I received a lawyer’s letter, where I am instructed to delete my report about the Berlin head ophthalmologist Antonia Joussen and to pay her legal costs of over €2000, with more damage claims to come. It was the June 2nd report on my site “Research data integrity: words and deeds of Berlin’s head ophthalmologist which provoked this reaction.
In brief, on behalf of Joussen the lawyer Johannes Eisenberg (who specialises in criminal law) denies band duplications, but acknowledges the criticised instances of gel splicing, while insisting this was an acceptable practice in academic publishing. He repeatedly refers to investigations by Joussen’s current employer the Berlin University Hospital Charité, who apparently exonerated Joussen just days (literally) after the concerns about her publications appeared on PubPeer in February 2015. On March 31st 2015 same Charité informed me that they decided not to declare their stand regarding Joussen’s criticised publications (evidence below). The Charité spokesperson instructed me to contact her previous employers, the universities of Cologne and Düsseldorf, who then refused sharing any information with me (in fact, the University of Düsseldorf research integrity ombudsman Ulrich Noack twice refused to reply to my emails). Now, Joussen’s lawyer abstains from naming which office or which “responsible employee” of the Charité had been performing these ultra-rapid investigations. Neither was any evidence or details of their image integrity analysis even mentioned.
Joussen’s lawyer presents as proof of falseness of the PubPeer evidence (which he accuses me of having maliciously planted) this very Charité analysis as well as a certain internal, unpublished (and to me never disclosed) decision by the Dean of the University of Düsseldorf. This dean, though unnamed in the letter, is likely to be the dean of the Düsseldorf medical faculty Joachim Windolf, who allegedly decreed that no scientific misconduct in four of Joussen’s publications was found. The lawyer chose not to share this Düsseldorf decision document as well.
Aside of two editorial communications, where gel splicing was self-admitted by Joussen, but apparently accepted as unproblematic by the Editor-in-Chief (EIC), no documents are provided in this regard to support the claims by Joussen’s lawyer.
Most importantly, the lawyer makes no reference to the outcome of the 1.5 year-long investigation by the University of Cologne, which remains secret as I was not allowed to learn about it, despite my FOIA inquiry. Moreover, the lawyer makes a brief reference to a possible investigation by the DFG (German Research Society, a central public funding and investigative body), without informing me of its outcome.
The entire lawyer’s letter (in German) is available here.
The copyright for this letter lies entirely with Johannes Eisenberg, lawyer. Translation is mine, since I am not a professional translator, it is bound to contain mistakes. I will be happy to correct those when notified. My own replies in brackets, blue italic, labelled with –LS.
Prof. Dr. Joussen has given you no reason to harass her for years [we exchanged only some polite inquiry emails in between February 2015 and April 2015, Joussen never complained of being bothered by me and even wished me “a blessed Easter”, -LS ], nor did she offer a reason to attack her scientific integrity based on false facts. However, Prof. Dr. Joussen does not deny that you are in principle allowed to assess her scientific and clinical work critically. Yet when you state fact-based criticisms, the facts must be correct. And if you do not know these, you must do research, when necessary, by making inquiries to the parties affected.
I take it from your publication that you scrutinise in total 19 criticised publications.
- About your accusation:
“After the editors were notified, and institutional investigation took place, only one paper was corrected, one received an editorial note of concern, others were seemingly forgotten”.
I postulate: in the list of 19 publications, which you made the object of criticism, while presumably hidden yourself anonymously on PubPeer [I demand to see the evidence for this insolent accusation, –LS], there are 5 Corrigenda which have been published and in one case a Note of concern. Not a single criticism of the publication was “forgotten”. The anonymous “criticisms” on PubPeer were reported to appropriate offices of the Charité, as well as Universities of Düsseldorf, Cologne and Harvard, immediately after these “incriminations” became known. They were also reported to the DFG, in appropriate cases also the “Editor-in-Chief” of the affected journals was notified. In many cases it was established that the anonymous accusations on PubPeer were unfounded. The Heinrich-Heine-University of Düsseldorf has examined 4 publications and decreed on 10.06.2015 that there was no research misconduct. A number of publications were examined by the appropriate office of the Charité, and found that the accusations were raised unjustly [Please refer to my original article and evidence below to see that the Charité refused to comment on 16 of 19 criticised Joussen publications, while confirming image duplications in one (Semkova et al 2006) and establishing that another was an intentional double-publication by Joussen’s former Chinese employee, who also accepted full responsibility. The 3rd paper (Cai et al 2012) was referred by Charité to the responsibility of Joussen’s collaborator and corresponding author, Michael Boulton of University of Florida].
One cannot and does not have to reply to an anonymous person. Therefore you should not be surprised that no one communicates with PubPeer [a certain anonymous PubPeer comment raise doubt on this claim, -LS]
- You write:
“Precariously, in two cases image integrity suspicions were neglected where Joussen was not only responsible as the key author, but also as the Editor-in-Chief (EIC) of the journal where these papers were published”.
This is false. The papers in question were published before my client became EIC of Graef’s Archive [it’s Graefe’s Archive for Clinical and Experimental Ophthalmology, -LS]. Also, all publications authored by a EIC are processed by the Co-EIC, in the case of Prof. Dr. Joussen by Prof. David Wong. My client never supervised her own publications [which I never claimed, but every EiC is traditionally responsible for the publications in own journals, including ensuring investigations into data integrity concerns, -LS].
- You write:
“Some western blot bands seem very similar, which prompted PubPeer commenters to suspect band duplication and intentional image manipulation, like in Joussen et al, 2009. The responsible EiC of the journal Molecular Vision was notified by me of these irregularities in February 2015, yet apparently saw no reason to act”.
The responsible employees of the Charité found that there were no band duplications in this work [again, I insert the image in question below and humbly ask to see this report, including their methodology, -LS].
There was no ban on image “splicing” in the instructions for authors at that time. The EIC of Mol Vision saw no reason to issue an Erratum or a Corrigendum, because the experiment was reproduced and no deviating result was obtained. The EIC found no research misconduct and declined publishing an Erratum or a Corrigendum. […] Since the blots were done in collaboration with the University of Boston, and the original gels were not reachable anymore, the experiments were repeated in a lab in 2015. […]
In regard to IOVS paper from 2003 an Erratum was published. The experiment was repeated and showed same result as presented before. The EIC of IOVS decided therefore to publish this in an Erratum. The print proof is from 27.01.2015 and is as follows “in press” [update: it was published just as soon as this blogpost appeared, on 28.06.2016, after half a year -LS]:
You are therefore to blame of not having inquired with my client, she would have told you about this.
- Next accusation, alleged lack of response in case of Semkova 2010:
“Sometimes seemingly entire images (Semkova et al, 2010) got duplicated, or gel lanes were spliced inappropriately (Semkova et al, 2006), yet the journals Experimental Eye Research and FASEB J chose not to act either”.
In fact, a corrigendum was published for the article from 2010 [I indeed overlooked this fresh corrigendum from May 2016, my article appeared just after on June 2nd. The note acknowledged and corrected the image duplications reported on PubPeer as authors’ mistake, -LS]. In regard to the article from 2006, “splicing” was determined by the Charité, which was not forbidden at that time in instructions for authors. Therefore no Corrigendum was published [this kind of irregular splicing is claimed to have been acceptable in 2006, image below,- LS].
- About Graefe 2010 Kociok:
“Lane splicing makes it difficult to trust the published data where the loading controls seem to belong to different gels than they are supposed to.
The journal where one particularly problematic case of gel splicing appeared is Graefe’s Archive for Clinical and Experimental Ophthalmology, where Joussen is EiC. So far, she was apparently not able to find any reason to act on these quite worrisome evidence of gel splicing in the paper by Kociok & Joussen, 2010:”
On this the dean of the University Düsseldorf found no “scientific misconduct” in his letter from 10.06.2016. The responsible employee of the Charité also checked the criticisms and decreed on 9.3.2015 [just five days after the evidence first appeared on PubPeer. The Charité told me on 31.3.2015 that they will not state their views on this or other 15 Joussen publications, see email screenshot below – LS] that the criticized excision of a band was described in the figure legend, hence not hidden from the reader. The accusations of PubPeer are therefore wrong. […] this was also not prohibited in the instructions for authors.
- About the plagiarism by Joussen and Kirchhof:
“A 2004 plagiarized review paper by Joussen and her former long-time supporterBernd Kirchhof, professor and retinal surgeon at the University of Cologne, was “retracted as requested by the authors due to copyright violation”. The chief editor of the German-language journal Der Ophthalmologe (The Ophthalmologist), Frank Holz, informed me of the background of this 2012 retraction:
‘In autumn 2012, Springer received a hint that the publication Joussen AM, Kirchhof B., Periphere Netzhautdegenerationen—Behandlungsempfehlungen. Ophthalmologe 2004 Oct;101(10):1035-47, showed similarities with the publication Lewis, H., Peripheral retinal degenerations and the risk of retinal detachment. Am J Ophthalmol. 2003 July; 136 (1): 155-60 [link to paper here, -LS].
Even though the whistleblower has remained anonymous, editors and the publisher investigated the hint in accordance with the recommendations of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) and decided together with the authors to withdraw the contribution because too large content overlap was found. Here, the text passages from the publication by Lewis et al. have been borrowed, but not figures or tables’”.
In this regard the Berlin Charité has determined on 12.02.2013 that no plagiarism intention could be determined [again, see email by Bähr above –LS]. The retraction was made by senior author Kirchhof quickly and without waiting for results of university investigation because he saw this educational publication as scientifically irrelevant and chose not to quarrel in view of the raised intellectual property concerns.
- About publication 2001 IOVS Joussen, S. Huang and others
“Joussen has three publications in the journal Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science flagged for image irregularities like the above illustrated Koizumi et al 2003. One, authored together with Adamis contains strong evidence of band duplications (Joussen et al 2003):”
Also this is false. The publication appeared in 2001 (IOVS 42 2001 Joussen early diabetes […]. There were no band duplications. The Charité determined this. Moreover, S. Huang, who is later quoted against the author, is a co-author.
- You quote my client as follows:
“The authors blamed their digital image acquisition system for the duplication of images, but instead of providing the correct images, they argued that this figure was redundant anyway. As Joussen herself informed me in an email, the first author Vassiliki Poulaki (who used to be her own regular collaborator) was
“reported for alleged scientific misconduct. Harvard investigated the accusations thoroughly. At the end Dr. Poulaki was exonerated of all accusations”.
Also her former boss Adamis was investigated, according to Joussen (double negative hers): “all papers with Dr. Adamis were investigated by Harvard, and such defamations can be lacking no basis”“.
A confirmation of the Harvard-Committee, that no “scientific misconduct” was found, is available to the Charité-Commission. The underlined statement, maliciously attributed to my client, does not exist. The English translation is a misinterpretation. [indeed, Joussen said “are investigated”, not “were investigated”. It makes less sense, just as her double negative, but I can correct this if lawyers insist. Email with Joussen’s original statement below,- LS]
Dr. Adamis was never a target of investigations for “scientific misconduct” [yet apparently his papers were, according to Joussen, see email above -LS].
Your descriptions infringe upon personality rights of my client. The publication indexes a danger or repetition.
You are to immediately delete the criticised publication.
To prevent the danger of repetition, I demand in the name of my client that you are
until 30.06.2016, 4 PM
to compel yourself, under the penalty of Euro 10,000 to never state or communicate otherwise in the context of publications by my client, verbatim or similarly, any of the following:
- After the editors were notified, and institutional investigation took place, only one paper was corrected, one received an editorial note of concern, others were seemingly forgotten, and/or
- Precariously, in two cases image integrity suspicions were neglected where Joussen was not only responsible as the key author, but also as the Editor-in-Chief (EIC) of the journal where these papers were published, and/or
- Some western blot bands seem very similar, which prompted PubPeer commenters to suspect band duplication and intentional image manipulation, like in Joussen et al, 2009, and/or
- Sometimes seemingly entire images (Semkova et al, 2010) got duplicated, and/or
- The journal where one particularly problematic case of gel splicing appeared is Graefe’s Archive for Clinical and Experimental Ophthalmology, where Joussen is EiC. So far, she was apparently not able to find any reason to act on these quite worrisome evidence of gel splicing in the paper by Kociok & Joussen, 2010, and/or
without communicating that the Dean of the University of Düsseldorf determined no “scientific misconduct” in a letter from 10.6.2015, and/or
- A 2004 plagiarized review paper by Joussen and her former long-time supporter Bernd Kirchhof, professor and retinal surgeon at the University of Cologne, was “retracted as requested by the authors due to copyright violation” without declaring that the Charité determined in the letter from 12.2.2013 that no plagiarism intent could be determined, and/or
- Joussen has three publications in the journal Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science flagged for image irregularities like the above illustrated Koizumi et al 2003. One, authored together with Adamis contains strong evidence of band duplications (Joussen et al 2003), and/or
- My client stated: “all papers with Dr. Adamis were investigated by Harvard, and such defamations can be lacking no basis” .
You are to then delete the criticised publication.
The deadline given to you is to be observed, otherwise I will implement court measures to ensure the interests of my client.
Since your publications were illegitimate, and you infringed herewith the personality rights of my client, you owe my client damage compensation. These include my legal costs, which I list as follows and demand that you pay until 07.07.2016:
In case the deadline expires fruitlessly, I will advise my client to involve court action.
Further compensation demands are explicitly possible [according to above information Joussen intends to demand at least €80,000 in compensation from me, -LS].
This letter is sent to you exclusively as legal information. I forbid you every even indirect use of it for publishing in own right.