Yet another whistleblower faces legal retaliation. May Griffith, biomedical material science researcher of the University of Montreal in Canada and former professor at Linköping University (LiU) in Sweden, set lawyers upon her former colleague whom she accuses of criticising her clinical research with artificial corneas. The lawyers do not merely demand silence and a public apology on my site, they even order the whistleblower to pay an unspecified sum to Griffith or face civil and criminal charges in court.
The story which prompted that legal attack appeared on my site in March 2018, combined with an Open Letter based on the writings by that former colleague, Jaywant Phopase, material science researcher at LiU. Later, I updated the article with original LiU files which I obtained from the university registrar. These provided additional mechanistic insights into how Griffith was found guilty of research misconduct in 2015 (see LiU press release, the Swedish-language report summary, original complaints here and here, statements from the external investigators here , here and here).
There was also documented evidence of financial misconduct: Griffith was namely denounced for alleged funnelling of research funds to a Lituanian company she part-owns. LiU investigation apparently did not deny that, but neither did it rule against the financial misconduct accusations. But then again, same university recently had no problem whatsoever with their other former employees’ scamferences and the public money which Ashutosh Tiwari and his partners syphoned from LiU and Swedish research funders into their own private pockets. A source told me that when Griffith was leaving LiU, her lab equipment, worth several millions, was loaded on a big truck and followed her. And nobody at LiU bothered to do anything about it.
In the bizarre email from the law firm, Phopase is being made the sole responsible for the contents of my site. Because they found no quotes to grab hold on, Griffith’s lawyers claim that even offering official, legally obtained LiU documents for download constitutes slander. Worse, they even expect that Phopase retracts all his communications to journals and institutions and issues a public apology on my site. And on top of all that the lawyers demand money, an unspecified “financial compensation” to Griffith. Maybe she faces another misconduct investigation, this time in Montreal? Or in trouble with her publications? The lawyers do not specify what kind of “ great damage” Griffith has suffered already, which is a pity. We all would enjoy some Schadenfreude here.
The situation is very similar to when the British whistleblowers Patricia Murray and Raphael Lévy were threatened by the lawyers acting for the regenerative medicine business Videregen. Also there, confidentially submitted complaints were construed by lawyers into some frivolous slander accusations. Videregen and their partners at UCL in London however landed on their arse with that act, which they probably deemed very clever at that time. Will same happen to Griffith? Very likely.
Back in 2018, Phopase was prompted to approach me about a guest post because Griffith intended to publish a research paper on the cornea implants which his lab has manufactured. Phopase refused coauthorship because he had concerns about the spin and the central claims of that paper. So the LiU researcher was told that he will be removed as coauthor, but that Griffith will keep his research data and pass it off as her own. And that was what she did: the paper Phopase tried to prevent appeared as Simpson et al, Ann Eye Sci 2018 later in March 2018 in a journal previously listed as a predatory outlet (as Smut Clyde commented).
Another contested Griffith paper is being mentioned in the lawyer’s letter below, but not further specified. But the journal to which Phopase allegedly wrote without Griffth’s permission is named: Acta Biomaterialia, published by Elsevier. It might be the paper Jangamreddy et al Acta Biomaterialia 2018, also because it mentions in the acknowledgements “The implants used in the rabbit rheology and stability studies were made by R. Ravichandran, Linköping University and Kristina Druceikaitė, Ferentis respectively“. The company Ferentis (part-owned by Griffith) is actually the same Lithuanian company which (according to this investigation) was allegedly used to funnel LiU research funds to, and which reputation Griffith’s lawyers seek to defend.
That paper was already corrected on 1 April 2019, because “an error was published in the original version of Fig. 4.” An archived version of the original figure is available on Sci-hub: a figure panel was found duplicated.
An earlier correction from November 2018 of that same Jangamreddy et al Acta Biomaterialia 2018 paper was even more alarming. Turned out, there was “a transcription error in Table 1,” meaning quantifications of aesthesiometry (corneal sensory function) were recorded wrong. The newly published numbers are quite significantly lower than what passed peer review.
An expert in clinical trial compliance commented this regarding yet another disputed Griffith paper, the very same one she was found guilty of research misconduct for:
“Mirabile lectu. According to the 2018 paper ( https://www.nature.com/articles/s41536-017-0038-8 )
“In India, clinical testing was performed in accordance with the Declaration of Helsinki, relevant laws of India and after approval by the ethics committee (LEC 01-14-014) of the LV Prasad Eye Institute (LVPEI) and trial registration at Clinical Trial Registry-India (CTRI/2014/10/005114).”
The status of the referenced trial is “not yet recruiting” and no subjects have been enrolled http://ctri.nic.in/Clinicaltrials/showallp.php?mid1=9854&EncHid=&userName=2014/10/005114 . […]
Even if the trial was open for recruitment and had recruited subjects, according to Table 1 in the paper and exclusion criteria in the trial registration, subject 1 is excluded due to active infection, and subject 6 is excluded due to glaucoma. Specialists may be able to spot additional exclusions
Also: according to the paper implants for clinical use were made at Karolinska Institute’s Vecura facility. What were the terms of the Material Transfer Agreement with the authors? [..]
In my opinion this gives the appearance of brazen non-compliance with widely shared ethical principles, guidelines, and perhaps regulations and law for research on human subjects. I would be pleased to correct the foregoing based upon additional verifiable not-insane information.”
That 2018 paper reported experiments of human patients in India and Ukraine which even LiU found to be unethical: the material from which the corneas were made was not permitted for human use, the animal tests were not yet done while humans were already being treated (read more here). And yet, neither LiU nor the publisher Nature Research Group did anything. Who cares, those were just some blind Indians and Ukrainians abused for unethical experiments, and npj Regenerative Medicine must protect its impact factor. LiU also presides over a €6mn ongoing EU project, with corneal implants made by former Griffith collaborators there. A retraction would not be convenient.
The guilty and the innocent
This is why LiU sees not the cheaters and money embezzlers, but the whistleblowers and the journalists as its true enemies. Phopase was bullied by LiU for having contacted me, by the same admin people who were at that time busy investigating themselves for their own role in Tiwari scams (they found themselves innocent, in case you wondered). It was not even the first time. Back when misconduct accusations were raised against Griffith, LiU senior management did two things, according to a source: they immediatedly informed her about the traitors’ identities, and secondly, they did nothing when bullying and retaliations began.
In this regard, a comment posted under my article made perfect sense:
“May Griffith was former Prof. in Linkoping University (LiU), School of Medicine
When I was there as a postdoc, I heard terrible stories about her activities such as fake cornea implantations performed out of Sweden, and couple of surgeries performed in Eastern Europe ended up with dead patients -very similar to Paolo Macchiarini case- but somehow all information was shadowed by the University. Everyone in the department became so silent when I started to ask questions about her and her activities. She was employed around 2009, and her activities and her lab were terminated around summer 2016, her students are suddenly sent to another department or other labs starting from 2014 to 2015 and nobody knew the reason why? Then, she turned back to Canada where she came from (https://research.uottawa.ca/people/griffith-may). I heard that couple of her students complained about her and her activities but it looks like University decided to keep to story secret, decided to terminate the lab activities. This is another aspect of the story!”
A follow-up comment linked to this PubPeer post from December 2018, discussing the Griffith paper Mak et al J Functional Biomaterials 2015. It contains an image which appears copy-pasted, after it was digitally manipulated to obscure the similarities. Ruth Dixon opined instead that this was a pair of stereoscopic “images of the same sample, but viewed from slightly different angles”. In any case, an honest mistake is not likely.
The last author is Griffith, and the first author Wing Cheung Mak used to be associate professor in the team of Tiwari’s patron, the LiU bigwig Anthony “Tony” Turner. When Turner suddenly retired around Christmas 2017, Mak took over as new head of the Biosensors and Bioelectonics team. Nobody at that department was found guilty of anything when LiU investigated the Tiwari affair, even Tiwari himself only tripped over his past association with the fraudulent nanotechnologist Prashant Sharma.
Just two weeks later, the authors submitted a Correction to the publisher MDPI:
“Recently, we found a mistake in Figure 4D in our previously published paper , which we would like to correct. In brief, the images for Figure 4D at time 12 h are incorrect and should be replaced as shown below (Figure 1). This amendment does not influence the conclusions drawn in the paper. We wish to apologize for any inconvenience that this may have caused.”
We do not look after your interests
But now, to the main point of this article. Following are the emails Phopase received from Griffith’s Swedish lawyers of the Stockholm-based law firm MarLaw.
The original legal emails are here.
This is the first email Phopase received from MarLaw AB, dated 2.05.2019. I added some comments in brackets where I felt the lawyers were bullshitting too much to bear.
Dear Dr. Phopase,
We are contacting you as the legal representatives for May Griffith (MG).
According to our knowledge a blog post was written on the international blog “For Better Science” in March 2018; https://forbetterscience.com/2018/03/02/linkoping-researcher-protests-bad-science-of-corneal-implants/.
The blog post contains serious and false accusations against MG and presents incorrect information regarding the research that MG’s group worked on at Linköping University, e.g. MG is being accused for misconduct in research and it is stated that tests have been conducted on blind patients without adequate prior animal tests, and that LV Prasad Eye Institute surgeons performed corneal implants on patients without ethical permission etc [I actually quoted from LiU misconduct report, where Griffith was not just accused, but found guilty of misconduct for those very things, -LS]. Also the research results presented in the scientific article on the clinical trial results are questioned.
In addition to the accusations about the ethical procedure, MG is also being accused of having stolen your work. The blog post is signed with your name, therefore we have reason to believe that you are the author of the blog post. The blog was also updated in October 2018 where MG is being accused of laundering money for a Lithuanian company. [it says no such thing, but merely links to official LiU documents which do indeed suggest financial misconduct took place,- LS] Because the accusations have been made in accordance with the blog post are signed with your name, we have reason to believe that you are the author behind the update as well .
MG is also being accused of having stolen your work and unethical procedures through complaints to a scientific journal and to a research-funding agency, both in April 2018 to the scientific journal Acta Biomaterialia, secondly to the Fonds de Recherche Sante Quebec or “FRQ”, and thirdly to Acta Biomaterialia this year. Your name has been stated as the one who made the first complaint, therefore we have reason to believe that you are the author to that complaint. The other two are basically the same as the first one, hence we have reason to believe that you are the author to the other two complaints as well.
In our opinion, the actions described above may constitute defamation/slander and have caused great damage to MG [Is someone in trouble with her Montreal employer?, -LS]. If our contention that you are responsible for the actions described above are correct, we require that you; 1) immediately stop this type of actions, 2) return within seven (7) working days, May 13h 2019 at the latest, with confirmation that you will immediately remove all blog posts and undertake to refrain from any similar action in the future.
Since the actions have caused great damage to MG, we would like a suggestion for financial compensation to MG for the damage that has occurred due to the statements. In case it is not you who made these statements, please return within seven (7) working days (May, 13th) with your position.
In case you do not comply with the requirements, we have the mandate to take legal action, including criminal procedure. Lastly, we would like to emphasize in particular, that we do not look after your interests and you should contact a legal representative that is familiar with this field of law in case there are any uncertainties regarding the meaning of this email.
Stockholm the 2nd of May 2019
Alexander Jute & Hannah Fager
Advokatfirman MarLaw AB
Hannah Fager | Associate
It doesn’t matter if Phopase wrote to the mentioned agencies or not. It is simply none of any lawyer’s business what is being communicated to journal editors or funding agencies, simply because it is not public. Even the most intellectually challenged lawyer should be able to distinguish between accusations made through official confidential channels vs the public domain. Otherwise, if for example a woman were to report to police being beaten by her husband, the gentleman would be able to engage the services of MarLaw lawyers to accuse her of slander and force the victim to retract her police report. Gosh, I hope I didn’t give MarLaw ideas for advertisements on Swedish television. All in all, such accusations of slander is baseless, frivolous and illegal, and thus stands no chance with any court, even the most corrupt one. Even the Videregen’s lawyers in UK apparently understood this.
Phopase apparently tried to explain that For Better Science is my site, and not his. On 17 May 2019, MarLaw lawyers wrote to Phopase again:
Dear Dr. Phopase,
We are aware of the fact that you are not the owner of the blog. The guest blog post we refer to is however signed with your name and you have the legal responsibility for what you have written, unless the blog has a publication license which we have not found [they are apparently making stuff up as they go! -LS]. Also, according to our knowledge you are one of three individuals who made the initial complaints of misconduct as well as money laundering to LiU, which the statements on the blog and update on the blog is based on. We therefore request that you contact the owner of the blog and retract the blog post and issue a public apology to May Griffith (MG) with us on copy as soon as possible. [It is my blog, and I am issuing this instead! -LS] You are responsible for your actions and therefore it is not enough to refer us to the blog owner or the lawyer at LiU unless the LiU lawyer is your legal representative.
In addition, we request an answer regarding the complaints written to Acta Biomaterialia and to the Fonds de Recherche Sante Quebec, “FRQ” [that’s because it is none of your business, maybe? -LS]. We intend to initiate legal action in case you do not give suggestion for reasonable compensation to MG for the damage that has occurred due to the statements. We expect to hear from you no later than May 24, 2019.
Lastly, we would again like to emphasize in particular, that we do not look after your interests and you should contact a legal representative that is familiar with this field of law in case there are any uncertainties regarding the meaning of this email.
Alexander Jute & Hannah Fager
Advokatfirman MarLaw AB
Hannah Fager | Associate
I bet Alexander Jute and Hannah Fager did not expect to see their silly letters published. Well, there they are. Doesn’t look too professional towards potential clients.
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