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The Karin Dahlman-Wright Show

Karin Dahlman-Wright, Karolinska Institute's former president, then vice-president, now rector's counsellor was found guilty of research misconduct, again. This time in 4 papers.

The Karin Dahlman-Wright Show continues. The cancer researcher and former Rector of the Karolinska Institutet (KI) in Stockholm, Sweden, has been again found guilty of research misconduct, this time by the newly establish Swedish central authority “Board for the examination of misconduct in research” (NPOF) and in four of her papers. Last year in September, Dahlman-Wright was found guilty of research misconduct in “only” one paper, by the external investigators at University of Gothenburg and NPOF predecessor, the Central Ethics Review Board (CEPN). The shamed scientist resigned from her then-job as Vice-President of KI, on 9 September 2019, only to be appointed as rector’s counsellor for infrastructure and innovation, on 1 December 2019. Which new well-paid university position will await Dahlman-Wright at KI now, after new fraud findings?

As I previously reported in September 2019 (with parts of text self-plagiarised here), in the Gothenburg investigation Dahlman-Wright was found guilty, not much, but it sufficed to make her resign as Vice-Rector. Some junior researchers were thrown under the bus, though presumably deservingly. Also Dahlman-Wright’s mentor and former Chairman of the Nobel Assembly, Jan–Åke Gustafsson, got fingered for research misconduct. He departed in 2008 for University of Houston, USA, and left behind some unsavoury affairs, both financial and sexual, details of these scandals are catalogued here. In the Gothenburg report, Dahlman-Wright herself was almost saved: once by Gustaffsson taking the fall for her, and otherwise she got to share the research misconduct blame with her first author, for just one paper. Out of 10 investigated.

The former KI rector has so far not retracted a single paper, despite fraud findings. Will the new misconduct findings change this? This is up to KI to decide.

But here is the brand new NPOF report, in Swedish original.

Dahlman-Wright was now found guilty of research misconduct in 4 papers from her lab, acquitted in 3 papers, while 3 other papers were exempt from the investigation being more than 10 years old. The report said:

“Karin Dahlman-Wright has extensive experience of research and has participated in a large number of publications. She has been the last author in most of the current publications and has also led the research groups that planned, conducted and reported the research. The investigation in the case shows that Karin Dahlman-Wright has repeatedly been responsible for reviewing publication documents and approved documentation containing incorrect images.

With regard to Karin Dahlman-Wright’s experience and position in the current research group, we consider the fact that she on recurring occasions reviewed and approved incorrect images, which can not be seen only as a result of excusable ignorance or a temporary oversight. The board therefore assesses that she has proceeded grossly negligently. […]
In summary, the committee therefore finds that Karin Dahlman-Wright is guilty of misconduct in research.”

Back story and past investigations

In summer 2018, KI’s former interim rector Dahlman-Wright brought the hammer down in the Paolo Macchiarini affair where the medical university decided that the mere coauthorship on a fraudulent paper constitutes research misconduct. The small-print stipulation being: only if you are a whistleblower, since those certain coauthors, who were best friends with Macchiarini and actively contributed to obfuscation, were actually acquitted. Some of my readers, certain image integrity experts alike the pseudonymous Clare Francis, felt prompted to have a look at the Rector’s publications. They found a lot, which both I and Clare Francis then reported to KI. Further analysis was done by Johan Thyberg, KI professor emeritus and research integrity activist, who also reported his findings to KI.

KI then outsourced the investigation of their then-leader to Gothenburg University and agreed in advance to accept the verdict. Gothenburg in turn sought advice from CEPN which invited an external expert from Denmark, Nils Billestrup. The physiology professor discovered much intentional data fabrication, but also that most of it somehow did not affect the conclusions of Dahlman-Wright’s papers. CEPN went even further and threw out even those cases where Billestrup found fraud, to proclaim Dahlman-Wright a very sloppy scientist, yet entirely innocent of all suspicions of research misconduct. This was the CEPN report’s decision:

“In summary, the Expert Group concludes that even if several of the errors and mistakes from which the articles suffer deserve serious criticism, it cannot be considered to be established that the shortcomings are such that they comprise misconduct in research.”

Then, the external investigators of University of Gothenburg built on that CEPN report, complimented by their own investigation with their own external advisor Sven Påhlman, cancer research professor at Lund University. This time the verdict is harsher, slightly, though significantly. This was the Gothenburg report:

  • Research misconduct exists in Article 3 [Jia et al 2013] and the misconduct can be attributed to Min Jia and Karin Dahlman-Wright at KI.
  • Research misconduct exists in Article 5 [Liu et al 2008] and the misconduct can be attributed to Yawen Liu and Jan-Åke Gustafsson at Kl.”

Other 8 papers were found to contain no misconduct or only serious errors which however did not amount to research misconduct (read details here).

A predictable forced resignation happened after a crisis meeting at KI, on 9 September 2019. Dahlman-Wright wrote in a final blog post as Vice-President:

Shortly after being bullied out of the UK Conservative Party by Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government, Nicholas Soames, the grandson of Winston Churchill and veteran parliamentarian over nearly 40 years said “I am truly very sad that it should end in this way”. I share these sentiments as I leave my position as vice president at Karolinska Institutet after after 3.5 yrs. The immediate reason is that I am associated with scientific misconduct in one article. I am criticized for not properly checking the publisher’s proofs prior to publication and for being the driver of the project up to 2015, a time ahead of when the experiments for the critized figure where performed.

Of course the departing Vice-President also added that “the conclusions drawn were not affected by the mistakes“.

The NPOF Report

KI decided not to make a final decision before 31 December 2019 and requested the NPOF (which started it work on 1 January 2020) to investigate. Below the NPOF decisions of individual papers.

“The board has investigated a total of seven articles. The committee decides that Karin Dahlman-Wright, as the corresponding author, has committed misconduct in research in the following articles:”

M Matic , G Bryzgalova, H Gao, P Antonson, P Humire, Y Omoto, N Portwood, C Pramfalk, S Efendic, PO Berggren, JÅ Gustafsson and K Dahlman-Wright. Estrogen signalling and the metabolic syndrome: targeting the hepaticestrogen receptor alpha action. PLoS ONE (2013)  doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0057458 [CORRECTED 19.06.2019] Figure 2

Qiao, CN Shiue, J Zhu , T Zhuang, P Jonsson , APH Wright, C Zhao, K Dahlman-Wright. AP-1-mediated chromatin looping regulates ZEB2 transcription: new insights into TNFa-induced epithelial-mesenchymal transition in triple-negative breast cancer. Oncotarget (2015) doi: 10.18632/oncotarget.3158 Figure 1 and 2

M Jia, T Andreassen, L Jensen, TF Bathen, I Sinha, H Gao, C Zhao, LA Haldosen, Y Cao, L Girnita, SA Moestue and K Dahlman-Wright. Estrogen Receptor a Promotes Breast Cancer by Reprogramming Choline Metabolism Cancer Res. 2016 doi: 10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-15-2910. Figure 4 and 6 [CORRECTED on 15.10.2019]

J Zhu , C Zhao , A Kharman-Biz , T Zhuang , P Jonsson, N Liang , C Williams, C-Y Lin , Y Qiao , K Zendehdel , S Strömblad, E Treuter, K Dahlman-Wright. The atypical ubiquitin ligase RNF31 stabilizes estrogen receptor a andmodulates estrogen-stimulated breast cancer cell proliferation Oncogene. 2014. doi: 10.1038/onc.2013.573. Figure 4 and 6 [CORRECTED on 27.09.2018]

Johan Thyberg obtained the original gel scans and found more.

In this regard, the report stated:

“The Board can state that it is from the expert opinions in the investigations that preceded the submission to the board that the notified image publications in four of the current articles (Articles 1-4) are to be regarded as manipulations. In this case, it is not disputed that the image publications in question have been faulty, among other things images were used that do not show the described results. It may therefore be considered clear that the notified procedures in this part amounted to forgery within the meaning of the law.”

For the following 3 papers, Dahlman-Wright was acquitted of charges of research misconduct as defined by law:

P Rizza, I Barone, D Zito, F Giordano, M Lanzino, F De Amicis, L Mauro, D Sisci, S Catalano, K Dahlman-Wright , JA Gustafsson, S Ando Estrogen receptor beta as a novel target of androgen receptor action in breast cancer cell lines. Breast Cancer Res. 2014 doi: 10.1186/bcr3619. Figure 1 and 4

G Borbely, LA Haldosen, K Dahlman-Wright and C Zhao. Induction of USP17 by combining BET and HDAC inhibitors in breast cancer cells. Oncotarget (2015) DOI: 10.18632/oncotarget.5601 Figure 3Y

Qiao, H He, P Jonsson, I Sinha, C Zhao and K Dahlman- Wright. AP-1 Is a Key Regulator of Proinflammatory Cytokíne TNF-mediated Triple-negative Breast Cancer Progression. JBC (2016) DOI: 10.1074/jbc.M115.702571 Figure 3 and 4

But the report added regarding these 3 papers:

“In the case, the board has only investigated Karin Dahlman-Wright’s responsibility. Others co-authors’ liability has not been tested.”

Which is wise, because the last author of one of these papers is a certain Sebastiano Ando of the University of Calabria in Italy, who has FIFTY papers flagged on PubPeer for data fakery.

These 3 papers were excluded as too old and not investigated.

Y Liu, H Gao, TT Marstrand, A Ström, E Valen, A Sandelin, JA Gustafsson, K Dahlman-Wright. The genome landscape of ERalpha- and ERbeta-binding DNA regions. PNAS 2008 doi: 10.1073/pnas.0712085105. Figure 1 [CORRECTION 22.01.2019]

L Lundholm , G Bryzgalova , H Gao , N Portwood , S Fält, K D Berndt, A Dicker, D Galuska, J R Zierath , J-A Gustafsson , S Efendic, K Dahlman-Wright, A Khan. The estrogen receptor {alpha}-selective agonist propyl pyrazole triol improvesglucose tolerance in ob/ob mice; potential molecular mechanisms.The Journal of endocrinology (2008) doi: 10.1677/JOE-08-0192 Figure 10 [CORRECTION Nov 2019]

Lindberg MK, Weihua Z, Andersson N, Movérare S, Gao H, Vidal O, Erlandsson M, Windahl S, Andersson G, Lubahn DB, Carlsten H, Dahlman-Wright K, Gustafsson JA, Ohlsson C Estrogen receptor specificity for the effects of estrogen in ovariectomized mice. J Endocrinol. 2002. doi: 10.1677/joe.0.1740167 Figure 5

The paper Liu et al 2008 was already decreed fraudulent by the Gothenburg report, with the blame shared between first author and Dahlman-Wright’s mentor Gustafsson. Back in 2008, last author Dahlman-Wright was able to use the notorious “contributed track” at the society journal PNAS, and thus publish her paper in PNAS without proper peer review, because her coauthor and former mentor Gustafsson is a member of National Academy of Sciences (NAS). Hence Gustafsson became the contributing corresponding author, for which he was served a misconduct verdict by the Gothenburg investigation, while Dahlman-Wright was let off scott-free, again.

The paper Lindberg et al 2002 will continue roaming as a zombie. NPOF decided not to investigate it as too old, and the CEPN and Gotheburg investigators decreed that “there is no dishonesty in research” in that papers. But its figure 5B is obviously fake.

Update 8.10.2020

Dahlman-Wright is appealing the misconduct findings with the Administrative Court in Uppsala. I obtained her full complaint:

Quote:

My first claim is based on the Board unreasonably interpreting the term “forgery”, that the Board unreasonably accumulated several minor oversights to constitute “gross negligence”, that the Board did not take into account that the oversights that took place did not affect the research situation, and that the authors promptly introduced corrections in accordance with good research practice. 

My second claim is based on the Board only giving me a general opportunity to comment on the matter….”

It gets better. Dahlman-Wright cites none other but a study by Elisabeth Bik (Bik et al 2018) as alleged proof that the four “inaccurate” figures in her papers were just unintentional errors which must be fixed with correction, also because these figures “did not affect the research results reported“. Dahlman-Wright then goes on to suggest the four figures have manipulated themselves, and the authors cannot be blamed for not having noticed that. She then educates the court, underlined:

Only if the error affects what the research has shown, should  it be considered a forgery. […] Solely if the error affects what the research has shown, it must be regarded as a forgery.

Conclusions remain unaffected, dear reader.


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