Berlin clinic head Joussen investigated by DFG, while 3 universities ignore FOI requests

Antonia Joussen, head of ophthalmology clinic at the Berlin university hospital Charité, had to correct several of her publications due to concerns for data integrity raised on PubPeer in early 2015 (my original report here). She also set a lawyer on me for reporting about these same concerns, and demanded up to €80,000 damage compensation (details see here). Joussen’s lawyer claimed that his client was fully exonerated by the Charité and the University of Düsseldorf where she used to head the ophthalmology clinic before. The lawyer (who commanded me to pay him over €2000 fee immediately and prohibited to make his letter public) also mentioned that the “incriminations” were forwarded to the German funding and investigative agency DFG, though he neglected to mention how the DFG responded.

Now, the DFG informed me on July 11th 2016 that:

„Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) initiated an investigation against Professor Dr. Antonia Joussen due to suspicion of scientific misconduct. The investigation is ongoing, no statements can be currently made about its conclusion and its possible results. As a matter of principle, DFG does not comment on ongoing investigations”.

The DFG spokesperson Marco Finetti also directed me to the DFG guidelines about such scientific misconduct investigations.

The Charité and the University of Düsseldorf however decided to apply the Kafka-method to me. The documents, which Joussen and her lawyer use to accuse and threaten me, are apparently secret and cannot be shown. In fact, both universities refuse even to acknowledge my official Freedom of Information (FOI) requests in accordance to the German FOI law, the “Informationsfreiheitsgesetz”. Public institutions are bound by this law to reply to such inquiries the latest one month after they were placed. My inquiries to the leadership and press offices of the Charité and the University of Düsseldorf were made on June 29th.

Cctb5Fp[1]
PubPeer criticism of a Joussen correction. Western blot with alleged band duplications was replaced, new data on protein levels seems to be in conflict with the old one
Joussen’s lawyer referred repeatedly to analysis done by a “responsible employee” of the Charité and a letter by the Dean of the University of Düsseldorf, which both allegedly cleared her of all suspicions of misconduct. The aforementioned Charité analysis was done literally just a couple of days after the PubPeer accusations first appeared and therefore cannot be any proper official decree or investigation. My hypothesis is that those are actually the explanatory reports which Joussen’s department assembled and submitted to the Charité after the issue was raised. If this is true, their evidence value may be possibly deemed slightly biased. The mysterious Dean’s letter from 10.6.2015, which allegedly found “no scientific misconduct” from Joussen’s side, is another issue. The University of Düsseldorf has several deans, one for each of its five faculties. Since Joussen used to work at the University Clinic Düsseldorf associated with Medical Faculty, the dean responsible must have been therefore Joachim Windolf (disclosure: I did my PhD at the University of Düsseldorf and its Medical Faculty 2003-2007, my ex-boss even used to be its dean before Windolf, roughly around when Joussen led the ophthalmology clinic).

Neither Windolf nor any of his Düsseldorf colleagues or even press officers I contacted replied to my emails or FOI inquiries, where I kept asking to be given this letter.  Instead, the University of Düsseldorf recruited a high-street lawyer (literally, located on the city’s famous luxury shopping lane Königsallee) to keep me away. This lawyer (specializing in work law) told me on July 1st that I am to communicate from now on only through him, asked me to explain what exactly I want from the University Clinic and the University of Düsseldorf, and then went on vacation, till August 1st.  As reminder: the deadline for them to give me an official reply to my FOI inquiry is July 29th.

Joussen was previously investigated by the University of Cologne, where she started her career under her mentor Bernd Kirchhof, (who heads a department at the university eye clinic there). The results of this investigation are even more secret. My earlier FOI inquiry (placed before Joussen’s legal action against me) was outright rejected (document here), due to confidentiality and because the fully state-owned University of Cologne did not see itself as a public institution. My repeated FOI inquiry, where I stressed the legal action led against me, was simply ignored. Also University of Cologne (where I obtained my MSc degree in Biology in 2003) seems to derive pleasure from applied Kafka, just like the Charité and the University of Düsseldorf. Let’s see how “Der Prozess” will continue.


Update 20.07.2016. Applied Kafka continues. Three days ago, Charité finally briefly broke the silence. Uwe Dolderer, head of communications at Charité, refused to distance himself from the legal action of their professor against me. Instead, he claimed, apparently to avoid releasing under FOIA the document explicitly cited by Joussen’s lawyer to her defence:

“You are quoting the letter of Prof. Joussen’s lawyer falsely. A document from 9.3 is not mentioned there”.

These are the two documents (as listed in lawyer’s letter), for which I submitted FOIA inquiries: the Charité analysis from 9.3.2015 and Dean’s letter from Düsseldorf from 10.06.2015

joussen charite

Update 21.07.2016. More applied Kafka. Just as the  also the  Charité, also the University of Düsseldorf expects me to submit to Joussen’s demands while the documents she holds against me are kept secret. However, the University of Düsseldorf indirectly admits that the letter exists.

The lawyer they engaged declared that I will not be shown the Dean’s letter from 10.06.2016, where Joussen was acquitted of misconduct. The lawyer argues that state universities are exempt from  FOIA as long as they act in research, teaching and exams. According to the lawyer, acquitting own professors of potential misconduct is part of research and teaching routine in Düsseldorf. The original letter is here. I will next attempt a complaint with the ministry.

17 thoughts on “Berlin clinic head Joussen investigated by DFG, while 3 universities ignore FOI requests

  1. You know that you can make a complaint about not replying to FOIA:

    “They can then complain to the Federal Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information. The Commissioner also has the authority to monitor compliance, issue complaints, recommend improvements in law and practice and submit a bi-annual report. Appeals can also be made to the courts.”

    http://www.freedominfo.org/regions/europe/germany/

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  2. “Joussen’s lawyer referred repeatedly to analysis done by a “responsible employee” of the Charité and a letter by the Dean of the University of Düsseldorf, which both allegedly cleared her of all suspicions of misconduct.”
    Since when can a single “responsible employee” legally clear someone of suspicions of misconduct? Doesn’t a University have a procedure including a committee for that? Either the University made legal mistakes, or the lawyer is incorrect in his descriptions.

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  3. The lawyer also added an interesting correspondence between Dr. Joussen and the editors of Molecular Vision concerning a questioned 2009 article. It reads as if Dr. Joussen only had to describe that repeated experiments resulted in an “identical pattern”, but that she did not show the editors actual data. The figure in Leonid’s article of a recent erratum by Dr. Joussen suggests that Dr. Joussen’s concept of “identical pattern” differs from that of many scientists, plus that she is not able to make a normal anti Caspase 3 Western blot.
    Could it really be that Molecular Vision editors never requested to see the actual blot data?
    Maybe Leonid can just ask those editors about those blot data. I am sure that they are very happy that the case became so public.

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  4. The Universities will always protect their faculties till the end….but it will come the time that the evidence cannot be denied anymore….in this case this time is approaching.

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  5. The text “bands could have been assembled from different blots” in the erratum for the 2003 article suggests that lanes could have been assembled from different blots, while the suspicion is that bands portraying 30 kDa bands and 17 kDa bands were assembled far more creatively.

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  6. In the original Fig. 8A of the 2003 article, aren’t the bands boxed blue and green in the Pubpeer criticism figure all very similar? Similar color boxing of the third LPS+anti-TNF 30kDa and the first LPS 17 kDa band may have been forgotten.

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  7. Really hard to understand why those institutions choose to bury their heads in the sand; Dr. Joussen has clearly committed fraud, and should be removed from the academic system… Research is based on trust and honourability, whoever cannot follow those two fundamental clauses does not belong here…

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  8. Andreea:
    “You know that you can make a complaint about not replying to FOIA:

    “They can then complain to the Federal Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information. The Commissioner also has the authority to monitor compliance, issue complaints, recommend improvements in law and practice and submit a bi-annual report. Appeals can also be made to the courts.”

    http://www.freedominfo.org/regions/europe/germany/

    The counterpart in the putative Republic of Ireland is worse than useless: it assisted a hospital to withhold medical documentation about me which I needed for a medical-malpractice lawsuit, therefore a statute of limitation expired, therefore Matthew Jones et al. of the Commissioner of Protection of Data. Canal House, Station Road, Portarlington, Co. Laois, Ireland perverted the course of justice and harmed things of mine including bank accounts and my reputation and my stomach very much.

    During the academic year 2008-2009 I applied to the Portuguese General Directorate for Higher Education, (Direcção Geral do Ensino Superior (DGES)) for documentation for a PhD scholarship, but as is common in Portugal, it conned me. Delivery was supposed to be made within a few weeks of payment, but many years later I still do not have this documentation and three judges (Isabel Mendes Simões and Ferreira Gapo and Tiago Afonso Lopes de Miranda) dishonestly misreported this when fabricating a false fact to screw me during 2014. (True facts are not important to judges in Coimbra in Portugal.) The Portuguese General Directorate for Higher Education made an unfulfilled threat to sue me. Cf.
    http://Forum.Bolseiros.org/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=4238&start=920

    Ana Pedro:
    “The Universities will always protect their faculties till the end….but it will come the time that the evidence cannot be denied anymore….in this case this time is approaching.”

    The putative University of Coimbra continues to assist Professrix Maria Filomena de Osório Pinto dos Santos Figueiredo via the false fact of mental illness because I truthfully asserted that February 2005 was earlier than March 2005. Cf.
    http://Forum.Bolseiros.org/viewtopic.php?f=15&t=1132
    and
    http://162.202.67.158/~gloster/Evil_which_is_so-called_science/Mariano_Gago/Attachment_emailed_to_Gago_during_
    August_2012.htm

    I was victimised via aggravated assaults because they disliked that I dared to express doubt about travel backwards through time.

    JJovel: “Really hard to understand why those institutions choose to bury their heads in the sand; Dr. Joussen has clearly committed fraud, and should be removed from the academic system… Research is based on trust and honourability, whoever cannot follow those two fundamental clauses does not belong here…”

    Read Roberts, Seth, 2006, “Dealing with scientific fraud: a proposal”, “Public Health Nutrition” 9 (05): 664–665.

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  9. Lawyers, who doesn’t love them? University spokesmen who speak like lawyers, even lovelier.
    You asked for documents of 10062015 and 09032015 (A+B). There should be a document of 10062015 (Schreiben), but the lawyer’s letter only says that at 09032015 something was determined (festgestellt) and there may not be a document of that day. The lawyer may have been informed orally of the 09032015 conclusion, or a document of that conclusion may have been made on a later day. So there is A, but not B (at least not of that day), and when you ask for A+B the University spokesman says formally correct “we can’t help you with your request because there is no B”.
    I doubt he is allowed to answer like that. Other than lawyers, government owned institutes have a public duty and probably are not allowed to use cheap tricks to avoid normal citizen questions.

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  10. I see that I mixed things up, you asked the Charite only for the document of 09032015 (and the University for the other document). The principle of my argument remains.

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    1. Thing is, even if the document of 9.3.2015 (or any other proof Joussen’s lawyer referred to) does not exist, Charite must confirm this non-existence, instead of accusing me of malicious illiteracy. They have time until end of the month, afterwards I will proceed with a complaint to the ministry for ignoring a FOIA request.

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  11. They will only get a slight slap on the wrist for unkind communication, because formally what they say probably is correct. Apparently that is what it is worth to them, suggesting that there is something which they don’t like to be exposed (yet).
    If you do continue, I suggest you ask help of a lawyer in order to know who and how to ask.

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