Children of professors often become professors themselves, how to explain this? Well, It’s simple science, as Edinburgh scholars around Ian Deary and Stuart Ritchie established in peer-reviewed research: Academic achievement and even financial income are both genetically inheritable, being directly connected to the IQ which is of course genetically inheritable, best scientific proof being a) English political elites and nobility are all supremely intelligent, and b) kids from low-income families, especially those of immigrants, especially those with dark skin, rarely make it into Oxbridge. Both for good scientific reasons.
In this regard, it is pretty straightforward why surprisingly many professors have a professor Dad, and sometimes also a professor Mum. Sometimes at the same university where their genetically superior and IQ-endowed progeny happens to have studied, or even to take up their own faculty chair. Sometimes it is simply enough to say your last name and admit, yes, so-and-so is indeed my dad, mum or uncle, and all academic doors open as if by magic.
My readers might recall two such examples. The MIT molecular biologist David Sabatini long overshadowed his academic father David Sabatini Senior, in fact the junior is so big and influential that he probably will never have to retract a paper, no matter what. A very different case is that of the US-based Greek materials scientists Katerina Aifantis and her father Elias Aifantis, which is so twisted that even a team of hardened psychiatrists will probably quit ripping their hair out.
The following case is that of the Nussenzweig family, where for at least one of the sons, the Rockefeller University professor of immunology, HIV researcher, AAAS and NAS member Michel Nussenzweig, an “alternative career” might have a better option. There are things on PubPeer which suggest it at least. Some of these papers were published with his brother Andre Nussenzweig, cancer researcher at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) at NIH in Bethesda.
Their parents were Ruth and Victor Nussenzweig (both now deceased), very eminent immunologists from Brazil who in 1963 fled the fascist dictatorship and established themselves at the New York University (Ruth Nussenzweig in 1939 fled the Nazis in Austria). Their son Michel studied, graduated and built his entire academic career at the neighbouring Rockefeller University, where his faculty chair is named by his two famous PhD mentors, Zanvil Cohn and Ralph Steinman. Now Michel Nussenzweig works on curing COVID-19, in a recent Nature paper, by studying virus-neutralising antibodies.
Indeed, Nussenzweig’s approach to immunoglobulin recombination has so far proved a resounding success, with papers hammered into Nature, Cell and Science. If it worked there, it sure will also get the coronavirus beaten down like a recalcitrant peer reviewer.
Let us start with a paper from Michel’s lab, coauthored with his brother and DNA repair expert, Andre Nussenzweig.
Anne Bothmer, Davide F. Robbiani, Michela Di Virgilio, Samuel F. Bunting, Isaac A. Klein, Niklas Feldhahn, Jacqueline Barlow, Hua-Tang Chen, David Bosque, Elsa Callen, André Nussenzweig, Michel C. Nussenzweig Regulation of DNA end joining, resection, and immunoglobulin class switch recombination by 53BP1 Molecular Cell (2011) doi: 10.1016/j.molcel.2011.03.019
That seems like a reused gel and stands in for two different experiments, where two different protein constructs were used. Maybe a mistake, where someone also mistakenly cropped the bands while mistakenly copy-pasting them.
More accidents from Michel’s Rockefeller lab, again with his brother as coauthor, where one of coauthors of the above paper returns as first author here:
Niklas Feldhahn, Elisabetta Ferretti, Davide F Robbiani, Elsa Callen, Stephanie Deroubaix, Licia Selleri, Andre Nussenzweig, Michel C Nussenzweig The hSSB1 orthologue Obfc2b is essential for skeletogenesis but dispensable for the DNA damage response in vivo The EMBO journal (2012) doi: 10.1038/emboj.2012.247
Niklas Feldhahn is now lecturer at the Imperial College London. In 2006 his PhD paper from the University of Cologne, Germany (Feldhahn et al JEM 2002) was retracted due to “incorrect FACS instrument compensations“, another Feldhahn coauthored paper, Klein et al JEM 2004, so far escaped any literature corrections. Neither Feldhahn nor any of the Nussenzweigs found time to respond as of yet. This Nature paper of the Nussenzweigs might be even more problematic:
Simone Petersen, Rafael Casellas, Bernardo Reina-San-Martin, Hua Tang Chen, Michael J. Difilippantonio, Patrick C. Wilson, Leif Hanitsch, Arkady Celeste, Masamichi Muramatsu, Duane R. Pilch, Christophe Redon, Thomas Ried, William M. Bonner, Tasuku Honjo, Michel C. Nussenzweig, André Nussenzweig AID is required to initiate Nbs1/gamma-H2AX focus formation and mutations at sites of class switching Nature (2001) doi: 10.1038/414660a
It is rather clear that the two labelled lanes are identical. Can this happen by accident or by mistake? Depends how you define accident or mistake, maybe like getting caught on data falsification? This time, it is Andre Nussenzweig who is the last and corresponding author here. But neither of the brothers replied on PubPeer so far, despite being primarily responsible senior authors. There might be a pattern, observe that the second author of that 2001 Nature paper is first author in 2002 Cell:
Rafael Casellas, Mila Jankovic, Gesa Meyer, Anna Gazumyan, Yan Luo, Robert Roeder, Michel Nussenzweig OcaB is required for normal transcription and V(D)J recombination of a subset of immunoglobulin kappa genes Cell (2002) doi: 10.1016/s0092-8674(02)00911-x
This lead author Rafael Caselas is now principal investigator at National Cancer Institute (NCI) at NIH in Bethesda, where Andre Nussenzweig works. Caselas published also this with his mentor Michel Nussenzweig:
R Casellas, T A Shih , M Kleinewietfeld, J Rakonjac, D Nemazee, K Rajewsky, M C Nussenzweig Contribution of receptor editing to the antibody repertoire Science (2001) doi: 10.1126/science.1056600
This is what Elisabeth Bik calls Flawed Cytometry. The two red-boxed FACS plots are both different and strangely similar, as the highlighted cell populations suggests. As if someone was replotting a datafile of one flow cytometry sample in two slightly different ways, to stand in for two different experiments with differently recombined antibodies. But read on, there might be a funnier explanation!
This prank was not a nice thing to happen to this paper, in Science no less, and with such a collaborator. The German scientist Klaus Rajewsky, born 1936, is a legendary titan of genetics and immunology, his name opens all academic doors and journal gates. As aside, his son Nikolaus Rajewsky also made rather well in genetics, as academic dynasties work, it’s all genetic IQ inheritance, you know. Father and son Rajewsky corrected in 2017 their joint Cell paper Xiao et al 2007, for “duplication of the FACS plot“. The situation seems somewhat similar to that of the Caselas et al 2001 paper, because the Rajewskys explained in the correction:
“The small differences of the percentages in two of the panels on the right are due to an updated FlowJo software.“
I hope the Rajewskys sued those naughty FlowJo software makers or at least deleted that evil update. In any case, it is definitely not pleasant to find evidence of data rigging in Klaus Rajewski’s papers, especially since there was already the afore-mentioned 2006 retraction with Feldhahn from Cologne, who by then already went to USA to work with Michel Nussenzweig.
No Feldhahn or Caselas in the next joint paper by Michel Nussenzweig and Klaus Rajewski though:
Yair Dorsett, Kevin M. McBride, Mila Jankovic, Anna Gazumyan, To-Ha Thai, Davide F. Robbiani, Michela Di Virgilio, Bernardo Reina San-Martin, Gordon Heidkamp, Tanja A. Schwickert, Thomas Eisenreich, Klaus Rajewsky, Michel C. Nussenzweig MicroRNA-155 suppresses activation-induced cytidine deaminase-mediated Myc-Igh translocation Immunity (2008) doi: 10.1016/j.immuni.2008.04.002
The bad news is that the pictures differ in brightness/contrast while showing the exactly same gel scan, every single spot of the background matches. Why would someone adjust brightness when accidentally copy-pasting an image? The good news is that the society-published Journal of Immunology is a bit of a fraud factory which lets things much worse than that slide, for much less important people.
But let us briefly return to the evil flow cytometry software which fabricates different numbers for identical FACS plots. Because this is what must have happened here:
Dimitris Skokos, Michel C. Nussenzweig CD8- DCs induce IL-12-independent Th1 differentiation through Delta 4 Notch-like ligand in response to bacterial LPS The Journal of experimental medicine (2007) doi: 10.1084/jem.20062305
The first author Dimitris Skokos made it big in the pharma industry, and is adjunct professor at Rockefeller University. He trained there under same mentor as Michel Nussenzweig, apparently the Nobelist Ralph Steinman taught them, quote:
“Do everything to realize your first scientific observation. Never listen to people without imagination. Just do your best”
Some of Steinman’s mentees apparently took his advice too literally.
The next case is just an identically duplicated image, which on itself means little. But it seems, things like that or worse seem to recurrently happen by accident in the Michel Nussenzweig lab at Rockefeller.
Sergey Yurasov , Hedda Wardemann, Johanna Hammersen, Makoto Tsuiji, Eric Meffre, Virginia Pascual, Michel C. Nussenzweig Defective B cell tolerance checkpoints in systemic lupus erythematosus The Journal of Experimental Medicine (2005) doi: 10.1084/jem.20042251
But now, a paper without Michel, but with Andre Nussenzweig. Who for some reason decided against correcting the literature here:
Longyue L Cao, Xioaling Xu, Samuel F. Bunting, Jie Liu, Rui-Hong Wang, Longyue L. Cao, J. Julie Wu, Tie-Nan Peng, Junjie Chen, Andre Nussenzweig, Chu-Xia Deng, Toren Finkel A selective requirement for 53BP1 in the biological response to genomic instability induced by Brca1 deficiency Molecular Cell (2009) doi: 10.1016/j.molcel.2009.06.037
For some reason, all three highlighted western blot fragments show identical background. The two blue framed ones are horizontal mirror-flip copies of each other, but the third fragment shows one gel band which is same (left-hand-side) and one gel band which is totally different (right-hand-side). With green arrows pointing to certain irregularities which suggest erasure or other digital retouching. But of course also here, there are other, less pedestrian explanations.
The Molecular Cell editors are quoted on PubPeer from over 2 years ago with “It was investigated and handled according to our Process for Post Publication Issues“. No action whatsoever was taken on this paper till today. The last author, Toren Finkel of University of Pittsburgh, has several papers on Pubpeer, one such publication from his lab (Narayan et al Nature 2012) was retracted, officially for being irreproducible.
Was it really necessary for the Nussenzweig brothers to become scientists like their parents, with such attitude to data integrity? Why yes, of course, this is exactly how biomedicine progresses from one Nature paper to another NIH grant. And this is how Michel Nussenzweig will cure COVID-19, with Nature papers.
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