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Triplicated paper with multiplicated cells and images

There are papers which contain image duplications. There are papers which contain outrageous image duplications, which can only be explained by wilful manipulation and deceit. Then there are papers which are deliberately published twice, which also can constitute misconduct (COPE guidelines are somewhat unclear there).

In this case however, a paper containing outrageously manipulated duplicated images has been published 3 times, in three different journals, which happen to be also Open Access. 

The authors are almost all from Malaysia, and not the same on these three publications Yet all three papers have same two corresponding authors:

Sekaran Muniandy, professor at the Department Of Molecular Medicine at the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur. He even used his institutional email address: The first and other corresponding author is apparently his PhD student, Nima Samie, who used a Gmail address:

These are the three papers, in the chronological order they were published:

Nima Samie, Batoul Sadat Haerian, Sekaran Muniandy, Anita Marlina, M. S. Kanthimathi, Norbani B. Abdullah, Gholamreza Ahmadian and Raja E. R. Aziddin

“Mechanism of Action of the Novel Nickel(II) Complex in Simultaneous Reactivation of the Apoptotic Signaling Networks Against Human Colon Cancer Cells”

Front. Pharmacol., 28 January 2016 |

Received: 19 November 2015; Accepted: 18 December 2015; Published: 28 January 2016.

Nima Samie1, Sekaran Muniandy, MS Kanthimathi, Batoul Sadat Haerian

“Mechanism of action of novel piperazine containing a toxicant against human liver cancer cells”
PeerJ 4:e1588, DOI 10.7717/peerj.1588

Published 2016-03-17, Accepted 2015-12-21, Received 2015-11-17

Nima Samie, Sekaran Muniandy, M. S. Kanthimathi, Batoul Sadat Haerian & Raja Elina Raja Azudin

“Novel piperazine core compound induces death in human liver cancer cells: possible pharmacological properties”
Scientific Reports 6, Article number: 24172 (2016) doi:10.1038/srep24172

Received: 01 October 2015, Accepted: 23 March 2016, Published online:13 April 2016

What exactly is wrong with these papers? Their figures are basically identical, the text was modified, apparently to avoid detection by anti-plagiarism software many publishers use these days (also the submissions happened close to each other for this purpose). Two papers deal with liver cancer, one with colon cancer, the figures themselves have been re-labelled and re-used. Figure 2 for example is quite representative. Each paper shows different cell lines, yet the images are exactly the same. Moreover, it is in fact the same image re-used, as even I, a non-specialist, can see. Cells were erased, and the image was rotated, to make it appear different.

Figure 2, Frontiers in Pharmacology
Figure 2, PeerJ


Figure 1, Scientific Reports

A “Concerned Scientist” commented on Scientific Reports website:

“There are serious problems with this paper.

Clearly several of the Figures have been created by copying and pasting various elements. For example, in Figure 5, despite purportedly showing three different types of cells, the cells in each frame are identical. In Figure 6, individual cells are copy and pasted multiple times. In Figure 7, the same data is shown in multiple panels. In Figure 4, images for different cell lines are impossibly similar.

The chemistry is equally problematic. The chemical structure of PCC shown in Supplementary figure 4 does not have the same mass as what is depicted in the mass spectrum (Supplementary figure 1). In addition, both the 1H NMR and the 13C NMR spectra are completely inconsistent with the chemical structure. The “Synthesis procedure” is entirely inadequate to describe the procedure for synthesizing PCC. What little description is present is not a possible chemical synthesis for the reported chemical structure of PCC. The molecular formula provided in this section, C20H20N2O2, matches neither the mass spectrum nor the structure reported in Supplementary figure 4.

I could go on. These are but a few of the problems that should have been easily caught with even the most cursory peer review.

This paper is full of errors, inconsistencies, and in my opinion outright fabrications”.

All three papers were peer reviewed. At PeerJ, a statement declares: “The author has chosen not to publish the full peer review history of this article

Frontiers and Scientific Reports do not publish their peer review reports as a rule.

In any case, the peer review process seems to have failed in all three journals. And who knows, it may be in fact more than “just” three papers.

The quickest peer review happened at Frontiers in Pharmacology, namely less than one month (Scientific Reports took almost 5 months, PeerJ operates a post-publication peer review Correction thanks to reader comment: PeerJ operates a traditional peer review system, which took slightly over 1 month here). This Frontiers journal only recently had to retract a paper, apparently due to another incidence of failed peer review. The 2014 study “Water hyacinth: a possible alternative rate retarding natural polymer used in sustained release tablet design“, by Khatun, S., and Sutradhar, K. B. was retracted with the retraction note mentioning its “insufficient scientific quality”. The Editor-in-Chief, Dominique J. Dubois, professor at the Université Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium, did not reply to my older email where I asked for more details to that retraction. This is however hardly surprising, since Frontiers even blocked me on Twitter, due to my reporting.

Scientific Reports does not seem to have an Editor-in-Chief, but a specialised editorial board. The editor  responsible for the cancer research area is Ronald DePinho, director of MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas. DePinho is surely a specialist in image irregularities, a number of his own papers were discussed on PubPeer in this regard. He also saw no reason to investigate the problems in the publications by his MD Anderson colleague Raghu Kalluri, whose papers, namely those authored together with Sonia Melo, were found highly problematic by EMBO investigation. A certain multimillion dollar conflict of interest may have stood DePinho’s way.

Update 11.06.2016. Elisabeth Bik, microbiologist and image integrity specialist, has presented a detailed analysis of the data manipulations and duplications in the three papers (plus a published patent description noted by a reader here) on her website.

Update 15.06.2016. Malaysian daily The Star has reported on the case, as a reader commented below:

“PETALING JAYA: The Higher Education Ministry will investigate allegations that a group of researchers from Universiti Malaya’s (UM) Faculty Of Medcine falsified research data.

According to its minister Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh, he will personally look into the matter following wide-ranging postings on social media that questioned the integrity of the researchers, whose paper underwent three rounds of peer reviews.

“We do not compromise on such matters, and we’ll make sure action will be taken against them because we have to uphold the integrity of our education system,” he said on the sidelines of a memorandum signing ceremony between Sunway TES Centre for Accountancy Excellence, the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA), and the ministry’s Polytechnic Education Department here yesterday.

When contacted by The Star, UM’s international and corporate relations director Dr Evelyn Khor said the university was aware of the incident and had formed an ad hoc committee to investigate the alleged wrongdoing.

“We do not condone fraudulent activities and appropriate actions will be taken against the researchers if any evidence of scientific misconduct is found,” she said”. 

Update 17.06.2016. Another reader hattip: a very quick investigation found four researchers guilty and demands retraction of all four publications, according to The Star:

PETALING JAYA: A probe has revealed that the four researchers from Universiti Malaya (UM) had indeed falsified their research data.

UM vice-chancellor Prof Tan Sri Dr Mohd Amin Jalaludin said the findings from the investigation suggested that all four articles were prepared with a single set of data. A committee set up by the university to conduct an in-depth investigation into the allegations that the group had allegedly falsified research data found that there were duplication and/or manipulation of almost all the figures (images and graphs) within the original Scientific Reports paper and across three other papers.

“As UM adheres to a strict policy of integrity and ethical practices in research, the authors have been asked to retract all published articles in Scientific Reports, PeerJ and Recent Patents on Anti-Cancer Drug Discovery immediately,” he said in a statement. 

In addition, Dr Mohd Amin said the author and co-authors have also been interviewed by the committee.

“As a research university, UM does not condone any form of research misconduct and allegations of malpractice in research are taken seriously by the university’s management,” he said.

Dr Mohd Amin said the committee consisted of senior members from the Faculty of Medicine. He said a complete report has been submitted to the university’s Research Integrity and Ethics Committee for further deliberation, including appropriate disciplinary action to be taken on the researchers.  The committee, which was chaired by Faculty of Medicine dean Prof Dr Adeeba Kamarulzaman, said the university will be taking disciplinary action after investigations are completed. She believed this was the first time this had happened in the university.

Update 22.06.2016. Scientific Report now retracted the fraudulent paper, most likely other journals will follow suit soon:

“Following online criticisms of the published paper, an investigation at the journal has confirmed the manipulation and duplication of data and a level of image processing that is not compliant with the journal’s policies on image data integrity in figures 1–3, 6, 7, 10 and 12. Versions of figures 1–11 and large sections of the text had also previously been published1,2.  All authors acknowledge these issues and agree to the retraction of the Article”.

41 comments on “Triplicated paper with multiplicated cells and images

  1. Thank you for this blog post. PeerJ was alerted to this issue today and we have placed an Expression of Concern on the article and are investigating.


  2. David Williamson

    See also ‘Recent Patents on Anti-Cancer Drug Discovery, 2016, Vol. 11, No. 3’ (copy available via Samie’s ResearchGate profile … ) where the same data pops up again only this time for a copper-based drug to treat colon cancer.


  3. Jaime A. Teixeira da Silva

    If I look at the received + published dates of those thee papers, I wonder if even a crawl on data-bases such as PubMed, Scopus, CrossRef or Google Scholar would have actually revealed anything… so the publishers and journals may in fact be completely innocent in all of this. Also, if they had not detected the “duplications” literally published simultaneously (an apparent ploy to precisely avoid being detected), image manipulation would also not have been detected. I have no doubt that at least two retractions will be forthcoming.

    I am also concerned about similar cases in the plant sciences. I wish to showcase some images of one very recent case of a colleague, Dr. Dibyendu Talukdar, and his wife, Dr. Tulika Talukdar, who I have coined the Bonnie and Clyde of plant sciences, for the following reasons, which I show graphically next (for details, simply enter author names into PubPeer, and a search on ResearchGate will also reveal the necessary background). There are still a few other issues of this pair to be reported.

    I should add that my emails were blocked by the first author, but my concerns have been made known to all of the journal editors and publishers over the past two weeks. You judge for yourself. These images supplement the wandering bands by this couple, recently documented at Dr. Schneider’s blog:

    ! ! ! ! ! ! !
    ! ! ! ! ! ! !
    ! ! ! ! ! ! !
    ! ! ! ! ! ! !
    ! ! ! ! ! ! !
    [Note: I broke up hyperlinks by adding a “!” since readers complained these images crowded up and detracted from main story. -LS]


    • Jaime A. Teixeira da Silva

      A few more gems by Dr. Talukdar:
      [Note: I broke up hyperlinks by adding a “!” since readers complained these image crowded up and detracted from main story. -LS]


      • Jaime A. Teixeira da Silva

        Retraction 1:
        Plant Science Today (2016) 3(2): 248

        Retraction of:
        Talukdar, T and Talukdar, D. 2016. RAPD-based DNA fingerprinting in Lantana camara L. ecotypes and development of a digital database platform ‘LANRAD’.
        Plant Science Today 3(2): 72-87.


      • Jaime A. Teixeira da Silva

        Retraction 2
        BioMed Research International 2014, Article ID 479180, 21 pages
        Leaf Rolling and Stem Fasciation in Grass Pea (Lathyrus sativus L.) Mutant Are Mediated through Glutathione-Dependent Cellular and Metabolic Changes and Associated with a Metabolic Diversion through Cysteine during Phenotypic Reversal
        Dibyendu Talukdar 1, Tulika Talukdar 2
        1 Department of Botany, R.P.M College, University of Calcutta, Uttarpara, Hooghly, West Bengal 712 258, India
        2 Department of Botany, Acharya Prafulla Chandra Roy Government College, University of North Bengal, Darjeeling, West Bengal 734 010, India
        doi: 10.1155/2014/479180

        “BioMed Research International has retracted this article. The article was found to contain images with signs of duplication and manipulation in Figures 1(a), 1(b), 1(d), 2(b), 3(a), 3(b), 3(c), 3(d), 3(k), 4(d), 4(g), 4(m), 4(p), 8, 10(c), 10(d), 10(e), 10(f), 10(g), 10(h), 10(i), 10(j), 10(k), 10(l), and 10(o) and duplication from Talukdar D. An induced glutathione-deficient mutant in grass pea (Lathyrus sativus L.): Modifications in plant morphology, alteration in antioxidant activities and increased sensitivity to cadmium. Biorem. Biodiv Bioavail. 2012; 6: 75–86 in Figure 2B and from Dibyendu Talukdar and Tulika Talukdar, “Superoxide-Dismutase Deficient Mutants in Common Beans (Phaseolus vulgaris L.): Genetic Control, Differential Expressions of Isozymes, and Sensitivity to Arsenic,” BioMed Research International, vol. 2013, Article ID 782450, 11 pages, 2013, doi: 10.1155/2013/782450 in Figure 10.”

        Retraction 3
        BioMed Research International, vol. 2013, Article ID 782450, 11 pages, 2013.
        Superoxide-Dismutase Deficient Mutants in Common Beans (Phaseolus vulgaris L.): Genetic Control, Differential Expressions of Isozymes, and Sensitivity to Arsenic.
        Dibyendu Talukdar 1, Tulika Talukdar 2
        1 Department of Botany, R.P.M College, University of Calcutta, Uttarpara, Hooghly, West Bengal 712 258, India
        2 Department of Botany, Acharya Prafulla Chandra Roy Government College, University of North Bengal, Darjeeling, West Bengal 734 010, India
        doi: 10.1155/2013/782450

        “BioMed Research International has retracted this article. The article was found to contain images with signs of duplication and manipulation in Figures 1, 3, 4, 5(A), 5(B), 6, 8(b), 9(C), 9(G), 9(I), and 9(J).”

        Retraction 4
        ISRN Agronomy, vol. 2013, Article ID 284830, 15 pages, 2013.
        Growth Responses and Leaf Antioxidant Metabolism of Grass Pea (Lathyrus sativus L.) Genotypes under Salinity Stress
        Dibyendu Talukdar
        doi: 10.1155/2013/284830

        “International Scholarly Research Notices has retracted this article. The article was found to contain images with signs of duplication and manipulation in Figures 5(a), 5(b), 6(a), and 6(b), and duplication from Talukdar D. Plant Growth and Leaf Antioxidant Metabolism of Four Elite Grass Pea (Lathyrus sativus) Genotypes, Differing in Arsenic Tolerance. Agric Res (2013) 2: 330. doi:10.1007/s40003-013-0085-3 in Figure 6.”

        Retraction 5
        The Scientific World Journal, vol. 2012, Article ID 345983, 11 pages, 2012
        Flavonoid-Deficient Mutants in Grass Pea (Lathyrus sativus L.): Genetic Control, Linkage Relationships, and Mapping with Aconitase and S-Nitrosoglutathione Reductase Isozyme Loci
        Dibyendu Talukdar
        Department of Botany, R.P.M. College, University of Calcutta, Uttarpara, West Bengal, Hooghly 712 258, India
        doi: 10.1100/2012/345983

        “The Scientific World Journal has retracted this article. The article was found to contain images with signs of duplication and manipulation in Figures 2 and 3.”


      • Jaime A. Teixeira da Silva

        Retraction 6
        Environmental and Experimental Biology (2014) 12: 73–81
        A common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris) mutant with constitutively low cysteine desulfhydrase activity exhibits growth inhibition but uniquely shows tolerance to arsenate stress
        Dibyendu Talukdar
        Department of Botany, R.P.M. College, University of Calcutta, Uttarpara, Hooghly 712258, West Bengal, India

        Click to access EEB_12_Talukdar.pdf
        “The journal retracts the following article: Talukdar D. (2014) A common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris) mutant with constitutively low cysteine desulfhydrase activity exhibits growth inhibition but uniquely shows tolerance to arsenate stress. Environ. Exp. Biol. 12: 73–81. Based on information discovered after publication and reproted to EEB in May 2016, the article in question was examined. It is concluded that images in the article contain signs of duplication and manipulation. The retraction was approved by the Editor-in-Chief. The author did not respond to the inquiries.”


  4. It seems besides WB manipulation another modality of easy misconduct is manipulating IF images.
    Another example in the cancer area:


  5. Great post! There are many, many duplicated panels and parts of panels in these papers. In fact, this paper appears to combine all possible duplications that we point out in our recent study (doi: 10.1128/mBio.00809-16). There are issues with Western blot duplications and splicing, microscopy overlaps and rotations, FACS image duplications. It is not very sad to see that this paper has passed peer review; it is even more sad to see that this paper has passed peer review three or four times, independently from each other. I hope that this post (and of course, our study) will make Editors and Peer Reviewers more aware for these types of duplications.


  6. Several other papers by the corresponding author, Sekaran Muniandy, have image problems too, such as DOI: 10.1038/srep25139 (Figure 3), DOI: 10.3109/19396368.2015.1112699 (Figures 5 and 6), and DOI: 10.1016/j.theriogenology.2015.09.036 (Figure 1).


  7. This is outrageous, what are those institutions, the one of Prof. Sekaran Muniandy in Malaysia and the other one of the Indians that Jaime describes going to do??? Ignore all this? We should send them the link of this post, so that they cannot pretext not to know about it. This is a shame not only to those institutions but also to the whole Country where they are located… Recently, few Indian researchers have been flagged as perpetrators of data manipulation and scientific misconduct in general. The only decent thing the honest Indians can do (I am sure most of them are honest) is to discipline the corrupt ones, to avoid that a whole subcontinent is labeled as corrupt and immoral…


  8. How can those aberrations be corrected? Retraction is the only road…


  9. Jaime A. Teixeira da Silva

    Juan, you know what the greatest irony of all of this is? These individuals keep their nice positions, salaries and grants. They continue to be lauded as excellent scientists and leaders. They continue to get travel grants to present their fraud and misconduct at international meetings, paid for by tax-payers’ money. And, most importantly, they are given an opportunity to continue practicing “science”, without any consequence. In some cases, like Samir C. Debnath, goodness gracious even the Ministry of Agriculture of Canada defends his lack of ethical publishing practices while Elsevier’s Scientia Horticulturae rewards him by first removing him as the EIC of the journal, after revelations surfaced, then reappointing him as EIC.

    So, it would seem that fraud and academic misconduct pay handsomely and guarantee a future job. Even if 1, 2 or 10 papers are retracted.

    In contrast, individuals like me who are not afraid of this corrupt leadership in plant science and will reveal, case by case, each and every rotten apple, whether it be Voinnet, Debnath, Taha, Anis or plenty of others that I have already revealed here and elsewhere [1], get banned by publishers for politically incorrect tone, or for exposing their flaws and weaknesses (publisher + editorial level).

    So, you are right, retraction is the correct path for such blatant and wide-spread errors. Now, let’s see how many of the COPE-member journals retract this incredible mess that has corrupted the literature across dozens of plant genera. As for the predatory open access journals, what hope is there in academic justice and a cleaner literature? Very little. It is a corrupt system protecting corrupt individuals who benefit from the same corrupted system, and are protected by corrupted institutions that take no responsibility and who are not being able to be held accountable.

    At the level of editorial corruption, there is only one solution. National shame followed by a full removal and replacement of an editor board. From my efforts, I can say that the Serbian Archives of Biological Sciences serves a a key example [2].

    But for individuals such as Talukdar, Muniandy or Taha, there is only one solution as I see it: being permanently banned from all of the mainstream publishers, and maybe even science altogether. Whistle-blowers and critics should not be banned. Cheats, misconduct and fraud should be banned. Taylor & Francis / Inform, one of the aggressive publishers to ban me for my critiques, is deeply embroiled in the Talukdar figure duplications and manipulations. Let’s see the true face of ethical justice by this powerful COPE member.

    Why don’t these individuals just join Wall Street, where their mentality and practices would surely be warmly welcomed?



  10. Well you are right, retraction is the only way out, but it is not enough, they are obligated to resign or should otherwise be fired…


    • Neither it will be easy to retract the papers, neither it will be easy to obligate important scientists to resign or fire them. The best we can get is junior scientists fired and one or another paper retracted….


    • Some “scientists” have built their careers out of such papers. We can even see a PhD student as the first author in a couple of the papers under discussion. I feel that there is a need for strong scientific collaboration across continents to minimize these scandals. Many more papers published in below-the-radar journals are entirely “multiplicated”. Perhaps we need a scientific Interpol to tackle academic dishonesty.


  11. There is only one course the University of Malaya can take which is to dismiss/sack members of this fraudulent group and demand retraction of all papers. The damage they have made to the reputation and integrity of the institution will take years to correct. However, this can only happen if there is the leadership and the will – merely keeping silent and hoping this will blow away and be forgotten is completely unacceptable


  12. Plantarum

    Server down for the Scientific Reports paper, as well as the journal site. Something’s definitely taking place at NPG…


  13. Pingback: Conspiracy Theory: Is NPG being assimilated by Frontiers??? – For Better Science

  14. PeerJ does not use a post-publication peer review, that would be F1000Research.


  15. I gave a look at F1000Research: the PPPR process looks pretty interesting and transparent. This can be a good alternative to traditional journals avoiding many data distortions.


  16. Clear view on the copy and paste image.


  17. Very clearly an attempt to produce multiple replicate publications. In defence of the journals, if authors submit simultaneously, there is no way such replications can be detected. PPPR though will detect the replicates and this case adds a few more metres to the Everest of evidence in favour of PPPR.

    Once PPPR has run its course the papers should be retracted. Given the clear intent to deceive, the institutions need to look very carefully at the senior authors, since they will have been directing the operation. If the employer does not, we can put them into the bracket of corrupt institutions which we should keep at arms length until such time as they clean up their act.


    • Jaime A. Teixeira da Silva

      Dave Fernig, you are spot-on about your assessment of the journals. It appears as if the authors deliberately timed the submissions so that they wouldn’t be detected, as I pointed out on June 10 (above). And though many have been quick to be critical of these journals, in fact they deserve unreserved praise because they have addressed the public concerns quickly and effectively, in two cases (PeerJ and Frontiers) issuing expressions of concern within days. Despite this, these journals, including Scientific Reports, have been fairly viciously trolled, even though they have all shown extreme public responsibility. I suspect, now that a formal stamp of fraudulent behaviour has been given by Universiti Malaya (UM), that retractions of possibly three, maybe even four of the papers involved, will take place. Fairly quickly.

      Regarding the authors, I also follow your thoughts that the first author, Nima Samie, looks like will be thrown under the bus, and here I fully agree that the senior authors and PIs, noticeably Prof. Sekaran Muniandy, must be held fully accountable, and responsible for this academic fraud. No matter which way we look at this, it looks bad for all parties involved. But by maintaining Prof. Muniandy on in his current position, without any ethical consequences, or even criminal consequences, would send a really bad and negative signal about UM.

      That said, the great big hullabaloo about this case only became a PR crisis for UM, which is desperately trying to increase its Asian and global university standings (by gaming the Impact Factor) only occurred because of the Twitter campaign. Sadly, Prof. Dr. Rosna Binti Mat Taha, of the Institute of Biological Sciences (ISB), Faculty of Science, University of Malaya, has escaped scrutiny. I wonder why the Malaysian authorities did not jump, within days, to make a public statement and complete an ethical investigation as they did for the Samie et al. group?

      All in all, two big ethical scandals from UM within the space of under two months bodes badly for the image of UM and Malaysian science. I suspect that a wider scale PPPR of papers from UM will now begin, or should now begin, to see just how much those Asian/global university rankings have risen as a result of unethical publishing activity.


    • Totally agree! The institutions need to look very carefully at the senior authors, it is fundamental, senior authors are supposed to supervise and teach junior authors.


  18. Pingback: Stress perceived by houseman vs Academic Travesty | Khairulorama - Life and Medicine

  19. Anonymous

    Life goes on for Prof. Taha. Any update on the investigation?


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