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DFG and Marburg drop misconduct investigation of Roland Lill papers

German Research Foundation (DFG) terminated the investigation against their Senator and Marburg University professor Roland Lill, after having found no research misconduct. No comments are issued on the integrity of the data in his papers on yeast biochemistry, or on some unusual image manipulations which were already admitted by Lill and his former PhD students

The German Research Foundation (DFG) has terminated the investigation against their Senator and Marburg University professor Roland Lill, after having found no research misconduct in his papers on yeast biochemistry. No comments are issued on the integrity of the data in his papers as it was flagged on PubPeer and reported on my site, or on the fact that some unusual image manipulations were already admitted by Lill and his former PhD students (read here), or that some papers already had to be corrected (read here). All I was told that the investigation was dropped after DFG followed the Marburg University in their decision that “a scientific misconduct can not be proved”.

This was the letter I received yesterday from the Marburg University Ombudsman Helmut Remschmidt :

Suspicion of data manipulation against Professor Lill (Philipps
University of Marburg)

Dear Mr. Schneider,
I would like to inform you that the German Research Foundation with its letter of 28 June 2018 terminated a “formal investigation by the Committee of the German Research Foundation for the Investigation of Allegations of Scientific Misconduct”. The DFG committee came to the same conclusion as the Commission of our University.
The final sentence in the DFG letter of 28.06.2018 reads: “The investigation of the
DFG is completed in accordance with the DFG Rules of Procedure for dealing with scientific misconduct. The President of the University of Marburg and the President of the Leopoldina [German Academy of Sciences, where Lill is also Senator, -LS] are also notified of the termination of the procedure”.

Best regards

(Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. H. Remschmidt)

The aforementioned DFG letter obviously is secret and none of anyone’s business. The investigation was dropped without any comment on the reliability of Lill’s papers and their data. Also Remschmidt refused to tell more, so far. He only added in another email:

The reason is that a commission of the DFG has carefully examined the matter and came to the same conclusion as our own commission, namely, that a scientific misconduct can not be proved. This is a clear statement”.

Thus, only those academically uneducated would still wonder what this clear statement actually means. So let Mr Schneider try.

  1. Did DFG decide the PubPeer allegations were all libellously false? But why did journals correct his papers then? Should the correction be retracted now? Are those bands not duplicated then?
  2. Did DFG decide Lill was not absolutely not responsible for the content of publications from his own lab, with himself as corresponding author and his mentored lab members as first authors? That he was tricked into a gift authorship, and should be more careful next time before agreeing to feature on papers from his own lab? Don’t laugh, this is exactly how DFG argued when they terminated a different misconduct investigation, in a secret letter I was incidentally privy to (read here).
  3. Were those data manipulations, as admitted by Lill and his former PhD students Heike Lange and Janneke Balk on PubPeer and elsewhere indeed scientifically appropriate? Lange’s current employer, the French CNRS indeed recently postulated this new dogma of when and why copy-pasting gel bands are actually good scientific practice (read here). Maybe DFG followed the thought leadership of their partners from across the Rhine? Will Germany also see a wave of academics endorsing data manipulations as gold standard of good science, in signature lists?
Screenshot_2018-07-30 PubPeer - An essential function of the mitochondrial sulfhydryl oxidas
Figure 4A of Lange et al EMBO Reports 2001. Either those bands are not duplicated, or DFG thinks this duplication is scientifically justified, or it suddenly turned out the last author Lill had nothing to with either this paper or his PhD student and first author Heike Lange.

I will update this article should DFG or Marburg University be inclined to elaborate.

Update 31.07.2018. The press speaker for DFG, Marco Finetti, indicated that DFG found no research misconduct in Lill papers, precisely in those funded by the DFG, which includes the above illustrated Lange et al EMBO Reports 2001. DFG might have decided those bands duplications were scientifically justified, but they aren’t telling.

This was Finetti’s email to me, translation mine:

“At its meeting on 22 June 2018, the DFG Committee for Investigation of Allegations of Scientific Misconduct has terminated the investigation against Prof. Dr. Roland Lill, University of Marburg. The committee had previously examined in detail the allegations of scientific misconduct against Mr Lill in the DFG-funded context and declared that according to the DFG Rules of Procedure there has been no scientific misconduct by Mr Lill. Further information can not be provided for reasons of confidentiality”.

Update 9.06.2019.

It’s a pity DFG and Marburg University closed the case already, not to be re-opened. Because now there is an issue of apparently cloned gel band with this paper:

Lori A. Sturtz, Kerstin Diekert, Laran T. Jensen, Roland Lill and Valeria Cizewski Culotta Fraction of Yeast Cu,Zn-Superoxide Dismutase and Its Metallochaperone, CCS, Localize to the Intermembrane Space of Mitochondria

The Journal of Biological Chemistry (2001) 276, 38084-38089.

lill jbc

I informed the Marburg Ombudsman Remscheid about this problematic figure, who by mistake replied to me instead of forwarding my email to Lill.

“Dear Mr Lill,

Mr Schneider contacted me again (s. attachment). I have no inclination to reply to him. What do you say on this matter?

Best wishes

Helmut Remschmidt”

Did Remschmidt really let Lill investigate himself so far? Looks like this.



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14 comments on “DFG and Marburg drop misconduct investigation of Roland Lill papers

  1. To big to fail, so there can’t exist any kind of misconduct. That is the rule. Look at the MPI for psychiatry and the LMU in munich. Plagiarism is no problem. Publicate without naming the most important author. This isn’t scientific misconduct. Misconduct doesn’t counts for directors…


    • Ana Pedro

      10 years ago all of this was very normal and accepted in any university or by any funding agency in the world…now, suddenly many things are changing perhaps the main trigger was the appearance of PubPeer
      The way to go is total transparency making original data available, giving opportunities to PIs, postdocs, PhD students, PhD student candidates, etc to get funded by the quality of their proposals and not by the number of publications on high impact journals. Also, the proposals, the jury and the evaluation processes should be made totally public provinding the opportunities to the public or any scientist to comment and participate


  2. I don’t quite understand this graphic. What are the red, green, blue squares supposed to indicate? Duplicated bands?


  3. But they are not equal. Not when looking at them, and definitely not if you compare them pixel by pixel in ImageJ.


    • We had this debate with the phony CRG investigation of Maria Pia Cosma. Extreme overexposure and image compression introduce pixel variance. I suggest you overlap bands.
      Note that some bands are flipped.


      • Leonid, I am not a fan of DFG myself. Just trying to be impartial here. If I overlap the bands (including mirrorring) – they are different. You can explain the difference with overexposure, compression or by adding pixels one by one. Alternatively, they could be genuinely different. Based on this image there is no way you can know.


  4. First author Lange explained how figures were assembled in Lill’s laboratory. This explaination was for another paper, but you’ll get the point. Read carefully:
    “It happened that I put the X-ray upside down in the camera box and cut bands without noticing it. This results in mirrored bands. It happened that I picked twice the same band, which results in duplicated bands. It happened that I printed multiple copies of a wrongly assembled stripe, throw them away {or not:-( } and started from scratch. The published figure received one of these wrongly assembled stripes without that I noticed the mistake.”


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  6. A real scientist.

    Anyone can see that most or all of those bands are not duplicates. You don’t need any fancy software. If this is the best you can do, it’s clear why you’ve failed at being a scientist and spend your days trying to defame others. Stick to being a cartoonist.


    • Rix Rictor

      A real scientists, you obviously have not looked carefully enough or not analysed the bands. I am deeply concerned about having you run around doing science. Please state your name so we can contact your supervisor.


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