The revolution in French science has begun, and its target is the corrupt elite who betrayed against basic principles of research integrity and conspired to protect one of their own, the CNRS chief biologist Catherine Jessus. French scientists seem to finally have enough of watching fraudsters eat cake and now storm the Bastille.
Much of evidence of data manipulation in papers from Jessus’ lab was originally forwarded to me by my readers and reported on my site, I then posted it also on PubPeer. Under mounting pressure from her peers, Jessus started to correct some of her papers, and eventually her employer CNRS, Europe-largest network of research institutes, decided to switch to attack mode of defence. Sorbonne University in Paris, where Jessus holds a professorship, delivered an outrageous whitewashing report about Jessus’s data manipulations, which were either declared to be minor errors, or denied outright, or even declared to be actually good scientific practice, all despite absence of original data. The authors of that opus hid their identity, but one was eventually exposed by my sources: Francis-André Wollman, an elite CNRS and Sorbonne biologist. I was personally accused of libellous slander in a CNRS press release, which also announced to persecute those raising misconduct allegations, while urging French researchers to “collective vigilance” against such traitors. CNRS new president Antoine Petit, whose predecessor Anne Peyroche was deposed after my reporting about data manipulations in her own papers, then announced to smoke out anonymous PubPeer commenters using IT tools of deep surveillance.
Yesterday, an Open Letter has been published on the website Sauvons l’Université ! , authored by around 10 unnamed French biologists. It plucks apart the Sorbonne report of Jessus papers and declares:
“We, geneticists, biochemists, cell and molecular biologists, have read this report, have analysed, criticised it point by point and can conclude that all the arguments of the Inquiry Commission are against all common rules of good scientific practice and of the interpretation of results, which form the basis of research integrity. Worse, and that is the reason that led us to react (see our open letter), it encourages image manipulations which are nevertheless recognized as fabrications and falsifications of results”.
The full version of the Open Letter, which was finalised already on 18 April 2018, was linked under the Sauvons l’Université ! article from yesterday. It meticulously explains to biology outsiders like President Petit what a western blot is, what the correct presentation of western blot results is, followed by what is actually data manipulation and what is fraud. It goes on to analyse one by one the issues in 11 individual Jessus papers as posted on PubPeer, finds virtually all of them to be evidence of research fraud, while denouncing the whitewashing findings of the commission, which the authors declare to be uttelry incompetent in biology. That will sure hurt the pride of cell biology professor and EMBO member Wollman, who, being a pompous fluffed-up chicken, is still afraid to admit his (by now well established) key role in having penned such a disastrous report.
Also the authors of the counter-report prefer to remain anonymous, which is understandable given the threats and calls for denunciation of traitors, publicly issued towards them by Petit and CNRS. This is the full title of the Open Letter:
Lettre ouverte d’un groupe d’experts anonyme concernant le rapport de la commission anonyme ayant enquêté sur les publications dont Mme Jessus est co-auteur
But the title of the pdf document is simply: rapportfraude.pdf. Its authors name the disastrous Jessus investigation by CNRS and Sorbonne University as the reason for having written the Open Letter:
“The conclusions of this report, which at first glance seem to absolve Ms. Jessus and her co-authors of all scientific fraud, are diametrically opposed, as will be seen below, with the findings of the detailed article-by-article analysis of the same report.
Indeed, the inquiry commission finds and admits almost all the manipulations images highlighted on PubPeer. On the other hand, it does not admit that these image manipulations can be fraudulent and justifies them one by one, using
arguments that could mislead by appearing fair and objective to non-specialists.
However, for biology specialists using the same techniques, the entire Inquiry Committee is not only confused, but also scientifically aberrant. The levels of confusion and aberration are such that they reveal the obvious incompetence of this commission of “experts” and discredit its from giving a serious opinion.
The incompetence of the Commission has, in the context of this investigation, consequences even more serious than its own discredit or that of the institutions for which it has done its work. The Commission recommends continuing to do this type of image manipulation. Now this type of manipulation of images, as we explain below, can not be accepted in any case, during a meeting in a laboratory, or as part of a presentation at a congress or as a report in a peer-reviewed journal, such as those the community of biology researchers publishes in.
In this open letter, after a preamble for non-specialists in Biology, our group of experts, consisting of geneticists, biochemists, molecular and cellular biologists, engaged in critical and scientific reasoning on each of the 21 figures resulting in 20 conclusions diametrically opposed to those of the commission of inquiry”.
In the press release at Sauvons l’Université ! the anonymous biologists highlight the main problem, which is not Jessus herself, but the rotten structures of research integrity at the very top of French science. They accuse CNRS and Sorbonne University of “concealment of fraud”, despite having all the tools in place to ensure adherence to good scientific practice. They describe CNRS’ own ethics committee COMETS as corrupted:
“Anne Peyroche was indeed a member of COMETS, before her appointment on 24 October 2017 to the Presidency of the CNRS and her interim advance replacement by Antoine Petit on 18 January following the alleged fraud revealed by PubPeer. Would she have helped to conceal, as a member of the COMETS and then president of CNRS, the fraud carried out in the lab of Catherine Jessus, in order to downplay the same thing conducted in her own lab? Is fraud so widespread that two people at the head of CNRS are implicated? Or is it fraud a means of access to positions of responsibility at the CNRS?”
As I heard, that cartoon Stalinist Jessus was in the process of organising a purge at CNRS. No executions yet, just sackings and demotions of traitors. The danger and fear are very real, and even those in highest positions at CNRS cannot feel safe from Jessus’ revenge. So far, she enjoys the full support from the CNRS president.
Petit is now well advised to stop threatening the scientific community and drop his misguided support of dishonest researchers at CNRS. Otherwise he will be deposed just like Peyroche was. The revolution is on its way.
Below I have now Google-translated and illustrated the French text of the conclusions in this counter-report.
With the exception of comments and conclusions on the two figures of paper 9, all the arguments and conclusions of the commission leave us all very perplexed as to the rigour and professionalism with which it conducted its investigation.
All allegations of PubPeer on any Western blot image manipulations or autoradiographies, the work of such an inquiry commission must be to compare the original Western blots and autoradiographies with the incriminated published figures.
Therefore work must begin with the search for the original documents in the archives of the laboratory. However, it seems that the Commission has merely, as it states in the conclusions of its report ( “The commission asked Mrs. Jessus, to provide original documents used in the assembly of the incriminated figures”) put a request to Mrs. Jessus, who then is said to have provided less than two-thirds, since the commission says at least 7 original documents (of 21) have not been found. At the same time, the national code of ethics of the research practice clearly states that “All raw data (belonging to the institution) and analysis of results must be retained to allow verification”. It is strange that an commission of inquiry into the scientific integrity would make no comment on the absence of such a large number of original documents and does not search for it itself, in the various lab books in laboratories of the authors of incriminated papers.
In any event, the investigating committee takes note of and agrees with almost all the image manipulations reported by PubPeer, namely a non-homogeneous attenuation of background noise (article 8 figure 4D) and 18 image re-uses (of cut-and-paste type) in articles 1 to 8 and 10 to 11.
The Committee recognises that non-uniform attenuation of background noise is “not consistent with good publication practices”, however it does not admit that 18 instances of images reuse can be intentionally fraudulent. As these 18 images falsifications were characterized by the commission, it used a confused and scientifically absurd argumentation, trying to justify the majority of them, after they have been classified into three distinct categories:
– classified as first category, reuse (or duplication) of control samples images in several figures (sections 2, 3, 4, 5 and 7). The commission says such reuses are “legitimate” and claims that “there erroneous reuse was not intended” or that “the control conditions of each experiment were reproduced.” It explains that it is “justified to reuse controls in several figures when these are from the same samples” and goes on to even mention three more figures with images of reused control samples, than reported on PubPeer (in section 5).
However, the Committee obviously confuses reuse of control samples and copy / paste of images of control samples , which is not at all the same thing! In the first case, reuse is scientifically correct, it is to rerun the control samples while performing an additional Western blot with other samples from the same experiment. In the latter case (which is the case of incriminated articles), it is scientifically not correct. Indeed, the control samples were not subjected to a second Western blot, only their images were recovered and pasted with the images of other samples in the experiment, making the resulting figures uninterpretable! This confusion of the Commission of Inquiry, which made it wrongly and re-iteratively conclude “that there is neither scientific misconduct or error, there is no doubt of the scientific message of the papers”, highlights its total incompetence.
– classified in the second category of image manipulations are not related control samples and of pasting (or inserting) parts removed from the same blot membrane (papers 8 [Figure S4] and 11) or different blot membranes (papers 1, 6 [Figure 5C] and 11).
We have explained many times (see Figure 5 of the preamble and our comments on papers 1, 6 and 11) that the latter type of assembly (splicing of gels or different membranes) is scientifically not rigorous since the samples which images are artificially moved have not been subject to the same western blotting or autoradiography, they are not comparable, which makes them uninterpretable figures. The commission should have recognised such handling as intentionally fraudulent, instead of justifying it.
On the other hand the assembly of distant parts of the same gel (or a single membrane) is scientifically acceptable (see preamble page 9). However, when one carefully analyses the organization and the noise pattern of the S4 section 8 and S1B and S2B of paper 11, those are not distant parts of a same membrane being assembled (n◦3 case of assembly in the preamble), but assembly of pieces of different membranes (n◦6 case of assembly in the preamble). It is very clearly made to give the illusion that it is the same membrane, which is completely fraudulent.
Again, and despite the observation of certain originals, the commission was not able to distinguish between ‘legitimate’ assemblies and assemblies interpretable scientifically as intentional fraudulent manipulation, leading to believe that samples of the same figure were all subjected to the same western blot or even autoradiography.
– classified into the third category are reuses (or duplication) images of samples which are not controls and which are found twice in a single panel (as part of a Western-blot of Figure – Figures 3 and 5B of the article 3, figures 6 and 7 of the paper) or reuse of control samples images that are found in two different panels (paper 10).
While it is exactly the same type of copy / paste of fraudulent images as in previous cases, the Committee recognises that this time they are errors. However, by fallaciously reasoning that a panel can be made from different assembly parts (as is it was a kind of a puzzle), the commission downplays those errors by passing them as unintentional errors, unfortunate blunders that could have led the authors to use wrong parts when assembling the panel! But here the error is not to have mistaken a piece during assembly, but to perform such assemblies in the first place! In addition, the Committee points out that these errors were corrected. However, to date only 4B of paper 10 is the subject of a corrigendum published by J. Cell Science. One wonders what did the commission try to achieve by performing such a ranking of the 18 image manipulation in three categories? Clearly to try to exonerate 13 of them and minimize the fraudulent intent of the other 5.
This attempt is vain, as we have shown, article by article, figure after figure, the 18 images reuse are all forgeries, to make believe that the samples of the same panel underwent the same Western blot for some, or to hide an original result for others.
Since the Commission refers to this repeatedly in its analysis, it should be noted that the vast majority of peer reviewed journals in Biology publish for several years in the instructions for authors a paragraph on which image manipulation is acceptable or which is not for publication (for review see [Rossner and Yamada, 2004] and Annex I). This paragraph was non-existent in the 1990s, appeared in the last fifteen years and has become increasingly detailed in order to try to reduce cases of fraud identified by publishers.
However the advice recommended in such paragraph is not to become a law, with no retroactive effect, to determine what is good or bad scientific practice, since good or bad scientific practices are independent of the year of publication of this paragraph in journals. Good or bad practices are in fact determined by the limits of interpretation of each technique and each experiment as explained in the preamble. Realising, analysing and rigorously presenting every experiment within these limits is a good practice (i.e., for the technique of Western blotting, all samples to be compared must have been subjected from the beginning to the end to the same Western blot), violating those limits demonstrates a lack of rigour and is a poor scientific practice.
Contrary to attempts by the commission to insinuate throughout its analysis, in order to exonerate the perpetrators, is that even if good scientific practice is not specifically formulated in the recommendations of the journals to authors, this does not allow non-compliance with this good practice. Failure of good practice is bad practice no matter when it happens, in 1997 as in 2017!
The argument put forward by the Commission in papers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 is particularly disconcerting. For these papers, the commission concludes its analysis by stating that nothing challenges in the scientific messages of the paper. On this occasion, we would like to tell the commission which does not seem to be familiar with the experimental sciences, that a scientific experiment is designed to answer a question and the answer to this question is given by the raw data (or original) of experiment and this alone. For papers 1 to 7, the original documents were precisely not found, or not all have been found. On what basis does the commission declare that the scientific message of the paper is not altered if there is nothing to consult?
On the contrary, the accumulation of fraudulent practices in a laboratory over a period of 20 years, combined with a significant loss of original documents, should seriously alarm the inquiry as to the scientific message given by the articles.
In conclusion, all the comments of the inquiry commission show that it absolutely does not master the techniques used in the papers, that it neglects the fundamental importance of internal controls of each experiment, that it confuses legitimate panels assembly with illegitimate assembly of subpanels, and finally, it confuses unintentional errors with intentional manipulation meant to deliberately falsify an original result.
All arguments of this commission of inquiry, which are more like an exercise in rhetoric or dishonest advocacy, have nothing to do with scientific arguments. They are irresponsible because they encourage image manipulations. They can in no way be considered either by the institutions or by the journals Developmental Biology, Journal of Cell Science, Development, Molecular Biology of The Cell and Cell Cycle.
Update 18.05.2018. I now got in touch with the anonymous authors of the counter-report. This is their message:
“We are about ten researchers from different universities or institutes. […]
Moreover, this crisis is by far the most serious situation we have ever encountered. We absolutely need the protection of anonymity to continue to communicate freely without pressure and without threats to our careers. This will also ensure that the institutions cannot follow their usual strategy of sueing for defamation and attempting to discredit the whistleblowers. They will be obliged to confront the real problem.
For this reason we have provided only information that can be verified factually. We have not included any unverifiable statements or opinions”.
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Let’s see President Macron, brings in any reforms whatsoever.
Much has been promised.
My knitting skills are poor and I need practice – so happy to be a tricoteur when the guillotine is hauled out 🙂
Ça chauffe !
Lets hope in Portugal and in Spain the governments start a similar revolution in science
lovely picture. Ah, Ah, Ah.
I make an appeal that more governments from other countries including Portugal follow the French government and allow investigations of present anomalies in research funding and take measures so that original data will be always available promoting
fair public discussions of the same and allowing as well fair access to funding
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Very good. I think that on balance, more than 50% of the credit for this particular scandal at CNRS probably goes to our reporter. Definitely it’s one of the big hitter stories, although I can’t really relate to the science so it’s not as enjoyable for me personally. The Tiwari one was really fun because even though I do get letters of invitation for his cruise conference, I can’t really relate to the science as well, but at least the scamminess and the absolute brazen shamelessness part I understood.
Here it’s a bit different. It feels like it was all kept hushed up and proper at the higher levels, so the eminent members of science and some bystanders, who are like people I run into in legit conferences, are going to get hammered (if this goes anywhere). Plus, I know some folks who work at CNRS (albeit in chemistry) so it’s not as fun… but potentially more paradigm shattering.
Well, I would have a cup of coffee to celebrate this story, but I already had too many today and I need to fall asleep sometime. You’re not worried that with all this exposure of shaky science, the public is going to think that we are just a bunch of charlatans just like all the other money leaches who make up fake reasons for why they need a bigger slice of the pie with their big political lobbies, like the Pharma industry, or the Military/Industrial complex, and we’re going to get our funding cut? 😛 Well, I’m not worried because my contract is at least for four more years. Plus I think I’d survive in those ‘alternative careers’ better than you suckers. So, go Leonid Schneider! Go…..!
This is just incredible. Le Monde journalist David Larousserie blogs on responses of Wollman and French science elite on Jessus affair and the counter-report. http://alasource.blog.lemonde.fr/2018/05/23/quand-les-chercheurs-deraillent/
I am glad that journalists of the NYT and Le Monde start to understand how rotten modern science is. The NYT article on Croce was also more about nobody being surprised and upset, than about what Croce actually did.
I hope that from those big journals you may get some help for your legal troubles. Despite living in an age where everything is supposedly open, your blog is one of the very few places where criticism is loud enough to be heard.
French academia now entered the next stage of Stalinism: purges. An article appeared, where (currently) 149 signatories, all French academics, mostly CNRS research group leaders and university professors, express their support for Jessus and her anonymous investigators, while calling for persecution of the 10 anonymous authors of the counter-report, exactly because those chose anonymity. The schizophrenic argument actually makes sense if you apply Soviet dialectic.
My personal prediction is: CNRS and French academia in general will now use this Open Letter as a test of loyalty. Those refusing to sign it will be sacked, banished or punished otherwise.
Maybe the current events are inspired by Stalin’s favourite biologist Trofim Lyssenko, and how Soviet biology was purged of enemies of the people, ie, those who refused to accept ideologically imposed pseudoscience.
President Petit started something truly horrible by expressing his support for research misconduct from day one.
The Pravda-like “Ethique Scientifique, Ethique Journalistique” Open Letter by French academic Stalinists now includes former CNRS president Alain Fuchs, a scientist with his own shady PubPeer-record (Guido Kroemer) and even PubPeer themselves. Both PubPeer founders Brendon Stell and Boris Barbour are listed as signatories, though Barbour denies signing and accuses me of having framed him.
Meanwhile, CNRS President Antoine Petit and Sorbonne University president Jean Chambaz have issued their own statement of support: of Jessus, her anonymous investigators (Chicken of Dishonour Legion Wollman still in hiding) and the aforementioned Stalinist turd of an Open Letter, while lashing out at the 10 anonymous authors of counter report.
It is a private press release, available only to subscribers of AEF and not for publication. Welcome to France. I was forwarded the full text. Here it is, abridged.
Antoine Petit apparently wishes to deal with the 10 traitors personally. He told Le Figaro:
Well, it appears that “Leonid Schneider, Former cell biologist” endorsed the petition. It’s puzzling.
I did. Let’s see if those Stalinist sycophants notice.
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Très belle tortue.
The open letter gives the illusion to be about support for Catherine Jessus. However, the real issue is the CNRS report (the “whitewash” report), and the open letter may be initiated to support the authors of that report. Below, I try to summarize how I observe the events:
Twenty years of work by Catherine Jessus
(CJ from here)
This work includes a not so small but also not so large number of bigger and smaller misconducts. Probably deserving of some kind of punishment of one or two people, a few warnings, two or so retractions, and a few corrections. The role of CJ in the misconducts is unclear, and in many cases she is not a lead author. She may be relatively innocent, as suggested by the inconsistent distribution of the misconducts through her many works (but then why does she need this crazy protection?).
PubPeer and Leonid report the misconducts. Leonid writes an article with the title “Voinnet’s CNRS investigator Catherine Jessus with own data integrity issues”. Direct accusations about CJ’s involvement were not made, but as senior author she automatically shared some (forgivable or not) responsibility.
CNRS decides to rescue CJ’s reputation.
However, instead of finding out who was responsible for the misconducts, with strange and incorrect arguments they conclude that there was no serious misconduct. They express a lack of understanding of Western blot science.
With possibly all or some committee members being aware of the low quality of the report, THE REPORT WAS ANONYMOUS.
An ANONYMOUS COMMITTEE (hereafter “the rebel group”) writes a definitely intelligent and (in some instances overly) critical assay about the CNRS report. They are not accusing CJ, but they are (righteously) condemning the method and the quality of the CNRS report.
David Larousserie describes the situation rather accurately in Le Monde. He expresses to be shocked by the inability of the French leading scientists to deal in a normal, integer, and intelligent way with accusations of misconduct. Plus, by how everyone tells him that “a little misconduct” is common in science. He is faced with anonymous reports on either side of the argument. He allegedly CONTACTS A NUMBER OF SCIENTISTS, and they (correctly) explain that the rebel group has the better scientific arguments. He appears to describe how Wollman did not give an accurate portrayal of events to Le Monde.
A set of (CNRS and other) directors and professors (the “power group”) writes an open letter. The introduction of that letter is weird, and questions the intelligence of those who signed it. It gives the emotional suggestion to be a letter of support for CJ, whereas neither the rebel group nor DL showed a marked interest in the role of CJ. The central issue is not CJ but the CNRS report. The introduction mentions as the MAIN REASON for the letter existence (Google translate:) “FACED WITH MR. LAROUSSERIE’S UNEQUIVOCAL RESUMPTION OF THE ARGUMENTS OF ANONYMOUS PEOPLE WHOSE LEGITIMACY AND POSSIBLE SCIENTIFIC CONTRIBUTIONS ARE UNKNOWN, RESEARCHERS AND RESEARCH PROFESSORS (IN BOLD TYPE IN THE LIST BELOW) CAME TOGETHER TO MANIFEST THEIR TOTAL DISAPPROVAL OF SUCH METHODS.” This is pretty crazy, as one anonymous group accuses the other group of using anonymity. Furthermore, DL did check the arguments of the rebel group by asking other scientists. The power group fails to argue how the rebel report would be incorrect. The power group also wishes the anonymous (and Leonid’s) questioning of science to stop, which in their power situation is fully understandable (though a bit pathetic). Finally, the power group tries to redefine “independent committee” by stating that if your boss doesn’t hire you, you feel free to say whatever about him/her.
An excellent summary of the story so far.
This email, authored by CNRS group leader from Montpellier, Patrick Lemaire was received by many French academics. Lemaire shows his displeasure with the “Ethique Scientifique, Ethique Journalistique” Open Letter, signed by over 400 top French academics, especially its attack on the Le Monde journalist David Larousserie.
Lemaire is also editorial board member of Development, and denies that his journal agreed to the corrections of Jessus papers as the CNRS/Sorbonne report claims.
I publish the original.
Alain Trautman, immunologist and a senior figure at CNRS, winner of CNRS silver medal, joined Patrick Lemaire in protest´against the protest of (now) 500 signatories who protest against those who protested against the CNRS-Sorbonne investigative report, which in trun protested against Leonid Schneider and research integrity in general.
In brief, Trautman expresses his sympathy for Jessus, but finds the attacks on the Le Monde journalist David Larousserie unacceptable. He also seems unconvincenced by the quality of CNRS-Sorbonne report.
Here is an email circulated by Trautman:
The text included in the email sent out by Patrick Lemaire is complex, and written using a very academic French. It’s a pleasure to read such a well written opinion, however, I suppose that non-native speakers could have some difficulty understanding this text. Please let me translate the section I consider the most important (4th paragraph; the translation is my own personal responsibility):
“The poor quality along with the anonymous nature of the first report does not justify the fact that the counter-expertise is dancing on pinheads; however, a more reliable work, tightly focused on methodology, could have prevented the second report to be released. The actual issue is therefore not this second report, even if it can be considered as a questionable piece, neither the article authored by Larousserie, since this article only states obvious features. The main problem is rather related to the criticism raised by Larousserie: our community is completely distraught by the emergence of such scientific integrity matters.”
About the Lemaire letter. He says the same things as Larousserie, although a bit more forgiving of the misconduct (“we all did”, publish or perish), and a bit more critical of the rebel group. The two Karaiskou papers seem to be beyond redemption indeed, so I am glad that the respective journals are at least hesitating.
If the mighty 400 want to be consistent, I advise them to write a new open letter expressing their displeasure with Lemaire. Like Larousserie, he works for a journal, and he refuses to take the CNRS report more serious than the rebel report (Quelle affront!). I would do it in English, so the whole world can appreciate your impressive crusade. I wouldn’t worry too much about “notre communauté aura réussi à se rendre ridicule et à montrer son immaturité”. You have nothing to lose.
To Patrick Lemaire.
It is not true that “we all committed misconduct” (if that is what you are saying). For all 400 researchers that made it, you probably can easily find 400 other researchers which were too slow and lost their careers because they tried working the honest way. I understand the pressure, and to some extent I am forgiving, but I can not accept 20 “innocent mistakes” in a single paper.
But I like your letter. It is brave, accurate and honest, and with the desire to improve things.
I am wondering where this site comes from: https://scienceactive.net/
There is no other page, and the petition has been signed by so many people in a short time. I didn’t get any message inviting me to sign. Is it a fake?
Apparently, the petition is not a fake. So why did all these scientists sign the petition? I see two possibilities: either they use also the same type or forgeries, or they fear retaliation if they don’t sign. In both cases, it’s not good news for French science.
It is neither of these explanation. It is just corporatism. These people are part of the herd and when they feel it is under attack they are protecting it no matter what.
I received this comment from a French research group leader at CNRS, who asked not to be named. This is the English original message: