affected results as “not reliable”. The Editor-in-Chief of the third journal however accuses the whistle-blower of unspecified conflict of interests and retracts his already published letter to editor, in the process tainting his reputation with a public insinuation of research misconduct.

Here is this story in detail. Continue reading “The 3rd editor and failure of ‘proper channels’”

The decadence of German medical doctorate

The decadence of German medical doctorate

Germany is a country where a doctorate still invites respect and even deference, in certain circles at least. Here, the prefix “Dr.” even becomes official part of your name, while your professorial thesis advisor is reverentially called “Doktorvater”- doctoral father (there is no appropriate term for female supervisors, which makes the concept even more embarrassing these days). There is a whole zoo of German doctorate degrees, biologists and other natural scientists are generally “Dr. rer. nat.” and medical doctors are “Dr. med”. Unlike in the Anglo-Saxon model, German physicians do not receive a default MD title with graduation, they can only call themselves Herr or Frau Doktor once they wrote and defended a dissertation at their university.

The thing which angers German life scientists (and others) about this peculiar German medical doctorate, is that it is relatively easy to get, while providing equal, if not better, academic advantage as their own PhD-like Dr. rer. nat. Biologists need between 3 and 5 years to have enough material for a thesis, while their medical colleagues invest often less than a year, and even this in-between their university lectures, courses and exams. The medical dissertations themselves accordingly often contain little (if any) own research and are much shorter, occasionally just a couple of pages describing the attached co-authored publications (doctors publish a lot, often the sheer quantity counts). This lightweight model is exactly what generally prevents German medical doctors from having their titles recognized in the US or elsewhere as a PhD degree. In Germany however, both Dr. rer. nat. and Dr. med. have an equal value when academic jobs are distributed. Continue reading “The decadence of German medical doctorate”

“Notification of Suspected Research Misconduct”, by 4 Macchiarini-whistleblowers

Below I am publishing a recent letter to the Vice-Chancellor of Karolinska Institutet (KI) Karin Dahlman-Wright, authored by the four KI medical researchers, Matthias Corbascio, Oscar SimonsonKarl-Henrik Grinnemo and Thomas Fux. They have been for some time attempting to alert KI to the irregularities in patient records and published data by Paolo Macchiarini, but were instead harassed and persecuted under the former Vice-Chancellor of KI, Anders Hamsten. The four whistle-blowers previously made their evidence public in an open letter to KI directorate. In April 2016 they received a prize from Transparency International for their courage.

The KI had much of its leadership as well as of its Ethics Council removed in the wake of Macchiarini-scandal (see updates to this article). Most likely, there will be more resignations among senior scientists and managers, as the investigations progress and conclude. At the same time, the associated Karolinska University Hospital seems to have sneaked out of responsibility, no investigations are being performed there, as Bosse Lindquist, author of seminal Macchiarini documentary, has criticised. The hospital was Macchiarini’s employer and approved all his controversial trachea transplant operations on patients, some performed inside the hospital. Correction: according to Swedish media, the hospital director, Melvin Samsom, initiated an investigation which results are to be expected in August 2016. The external examiner is Kjell Asplund, professor emeritus of medicine and chairman of Smer, the Swedish council on medical ethics.

The evidence presented by the four KI whistle-blowers deals with data irregularities in Macchiarini’s paper in The Lancet (Jungebluth et al, 2011). This first recipient of a plastic “regenerated” trachea transplant was Andemariam Beyene, who died two years later (details see here). The scaffold was produced by the nanotechnology lab of the UCL professor Alexander Seifalian (details in my report here). Unfortunately, The Lancet has ceased replying and even acknowledging receiving my emails (in particular in regard to another misconduct case in regenerative medicine in Sweden, that of Sumitran-Holgersson). The Lancet previously declared to me not to be addressing  themselves any available evidence of ethics breach and data manipulation, but instead wait for the results of institutional investigations.

The entire document is available here, below is the abbreviated version.

Continue reading ““Notification of Suspected Research Misconduct”, by 4 Macchiarini-whistleblowers”

PLOS Correction removes (then reinstates) previously available anonymised patient clinical trial data

Researchers have removed the previously openly available anonymised patient data of the clinical trial FINE from their publication in PLOS One. The correction, issued on May 18th 2016 states:

S1 Dataset was published in error. The error was corrected in the XML and PDF versions of this article on May 9, 2016. Please download this article again to view the correct version”.

The now removed S1 dataset was previously described by the authors around Alison Wearden, professor of Health Psychology at the University of Manchester, in their Data Availability statement:

“The authors have prepared a dataset that fulfills requirements in terms of anonymity and confidentiality of trial participants, and which contains only those variables which are relevant to the present study. Data are available as Supplementary Information”.

FINE was a “randomised controlled trial of a nurse-led self-help treatment, versus supportive listening, versus treatment as usual for patients in primary care with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME)”, performed at the University of Manchester. It was funded by the British Medical Research Council (MRC) and the UK Department of Health.

These new restrictive developments are very important. FINE is considered as a sister CFS/ME therapy trial of the PACE trial (on which I previously reported), where the sharing of anonymised patient data to non-collaborators was repeatedly denied by the King’s College London and Queen Mary University London, with the consequence that now the courts are expected to decide upon this issue of clinical data sharing. A judge has already decreed that certain documents associated with PACE trial are to be released (information and list with links are available from the website by the lawyer and CFS/ME activist Valerie Eliot Smith). Continue reading “PLOS Correction removes (then reinstates) previously available anonymised patient clinical trial data”

Chocolate is good for your funding

Chocolate is good for your funding

Chocolate is good for your health, scientists keep saying. This may sound counter-intuitive; given that chocolate is an extremely calorie-rich confectionery, which mostly contains industrially refined cocoa fat and huge quantities of added sugar, a substance finally about to be recognised as the prime cause for the obesity epidemics.

A recent clinical study from the Luxembourg Institute of Health, published in the British Journal of Nutrition (Alkerwi et al, 2016), discovered that “chocolate consumers (81·8 %) were more likely to be younger, physically active, affluent people with higher education levels and fewer chronic co-morbidities”. The authors used data from the nationwide Observation of Cardiovascular Risk Factors in Luxembourg (ORISCAV-LUX) survey to determine that “chocolate consumption may improve liver enzymes and protect against insulin resistance, a well-established risk factor for cardiometabolic disorders”. Basically, this paper advices hyperglycaemic and diabetic patients to eat sugar-rich confectionery, which may appear somewhat irresponsible or even dangerous. These alleged chocolate benefits on diabetes prevention present a new turn in a long history of bold claims about the medicinal magic inside the sweets wrapper. Moreover, the lead author Ala’a Alkerwi also determined that chocolate improves cognitive capacities (Crichton et al 2016).

A fresh editorial in the BMJ journal Heart simply asked: “Is life longer with a box of chocolates?”. The authors Donaldson et al present “the health benefits of eating chocolate” as a scientific fact, which only needs physiological and molecular elucidation. Clinical studies have allegedly proven that regular consumption of chocolate reduces risk of heart attack and heart failure. The authors, led by Phyo Kyaw Myint, Chair for Medicine of Old Age at University of Aberdeen, decree that “future studies will need to narrow down exactly how chocolate exerts its beneficial effects”.

There were however quite a lot of chocolate studies done for more than a decade, funded with millions from the public, but also from the chocolate industry. Reliable reports of people cured of any cardiovascular diseases by eating chocolate do not exist. Even the health benefits of the purportedly medicinal raw cocoa ingredients of the flavanol compound family are far from being conclusively proven. Continue reading “Chocolate is good for your funding”

Bruno Lemaitre on Science and Narcissism

Bruno Lemaitre on Science and Narcissism

Bruno Lemaitre is professor at the Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland, where he works on insect immunity. He is also a personal friend of mine, this is one of the reasons I wish to introduce here his new book on narcissism in science. Disclaimer: I also received a one-time payment from Bruno for my help with the text and editing of his book, titled: An Essay on Science and Narcissism: How do high-ego personalities drive research in life sciences?”

The book and its order options are introduced on Bruno Lemaitre’s website.

Lemaitre’s discovery of the Toll-receptor won the 2011 Nobel Prize, which however was awarded not to him, but to his former boss, Jules Hoffman (who apparently used to be rather disinterested in Lemaitre work in his lab, until he understood the impact of Lemaitre’s findings). This conflict was reported in media (e., in Science), also Lemaitre himself addressed it on his personal blog “Behind Discoveries”.

This experience, and his later observations, likely prompted Lemaitre to study the prevalence of narcissistic personalities among our science elites. Indeed, anyone who ever worked in academia was likely directly affected by the arrogance, power games and ruthless “networking” there, which push aside actual scientific competence and even research integrity, to allow those with lowest scruples and highest ambitions to climb the academic career ladder. According to Lemaitre, narcissism can be briefly described as the propensity to “get ahead” rather than to “get along”. Narcissists are only concerned about their own self-advancement and self-promotion and have little regard for the rules of social interaction. At the same time, their inflated confidence allows narcissistic researchers to radiate professional competence, knowledge and leadership, while their “meticulous” colleagues struggle with the imposter syndrome.  Finally, while narcissists strive for personal power and dominance, they are actually very good in manipulative networking and even sycophantic Macchiavelism towards senior influential figures, all with the goal to advance their careers. Narcissism is a character trait, and is probably only in small part bestowed secondarily by the acquired institutional position: the abusive narcissistic professors of today used to be career-minded narcissistic students in their past. Continue reading “Bruno Lemaitre on Science and Narcissism”

Sumitran-Holgersson’s funding frozen, paper retracted

The misconduct-tainted University of Gothenburg professor of transplantation biology Suchitra Sumitran-Holgersson (see my detailed report here), has now lost a critical publication due to data manipulation, her funding by the charity Hjärt-Lungfondens (Heart-Lung-Foundation) has been frozen. This is what the General Secretary of Hjärt-Lungfondens, Kristina Sparreljung told me:

Suchitra Sumitran-Holgersson has an ongoing support from us during 2016 and 2017 with 500,000 Swedish crowns per year. She has received 500,000 Swedish crowns so far. As soon as the cheating issue came to our attention, we have made every effort to assess the situation and act properly based on the information we have. As a first step, we decided to freeze the payments. We have also asked the institution [University of Gothenburg, -LS] to freeze its payments, but they have decided to let Suchitra Sumitran-Holgersson research further until the investigation is complete. She will not receive any more money from us until the investigation is complete”.

Also Björn Aschan, Chairman of the Gothenburg-based charity IngaBritt and Arne Lundbergs Research Foundation informs that their 2.5 Mio SEK funding to Sumitran Holgersson has been suspended:

“The funding of equipment to the Gothenburg University for Professor Sumatran-Holgerssons research has temporarily been suspended awaiting the outcome of the investigation re. Professor Sumitran-Holgersson’s research”.

The retracted paper by Sumitran-Holgersson (Berg et al, Tissue Eng Part A. 2014) concerns her experiments with Macchiarini-style “regenerated” trachea. There, an alleged cure of a 76-year old chronic asthma patient is described, who suffered death from infection shortly after receiving the trachea transplant. The operation was performed by Sumitran-Holgersson’s close collaborator, Michael Olausson,  director of the Transplant Center at the University of Gothenburg. Continue reading “Sumitran-Holgersson’s funding frozen, paper retracted”