Last year, the cancer and aging researcher Jan van Deursen was forced to resign from his professorship at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, USA, in the wake of bullying accusations by his lab members and an institutional investigation which determined violations of “policies regarding Mutual Respect, Harassment, and Unacceptable Conduct.” To make matters worse, the self-proclaimed pensioner also lost an already negotiated job offer in Texas, and now no other university wants to employ him, as his lawyer openly laments. Could that be because van Deursen is a litigious narcissistic bully, who was “not allowed to have unsupervised communication with any student“? Who rather needs an alternative career to manage his anger? Like kickboxing, pitbull breeding or knitting?
Being rich, entitled and with nothing to lose is a dangerous situation. This is probably why this 57 year old unemployed and unpopular silverback has been incessantly suing me since summer 2020, and now opened a new damage compensation lawsuit, while his lawyer threatens several more, including over cartoons!
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Soon after my initial article appeared, van Deursen sued me in a German court, in Hanau near where I live. He achieved to get some statements from his lab members banned, but the former Mayo professor failed in the most important aspect: I am still allowed to quote sources that his research was criticized over concerns of insufficient reproducibility, that he was forced to resign over bullying allegations, that he was heard shouting at his lab members (including his own wife!) and that he tried to coerce a pregnant student into renouncing her right to a maternity leave. The incident with the pregnant student was also independently confirmed by another journalist:
“van Deursen started “very aggressively” screaming. The tirade went on for at least an hour. Following that public display, people close to the situation say someone other than the new mother reported his behavior to Mayo Clinic’s human resources department. “They started asking other people about his behavior. I think they realized he was screaming and yelling at everybody,” according to a person inside the lab.”
As I understand, van Deursen is not suing the US journalists who independently spoke to those bullying victims, including the pregnant student, and reported their stories. He is suing only me. Here my relevant past reporting:
- van Deursen’s forced resignation over bullying
- Witness testimonies
- van Deursen opens lawsuits
- From bullying to failed clinical trials
In autumn 2020, van Deursen opened a penalty trial, trying to convince the court that it actually forbid me to say what I was explicitly allowed to say. Maybe his lawyer Lucas Brost (previously with Hoecker Lawyers, now with his own law firm) expected the judge to be confused or just stupid, and not to know what verdict that judge issued herself. So Brost was educating the judge what she really wrote and how she is to understand her own verdict, while requesting her to heavily fine me and to forbid basically all of my van Deursen reporting. Brost and van Deursen lost that lawsuit completely, I was told they were lucky the court did not persecute them for false claims.
Now they are suing again, and this time it is a big new lawsuit which, if admitted, would involve witness testimonies and actual evidence, like the actual investigative report from the Mayo Clinic. Unless the court does not reject this lawsuit outright, because it is indeed highly frivolous and based on ridiculously false claims.
Interesting new aspect: van Deursen now admits to have lost a job offer at the University of Texas San Antonio, for which he blames me. He should be blaming himself though, because certainly this applicant “forgot” to tell his prospective Texan employer about the bullying investigation at Mayo Clinic, his ban from entering and communicating with his own lab, and their decision to terminate his employment which he escaped via a resignation. van Deursen blames me for having alerted UT San Antonio to my article via Twitter, which apparently prompted the Texans to contact the Mayo Clinic for explanations. Whatever the Mayo Clinic must have told them, UT San Antonio was suddenly not interested in van Deursen anymore and withdrew the job offer.
Now that jobless researcher simultaneously tries to convince the court via his lawyer Brost to be a popular star scientist celebrated in scientific journals and media, and simultaneously a humble private citizen, a former nobody at the huge Mayo Clinic (“a simple professor“), for whom any mention is a hurtful intrusion into his private sphere. Brost also educates the court about American economy: there, “retired” is merely another word for “job seeking”, which is supposed to explain why van Dorsen initially tried to bullshit the same German court that he is a retired pensioner. Here is his own declaration under oath from previous lawsuit:
So now that van Deursen admits being actually unemployed, while no university is willing to recruit him, he demands from me €100k damages in his lawsuit submitted to the court in Hanau.
Lawyer Brost argues on behalf of van Deursen that all those bullying victims I quoted were lying, especially those whose maternity leave van Deursen wanted to see curtailed. Even and especially his former postdoc Robin Ricke, those own signed testimony published on LinkedIn is to be declared illegal. The only reliable witness van Deursen demands of the court to be recognized, aside of a certain Postdoc Y, is his own wife, Janine van Ree.
The lawyer’s argument is: van Deursen could never have denied any pregnant lab member her maternity leave simply because a) his wife says it’s not true, and b) he was not allowed to meddle there, and submits as evidence the relevant rules of the Mayo Clinic (which he according to mine and other reports broke!). That is equivalent to a speeder telling the judge he could never ever have driven 65 mph in a 30 mile zone regardless of any evidence to the opposite because look, there was a big road sign forbidding him to drive over 30 mph.
Brost and van Deursen really expect the court to follow this argument, and they serve even more to insult the judge’s intelligence. They say I am to be sentenced for re-posting the publicly available PubPeer evidence of image irregularities, with the argument that someone else has manipulated those images in van Deursen’s own papers (where he is last and corresponding author):
Brost’s proof that all criticism on Deursen’s research is tantamount to the worst kind of libel is somehow this quote from a recent article in Nature Biotechnology, on the topic of senolytics:
“The idea of therapeutically targeting senescence traces its roots back to the laboratory of Jan van Deursen, a molecular biologist who directed the mouse transgenic and knockout core facility at the Mayo Clinic for over 20 years. (Although van Deursen left the Minnesota research hospital earlier this year after allegations of bullying, a Mayo Clinic spokesperson states that the integrity of the lab’s results has not been called into question and that no published papers are being retracted.)”
The lawyer then asks the court to forbid me discussing van Deursen’s papers altogether, and even to punish me for associating van Deursen’s own research on removal of senescent cells with the failed senolytics clinical trials by the company Unity Biotechnology, a company which van Deursen himself co-founded based on his own preclinical senescence research! Even though that same Nature Biotechnology article explains how the senolytics business started:
“Within weeks of that report [Baker, …, van Deursen, Nature, 2011], van Deursen had teamed up with serial biotech entrepreneur Ned David. They looped in Campisi, who was working on a similar transgenic mouse model for selective senescent cell destruction at the time, and Unity (initially known as Cenexys) was born.“
Brost demands court sanctions and fines against me for associating van Deursen with Unity Biotechnology and their senolytics drug UBX0101, but of course van Deursen himself used to study and endorse that same drug. He did this for example in the review paper van Deursen Science 2019, even while he as company’s co-founder must have been aware of the phase 1 clinical trial results: “the drug [UBX0101] failed to statistically outperform placebo in the second part of the study“.
Brost also educates the judge how scientific authorships work. Namely, despite the unambiguous authorship list, van Deursen had nothing at all to do with that senolytics drug UBX0101, the preclinical data of which he and his lab coauthored in Yeon et al Nature Medicine 2017 and which he himself then promoted as the last and corresponding author in Postdoc Y et al Nature Reviews Drug Discovery 2017.
Brost even explains to the German court that the decision by the Mayo Clinic to fire van Deursen was meaningless, because his client could have simply objected and remained employed. Seriously. That was actually what the Mayo Clinic memo from February 2020 informed faculty members and graduate students of:
“A recommendation for termination of the researcher’s relationship with Mayo Clinic was made, and a decision was made to close the laboratory involved. The researcher chose to retire and did not challenge the recommendation through termination proceedings. […]
Importantly, the researcher will not be permitted to return to the laboratory and is not allowed to have unsupervised communication with any student who wants to coordinate the completion of research. Mayo Clinic has also met its obligation to report this situation to the National Institutes of Health.”
The full Mayo memo is here:
So from winter 2020 on, van Deursen was banned from entering his own lab and told that his employment will be soon terminated. The US biomedical funding agency National Institutes of Health (NIH) had been informed of the bullying investigation, which likely meant the end to van Deursen’s research funding and thus also the end of a potential use of such a grant-less scientist to any prospective academic employer.
But this is how Brost and van Deursen see it:
“After a termination recommendation, the defendant has two options to appeal against the termination recommendation. Independent investigations are carried out in both appeal procedures. The termination recommendation does not mean that one will be terminated (fired). […] Employees at the Mayo Clinic could successfully appeal against a termination recommendation and thus remain employed there.“
That reminds me of how President Donald Trump lost his re-election, then claimed that he actually didn’t lose, his only proof being that he doesn’t recognize the election results, plus all those frivolous lawsuits Trump’s lawyers brought to get the electoral votes thrown out. The Trump lawsuits were thrown out instead, and so was Trump.
But now, you will hear van Deursen’s and Brost’s version of events.
No academic institution is currently interested to recruit the plaintiff
By Lucas Brost, attorney in law
In the winter of 2020, when he nearly completed his 8-year tenure as head of department and when he was at the height of his scientific career and gained tremendous leadership experience, the plaintiff decided to leave the Mayo Clinic after 20 years to continue and expand his research program elsewhere.
He discussed this with the management of the Mayo Clinic, and they agreed to help with a smooth transition to another facility. Because the plaintiff is a top
scientist, and many institutions were always interested in hiring him,
he assumed that the process wouldn’t take very long and that he probably would be able to leave the Mayo Clinic within 6 months (until July 24, 2020).
The plaintiff was to be proved right: he received a lucrative offer for a 5-year
deal at the University of Texas at San Antonio, which is a huge improvement over his 5-year package at Mayo Clinic.
For this reason he asked for retirement at the end of July, with the “Retirement” at American universities not to be equated with retirement at a German university. In the US, lifelong employment is theoretically possible. The plaintiff therefore intended at all times to continue his scientific career.
The offer by the University of Texas was sent to plaintiff on June 16, 2020.
The plaintiff then agreed the final terms with the University of Texas. Both
parties agreed on a comprehensive draft contract for June 20, 2020. The
university agreed to send the plaintiff the finalized contract till “around 20 June 2020″. The corresponding document is available, but in order to protect the integrity of the contractual parties not yet submitted. If the court requests the submission, a judicial reference according to § 139 ZPO is requested.
The defendant published its first post on June 22, 2020.
On July 9, 2020, he addressed the University of directly among other with the following tweet, in which he referenced his blog post […]
After the University of Texas learned of the articles, the plaintiff did not receive the promised contract for signing. He was told that the recruitment process has ended. […]
No academic institution is currently interested to recruit the plaintiff
despite his enormous scientific reputation.
Since July 24, 2020, the plaintiff has been lacking a monthly income. At the University of Texas he would have made $ 27,000 / month. The loss now amounts to almost four months. If the defendant is allowed to continue to with his unlawful, denouncing violations, the plaintiff will no longer have the opportunity to continue his professional career.
A source informed me of following: On July 4, 2020, Patrick Sung, professor at Graduate School for Biomedical Sciences at UT San Antonio, sent emails to at least six people in the van Deursen lab in Mayo, asking about their boss in the wake of the investigation. Thus the decision not to recruit van Deursen was based on the testimony of his own former lab members.
US journalist Jeff Kiger published another article on the van Deursen affair. According to the article:
“In 2018, van Deursen earned $1.49 million at Mayo Clinic.”
Indeed, the Mayo Clinic records confirm this: $1,422,324 to be precise. Brost’s claim that van Deursen’s job offer at UTSA of $27k a month ($324k a year) was “a huge improvement over his 5-year package at Mayo Clinic” can only mean that Brost either cannot count or is again intentionally misleading the court.
Whatever Brost thinks his client felt in winter 2020 about finding a new paid job, already on 18 December 2019 Mayo Clinic’s Research Operations Administrator Michael Lee sent an round email announcing van Deursen being placed on administrative leave and banned from direct communication with his lab members:
“Thank you all for taking the time to meet with us Tuesday afternoon regarding Dr. van Deursen’s administrative leave.
Mutual respect and courtesy are traditional at Mayo Clinic, and everyone is expected to conduct themselves in a professional and cooperative manner. We ask that you keep the investigation confidential through its duration to
ensure a fair process.
- Key points while Dr. van Deursen is on leave:
- Dr. van Deursen has been asked to minimize his email correspondence with lab members […]
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