Antonia Joussen, German professor and head of the ophthalmology clinic at the Berlin university hospital Charite, is innocent of research misconduct in any form, despite of all the evidence of data irregularities in her publications which emerged in 2015 on PubPeer (see my detailed report here). This is at least what the German Research Foundation (DFG) decided two weeks ago, despite never disputing the PubPeer evidence and even admitting that some of Joussen’s publications do contain manipulated figures. There however, DFG decided that it was Joussen’s co-authors who secretly manipulated the data without her knowing, while her authorship on these problematic papers was anyway accidental and attributed to her behind her back as well. With such argumentation, even as a senior researcher Joussen was not supposed to ensure the data integrity in her own papers.
DFG’s problem was however that Joussen already did admit inappropriate splicing towards the journals and had to correct papers containing obviously duplicated western blot bands, so somehow she was responsible for these things after all (see report here). How to get her out this predicament? DFG had an original idea. The central German authority on research integrity decreed that gel splicing (including duplication of western blot bands, apparently) was a praxis as of yet insufficiently regulated by the journals, thus Joussen cannot be blamed for not knowing what is allowed and what is not. Hence, DFG appeals to the journals to fix this, so that clueless and innocent scientists do not fall into such traps. Especially since one of the most bizarrely spliced gels appeared in a German ophthalmology journal where Joussen herself is the Editor-in-Chief, she is advised to ask herself to teach herself about gel splicing so when she next time submits a paper to herself she will know which splicing is inappropriate.
Joussen has previously started a legal attack against my reporting (see my article here), demanding money and threatening damage compensatiosn trial because the Pubpeer evidence I reported was allegedly false or irrelevant. With their current decision DFG may embolden Joussen and her lawyers to attack me again, for the simple fact alone that I am already financially strained by two court trials. I wonder if this is what DFG actually would like to see happen, just to restore the old peace and tranquillity into the German research and university medicine landscape?
Joussen was also previously investigated by the Charite and her former two academic employers, the Universities of Cologne and of Düsseldorf. The Charite investigation was apparently a purely symbolic one (see update to this article). It is not helpful that the University of Cologne categorically decided to keep their discoveries secret. Whatever they found in Joussen’s papers, it cannot be shown, probably for the sake of maintaining the public order and preventing civil unrest. The Dean of medicine of the University of Düsseldorf on the other hand decided that there never was any data manipulations at all, though his decision is top secret as well. He however indirectly admitted through specially engaged high-street lawyer (payed from university’s public funds just to deal with me) that he has no clue what exactly a western blot or a DNA gel is and how it works (see this report). All three universities took great pains to combat my Freedom of Information (FOI) inquiries, by dishonestly and possibly illegally hiding behind the Research and Education exemptions to FOI or influencing the state FOI officials to take their side (see my report here).
The DFG however did find data manipulations in Joussen’s papers, but took a stand that the Charite professor is not responsible for anything published in her own papers. The case is closed now. It also seems that the Charite leadership and the German Society of Ophthalmology (DOG, sic!) intervened with the DFG to bark at Joussen’s behalf. DOG also publishes the journal Graefe’s Archive for Clinical and Experimental Ophthalmology, where Joussen is Editor-in-Chief and where she published this heavily spliced figure:
I was forwarded this letter signed by the DFG Secretary General Dorothee Dzwonnek (original document here), which I publish in my translated version below. With their February 15th decision, the DFG redefined their own understanding of data integrity as well as author’s and research group leader’s responsibilities, in favour of one selected clinical professor. I contacted Dzwonnek, but her DFG refused to comment.
GZ: I WI -29.05.06 15 February 2017
Termination of the formal investigation procedure by the Committee of the German Research Foundation on the investigation of accusations of scientific misconduct.
Dear Professor Joussen,
the Committee of the German Research Foundation (DFG) on the investigation of accusations of scientific misconduct denied the accusations raised against you and decided to terminate the investigation against you, after at its meeting from February 2, 2017 after extensive discussion and consultation. The Committee concluded unanimously after its assessment of all available documentation, statements and your hearing before the Committee.
The Committee has dealt with the evaluation of the problem of so-called splicing and takes the view that it is the task of the journals, to put in place clear rules there. Furthermore the Committee found neither any gross negligence of your supervisory duties nor any responsibility for a co-authorship in a falsification-tainted publication.
The committee also dealt at its meeting extensively with the responsibility of authors of a publication, and requests of you for future publications to assess well ahead and to question critically your responsibility for the contributions of the co-authors, also for your own protection.
The procedure of the DFG is concluded according to the DFG procedural regulations for handling of scientific misconduct.
The termination of the proceedings will also be communicated to the board of directors of the Charite as well as of the German Society of Ophthalmology, who contacted the DFG during the investigation. Likewise, the DFG will notify the individual journalists, who inquired about the status of the investigation, about the termination of the proceedings.
Cheshire found more data irregularities Joussen is not responsible for.
Irina Semkova, Sascha Fauser, Alexandra Lappas, Neil Smyth, Norbert Kociok, Bernd Kirchhof, Mats Paulsson, Vassiliki Poulaki, Antonia M. Joussen Overexpression of FasL in retinal pigment epithelial cells reduces choroidal neovascularization The FASEB Journal (2006) doi: 10.1096/fj.05-5653fje
The other paper is very new, yet Joussen again put her name where she shouldn’t have.
Marco Foddis, Katarzyna Winek, Kajetan Bentele, Susanne Mueller, Sonja Blumenau, Nadine Reichhart N, Sergio Crespo-Garcia, Dermot Harnett, Andranik Ivanov, Andreas Meisel, Antonia Joussen, Olaf Strauss, Dieter Beule, Ulrich Dirnagl, Celeste Sassi An exploratory investigation of brain collateral circulation plasticity after cerebral ischemia in two experimental C57BL/6 mouse models Journal of Cerebral Blood Flow & Metabolism (2020) doi: 10.1177/0271678×19827251
The extra irony is that the Charite neurology professor and this paper’s coauthor Ulrich Dirnagl is one of Germany’s top biomedical research ethics champions. He is the founding director of the QUEST Centre at Charite, which motto is “Quality | Ethics | Open Science | Translation“, which is probably why Dirnagl collaborated with Joussen despite 4 year old PubPeer evidence. Let’s see if this paper gets corrected.
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