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 Simonson, Karl-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.
Stockholm May 9, 2016
Vice-Chancellor Karin Dahlman-Wright
Notification of Suspected Research Misconduct
RE: Tracheobronchial transplantation with a stem-cell-seeded bioartificial nanocomposite: a proof-of-concept study. Jungebluth P, Macchiarini P. Lancet. 2011 Dec 10;378(9808):1997-2004. Epub 2011 Nov 24. PMID: 22119609
Since our filing in August 2014 (1) new data has emerged providing evidence of suspected scientific misconduct and data manipulation on the part of Drs. Jungebluth and Macchiarini. This evidence is sufficient in and of itself to warrant investigation and in our opinion retraction of this dubious article. On page 1999 in the last paragraph under the section “Results” the Drs. Jungebluth and Macchiarini claim: “5 months after transplantation, the patient is asymptomatic, breathes normally, is tumour free, and has an almost normal airway (figure 2C)…” To support the statement of ”an almost normal airway” at the time point of 5 months after implantation of the synthetic trachea the authors refer to figure 2A-C on the following page 2000 with the title: ”Postoperative follow-up”. The figure legend of figure 2C states: “Postoperative volume rendered (VR) image. Air in airways is shown in bright blue. Note that the VR technique displays only the factual air and not the scaffold material. Yellow arrows show borders for scaffold insertion.”
The image in figure 2C is a product of a computed tomography (CT) technique called 3D volume rendering (VR) which incorporates the entire CT data set yielding a 3D display that depicts all tissue types from any orientation […] the only possible source of the VR image in figure 2C is the 2nd radiological examination, which was performed on 2011-07-06, an examination performed not 5 months but only 4 weeks (27 days) after the synthetic trachea implantation on 2011-06-09. Review of the VR series from the 2nd radiological examination demonstrates that these images are very similar (figure 1a, b) to the images that Drs Jungebluth and Macchiarini have chosen to use as their 5-month follow up image.
This raises the suspicion that Drs. Jungebluth and Macchiarini have chosen to use an image taken only 4 weeks after implantation and claimed that it demonstrates ”an almost normal airway” at 5 months after implantation of the synthetic trachea.
If this is confirmed then this can only be interpreted as scientific misconduct and falsification of data. To suggest that the time of examination has been accidentally misrepresented is not plausible since this was the only examination using the VR technique that was performed after the implantation surgery and before final submission of the article to The Lancet.
Furthermore, inspection of the radiological examination performed on 2011-07-06 that Drs. Jungebluth and Macchiarini seem to have used as a 5-month follow up image does not show findings that by any definition can be considered as “an almost normal airway”. All images from that examination demonstrate severe airway pathology consisting of constriction, fistulation, and air surrounding the synthetic implant already 27 days after implantation.
Furthermore, in the figure legend to figure 2C in the article, the authors states that the blue colored image shows ”Air in airways is shown in bright blue”. In the radiological examination from the very same date, 2011-07-06, from which the figure 2C in the article seems to be taken, the blue colored volume rendered image can be individually analyzed as it is independently saved in the archive. Even if all the tissues and implant are removed, the image cannot be depicted as showing evidence of “an almost normal airway” as it verifies a pathologically constricted right main bronchus 27 days after implantation.
Radiological examination performed on 2011-11-22 (Figures 6a-c, 7), 5½ months after implantation 2011-06-09, verifies bronchoscopic findings of severe airway pathology consisting of bilateral fistulations, obstruction of airway and air surrounding the implant. Stents have been placed in an attempt to obliterate fistulation. The presence of fistulation is indicative of chronic infection and inability of the synthetic implant to heal into the surrounding native tissue, as is the continuous ingrowth of obstructive granulomatous tissue (threatening ventilation) is indicative of chronic inflammation.
Three imaging examinations have been presented above; 2011-07-06 (CT-VR), 2011-08-16 (filmed bronchoscopy) and 2011-11-22 (CT-VR), which clearly and in detail demonstrates the patient’s airway at 4 weeks, at 10 weeks and at 5½ months after implantation. All three examinations demonstrate serious airway pathology and can be regarded as three individual time checkpoints.
Drs. Jungebluth and Macchiarini may postulate that the airway was ”almost normal” at 5 months, which would imply that severe pathology which evidently was present at 4 and 10 weeks would have developed into “almost normal” at 5 months (when the final proofs where admitted to the Lancet) despite any imaging evidence for such a statement and then, after another 2 weeks (at 5½ months) the airway apparently degenerated into its severely pathological state as demonstrated above. This is not just plain absurd, it is of course impossible and an obvious example of gross misrepresentation. Unless proven otherwise, this is in itself sufficient to warrant retraction of the article, independent of the exhausting evidence we have already provided.
In conclusion, we appeal to Karolinska Institutet to investigate this new evidence of scientific misconduct. Drs. Jungebluth and Macchiarini have in all likelihood changed the dates of the radiological exam and neglected to divulge the evidence of pathology seen in the original radiological and bronchoscopic examinations.
More than two years have now transpired since we first reported evidence of serial scientific misconduct on the part of Dr. Macchiarini. This publication, along with a number of previously reported papers are allowed to persist in the medical literature despite that an insurmountable body of evidence demonstrating falsification, omission or beautification of data has been provided by us and the external investigation (1, 7). The continued inability of Karolinska Institutet to act accordingly and retract this article is a testimony to the moral paralysis afflicting this institution and is an insult to the patients and their relatives who have been victimized by its ineptitude.
Matthias Corbascio, MD, PhD, Assoc Prof
Thomas Fux, MD
Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery and Anesthesiology
Karolinska University Hospital,
Solna SE-171 76 Stockholm
Karl-Henrik Grinnemo, MD, PhD, Assoc Prof
Oscar Simonson MD, PhD
Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery
Uppsala University Hospital
SE-751 85 Uppsala
Dear Leonid, I really appreciate the effort you put into ventilating all those shameful cases in academia and biomedical research particularly.
It is alarming, and of course frustrating, how institutions like KI are terrified of scandals and prefer to become accomplice of misconduct of individuals like Macchiarini and his co-author in the Lancet paper. In my opinion, Macchiarini should not be allowed to practice as a surgeon, since he clearly has strong personality disorders.
In Canada, we have an emblematic case: an individual named Ranjit Kumar Chandra was a faculty for over 30 years in the memorial university of Newfoundland (in Saint John’s) and apparently used to publish clinical studies with INVENTED data,,, this individual was caught, partly because of a brave nurse that blowed the whistle, and partly because some journals (like the British Journal of Medicine) found his data TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE… At the end, the fraud was uncovered, but the Memorial University did not do anything to prevent that this individual continues causing more damage, because they were terrified that the scandal will financially affect the university (as if integrity and the same truth were negotiable!). and he happily run away to Switzerland, carrying $2 million dollars he got from companies like Nestle (and he never spent that money, since no experiments were required for his publications)… Finally he was planing to return to his country, India, with the idea of convincing their government of supplying to the whole Indian population a vitamin that himself patented, and that is supposed to cure senility and any other human problem (of course he proved all the virtues of his vitamin in papers with invented data).
In the following link a very brave documentary the BBC put together after quite a bit of investigation:
All the best,
Department of Medicine
University of Alberta
Juan, this case reminds me of another Canadian scientist, Dr. Samir Chandra Debnath (most frequently observed as Samir C. Debnath in publications), who has a long list of problematic papers at PubPeer, many related to (apparent) self-plagiarism, and some related to (apparent) figure duplications and manipulations, which remain wholly uncorrected. This very powerful individual, the current President of the Canadian Society for Horticultural Science, and the former (until Dec 31, 2015) EIC of Elsevier’s Scientia Horticulturae, not to mention a host of other influential positions, has failed to correct any of his literature. Moreover, his institute, just like the case you report above, has turned a blind eye and so has the Minister of Agriculture, who I contacted personally to launch a formal complaint. I should add that my “threats” to blow the whistle on Dr. Debnath riled Elsevier, and I was banned from Elsevier’s Scientia Horticulturae for exposing his problematic papers. It’s very sad when those who report the problems become victimized while those who have problematic literature are treated with impunity.
A list of the flagged Debnath papers at PubPeer:
Debnath (2003): https://pubpeer.com/publications/7D27CF4AA4E9A07E34FD482D381856
Debnath (2006): https://pubpeer.com/publications/C905E8D40BE5DFA86D2D251C814D96
Debnath (2007): https://pubpeer.com/publications/825C92576BE5C5E81C8311368D37FF
Debnath (2007): https://www.pubpeer.com/publications/9CEDBD80564DE48CEDD1DEB606C503
Debnath (2008): https://pubpeer.com/publications/213660EEAA8DAEF841EA204F7CFD3C
Debnath (2009): https://www.pubpeer.com/publications/6ECD7340D853265B2E13BC05F324AC
Debnath (2009): https://www.pubpeer.com/publications/9FD632A024F91E79D6A337AB94B2F1
Debnath (2010): https://www.pubpeer.com/publications/D2AE786706D919B096604F2AE1C59E
*Debnath (2011): https://www.pubpeer.com/publications/FC84EB091248845E2F7749A918BB1A
Debnath (2011): https://pubpeer.com/publications/FC84EB091248845E2F7749A918BB1A
Debnath (2011): https://www.pubpeer.com/publications/975920570A46D93A15F253D6AB7E0A
Debnath (2012): https://www.pubpeer.com/publications/AB78ABEA7841D810540AA648BBF22C
Debnath et al. (2012): https://www.pubpeer.com/publications/6A2E628381272A58BCA142532C209F
Debnath et al. (2012): https://pubpeer.com/publications/CD566A706164CA483D34E59E211F32
Debnath (2014): https://pubpeer.com/publications/451661E7CA3294A69FC8DEED38FC2D
Debnath (2014): https://www.pubpeer.com/publications/814EF1428D9E1F1407F5DE608F37C0
Debnath (2014): https://www.pubpeer.com/publications/8350894ABD8147B4FBA58017B42D59
Debnath (2014): https://www.pubpeer.com/publications/0006A9FF84598C2E9EC7E45B6D556D
Debnath (2014): https://www.pubpeer.com/publications/A905DD5F7AB3E6FA48739BA509F191
Debnath (2015): https://pubpeer.com/publications/D6C3FA5DACFC48D9661F91F31DCF4B
Debnath (2015: erratum): https://pubpeer.com/publications/F07FDBB2F28077741CBEF4A0F6A834
Goyali et al. (2015): https://www.pubpeer.com/publications/955546EBDE6CB02186CF1624126BD0
Debnath (2016): https://www.pubpeer.com/publications/221D54A512A1D674B07DB5ADC2E9EA
LikeLiked by 1 person
Unfortunately, there are many scientists who won’t get their papers corrected and/or retracted easily.
Bellow, another example:
a very brave documentary the BBC put together after quite a bit of investigation:
IIRC, that was the CBC. RetractionWatch devoted several posts to the Chandra case, and to his unsuccessful libel suit against the CBC (in which the journalists established the proof of their allegations).
$2 million dollars he got from companies like Nestle
Disappointingly, the goal was to prove health benefits from infant milk replacements, rather than from chocolate.
The Whackyweedia entry on Chandra ends with a note about his web of bank accounts:
LikeLiked by 1 person
Oh dear, where is my mind. Of course I now remember this scandal, but with all the naughty stuff I deal with it got blurred. I highly advice to read this account by former BMJ editor Richard Smith on how he went to Toronto in summer 2015, to give evidence, where Chandra was suing CBC.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Pingback: ‘Vice’ do Ministério da Ciência é colaborador de Kassab desde a Prefeitura de SP | Direto da Ciência
Yes, I am aware of that other “talented” individual in Agriculture Canada. Indeed, I did work for Agriculture Canada (2005-2007) and when I was there we wrote a book chapter for a book I understand you edited:
Sanfacon H, Zhang G, Chisholm J, Jafarpour B and Jovel J. 2006. Molecular biology of Tomato ringspot nepovirus, a pathogen of ornamentals, small fruits and fruit trees. In Texeira da Silva, J (Ed): Floriculture, Ornamental and Plant Biotechnology: Advances and topical issues (1st Ed). Volume III. Global Science Books, London, UK. pp. 540-546
The ‘comic’ part of the Debnath case is that, a colleague who is still at Agriculture Canada told me, the Minister of Agriculture (probably the same person you contacted) came out to defend Debnath, arguing that he was being a victim of harassment (!!!).
The Canadian is a very Sui generis society (probably similar to Sweden in that respect), here everybody is innocent until the individual being accused commits a crime that is broadcasted in national television, and even so, there may be no consequences for the criminal (as the case of Ranjit Chandra)…
We are living pretty obscure days in the research world… and the worst part is I do not see things getting better any time soon…
Juan, good to hear from you in a public discussion. I have great respect for the work that comes out of the Helene Sanfacon lab!
I have come to understand through my conflicts with the peer and publishing elite that science is becoming part of a commercial culture of criminalization and incarceration. So, what I would consider to be whistle-blowing and exposing the truth (e.g., Debnath) would be referred to as “harassment”. Discussing the public papers of a scientist who is paid a public salary is considered, by those who feel threatened, a “personal attack”. Stating that I would be forced to “expose these truths” to Canadian authorities and plant scientists was reinterpreted as “threats”. And that’s it. One letter by some unknown manager in Elsevier’s Dutch head-office can change (probably destroy) a scientist’s career forever.
In fact, my analysis of the Debnath literature is not complete yet. As the final piece of evidence, I have a side-by-side comparison of text recycling involving about 8 papers. All black-and-white issues that the Canadian Minister of Agriculture seems to be tone-neutral to.
Unfortunately, I was unable to post this email and my rebuttal at Retraction Watch, so I am posting it here, verbatim.
” On Thursday, February 11, 2016 1:24 PM, Jaime Silva wrote:
Dear Dr. Brian Gray, and Dr. Sterlini and Dr. Weinheimer (whoever you may be, as you were not official introduced))
CC: Dr. Debnath so that he understands that his hiding behind his legal team and employer to hide his ethical misdeeds is not going to reverse the current snowball of scandal.
BCC: the wider horticultural and plant science community and scientific press, who may use any information freely, as this is of serious concern, and affront, to the ethical integrity of plant science publishing.
BEFORE I BEGIN MY LONG EMAIL, I REMIND YOU THAT AS DR. DEBNATH’S EMPLOYER, YOU HAVE THE DIRECT RESPONSIBILITY OF ENSURING THAT THE CORRUPTED LITERATURE HE HAS PUBLISHED IS CORRECTED. IF DR. DEBNATH IS UNABLE TO ACHIEVE THIS ON HIS OWN, DUE TO PHYSICAL OR MENTAL DEBILITY, THEN IT IS THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE AAFC TO ENSURE THAT THIS IS DONE.
I sincerely appreciate your formal response, and to learn of your blind, but passionate, defense of Dr. Samir C. Debnath. I can understand the need to protect the image of Canada’s academic structure, which is under scrutiny thanks to Dr. Debnath’s gross misunderstanding of publishing ethics.
It is very disappointing when the Minister of Agriculture of Canada and Canadian ethical authorities are unable to understand how serious self-plagiarism and figure manipulation are.
Any scientist understands the serious ethical implications of simply copy-pasting their own work. Scientific papers are increasingly being retracted because of such practices, but only Dr. Debnath, and apparently the office of the Canadian Ministry of Agriculture, it seems, appear to be unaware of this recent trend.
Not only does self-plagiarism contravene the ethics of most international publishing journals and publishers, it is an unfair practice as it gives Dr. Debnath unfair advantage over his scientific competitors. Think of it this way, Dr. Gray, imagine that I simply clicked my mouse and copy-pasted the same text again and again, but reshuffled the text to give the false impression of originality, as Dr. Debnath has done in several of his publications. Then, next to Dr. Debnath, you find an honest scientist who practices true original scientific expression, and who thinks of new and fresh ideas each time, but who makes a concerted effort to write his work originally. Who do you think will produce more work in a less amount of time?
Perhaps the Ministry of Agriculture could spend some quality time reading some background material about the unethical nature of self-plagiarism and how unacceptable it is, when undeclared, or unjustified, as occurs in Dr. Debnath’s literature. I have prepared a few web-sites where you may read up on the ethical nature of a technique that Dr. Debnath has so artistically used. So artistically, he seems to have even fooled his employee!
The evidence is public, and it is abundant, and observed by independent scientists who are not industry or academy insiders. The claims are correct. And the charges are serious and must be handled independently. Just because the Minister of Agriculture of Canada determines that this is all fine and ethical does not mean that it is.
Although I have great respect for Canadian science, and even greater respect for his honor, the Minister MacAulay, please convey to him that I must respectfully disagree with his position. It is my responsibility to continue to alert the horticultural community of this ethical transgression by Dr. Debnath, to clearly show why it is unethical and unfair to other honest scientists, in the eyes of a scientist, and to further show that he is being offered incredible protection by the highest levels of authority.
It is indeed a dark day for science when the Minister of Agriculture, and his office, of such a reputable developed nation, comes to the protection of unethical publishing practices.
Your misguided protection of an AAFC staff member who has employed serious unethical practices, and referring to my complaint and alert of the community of this risk to the integrity of the plant science literature, referring to it as “innuendo”, is insulting. Is “innuendo” an euphemism for something else you have on your mind, perhaps?
Your letter will be showcased as the perfect example of what not to do when a high-level scientist commits self-plagiarism, at a wide scale.
Even though you may dislike my long email, may I add that I will not cease to show the community the disgraceful academic record of Dr. Samir C. Debnath until I see him resign from his position as the President of the Canadian Society for Horticultural Science and as editor board member of Elsevier’s Scientia Horticulturae.
I just hope that there is no background deal between Canadian authorities and Elsevier, given the serious nature of these claims.
Please do convey my email in full to the honorable Minister Dr. MacAulay, and wish him well in his ethical endeavours for Canadian scientists.
In closing, I refer to the words of the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Research Integrity (note the careful use of inverted commas used to indicate a direct quote, something which the Canadian education system seems to have forgotten to teach Dr. Debnath, hence his serious self-plagiarism): “The available literature on self-plagiarism is concerned with four major problems: The publication of what is essentially the same paper in more than one journal, but without any indication that the paper has been published elsewhere (i.e., redundant and duplicate publication), the partitioning of a large study which should have been reported in a single paper into smaller published studies (i.e., salami-slicing), copyright infringement, and the practice of text recycling.”
As I see this case, it all comes down to a few points: ethical exceptionalism practiced by a powerful minority offered unprecedented protection by a very powerful elite structure, both at government and commercial levels. Until today, I had no idea how corrupted plant science publishing had become. But I am truly thankful to the Canadian Minister of Agriculture for opening my eyes. The isolation of the whistle-blower at the expense of the powerful corrupt minority I guess has always been a worthy historical topic.
Jaime A. Teixeira da Silva
Literature for your guidance and education (perhaps you could have a workshop at the Canadian Ministry of Education and/or Agriculture to update your archaic views):
140 papers to delight your senses.
Click to access ith-selfplagiarism-whitepaper.pdf
” On Thursday, February 11, 2016 6:38 AM, “Gray, Brian” [redacted] wrote:
Dear Mr. Teixeira da Silva:
This letter is in response to your email to Minister MacAulay regarding your complaint against an Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) scientist. The Minister has asked me to respond on his behalf.
All AAFC employees are subject to the AAFC Code of Values and Ethics. Given the specific nature of their work, our scientists also hold themselves to the highest scientific ethics and integrity standards set out by AAFC Science Ethics Policy Framework. The Framework implementation is overseen by the Science and Technology Branch’s Science Ethics Committee.
AAFC does not take allegations of scientific misconduct lightly. All AAFC science publications are reviewed both individually by AAFC management, and by the journals in which they are published, and from time to time as a body of a scientist’s individual work. No issues with Dr. Debnath’s work have ever been found by such reviews. We also have an obligation to our employees to protect them, and the Department from unsubstantiated claims of misconduct. As you have given us no cause to further investigate Dr. Debrath’s publications at this time, we ask that you desist from spreading innuendo regarding his work.
Brian T. Gray, Ph.D.
Assistant Deputy Minister
Science and Technology Branch”
yes, it is frustrating that institutions are very protective of their public reputation, to the point that they allow this kind of behavior to occur and persist in their research centres. In my opinion, the evidence posted in Pubpeer regarding Dr. Debnath’s work speaks by itself… It does not only reflect “self-plagiarism” but if the same figure is used in at least two publications, it suggests that one set of data does not exist.
The fact that Dr. Debnath does not speak to clarify things only makes things more suspicious. Maybe he is not aware (?)
Juan, he’s very aware. I officially reported it to him in mid-December. At that time, he was still the EIC of Elsevier’s Scientia Horticulturae, which is the world’s largest and premier horticultural journal. He gave me such a badly written response, acting surprised that undeclared textual, data and figure recycling and self-plagiarism was considered to be unethical, that it left me with an ulcer-like feeling for a week, at least. I have not published that idiotic response publicly yet, but might consider doing so if Dr. Schneider pursues this story, after revealing the intricate links between the global horticultural power-holders below.
By December 31, 2015, Dr. Debnath suddenly “disappeared” from his post as EIC, but still remains on the editor board:
I was so shocked today to see that Debnath has been returned to the status of EIC. Disgusting, arrogant and provocative move by Elsevier and Scientia Horticulturae.
It’s not just the Canadian authorities that are academically corrupt, but Elsevier, too. Protectionism of a “big name”, while sacrificing the “small fish” is the apparent ploy here. But it’s not going to work. I fought hard to see 20+ Scientia Horticulturae editors removed from the editor board in early 2014 (details documented at Retraction Watch) and I will work relentlessly to get Debnath or the journals to correct this highly corrupted literature.
You see, most scientists immediately focus on the “banned” (aka, persona non grata) status of my case, and are failing to see the true politically corrupt underbelly. In a smart PR move, the whistle-blower got banned, while saving Elsevier, Debnath and the Canadian authorities’ face. Not only Canadian, German also, because I promised to contact the German authorities about Dietmar Schwarz’ double standards and personal persecution over months at Scientia Horticulturae
Also what most scientists cannot appreciate in this deep corruption of horticultural elite, that spans from Canada, to Germany, to China, is the power of the International Society for Horticultural Science (and its core journal, Acta Horticulturae). The elite of that organization and the elite structure that straddle the editor boards of Elsevier’s Scientia Horticulturae, Elsevier’s Postharvest Biology and Technology, and Taylor & Francis’ Journal of Horticultural Science and Biotechnology, are the same extremely powerful, well-funded, set of several hundreds big-shots who believe, truly believe, that they live above the ethics that the rest of us have to somehow respect.
It’s not a coincidence that I was banned by Elsevier and Taylor & Francis. It is the product of a political hit, a vengeful pay-back at my exposing the cracks and flaws in their editors and in their publishing systems. Only now, after years of struggling against these behemoths, am I beginning to make some progress, but with only one person, the struggle promises to be long, and painful. Very sadly, nobody is standing up against the academic corruption of Elsevier’s Scientia Horticultrae, or of the other “core” horticultural journals. Which makes me look like, I admit, the “bad guy” in the room. Maybe I’m the only conscientious guy in the room.
So, to cut a long story short, the Debnath scandal is not over, but I have little hope that his protective institutes and colleagues around the world will sacrifice their comfort zones, grants, positions and grants, to speak out against a “leader”. This is the real reason: if Debnath’s papers actually got corrected, errata or retractions (as they should), then this would open up Pandora’s box about the dirt and corruption that lies deep within a wide swathe of the horticultural literature. My evidence is building up at PubPeer and elsewhere, including about Debnath. Here is one excellent collection to begin to show the tip of the ice-berg afflicting horticultural and plant science:
That said, and a as bit of a disclaimer, there are many excellent (hopefully the majority) scientists in plant science, many of whom are simply afraid to speak out (also the vast majority), because the system in place is structured in such a way that if you disturb the economic model with ripples of chaos, then you will be ejected from the system, even if you are right. I wish I had known that this is the way the system works, and that it protects corruption and glory over righteousness, when I was a young student, before aiming to get a PhD.
LikeLiked by 1 person
A small supporting image to show Dr. Debnath’s magic and power among the elite in the global horticultural community:
LikeLiked by 1 person
Keep up your crusade, and please be assured you are not alone. I am not in plant sciences so cannot help you, but I see the same BS in other sciences at the highest levels. For some publishers admitting wrong doing would be equivalent to an act of self mutilation. The current “peer review” system is a joke. It is obvious that cancer is growing on scientific publication business. It is refreshing to see that jjovel
( Department of Medicine) joined the discussion. However, it is tragic that so few scientists from the plant sciences field comment on this.
More people joining you against the actual peer review system. Maybe together we can do the difference.
HiF and Salve, there is no heroism involved here. Just the plain desire to see a better system, more honest scientists, more professional editors, and more transparent and accountable publishers. In horticultural science, we are dealing with a level of corruption (IMHO) so deep, and so wide, but protected by such powerful individuals and interests, that I am not sure if my individual efforts can produce any difference. I do know that several dozen retractions have resulted as a direct result of my actions and interventions, but this is still a tiny fraction of what should be retracted. And at an incredibly frustrating lethargic speed.
It may appear to be a crusade observed from the outside, simply because you will see few (if any) others in plant science expressing themselves as openly in public, but think of it more simply as just an “effort to do something better”. Because where we are is really not in a good place.
Last month alone, I got threatened by an Indian scientist and his cluster of buddies who perhaps considered themselves to be the untouchables, the head-honcho himself being an EIC of a prominent SpringerNature journal and the Director of a famous genetics institute in India. Response by the Indian authorities? Dead silence.
In another case, this month, involving a top Malaysia plant science researcher, I got at least three threatening emails, one of them suggesting I be jailed for exposing her publishing shenanigans. Response by the Malaysian authorities? Dead silence.
Another prominent Australian researcher, this time a leader in postharvest biology, who is renowned for his trademark turban at international meetings, supported by Australian tax-payer dollars while committing widespread and documented self-plagiarism and data / text / table duplication, at a greater scale than Dr. Debnath, is a firm believer of silence, like Debnath, and a do-nothing attitude to correct his corrupted literature. Response by the Australian authorities? Dead silence.
Another leading (maybe top 3 in India) tissue culture scientists, with widespread figure, data and table duplication and manipulation. Dead silence for more than 18 months; almost 10 plant genera negatively affected, and as many journals, primarily published by SpringerNature. Not one paper corrected (well, actually, one recent paper was retracted, and hopefully that will trigger the snow-ball now as the other editors start to wake up to the breadth of the shenanigans). Despite this, response by the Indian authorities? Dead silence.
In another case, not unlike Dr. Debnath, also of an original Indian scientist who settled down in Canada, sapping Canadian tax-payers’ money, with 4 duplications of the exact same text, all in Springer and Elsevier books. Dead silence. Response by the Canadian authorities? Dead silence.
I could go on, and on, and on.
In almost all of these cases, all of these individuals share one common thread: membership or leadership positions within the International Society for Horticultural Science, a 7500+ (apparently) global power structure that imposes its pseudo-ethics upon the horticultural community, and fails to retract papers from Acta Horticulturae that are hiding serious cases of publishing ethics infractions. How does one bend and break such a super-structure?
An insider and famous Belgian horticultural scientist told me by email that the only reason that the ISHS will likely never take action against any author, or be extremely resistant to correcting its literature, is because the big money-maker for this organization is Acta Horticulturae. Just today, I issued another complain about academic fraud by this organization, who manipulated the authorship of a leading horticultural scientist (also of Indian origin residing in Finland) on a paper that had incorrectly listed, since 1993, two authors. When I complained of this situation, I and this author learned that the ISHS had incorrectly assigned an additional author, named after the address of this scientist’s research institute. What a joke, and what a blatant error! What did the ISHS do? It just corrected the website and did not publish any erratum no explanation to the public. All in direct contravention of basic international publishing principles. I had no choice but t cal them out.
But it is not only the individual scientists, case after case, paper after paper, that are corrupted, and arrogant. The serious problem lies in the editor boards of several leading plant science journals that have, as their leaders, individuals serving as editors that appear to share in this – almost embrace – this culture of unethical publishing behaviour. They are far too quick to implement a new set of rules on the current authorship, which I might add keeps changing the goal-posts every few months as COPE evolves (some of the most egregious cases are in COPE member journals), yet they are extremely resistant to retroactively apply the same set of ethical rules to their own papers and the papers of their colleagues from 5, 10, or 20 years ago.
In other words, there is a culture of pure and adulterated cronyism in plant science and horticultural science publishing.
So, at base, we are not dealing only with super-egos at the helm of leadership positions, we are dealing with super-organizations and super-firewall editors who are able to exercise twisted ethical values under the blatant protection of super powerful publishers (hint, hint, nudge, nudge, SpringerNature, Elsevier and Taylor & Francis). And all the while, except for really blatant cases where even the publisher cannot hide, COPE observes the issues, then turns its cheek. And claims that it has no power to hold its members accountable, but is happy to receive their monetary contributions (for goodness knows what).
So, powerful individuals are corrupt. Editor boards are corrupt. Some societies like the ISHS are corrupt. COPE is most likely not corrupt, but it is a joke, no doubt. And anything but accountable and transparent. Some publishers are corrupt (because they allow this wide range of ethical liberties), and the system of rewards is corrupt, because it continues to feed the masses with this idiotic Impact Factor as the carrot. Institutes are to blame for having technocrats in leadership positions making decisions for scientists and more recently, the existence of massive funding baskets for open access fees and APCs is ensuring that those who were corrupt and powerful before continue to be powerful an corrupt deep into the future.
So, what has all of this got to do with the Macchiarini whistle-blowers? Everything. The culture of whistle-blowing is non-existent. If there is any witch hunt taking place, it is against the whistle-blowers, who are offered ZERO protection, ZERO respect, and ZERO recognition. At least we have one site where we can express our frustrations and disappointments with the community openly.
Thank you so much for your comments.
All that you told for plant science is of course totally transposable for Health Sciences research. Who does not know how many money circulates, for example, in certain universities? How much money/interests are involved in the publication of many flawed papers in high impact journals?
Also, it is very nice to know that several dozens of papers where retracted as a result of your action, although it is a very small amount, it is something, please, please, continue.
Also, indeed thanks God this site exists and we can express our frustrations here. Leonid Schneider is doing a good job!
Do you think we can complain anonymously to the editors about specific papers? Would that help?
Jaime, perhaps you should start your own blog on Scientific ethics (in Plant Sciences), without doubts it would have great impact… I promise to subscribe.
Or perhaps a new Plant Sciences journal with new peer review concepts….
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thanks for the votes of confidence. You seem to ignore that I have many, many enemies, not least of which are some of the largest main-stream publishers, who hate my voice of criticism of their failures. And I have extremely few publicly vocal allies but many silent supporters who are very afraid of the powerful entities we are referring to again and again.
So, in such a case, a new blog or a new journal would be suicidal. My plate is already full with hundreds of cases and having to deal with as many idiotic and unreceptive editors and authors who are failing to correct the literature. Given the limited resources, pressure is being applied as best as possible. I think the most important thing is to have a change in mentality in the plant science community. PPPR is neither accepted, nor embraced. Pre-, regular and post-pub peer review, in an open peer review format, are distant realities for most plant science journals. I dare say, subject to irritating the Jeffrey Beall-supporting crowd, that Frontiers in Plant Science is the most advanced in terms of this balance of all types of peer review and openness/accountability. If only Elsevier, Taylor& Francis, SpringerNature and Wiley had journals showed this much accountability, we might have a fraction of the current problems we have today. (Disclaimer: I have published in Frontiers in Plant Science, and recognize that its massive editor board does have many suspect characters, and that their peer review is not perfect, certainly weaker than other plant science journals with the same IF score).
Creating new blogs and journals does not also deal with the issue of cronyism and the power web, although public shaming could be effective in weeding out the cronies and some of the bad apples. But it still does not remove those shaming-resistant weeds with super-egos and excessive power. Just today, a report was sent to the authors, editors and institutes related to duplicated figures and data in papers published 4 and 15 years ago by the same set of individuals. Within 24 hours, the senior author requested the retraction of 2 of those 4 problematic papers. But, will the journals respect that request and retract also in 24 hours? So, we are dealing with layers upon layers of resistance: mental resistance and practical / bureaucratic / legal resistance. That is why, after reporting hundreds of cases of what is veritably problematic literature, only a tiny fraction gets corrected.
The anonymous voice offers cover and protection, but it is difficult to advance PPPR in this climate where the anonymous voice is demonized and criticized rather than praised. That is why I support the anonymous voice but have reverted to signing all claims and complaints related to the academic literature using my name (i.e, in email contacts), but not necessarily on blogs, sites, etc. That is why Blatt is correct, but also incorrect.
Jaime: I think you are right….but I think it in our hands to fight with the means that we have, anonymously, not anonymously, with our experience, with our inexperience, for a better pre-, post- peer review, to make science more exact, more objective, more fair, even more useful to people in general. Like Martin Luther King: “I have a dream that one day…”, we need the Martin Luther King of science.
I think the issue of anonymity is complex and justified, as has already been discussed extensively here and anywhere else … I have no problems with people who decide to sign their comments or to remain anonymous, with the caveat that offensive/disrespectful comments should be avoided, specially for those that choose to remain anonymous…
Totally agree, Juan. We should use anonymity in order to get the most fair and objective judgments, but we should be specially careful about the correction of our comments, in particular when we choose to remain anonymous.
Indeed, we should be specially careful with written comments, especially if we are not writing in our native language….
Pingback: Pontus Boström: cheater carousel in Sweden – For Better Science
Pingback: Macchiarini acolyte Philipp Jungebluth lost surgeon job in Heidelberg – For Better Science
Pingback: Шито синими нитками 2
Pingback: Macchiarini and his Russian megagrant – For Better Science
Pingback: The one who asked questions: interview with Johannes Wahlström, by Alla Astakhova – For Better Science
Pingback: Swedish Central Ethics Review Board finds Macchiarini guilty of misconduct, requests retraction of 6 papers – For Better Science
Pingback: How trachea transplanters tricked Andemariam Beyene to sacrifice himself for a Lancet paper – For Better Science
Pingback: Karolinska requests retraction of Macchiarini and Jungebluth papers – For Better Science
Pingback: Former KI rector Dahlman-Wright: stones in a glass house – For Better Science