New tenured job for zombie scientist Susana Gonzalez

Susana González is a Spanish regenerative medicine scientist who promised to search for cures of heart ageing with the help of €1.9 Million from the EU public funder ERC, before in spring 2016 she lost it together with her group leader position at the Centro Nacional de Investigaciones Cardiovasculares (CNIC) in Madrid. Despite a misconduct investigation which led to Gonzalez sacking, ERC chose not to terminate her funding (unlike EMBO did with that of her similarly misconduct-tainted Iberian colleague Sonia Melo). ERC suspended this hefty sum, instead of re-using it for the funding of more honest applicants, while an ERC’s standing committees on ethics and integrity are investigating Gonzalez for possible research misconduct (see my report here).

Now it seems ERC might be able to give the freshly employed group leader Gonzalez her suspended funding back, that is, if they decide to do so. As I was informed by an insider source, Gonzalez is now employed from June 1st 2016 as group leader at the Centro de Biología Molecular Severo Ochoa (CBMSO) in Madrid. This zombie scientist did not even have to move house to find another tenured job in research. Here is one example of suspicious data irregularities in Gonzalez papers (listed on PubPeer): a western blot duplication across two publications from her lab (Herrero-Merchan et al 2012 and Arranz et al 2012):

As I was informed by an anonymous source, the head of CBMSO, José Félix de Celis, was decisive in initiating and managing this controversial recruitment. Apparently, Gonzalez already had some kind of position at the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC), then she attempted a transfer to Centro Nacional de biotegnología (CNB), both in Madrid as well. CNB rejected having such a colleague on board, also the CBMSO researchers apparently did their best to oppose the Gonzalez installment. The scientists at the Development and Differentiation department had a meeting on May 28th 2016, where the CBMSO director de Celis overruled the numerous strong protests against this new acquisition.

Gonzalez has started working at the institute from beginning of June 2016 as PI, however physically separated by two floors from her Development and Differentiation departmental colleagues. This was apparently the compromise de Celis gave to his reluctant scientists: that they will not have to spend all day in direct proximity with the disgraced Gonzalez.

Indeed, the CBMSO institutional site lists Gonzalez as a tenured faculty member in their personnel directory. Therefore, congratulations to Dr. Gonzalez, and let’s hope on behalf of all scientists that she and Dr de Celis will convince ERC to give the suspended €1.9 Million grant back .

screenshot-fmserver.cbm.uam.es 2016-06-19 11-42-51

I will post update whenever new information should surface.


Update 22.06.2016. My information presented above was forwarded to me by a confidential source. Now, Jose de Celis, director of the CBMSO institute when Gonzalez is now employed, replied to my email inquiry with these clarifications:

“1) Dr Susana Gonzalez was awarded a permanent position as “Científico Titular for “Organismos Públicos de Investigación” (OPI) in 2009, and this position was assigned to CBMSO through our Institution: the CSIC. The CBMSO, as such, cannot directly “hire”, “fire” or “sanction” any researcher. These permanent positions are ascribed to the MINECO ministry and allocated to CSIC.

2) Having clarified how hiring occurs, it follows that the CBMSO has not “recruited” Susana Gonzalez, as you repetitively assume. Instead, Dr González, after being fired from the CNIC, used her legal rights to re-install herself as a civil servant of the MINECO/CSIC. The CSIC follows the administrative procedure of re-assigning scientists who re-enter the institution to the same Center for which the position was originally obtained.
What applies to CBMSO also applies to CNB, another CSIC institute subject to the same regulations as us. In this manner, the information relative to the “apparent” decision of CNB to disregard her incorporation is incorrect.

3) The status of Dra Susana Gonzalez as a tenured scientist (and therefore in the official list of CBMSO staff members) does not mean that she has an automatic status as group leader (PI) at the CBMSO. The position of PI is granted by the CBMSO governing committee, which has not discussed this matter yet. To grant the status of PI, we take into consideration the grants, personnel, scientific project and curriculum of the applicants, the recommendation of the internal scientific committee, and in some cases the advise of our external advisory board. This process takes time, and requires that we have a clear understanding of the situation of Dr Gonzalez.

4) As Director of the CBMSO, I have a variety of responsibilities, but as mentioned before, very few related to the administrative process of hiring, firing or managing any recruitment.

5) Since Dr Gonzalez is not a PI at the CBMSO, she is not ascribed to a scientific department, as you seem to assume. Your statements that “the CBMSO director de Celis overruled the numerous strong protests against this new acquisition” and “this was apparently the compromise de Celis gave to his reluctant scientists: that they will not have to spend all day in direct proximity with the disgraced Gonzalez” are fabrications with no relation whatsoever with the discussions that took place in our Department meeting”.

19 thoughts on “New tenured job for zombie scientist Susana Gonzalez

  1. Universities and research is becoming far too similar to companies, ie money and money alone rules all. And perhaps worse, in contrast to the financial sector there seems to be absolutely zero state controlled, independent, investigations of all these cases of obvious fraud, with legal repercussions. The universities are somehow supposed to sort it out themselves. And then you make universities/departments compete against each other for funding – who in their right mind would think that there will be no conflict of interest?

    How isnt it a punishable offense to, for example, lie and deceive about medical research!?!
    It could potentially kill people by misleading doctors, or at least lead other, genuine scientist on a research path that unknown to them is a pure fabrication. Its so obviously criminal, if done intentionally, which these duplications, tampering and reuses of figures across many publications clearly is. Even just committing fraud while being paid with funds from the general public should be directly punishable, and written into the grant. How can there be no repercussions beyond a bad reputation, and seldom, getting laid off. If some other governmental contractor would have built unsafe, unusable, sham buildings and taken the money themselves there would be hell to pay if anyone found out! If a researcher does the equivalent, there is an internal investigation, maybe a retracted paper or two and perhaps a statement like “oops, someone did a blunder with the figures, sorry! Oh, and our university takes science fraud very seriously, it says so right here in our principles and practices, so it must be true”

    Also:
    The alfa-actin blots in figure D (bottom row) are also 100% identical if you just flip them horizontally.

    I’m not active on PubPeer, someone who is could maybe add it to the list of concerns, if it isnt already?

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  2. Dr. Jose de Celis, your explanation of the legal circumstances related to Dr. Gonzalez is appreciated. Now that you know what you know about Dr. Gonzalez, do you still feel comfortable having Spanish tax-payer money being paid to an employee of your institute that has been involved in serious academic misconduct (assuming that Dr. Gonzalez’s salary is paid by Spanish tax-payers and not by private funds)? While you reflect on this, please keep in mid the approximately 50% unemployment level among the Spanish youth, many of whom are eager for such an opportunity, and who have a clean ethical slate.

    Finally, if you and the CBMSO “cannot directly “hire”, “fire” or “sanction” any researcher”, then are you suggesting that Dr. Gonzalez is guaranteed of a good job, with a solid salary, despite her history of misconduct? If yes, that sounds strange – if not downright disgusting – to most honest, hard-working scientists. Unless, of course, you have a program to reform scientists at CBMSO who have been involved in misconduct. If no, then could you be so kind as to indicate the personnel in charge of dealing with public complaints about a CBMSO employee, since your web-site does not seem to indicate such a person, or department.

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    1. Plantarum, in Spain this will happen with Susana Gonzalez or any other Spanish scientist in the same situation. In Spain institutions protect to an extreme their PIs, Professors, etc., it does not matter if they have an history of misconduct, they are not capacitated, etc.; in general institutions prefer to keep their fraudulent (“zombie”) researchers even if it is just some sort of “representation” thing, because Spanish legislation is in such a way that makes very difficult to fire people such as PIs.

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    2. Hi there, Yes sadly, tax-payers will have to swallow for a while to Gonzalez because she is a civil servant, and although the position is not well paid, these positions have a fairly strong security.
      Although, the comments of de Celis, are not truth, the CBMSO could refuse Gonzalez, is not mandatory to accept a civil servant… the question is: Why they take her?
      Congrats for making public these situations that are always hidden by the centers.

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    3. In Spain is very hard to fire a public server. You must open a file, and he/she only can fired if he/she comitted very serius infringiments related to his/her duties as public server in the position in question. A public server can ask for a leave, enroll ISIS, be captured, pay a long sentence in jail, and then ask for a return to his/her position in the “Freedom of Religion Oficial Bureau”. It´s a madness, I know.

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      1. What Daniel mentions is totally right: they will have to cope with Susana Gonzalez till she retires….I know cases of professors from university, anyone will take them from their posts even if they are mentally ill and incapable of lecturing even when students complaint the classes are totally mad.
        Also, Susana recently retracted another paper: chttps://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28703201
        Curiously always NPG involved and this time involved the cancer researcher Manuel Serrano as the last author. It is hard to believe he didn’t know about this as he was Susana’s mentor, as Susana’s mentor’s he had responsibilities. This make us think research misconduct is a growing snow ball: you start cheating when you a PhD/postdoc because you need to finish our PhD/ a successful postdoc, later on you continue cheating as a PI, because it was what someone taught you while you were a PhD student/postdoc

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  3. The elections in Spain won’t solve anything….what it may solve something are blogs like Dr. Leonid Schneider blog and PubPeer making pressure. Spain is one the most corrupt countries in terms of science i.e. in Spain many PI positions are simple “programmed” (I must say there are also wonderful and very serious scientists in Spain): this means a person with a lot of support from the academic world in Spain, not necessarily the most brilliant person, gets to a good institution for his/her PhD, generally in Spain, after that his/her postdoc will be “programmed” in a good lab (negotiated with the lab heads) somewhere in USA or Europe, generally so that this person can publish some papers in high impact journals and then return to Spain and get a position as a PI: this PI position will be “frozen” till the person returns to Spain

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    1. Spain is not much more corrupted than many other european countries in terms of science. That is plain rubbish, and does not speak rather well from a blog that price itself of some seriousness.

      Look at the level of inbreeding in swedish universities, and the recent scandal at KTH that is demolishing the reputation of the nobel prize in medicine. Ask any honest finnish scientist about the Academy of Finland and how the ministry of education is clearly biased and favouring some of the big players. Look at the level of favoritism in Wiley Editorial scientist toward german estableshed scientist or american professional societies towards their counterparts.

      No, let’s be serious! Spain has a clear democratic deficit, and that directly reflects on its institutions. It is obvious that all over the place always there some wrongdoing, and you can also argue that it is more extended than in any country in the north of Europe, but one cannot depict the general scientific picture as “corrupted”.

      That is not serious

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      1. Actually I met in Salamanca some very honest and very interesting scientists…of course there are always the black sheep among them….and above all they complaint about the newest generation of Spanish scientists arguing that they go to USA for postdocs they come back with one or two Nature published but they don’t know how to write a paper or a project….

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      2. Well, there seem to be a higher risk for accepting short cuts among scientist in Southern part of Europa compared to the northern part. Moving east to India and China it is much more problematic.

        Regarding Sweden: who is actually messing up the scientific community in Sweden?
        Paolo Macchiarani is Italian, Sumitran-Holgersson is from Asia,
        One of the worst research misconduct cases in Sweden ended with retraction of a Science article in 2007.
        The responsible for the fabrication: Huang T from China.

        It is difficult to explain reason for this, but it is known that the general trust among people in southern Europe is low compared to northern part, and it is much lower in Asia. Higher competition can also be an explanation, especially in Asiatic countries.

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      3. Dear Morty,

        As I said and stressed before, there is a deficit of democratic deficit in the south of europe that translates into higher levels of corruption and wrongdoing in official institutions than in the north.

        But depicting the general spanish landscape as “corrupted” is a big uninformed overstatement.

        ps.- Sweden? KTH board of directors? do you follow the news?

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      4. I think you are wrong. In Spain when you have the right sponsor you get a University Prof. Titular job or a CSIC professorship. If you did your PhD abroad or do not count with a sponsor,forget it. Science is not in the equation. No one cares if you are good or not. CVs are made up (in example: Distinguished Prof. co-directing PhD Thesis with their old PHDs students at early post-doc stage so that they will have the right CV for accreditation by ANECA and thus will have the right keywords in their CVs fro RyC fellowships and then tenure at the University). Those Distinguished Profs will be part of the committees that assign grants, fellowships and tenure. And they do owe and ask for favours. It is quite disgusting to witness.

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  4. I think it is an intrinsic cultural problem: I would say corruption in southern Europe maybe above 50% whilst in northern Europe around 5%, but this does not mean there isn’t very honest people in the south and there isn’t very dishonest people in the north….

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  5. Homo-Lumo,
    I would described the systems in Spain and in Portugal as “caotic” and “questionable” in their essences, but I have no doubts there are excellent scientists in Spain that unfortunately not supported.

    Like

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