Collages by Paul Workman, from the Golden Age of Biological Imaging

Collages by Paul Workman, from the Golden Age of Biological Imaging

Before biology became digital, with its -omics and big data, there were mostly gels and microscopy images. The peak of image use in biomedical papers was reached at the turn of the century, those became the golden times of Photoshop-assisted data manipulation. Not many suspected that scientists would sit at their computers digitally cloning gel bands inside gel images, stitching seemingly continuous figure panels from various, often unrelated gels, erasing image background and fragments which might have spoiled the narrative, or reusing old published pictures as new results. Many of the authors of such manipulated papers are meanwhile professors and directors of institutes, some also act as academic editors of scholarly journals. Nothing can touch them now, all they have to do when fingers are pointed on internet,  is to sit it out until the evidence of misconduct turns into entertaining anecdotes of their wild youth.

These Millennial years, which became the Golden Age of Biological Imaging is why PubPeer is overflowing with evidence of grossly manipulated data from the period around late 1990ies till around 2010. It is not that scientists became more honest since, but they sure became more difficult to catch on data rigging. For one reason, gross image reuse or manipulation is rare these days, after the warning stories of research misconduct became widely known. Scientists probably returned to manipulating data the old way, by tweaking the experimental conditions or rigging samples in the lab.  You can’t get caught on that until a colleague blows a whistle, and Academia has its long-honed ways of swiftly dealing with such despicable rat-finks. The other reason why evidence of data manipulation will soon become rare, is digitalisation of biological analytic technologies. As long as noone can force you to release your original gene expression analyses, microscopy files, code or spreadsheet quantifications, it is all up to your ingenuity. After all, your data is just a row of numbers, no IT or Photoshop skills needed there.

To celebrate the past Golden Age of Biological Imaging, I selected an example of the British cancer researcher Paul Workman, President and CEO of the huge Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) in Sutton, which is in greater London and part of the University of London. Workman, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry, received many awards and much funding thanks to his work on the heatshock protein 90 (HSP90), which his papers reliably validated as a druggable cancer target. Prof Workman is about to cure cancer, and indeed, his preclinical research on HSP90 has moved into clinical trials. Continue reading “Collages by Paul Workman, from the Golden Age of Biological Imaging”

Indestructible Sumitran-Holgersson: Commit misconduct on patients, get EU funding to continue

Indestructible Sumitran-Holgersson: Commit misconduct on patients, get EU funding to continue

This is a story uncovered and researched with the tremendous help of Swedish investigative journalist, Sophia Tibblin. A Swedish start-up company, fed with generous funding from Swedish state, now received €2.2 Million from the European Union, to further develop the same regenerative medicine technology which was determined in two investigations to be tainted by research misconduct and patient abuse by the founder of this very company: Suchitra Sumitran-Holgersson. A clinical trial is scheduled based on debunked science of recellurising dead blood vessel grafts, to continue where 3 previous child patients were used as human Guinea pigs .

This might remind you of another ongoing Horizon 2020 clinical trial, where a similar decell-recell technology of the trachea transplanter Paolo Macchiarini is being prepared for mass-use in patients. There, EU refused to share any information. Also in the case of Sumitran-Holgersson and her company, all EU commission members and even press speakers I approached refused any communication.

Much credit for research behind this post goes to Sophia Tibblin.

Continue reading “Indestructible Sumitran-Holgersson: Commit misconduct on patients, get EU funding to continue”

PLOS One publishes near-copy of retracted JBC paper, sans coauthor Carlo Croce

PLOS One publishes near-copy of retracted JBC paper, sans coauthor Carlo Croce

On July 29th 2016, Journal of Biological Chemistry (JBC) retracted a cardiology paper from 2009 for data manipulations. Only some days later, on August 20th 2016, the corresponding authors Sathyamangla Naga Prasad and Sadashiva Karnik (both from the same Department of Molecular Cardiology at Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, US, submit that same paper, under same title, with only some changes, to PLOS One. All authors remained the same, only two mysteriously fell off the paper: George Calin and his former mentor Carlo Croce. The latter is a notorious cancer researcher from Ohio State University, PubPeer star accused of misconduct and author on 7 retracted papers (according to the new Retraction Watch database). Croce even made it into New York Times, which he now sues, together with his critic David Sanders. (some more details here).

It makes sense why Prasad and Karlin decided to play it safe and throw their toxic Ohio colleague Croce and his loyal former lab member Calin off their paper. They even replaced a fake western blot which caused the JBC retraction. This refurbished PLOS One paper was accepted on January 5th 2017 and published on March 22nd 2017. Now also the handling editor at PLOS has now a lot of explaining to do: Sudhiranjan Gupta, from Texas A&M University. A man who understood Prasad’s and Karnik’s dilemma, because also Gupta has his own record of gel band duplications on PubPeer, all of these incidentally with his former boss at Cleveland Clinic, Subha Sen, who in turn is co-author on both the retracted Prasad et al JBC 2009 and the new Prasad et al PLOS One 2017.

Using the free online plagiarism tool at Draftable.com, I was able to establish an extensive textual overlap, the files are available here and here. The well-known sleuth Claire Francis established figure re-use, which I document below.

Continue reading “PLOS One publishes near-copy of retracted JBC paper, sans coauthor Carlo Croce”

Anne Peyroche removed as interim CNRS President as her publications are “questioned”

Anne Peyroche removed as interim CNRS President as her publications are “questioned”

Things are happening at the French state’s network of research institutes, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS). Their interim president, Anne Peyroche, was now removed prematurely from her position due to evidence of data manipulations in her papers on PubPeer, which I helped uncover. As all credit goes to PubPeer (run chiefly by two CNRS researchers), the announcement unfortunately makes no reference to my call for a minor revolution at CNRS, where these data manipulations were presented to wider public. The official letter which I obtained, is below, both in English translation and its French original.

Another problematic CNRS chief scientist, Catherine Jessus, who as director of l’Institut des sciences biologiques (INSB) is the head biologist at CNRS, was acquitted in November 2017 by a secret investigation at l’Université Pierre et Marie Curie (UPMC) despite all that long list of suspected data manipulations found in her papers (which I originally presented in this article). As Peyroche faces disciplinary investigation by her employer, the Commissariat à l’énergie atomique et aux énergies alternatives (CEA), nothing of that kind seems to threaten Jessus. Instead, those CNRS researchers who dare to protest against her  research integrity shortcomings are being threatened and terrorized, by a furious Jessus herself and her supporters at the top of CNRS.

Finally, a particularly data manipulations-ridden Institut de Biologie Moléculaire des Plantes (IBMP) in Strasbourg, former home of the legendary Olivier Voinnet (whom Jessus once investigated for doing those same naughty things she might have just a sbadly engaged herself in) has issued a Code for Ethics and Responsible research, which warns potential perpetrators:

IBMP defines scientific misconduct as:

The selective manipulation, fabrication or falsification of scientific data.

Thing is, IBMP director Laurence Maréchal-Drouard with her PhD student and now tenured lab member Thalia Salinas recently went to PubPeer to admit exactly this kind of misconduct, after I published evidence of data manipulations in Drouard’s many publications and Salinas’ doctorate thesis. Continue reading “Anne Peyroche removed as interim CNRS President as her publications are “questioned””

How Emilie Marcus and Cell covered up misconduct at Weizmann

How Emilie Marcus and Cell covered up misconduct at Weizmann

I previously reported about numerous cases of suspected (or even blatantly obvious) data manipulation at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel (here, here and here).  Initially I wrongly assumed that the institute does not investigate misconduct evidence on principle. It turned out they do, but these investigations “are not public” as Michal Neeman, Vice President of the Weizmann Institute, told me in an email.

Below I present the documents from one such investigation from 2012, regarding two papers by the Weizmann cell biologist, apoptosis researcher and keen dancer Atan Gross.  The original report was filed in July 2012 by a peer of Gross, David Vaux, deputy director of The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne, Australia. The Weizmann investigation ended just one month later with data manipulations confirmed, original raw data absent, but with the conclusion that it all was only an “unfortunate decision about presentation of the data” with “no evidence for falsification with an intent to deceive”. The case was closed with the request of two corrections, one to Journal of Biological Chemistry (JBC), and another one to Cell, with the manipulated data replaced by newly generated Ersatz. While the former journal duly issued a correction, Cell‘s Editor-in-Chief and Cell Press CEO Emilie Marcus declared that she will do nothing at all. Continue reading “How Emilie Marcus and Cell covered up misconduct at Weizmann”

How Elsevier finds its peer reviewers

How Elsevier finds its peer reviewers

We all have been there: you read a paper and wonder: how did this ever pass peer review? Who were these incompetent peer reviewers? The following email exchange gives some insights into the farcical quagmire which the traditional peer review process is. It took place between the Editor-in-Chief of an Elsevier subscription  journal Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice and a professor of physics and astronomy, who was invited to peer review a clinical trial study on gestational diabetes, his expertise assumed from some  obscure “keywords”. Apparently any academic can be spontaneously invited to act as Elsevier reviewers, actual expertise doesn’t matter.

In the end, the indignant editor Antonio Ceriello, Italian research clinician with an h-index of 80, appeared to be threatening the physics professor with legal consequences from his own lawyer and Elsevier’s legal department, should he not cease complaining about these editorial practices of recruiting inappropriate reviewers.

Continue reading “How Elsevier finds its peer reviewers”

How scam artist Ashutosh Tiwari played Linköping University

How scam artist Ashutosh Tiwari played Linköping University

The Linköping University (LiU) in Sweden is quite busy these days with the affair around their fake professor Ashutosh Tiwari, trying to figure out what actually happened inside their own Department of Physics, Chemistry and Biology (IFM). How could a person with some very shady claims to a doctorate, a publication list consisting mostly of papers in his own private predatory journal, titles and awards from his own fake research institutions and predatory conferences fool the system for years in this way? How could he get the prestigious Marie-Curie fellowship, which in turn delivered him a habilitation degree of Docent at LiU and grant money from Swedish public? In this regard, how could he have just last year been awarded funding from the Swedish Research Council, Vetenskapsrådet (VR) if he wasn’t even employed at LiU or anywhere else since early 2015?

The answer is: with bold chutzpah and even bolder support from certain Swedish professors. First and foremost, from his mentor, the LiU bioelectronics professor Anthony “Tony” Turner, who conveniently accepted a large number of Tiwari-coauthored papers in his Elsevier journal Bionsensors and Bioelectronics, and played a key role in Tiwari being awarded the Marie-Curie fellowship and the docent degree. Others helped along, a recommendation letter from a Malmö biochemistry professor proves a particularly bizarre piece of evidence of how Tiwari’s fraud was interpreted as superhuman genius achievements. Continue reading “How scam artist Ashutosh Tiwari played Linköping University”