Research integrity University Affairs

Edinburgh saves Bird men from clutches of Bulgarian Jezebel

Irina Stancheva was investigated in Edinburgh for fraud at least twice, in 2009 and 2017, yet retraction and correction decisions were not implemented. Apparently to protect the reputation of Nobel Prize candidate Sir Adrian Bird and his male mentees, primarily Richard Meehan. One wonders: how much of Bird research in past two decades was actually fabricated by Stancheva?

A Brexit cautionary tale the like of which Nigel Farage could be telling on BBC. Bulgarian women sneak into the UK in order to ensnare Edinburgh men and make them publish fraudulent research!

This is the story of Bulgarian geneticist and data fabricator Irina Stancheva, and the innocent British lads who fell for her evil Photoshop charms are none other than the almost-Nobelist and genetics professor Sir Adrian Bird and his mentees, first and foremost the professor of Human Genetics Richard Meehan. Later these two gentlemen, mesmerized by Stancheva’s seductive Photoshoppery, installed her as a senior lecturer in Edinburgh. The immigrant succubus was expelled 2 years ago, boys’ academic careers and research grants protected, as their University of Edinburgh did its best to prevent unsightly retractions. But my reporting seems to have spoiled things a bit.

Or you can see this as a story of institutional nepotism, racism, with a whiff of sexism, where the University of Edinburgh first knowingly protected a research fraudster for years to get thieir hands on more dishonestly acquired grant money (first Stancheva investigation took place in 2009/2010, at least one retraction was decided upon, yet nothing happened although 10 years passed). When I started to stick my nose in, Edinburgh quietly sacked the female Bulgarian perpetrator, removed all online traces of her, gagged the national media and re-distributed her funds among loyal colleagues. All that after having orchestrated another biased misconduct investigation where Meehan and other lads acentrally responsible for publishing fabricated data served merely as “witnesses”, clueless and hapless victims of abuse perpetrated upon them by a conniving Bulgarian woman. Not even a reprimand they got, instead numerous instances of blatant data fakery were dismissed outright in order to protect Meehan and others. The university even went as far as to lie under the Freedom of Information (FOI) law. Are they really doing all that for the hope of Nobel for Sir Adrian? Or is there more hidden?


The FOI case is closed now, as I received on 29.03.2019 the final decision by the Scottish Information Commissioner and, on 9.05.2019 right before the imposed deadline expired, from the University of Edinburgh a censored list of papers to be retracted or corrected. The rest of my Freedom of Information (FOI) request was rejected outright by the Information Commissioner, because Edinburgh’s Stancheva shame must be given its privacy and because whether Meehan was investigated or not, is only his personal business, it suffices to know he was found an innocent witness anyway.  It took me over 1.5 years since October 2017 to get this sad and censored bit of information from Edinburgh:

part 1part 2

It is basically the same list I received from the University of Edinburgh already a year ago (see this article), only that back then the university official lied under FOI, by omitting one more article set for retraction: the following paper in EMBO Journal. The lie will have no consequences whatsoever for the university officials, as the Edinburgh data protection officer Rena Gertz proudly declared to me by producing this letter from Information Commissioner, which confirmed the file closed. The letter was dated 13.05.2019, meaning it was sent by Information Commissioner after I lodged my protest about having been lied to by Edinburgh. Gertz also wrote to me:

“I will enter into no further correspondence with you in this matter. “

Now, this is the paper Edinburgh forgot they decided to retract already 10 years ago:

Matthew J Lyst, Xinsheng Nan, Irina Stancheva

Regulation of MBD1-mediated transcriptional repression by SUMO and PIAS proteins

EMBO Journal (2006) doi: 10.1038/sj.emboj.7601404

That paper is being officially retracted not for data manipulations flagged on PubPeer, but because of the non-specific antibody.

The first author Matthew Lyst is namely postdoc in the lab of Adrian Bird, likely groomed to become a PI soon, and another one of these innocent British males bewitched by Stancheva’s evil Eastern European sorcery. Last thing poor lad and Sir Adrian needed was another retraction for fraud. Hence, instead of the usual sacrificial PhD student, an inanimate antibody is being thrown under the bus. How many other papers by Meehan, Bird and Stancheva used that faulty reagent?  Who cares. 

About that forgotten paper, we learn this from the Information Commissioner’s decision letter:

“The University provided Dr Schneider with a list of the affected journal articles during the Commissioner’s investigation, but this list was incomplete. The Commissioner asked the University why it had omitted details of one of the discredited articles from the list provided to Dr Schneider. In response, the University explained that this particular publication was previously investigated in 2009/10; although it fell outside the remit of the investigation panel it had been taken into account during the misconduct investigation.
The University could offer no satisfactory explanation as to why it had not taken action to retract this article at the time of the original investigation (2009/10). It acknowledged that it was unfortunate that, having identified the original lack of action, it has yet to be addressed. The University stated that it would ensure that the intent to retract this article was disclosed to Dr Schneider as soon as it completed the initial engagement with the authors and the journal editor.”

There is more, this is really too funny how Edinburgh tried to save that paper from a retraction they actually initially intended to pull through, but then changed their minds:

” However, with regard to page 10 of the report (which contained details of the single journal article that was not previously provided to Dr Schneider), the University submitted that disclosure would be contrary to section 38(1)(b) of FOISA, as amended. The University noted that discussions with the Journal Editor of that specific publication had been initiated but they had not yet been concluded; it stated that it was chasing a response from the publication. The University submitted that it intends to provide the information to Dr Schneider as soon as it is able to confirm to the non-implicated authors the agreed approach to retraction.”

EMBO press is actually still “wrapping up a careful due diligence process” about that paper, as well as about another Stancheva publication, as Editor-in-Chief Bernd Pulverer told me. The second paper was namely supposed to be fixed by “partial retraction”, basically a correction where fraudulent data is purged without further trouble for the authors.

Irina Stancheva, Carmel Hensey, Richard R. Meehan

Loss of the maintenance methyltransferase, xDnmt1, induces apoptosis in Xenopus embryos

EMBO Journal (2001) doi: 10.1093/emboj/20.8.1963

The above are just some examples from PubPeer, and the only corresponding author on this Photoshop masterpiece is Meehan. But he is not responsible for anything naughty he ever published, as the investigation decreed in total secrecy. he was not even whitewashed: Meehan was officially merely an innocent witness on the investigation into his own papers as the corresponding author. You can’t make such rotten stuff up:

“The University submitted that the withheld information concerns allegations into research misconduct by a named member of staff, and whether they were founded or unfounded. It argued that the investigation report contains not only the personal data of the person under investigation, but also those of witnesses. The University submitted that disclosing the investigation report would disclose information ‘relating to’ and ‘obviously about’ the named member of staff as well as the witnesses. It concluded that all of the information contained in the report is the personal data of the named member of staff: they and their actions are at the heart of the report.”

The Decision letter by Information Commissioner contains more hints that the University of Edinburgh was trying everything to avoid any retractions or corrections, but my activities spoiled that (to a degree):

“The University suggested that it could not disclose information about the retracted journal articles until it had contacted all relevant parties. The University contacted the affected journals on 27 October 2017, more than three months before the date when Dr Schneider submitted his requirement for review. By the date of the review, the journals had not yet published retractions of the affected articles (and, indeed, had not done so by May 2018).”

And some pages further on:

“During the Commissioner’s investigation, the University explained that it did not begin the process for retracting the affected journal articles until the disciplinary process was completely concluded.
The Commissioner notes that Dr Schneider made his information request on 13 October 2017 and his request for review was made on 5 February 2018. At the time of Dr Schneider’s request for review, some four months had passed since the conclusion of the disciplinary process. The Commissioner considers that this was sufficient time for the University to have initiated retraction proceedings (indeed the University confirmed that it contacted all but one of the affected journals on 27 October 2017)”

Stancheva came to Edinburgh in 1997 as a postdoc and was sacked as a senior lecturer in the summer of 2017, in utter secrecy. Nobody knew of that, except faculty colleagues, who were informed by the Head of Department David Gray (I received his leaked email on 11.10.2017). Apparently, my previous inquiries set off another investigative process in motion, as I learned it was supported by an external data integrity expert analysis commissioned by the University of Edinburgh. Only evidence already posted on Pubpeer was investigated, 5 papers found problematic, further concerns were all dismissed by the university:

“Other papers investigated were not found to have any image manipulation.”

If you look at those overruled concerns like in Burrage et al J Cell Science 2012, you do wonder how come all that was decided to be NOT image manipulation. Maybe this is what nepotism and academic incest inside a faculty do to one’s thinking.

As soon as I was alerted to the sacking, I contacted the University and saw quasi in real time how all Stancheva-related information was wiped out from the university website and even social media. I published the information on my site on 13.10.2017, and 2 weeks later, the university claims to have approached the journals with requests for retractions and corrections. In June 2018, the University of Edinburgh gave me the list of papers (two retractions, 3 corrections, the Lyst et al 2006 paper omitted), which prompted me to publish my next story on 18.06.2018. An article in Times Higher Education inspired by my reporting appeared in July 2018, it was then quoted as the original source by The Scientist

Unlike the Information Commissioner was made to believe, meanwhile two papers slotted for retraction were retracted, already on 7 March 2019, both in Molecular Cell. Both these papers were very, very fraudulent. However, would these two retractions have happened without my reporting?

Shireen A. Sarraf, Irina Stancheva

Methyl-CpG Binding Protein MBD1 Couples Histone H3 Methylation at Lysine 9 by SETDB1 to DNA Replication and Chromatin Assembly

Molecular Cell (2004) doi: 10.1016/j.molcel.2004.06.043

This retraction notice appeared on 7.03.2019:

“Molecular Cell is retracting this paper following an investigation by the University of Edinburgh into the work of Dr. Irina Stancheva. The investigation found multiple examples of inappropriate image manipulation in Figures 1A, 3A–3C, 4C–4F, 5C, 5D, 6A, and 6B. Given these issues, the figures do not accurately represent the data as obtained, so we are retracting the paper. Dr. Sarraf agrees to the retraction.”

Shireen Sarraf used to be Stancheva’s PhD student and now postdoc with Harvard and NIH. The second retracted paper had Meehan as the corresponding author:

Irina Stancheva, Anne L Collins, Ingatia B Van Den Veyver, Huda Zoghbi, Richard R Meehan

A mutant form of MeCP2 protein associated with human Rett syndrome cannot be displaced from methylated DNA by notch in Xenopus embryos

Molecular Cell (2003), doi: 10.1016/S1097-2765(03)00276-4 .

This was the retraction notice:

“Molecular Cell is retracting this paper following an investigation by the University of Edinburgh into the work of Dr. Irina Stancheva. The investigation found several examples of image manipulation involving duplicated and spliced images, including images that had been compressed, stretched, or flipped. The figures affected are Figures 1A, 3B, 3C, 4F, 4G, 4H, and 4I. Given these issues, the figures do not accurately represent the data as obtained, so we are retracting the paper. Dr. Zoghbi, Dr. Collins, and Dr. Van den Veyver agree to the retraction.”

Note who didn’t agree: Meehan. Like a child crying when a toy he stole at the playground is being taken away from him. On the plus side, it seems to have been the deal that one particularly fraudulent paper Meehan published as the corresponding author gets retracted, and he gets to keep all other dishonest papers he published. Grandpa Bird solved the case beautifully and protected all his lads. For example, this Genes & Development paper is still pristine, untouched by corrections or anything. So what if gel bands are duplicated or as here, three gels show same DNA weight marker spliced on:


Irina Stancheva, Richard R Meehan

Transient depletion of xDnmt1 leads to premature gene activation in Xenopus embryos

Genes & Development (2000) doi: 10.1101/gad.14.3.313

Or how about this other Molecular Cell paper which was saved beyond expectations: editors decided to do diddly-squat when asked by Edinburgh to decide about appropriate action. Not the first time Molecular Cell actively covers up fraud. Also, note who is the last and corresponding author here:

Robert J. Klose, Shireen A. Sarraf, Lars Schmiedeberg, Suzanne M. McDermott, Irina Stancheva, Adrian P. Bird

DNA binding selectivity of MeCP2 due to a requirement for A/T sequences adjacent to methyl-CpG

Molecular Cell (2005) doi: 10.1016/j.molcel.2005.07.021

Shown above are just some examples from that problematic paper, and yet: not even a measly correction, nothing. The first author, the Canadian Rob Klose is Bird’s former PhD student and now a professor in Oxford, funded by ERC, EMBO and Wellcome Trust. He even has a nicely curated Wikipedia page, this is how important he is. Stancheva is never mentioned there, why indeed would Professor Klose need a retraction? Perish the thought. 

There are more Bird students who won’t have to worry about inconvenient retractions to their CVs. Thomas Clouaire (now tenured INSERM researcher back in France) chose not to get involved with Stancheva into a dispute about his paper Clouaire et al NAR 2010, while Kevin Myant  published in Myant & Stancheva Molecular Cell Biology 2007 this photoshopped Figure 6:

This Bird student is namely now Cancer Research UK-funded group leader in Edinburgh and ERC awardee since 2017 (GBP 1.3 mn). Myant is also a coauthor on the above discussed Burrage et al J Cell Science 2012, one more reason to have declared this paper as scientifically pure and unassailable. 

Sir Adrian apparently permanently suffered from the corrupting influence of the Photoshop fraudster Stancheva. Here he is, embracing Laurence Zitvogel and her partner Guido Kroemer, two celebrity Photoshop artists from Paris. Poor man, who is producing all that research in his lab these days, now that Irina Stancheva is gone?



Update 18.10.2019

The Lyst et al EMBO J 2006 paper has been now retracted, due to an unreliable antibody and digital data manipulation. A first-hand source who doesn’t want to be named informed me:

“The University of Edinburgh knew from 2009 that the antibody in the middle of two major Stancheva publications was non-specific (every other panel in Lyst et al paper and Sarraf and Stancheva, 2004 uses this MBD1 antibody) but they didn’t insist she retract or correct the work. Pity it took so long (only after pubpeer, press coverage, untold wasted resources, etc) for them to decide to correct the literature.”


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15 comments on “Edinburgh saves Bird men from clutches of Bulgarian Jezebel

  1. Zebedee

    Silvia Bulfone-Paus tried to blame a Bugarian for her 13 retractions, even though the Bulgarian was not on some of the retractions. The DFG did not buy that argument.

    The British believed the excuse.


  2. Zebedee

    “An enjoyable highlight was work initiated by Irina Stancheva showing that xMeCP2 in Xenopus laevis is required for primary neurogenesis partly through interaction with the SMRT complex, which regulates the activity of xHairy2a, an anti-neurogenic gene.”

    2019 Retraction notice.

    Winston Smith has not been doing his job properly and has failed to rewrite the reference to an “unperson”. The University requires consistency between the past and the future, so the news (the past) sometimes must be altered to reflect the present.


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  4. Concerned

    If PI is unable to spot the manipulation of data this would indicate that he has very little merit and expertise himself. He should never be elevated to this position at first place and certainly not hold this position any longer. However, it’s a common strategy implemented by those motivated by rewards to elevate their nearest loyal circle to ensure that their field is growing in their very own yard. If something good comes out of it, they will take credit for it.
    It takes ten years to retract fabricated papers with no consequences to the elite scientists and well-regarded journals.
    We can just witness those awards-motivated scientists and editors taking advantage of this win-win situation.


    • Once you’re a PI you really don’t pay careful attention to what goes on in the lab anymore, at least that is what I see from PI’s in my experience at a permanent post-doc. Its really up to the people in the lab to insure that the data is correct, because PI’s dont have that kind of competence. I guess my view is since PI’s have little competence to 1.) insure data integrity and 2.) to offer help in doing experiments, why are they paid so much and the data generators paid so little?


      • anonymou .post-doc

        And why do they sign papers in the honorific position of last author? And why do they get all the honors and credits? and why are they the only one with job safety? For this last question, we can all be glad because new PIs are already joining the rank of the permanent precariat. What a victory for misconduct in science.

        Also as a permanent post-doc, I recently discovered why I would fake my data. After so many pressure given by the PI, and so many times being told I was doing shit, faking my data and giving my PI what he wanted would have made my life easier. Damn I am sure I would have scored a job faster. I am glad I left the cursed place that academia is becoming.


      • Wake-up call

        How come this slavery academic system is so sustainable? Slavery – literally as some PhD students and post-docs work for free because funding runs out in the middle of the project, not to mention overtime.
        I would say science-driven curiosity of young people interferes with their consciousness.


  5. Reply to anonymou .post-doc
    August 5, 2019

    “I am glad I left the cursed place that academia is becoming.”

    An uneasy thought is that it has always been like that, it is just that electronic journals, the internet, other new media, and a few enlightened nodes such as Leonid Schneider For Better Science, Retraction Watch, Pubpeer, have helped us see more clearly. Before Retraction Watch, which started n Agust 2010, there was no organised place where retractions, and things leading to retractions, could be posted for discussion. Before these things we lived in a time where we could not share our thoughts with like-minded people. Now we can glimpse what is going on in the First Circle.


  6. Workshop recommendation

    I would strongly recommend University of Edinburgh to further invest into education of prof. Meehan and sponsor him workshop on image integrity!


  7. 2019 retraction for
    EMBO J. 2006 Nov 15;25(22):5317-28. Epub 2006 Oct 26.
    Regulation of MBD1-mediated transcriptional repression by SUMO and PIAS proteins.
    Lyst MJ1, Nan X, Stancheva I.
    Author information
    Wellcome Trust Centre for Cell Biology, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK.

    2019 retraction notice.

    The above article, published online on October 26, 2006, in The EMBO Journal, has been retracted.

    Journal statement
    On March 15, 2019, the University of Edinburgh shared the report from a recent institutional investigation into research misconduct by Irina Stancheva with The EMBO Journal, which concluded that this study is compromised due to off‐target specificity of the monoclonal antibody used in the study (IMG‐306), which was described to target MBD1 in the paper. The report of the University of Edinburgh consequently suggested retraction of the paper.

    The institutional report indicates that the antibody specificity issue was raised by Matthew Lyst with university representatives in 2009. The report states “another issue that had arisen in the Stancheva laboratory … was the use of a commercial monoclonal antibody with claimed specificity against the MBD1 protein, … which was in fact found to specifically detect a different protein.” The report details further that, after Matthew Lyst was not able to reproduce data, a senior member of the institute provided independent experiments to address the specificity issue that support the conclusion that the antibody recognizes another epitope on a protein of a similar MW (CPSF6). The journal was given access to a summary of these data.

    Irina Stancheva noted that the experiments performed by Matthew Lyst used IMG‐306 purchased from a different supplier, which may have lacked MBD1 specificity and maintains that the data in this paper were conclusive and in part reproduced by Hendriks et al (2015), Cell Reports,

    Matthew Lyst states, “IMG‐306 obtained from different suppliers reacts with a band of the molecular weight of CPSF6 rather than MBD1.”

    In addition to the concerns about the antibody specificity, the journal detected image aberrations in multiple figure panels. In the journal’s view, aberrations in Figures 1A, B, D, G; 2C; 4A‐E, 5A, B D; 6C; S2C; and S5B S7 and S7 can be classed as “beautification,” based on apparently unmodified source data provided by Irina Stancheva upon request of the journal. This supports the claim that the data and conclusions from these panels are authentic. However, image aberrations in two additional panels showed signs consistent with image manipulation and could not be supported by compelling source data. The source data supplied for Figures 1C and 6B are included for reference with this retraction notice. Specifically, these issues include band insertions in Figure 1C and the erasure of a band in the first lane of 6B (“no transfection”).

    Matthew Lyst and Xinsheng Nan agree with this notice. Irina Stancheva disagrees with this notice.


  8. Irina appears to have a creative flair that is now being applied to colorful glassware. T-shirts may be next:

    Mike, have you thought of going into colorful kiln pottery?


    • I think this is great actually. The best way research fraudsters can reintegrate into society, and Irina’s art is very nice. Fused glass art is so much better than fused gel fraud. I hope she is happy and wonder if she will earn more now than in her past job as senior lecturer!
      Imagine what talents remain buried because Olivier Voinnet never got sacked!


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