The institutional investigation into data manipulations in papers from the lab of the Rector of the University of Ferrara in Italy, Giorgio Zauli, reported on PubPeer and on my site, concluded in January 2019. Unlike promised by the university, the results are so far kept utterly secret, and it does not bulge to any requests or protests, or even media inquiries from the local newspaper Estense. Zauli meanwhile tried to have me punished by state prosecutor and by the Italian office for data protection.
Instead, on 3 July 2019, the University of Ferrara published a blog post by their rector as a press release, where Zauli declares having been exonerated, his file permanently closed and secret, and equates his critics (who he announced to sue) to the Nazi propaganda minister and Hitler’s most loyal ally, Joseph Goebbels. It was meant as reply to criticism raised by Lucio Picci, professor of economics at the University of Bologna (UniBo). Picci namely asked with reference to the evidence of data manipualtion in Zauli’s papers published on my site:
“I struggle to bring them respect, observing the silence that surrounds the story of their Rector, Prof. Giorgio Zauli, accused by a known whistleblower of serious violations of ethics of scientific research. Allegations which, if true, should lead to his immediate resignation. And if false, it would require solidarity and defence of the unjustly insulted by their University.
I struggle to bring respect to these professors, who have not said anything – it seems – to counter the silence of the University, which had refused to release to a journalist the outcome of the work of the Commission tasked with assessing the allegations”.
This was the Rector’s public response, directed at Picci, but also at his other critics, most prominently the Milan-based journalist Sylvie Coyaud (born during WWII). Backup is here.
Rector’s response to Prof. Lucio Picci of Unibo
I waited until today before issuing this statement, waiting for the Head of the Corruption Prevention and Transparency of the University to respond to e-mail received by prof. Picci of Unibo which is nothing short of annoying and offensive to myself personally and to the Academic Senate as well as to the entire faculty.
Contrary to Goebbels, who said that a lie repeated 100 times becomes a truth, we try to establish the truth of the facts, to sum up this affair which instrumental outline and deliberate defamation will be addressed in appropriate courts of law.
In May 2018, following the report by a German blogger to our Ethics Commission about alleged irregularities in some of the images published in my scientific publications, the Ethics Commission had decided not to proceed because the application had been declared inadmissible for lack of legitimacy to act on behalf of the blogger under the Code of Ethics of the University.
Conversely, on my own, I brought the “the case” before the Ethics Commission which can investigate and develop the procedure with me having nothing to hide. In this way the procedure is carried according to rules and until the final epilogue. I even provided a report on the contested issues, it was available not only to the Ethics Commission, but also to all the teaching and non-teaching staff of the University.
To avoid any kind of influence towards the Ethics Committee I considered it essential not keep any relation with the said Commission, obviously with the exception of my defence hearings with the same.
After more than six months of discussions the Ethics Commission has closed the case with no evidence having emerged against me of any malicious acts or gross negligence. The Chairman of the Ethics Commission, concluded the proceedings by commending me on several occasions not to have interfered in any way with the work of the same Commission.
The outcome of the investigation by the Ethics Commission has been made known according to rules to the Academic Senate and the Board of Directors in January 2019.
I remind that the University is in no way obligated to make a public statement to the press of the progress and / or outcomes of internal processes or external investigations against any member of the academic community.
It is unfortunate then that after many months a professor of another university is allowed without having a shred of knowledge on this matter not only to raise heavy doubt on my personal scientific integrity, but even to go so far as in fact to accuse of our University and its faculty of inaction and appeasement.
In an absurd reversal of roles, my absolutely transparent conduct is accused of opacity and insulted, the university professors.
I therefore intend to apply the same rigour that I applied myself to all those of you who for self-promotion or perhaps unstated reasons allow such unrestrained defamatory attacks. It is my firm intention to safeguard the reputation of the University and my staff in the appropriate courts.
The Rector Giorgio Zauli
As it is evidently clear, Zauli announces to use his university’s legal department to drag Picci, Coyaud, me and all his critics to courts for defamation. The irony is that Zauli tried to get me prosecuted for publishing his allegedly private correspondence, which he now admits was issued officially on behalf of the University of Ferrara. The legal threats sent to me under the University’s heading, and the reports to the public prosecutor and other authorities, were evidently written by Sabrina Landini, who used to be a liaison manager and has been since promoted by Zauli to head of legal department at the University of Ferrara. It will be her task to sue Picci and others on behalf of the university, though Zauli is not likely to get anywhere with that, try as he might.
Another irony is that Zauli, who compares his critics with Nazi war criminals, is himself in bed with the ultra-nationalists of Lega Nord, the currently ruling political party from northern Italy (so-called Padania). Lega ideologists see themselves as Aryans, and are openly racist even towards compatriots in southern Italy, while Lega’s militant xenophobia becomes sadistically vile towards refugees from Africa and Syria. The connection? Zauli’s right-hand man (and since 2016, his PR person) is namely Andrea Maggi, whose movement Ferrara Cambia is allied with Lega Nord and with the even more racist movement of the actual self-admitted fascists of Fratelli d’Italia. It should maybe be mentioned as aside that Maggi was supposed to retire in 2016, yet somehow he was rejuvenated by Zauli’s decree to be appointed to an early career research fellowship “at the Department of Morphology, Surgery and Experimental medicine, which is the Department of belonging to the Rector, Professor Giorgio Zauli”,as Coyaud reports.
After the Lega candidate Alan Fabbri was elected as mayor of (traditionally left-ruled) Ferrara this summer, Zauli was lauded as a “revolutionary rector” and Maggi was put in charge of “public works, real estate building and urban regeneration”, where he will now be basically approving Zauli’s grand plans for the expansion of the university and the announced employment of 600
fascists and research fraudsters, pardon, qualified scientists.
This is the political situation. The Italian ministry for research and education is presently controlled by Lega, no prizes to guess whose side the minister Marco Bussetti will be on in the Zauli affair. But on the academic level, it seems the university has become a feudal property of a corrupt sociopathic bully. Which is good news to all the other cheaters there, big and small. For example, does anyone honestly expect the Ethics Commission to act in any way on the papers of another Ferrarese cancer researcher, namely Zauli’s collaborator and professor at same Department of Morphology, Surgery and Experimental Medicine, Luca Neri?
This is namely Neri’s PubPeer record, I give below some examples. All have Zauli as coauthor.
Carolina Simioni , Alice Cani , Alberto M. Martelli , Giorgio Zauli , Ayman A.M. Alameen , Simona Ultimo , Giovanna Tabellini , James A. McCubrey , Silvano Capitani, Luca M. Neri
The novel dual PI3K/mTOR inhibitor NVP-BGT226 displays cytotoxic activity in both normoxic and hypoxic hepatocarcinoma cells
Oncotarget (2015) doi: 10.18632/oncotarget.3940 PubPeer here.
Carolina Simioni , Alice Cani , Alberto M. Martelli , Giorgio Zauli , Giovanna Tabellini, James McCubrey , Silvano Capitani , Luca M. Neri
Activity of the novel mTOR inhibitor Torin-2 in B-precursor acute lymphoblastic leukemia and its therapeutic potential to prevent Akt reactivation
Oncotarget (2014) doi: 10.18632/oncotarget.2490 PubPeer here
Or how about more data reuse across two other papers in Oncotarget, also with Neri as last author and Zauli as coauthor, Simioni et al 2016 and Simioni et al 2017?
But before Neri blames Zauli, here is a paper from Neri lab without the rector:
Silvia Missiroli , Daniela Etro , Francesca Buontempo , Keqiang Ye , Silvano Capitani , Luca Maria Neri
Nuclear translocation of active AKT is required for erythroid differentiation in erythropoietin treated K562 erythroleukemia cells
Int J Biochemistry & Cell Biology (2009) doi: 10.1016/j.biocel.2008.07.002 PubPeer here
Can one trust any biomedical research published in Ferarra, especially at Zauli’s own Department of Morphology, Surgery, Experimental Medicine? How about this paper, also co-authored by Zauli, proclaiming to cure cancer with snail mucus:
Claudio Trapella , Roberta Rizzo , Stefania Gallo , Andrea Alogna , Daria Bortolotti , Fabio Casciano , Giorgio Zauli , Paola Secchiero , Rebecca Voltan
HelixComplex snail mucus exhibits pro-survival, proliferative and pro-migration effects on mammalian fibroblasts
Scientific Reports (2018) doi: 10.1038/s41598-018-35816-3 PubPeer here
Can these academics be trusted with anything of responsibility? As reminder, these are clinical researchers. Would you put your life in the hands of these doctors if you were a patient? I would not even trust Zauli’s poetry.
Looks like Neri and Zauli also engage in plagiarism. Their joint review Ultimo et al J Cell Physiology 2018 contains plagiarised text passages from two publications by completely different authors, Ye et al Nucl Acids Res 2012 and Chiaretti et al Med Princ Pract 2014, as highlighted here:
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Perhaps you should send your reportage to the “Osservatorio Indipendente sui Concorsi Universitari”, a group of “independent” Italian watchdogs that includes our “Magnifico” Giorgio Zauli. Apparently, he loves to represent it with the media (https://www.repubblica.it/scuola/2019/01/22/news/universita_rettori_e_professori_ora_si_schierano_con_chi_denuncia_i_concorsi_falsi-217186737/), making bold claims about transparency and integrity.
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