French science is a crazy place. There is so much data fakery going on that I personally can’t keep up, and only report on cases I find interesting myself, for some obscure and perverse reasons (maybe this Mediapart article helps, where I am portrayed as a Nazi sexual harasser). Hence, my sincere apologies to all those French cheaters who I haven’t managed to write about. It does not mean you are less important.
Apologies to Monsieur and Madame Egly of the University of Strasbourg, both of these cancer researchers have lovely PubPeer records: 15 papers for Cécile Rochette-Egly, and only 6, but quality entries for Jean-Marc Egly. The latter, who is known in Strasbourg for a somewhat violent personality, showed himself however very polite by commenting on PubPeer about this paper:
Monsieur Egly posted some freshly cooked data and informed everyone:
“We have full confidence in the findings and conclusions of the paper. However, in the interest of maintaining accuracy in the published scientific literature, we wish to contact the editorial in Molecular and Cellular Biology. #1 Image duplication results from carelessness during the construction of the Figure 4, which contains more than sixty different blots.“
If he says so. But now, over to another high-ranking scientist in France: the neuroscientist and toxicologist Charbel Massaad. He is director of the Faculty of Basic Sciences and Biomedicine at the Université Paris-Descartes, which comprises 4 CNRS and INSERM research institutes. In this position Massaad is the direct boss of the PubPeer founder and CNRS scientist Brandon Stell, who is employed at one of these 4 units, the Saints-Pères Paris Institute for the Neurosciences. Which probably concludes my Stell’s Bosses Tryptich, started with the CNRS chief biologist Catherine Jessus (whitewashed, critics persecuted, but eventually resigned), over the CNRS president Anne Peyroche (dethroned, shamed with fraud findings, and now symbolically punished with 2 weeks suspension because conclusions unaffected), and now, Massaad.
I tried to get Stell’s expert opinion on the PubPeer-listed papers from Massaad lab, but received no reply. Which is understandable: I am blocked by PubPeer on Twitter, and Stell himself once said that the world would be a better place without my website. But then how would the world know about all that Photoshopped fake science Stell’s bosses have published?
Massaad recently put forward his candidacy as president of his university, this is his campaign page. His programme had 9 goals, this was one of them:
#8 Ethical and responsible University.
Implement quality standards on administrative procedures, research platforms and diplomas
Train EC, researchers, IATSS and ITA during their internship period in scientific ethics and the challenges of the fight against fraud
Train students from the license and throughout their studies
(Master and PhD) in science ethics
Set up in the laboratories a network of “scientific integrity” officers linked to the central integrity referent
Sounds great, but maybe Massaad should start that research ethics training with himself? Look at this:
Julien Grenier , Amalia Trousson , Anne Chauchereau , Larbi Amazit , Audrey Lamirand , Philippe Leclerc , Anne Guiochon-Mantel , Michael Schumacher , Charbel Massaad Selective recruitment of p160 coactivators on glucocorticoid-regulated promoters in Schwann cells Molecular Endocrinology (2004) doi: 10.1210/me.2004-0241
It is a bit of a rather fraudulent mess, with cloned and reused 18S RT-PCR bands inside same gel and between figures, where western blotted SRC proteins 1, 2 and 3 are interchangeable and sometimes even become Actin. Massaad is certainly not worried, he commented eventually (typo his):
“Julien Grenier and I retreived a large part of the raw data yesterday. We are currently examining them and will respond promptly to your comments.“
The message was co-signed by Julien Grenier, now associate professor at Massaad’s department at Université Paris-Descartes, Unit T3S (Environmental Toxicity, Therapeutic Targets, Cellular Signaling and Biomarkers). With Grenier and Massaad investigating, who will be the unlucky scapegoat for that paper?
Massaad posted an identical comment on a sister paper, published 2 years later, where the fake figure 3B from Grenier et al 2004 returned as Figure 5D of Grenier et al 2006, with some additional extra-fakery:
Julien Grenier , Amalia Trousson , Anne Chauchereau , Jean Cartaud , Michael Schumacher , Charbel Massaad Differential recruitment of p160 coactivators by glucocorticoid receptor between Schwann cells and astrocytes Molecular Endocrinology (2006) doi: 10.1210/me.2005-0061
Those emboldened, the authors dumped even more Photoshop-fabricated stuff into that “scientific study”, some again reused from the artificial Grenier et al 2004 paper, some falsified de novo:
It takes balls to publish such surreal Photoshop cornucopia and then to declare yourself as champion of research integrity in your university rectorship campaign. Yet this was what Massaad did, unironically. It is not like these two papers were a one-off.
Joelle Makoukji , Martin Belle , Delphine Meffre , Ruth Stassart , Julien Grenier , Ghjuvan’Ghjacumu Shackleford , Robert Fledrich , Cosima Fonte , Julien Branchu , Marie Goulard , Catherine De Waele , Frédéric Charbonnier , Michael W Sereda , Etienne-Emile Baulieu , Michael Schumacher , Sophie Bernard , Charbel Massaad Lithium enhances remyelination of peripheral nerves Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2012) doi: 10.1073/pnas.1121367109
I am not sure how this can happen by incident: the gels for phosphorylated Akt and GAPDH are obviously very similar, just differently cropped and darkened. The next case, found by Clare Francis after I invited this image integrity sleuth to the Massaad party, is even more difficult to explain by an innocent mistake:
Amalia Trousson , Joelle Makoukji , Patrice X. Petit , Sophie Bernard , Christian Slomianny , Michael Schumacher , Charbel Massaad Cross-talk between oxysterols and glucocorticoids: differential regulation of secreted phopholipase A2 and impact on oligodendrocyte death PLoS ONE (2009) doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0008080
This is an example of Flawed Cytometry, where the same sample is presented as two utterly different samples, thanks to some post-measurement re-gating. Conveniently also the quantification numbers become different. The highlighted cell patterns (each dot is a cell detected by FACS) are a give-away that both 24h and 48h sample are actually the same resurrected sample.
There are some clues that at least some of the data reuse might have happened with Massaad’s knowledge. Even if a PI is completely clueless of any digital data manipulation, this PI sure must notice when figures are being reused in his papers, as he did in Grenier et al 2004 and Grenier et al 2006. Clare Francis spotted this also:
Ghjuvan’Ghjacumu Shackleford , Joelle Makoukji , Julien Grenier , Philippe Liere , Delphine Meffre , Charbel Massaad Differential regulation of Wnt/beta-catenin signaling by Liver X Receptors in Schwann cells and oligodendrocytes Biochemical Pharmacology (2013) –
The Figures 3 and Figures 1B in that paper are namely re-used from an earlier Massaad paper. Even if in similar context this time, this is not how science is supposed to work. The authors formatted the figures differently, which presumably serves as an experimental reproduction.
Joelle Makoukji , Ghjuvan’Ghjacumu Shackleford , Delphine Meffre , Julien Grenier , Philippe Liere , Jean-Marc A Lobaccaro , Michael Schumacher , Charbel Massaad Interplay between LXR and Wnt/β-catenin signaling in the negative regulation of peripheral myelin genes by oxysterols Journal of Neuroscience (2011) doi: 10.1523/jneurosci.0761-11.2011
That paper has issues of its own: for some reason the authors were unhappy with their results, and decided to play a bit with library loading controls.
The former president of Université Paris-Descartes whom Masaad intended to succeed, was until 2019 Frederic Dardel, now special advisor to the France’s Minister for Research and Innovation, Frederique Vidal. Dardel qualified for that new job because he defended Vidal’s papers from the evidence I posted on my site, as the minister was threatening me with lawsuits.
One of these Vidal papers was even retracted, by the non-nonsense Journal of Biological Chemistry, the rest apparently saved because a government minister for science cannot be associated with research misconduct activities.
Maybe Brendon Stell is right. French science would certainly be a much more peaceful and harmonic place without my site.