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.
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
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.