A major misconduct finding hits German life sciences. Karl Lenhard Rudolph, stem cell and ageing researcher, director of the Fritz-Lippmann-Institute (FLI) of the Leibniz Society, was found guilty of research misconduct by an investigation of the Leibniz Society, in a decision published on June 15th. 11 papers in total were investigated, going back as far as 2001. One paper is to be retracted, seven Errata were requested. The investigation confirmed duplications of image parts, inappropriate splicing, rigged loading controls etc. No original data or lab books were available.
Just in Mai 2016, Rudolph’s FLI was raided by the police “on suspected breaches of the animal welfare and drug law, as well as embezzlement” . All animal experimenting was stopped till present day, according to Radio Jena, other sources quoted Rudolph in May 2017 that mouse experiments were approved again, though the police investigation continued. Rudolph also admitted that his own lab was also part of the problem and that 13,000 mice were killed unnecessarily. Was Leibniz Society’s recent tough and public disciplinary action upon FLI director Rudolph the consequence?
The translated report on Rudolph’s research misconduct (my own version) is published below, the German original is here. I have not yet determined which publications from Rudolph lab were investigated, but 5 Rudolph papers were previously flagged on PubPeer. His institute, located in the Eastern German town of Jena, is now banned from Leibniz funding for 3 years, FLI now must report back to the Leibniz Executive Board until November 1st 2017 on the improvements regarding data documentation, quality control as well as tutoring and supervision of employees.
Rudolph is a clinician by training, who came to Jena in 2011. His clinical employer, the University Clinic Jena, where he leads the Center for Ageing Research, has been also notified of the Leibniz Executive Board findings, together with his past employer, the University of Ulm. In 2013 Rudolph received an Advanced Grant from ERC of €25 Million (StemCellGerontoGenes); the Leibniz society also announced to inform the European funding organisation of his misconduct (which in practice will likely mean that ERC will do exactly nothing, see my article). Another funder notified of Rudolph’s misconduct is the German Research Council (DFG), which among other things awarded him in 2009 a Leibniz Award of €2.5 Million. DFG also funded his research group start-up in its Emmy-Noether-programme and a Heisenberg professorship. Thus supported, Rudolph’s academic career took off not somewhere, but at the Hannover Medical School (MHH), famous for other questionable stars who started there: Paolo Macchiarini, as well as his collaborators Heike and Thorsten Walles and Philipp Jungebluth, read here). There are also others of that calibre, one really wonders what is the real agenda of MHH.
Finally, just in September 2016 Rudolph was appointed President of the German Stem Cell Network (GSCN) for the year 2017, a most unfortunate timing. The annual conference takes place in September 2017 in Jena, the current GSCN president Rudolph wrote in his invitation (backup here):
“The final session of the conference will be a Joined Session with the Leibniz Institute on Aging – Fritz Lipmann Institute e.V. (FLI) setting a spotlight on the excellent science in Jena”.
Disclaimer: in my past as stem cell researcher, my work overlapped at some point with that of Rudolph in what can be considered as a scoop. I also once unsuccessfully applied for a faculty position in Jena where he was selection committee member. I also once received a GSCN conference travel award.
Executive Board decides to take measures against Leibniz Director
June 15, 2017
The Leibniz Association draws conclusions from a case of scientific misconduct. The presidency of the research organization took measures against the director of the Leibniz Institute for Aging Research – Fritz-Lipmann-Institut (FLI) in Jena, Germany, Dr. Karl Lenhard Rudolph, at its meeting on 13 June 2017 in Berlin. The basis is the guideline of the Leibniz Association on ensuring good scientific practice and handling the allegations of scientific misconduct.
By its decision, the Executive Board responds to the report of an inquiry committee, which was set up in November 2016, to investigate the allegations of scientific misconduct. The investigative committee had been set up on the basis of external information and information provided by Mr Rudolph regarding the allegations. In addition to the Ombudspersons of the Leibniz Association, the investigative committee included further six, in some cases external, experts.
According to its report, the Committee of Inquiry came to the following conclusions:
1. In a total of eight of the eleven reviewed scientific publications, there are errors in data presentation. These errors include unacceptable duplication of image parts, undisclosed splicing in the electronic composition of image parts, representation of incorrect image parts, inadmissible selection of the displayed results, as well as inappropriate loading controls of so-called “Western blots” on separate gels. Mr. Rudolph is responsible as the corresponding author / senior author for six of these publications; In a further publication, he is co-responsible as a co-author of the presented data.
2. No data documentation with adequate experimental protocols and primary data (laboratory books) could be provided for eight of the examined publications.
3. In four of the examined publications, experiments were not adequately checked for their reproducibility according to the rules of good scientific practice.
The Committee does not see any concrete evidence that the data was fictitious or that data manipulation was directly committed or initiated by Mr Rudolph. However, the Committee considers it is proven that insufficient quality control and inadequate supervision of the researchers of the relevant working group happened. Since this made the numerous deficiencies of the publications in question, which considerably exceed the extent of occasional inadvertent mistakes, possible in the first place, the inquiry committee assessed the infringement of the supervisory duty by Mr. Rudolph as the research group leader and the main responsible author as grossly negligent. Regarding the cases referred to in points 1 to 3 above, Mr Rudolph therefore faces the charge of scientific misconduct.
The Executive Board decided, among other things, to submit a written reprimand against Mr Rudolph regarding grossly negligent research misconduct, the withdrawal of his passive voting right for the committees of the Leibniz Association for three years, and the exclusion of the FLI under the direction of Mr Rudolph from the competition proceedings of the Leibniz Association for three years. In addition, there is the request to Mr. Rudolph to publish Errata on the articles, as well as to retract one publication according to the recommendations of the report of the investigative committee. For the full list of actions, please see the comments below.
“These measures are suitable and appropriate in order to criticize Mr Rudolph’s scientific misconduct in a long-lasting manner. The Leibniz Association will continue to strive rigorously to ensure adherence to the standards of scientific integrity while taking the experience gained from the now completed procedure into account”, says Leibniz President Matthias Kleiner on the occasion of the Executive Board’s decision. “This case demonstrates the crucial importance of meticulous, expert and knowledge-based scientists.”
Opinion of the Leibniz Association on the report of the Inquiry Committee on the investigation the allegations of scientific misconduct
Guideline of the Leibniz Association on ensuring good scientific practice and dealing with the allegations of scientific misconduct
Update 18.10.2017: This round email, English and in German, was sent to all employees of FLI in Jena, announcing that Rudolph was removed as institute’s director, an official announcement is to be made in November. He remains a senior group leader, and as such an active FLI researcher. No mention is made if Rudolph’s lab is being supervised in any way to avoid further breaches of good scientific practice or animal research ethics. Neither is there any mention if he still is allowed to train PhD students.
I would like to inform you about last week’s extraordinary Board of Trustees meeting:
1) In its meeting on October 11th, the Board of Trustees has formally recalled Professor Rudolph as Scientific Director and at the same time appointed him Senior Group Leader. The FLI now has to request the appropriate modification at the Register of Associations. As soon as the register confirm this modification – approx. in the beginning of November – all official FLI letters, Email signatures, internet presentation etc. will be updated and the official authorities have to be informed.
2) The Board of Trustees has come to an understanding regarding the appointment of a Scientific Interim Director. Exploratory talks by the Thuringian Ministry have already started and will be continued with the objective to reach a decision on the future Scientific Interim Director during the next Board of Trustees meeting on November 7, 2017.
3) The Board of Trustees agreed to establish a so-called “core group” to sort out all relevant aspects of the selection proceedings for the appointment of a new long-term Scientific Director and prepare the selection process itself. This core group will consist of representatives of the Board of Trustees, the SAB, the UKJ and FSU. Representatives of the Federal Ministry and the Thuringian Ministry, FLI’s Administrative Director and Scientific Interim Director will be joining the group as guests.
4) The Board of Trustees chairman informed that on September 26, 2017 the “Gemeinsame Wissenschaftskonferenz (GWK)/Joint Science Conference” has agreed to focus during the 2020 FLI evaluation on the then implemented organizational measures to ensure good scientific practice and to completely comply with standards of animal husbandry. Attention will also be paid to the overall strategic direction of the institute in connection with the appointment of a new Scientific Director”.
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