Research integrity University Affairs

La Piovra Ferrarese di Giorgio Zauli

Giorgio Zauli's rectorship term ends. Will research fraud, media harassment and whistleblower persecution be a thing of the past at the University of Ferrara? Ma dai, basta cazzate.

Remember Giorgio Zauli, leukaemia researcher and rector of University of Ferrara, one of the oldest universities in the world? Zauli, sometimes found in bed with actual Italian fascists, has 45 papers on PubPeer, often as first or last author, and in most cases the evidence of research fraud is overwhelming. His dictatorship in Ferrara now ends, but his policies of research fraud and whistleblower persecution will sure continue under the new rector who already proved her unconditional loyalty.

L’Ateneo dei veleni

It all started with an article of mine more than 3 years ago, about flawed flow cytometry in the rector’s papers. Zauli reacted to this and Sylvie Coyaud‘s reporting with threats and legal actions, by reporting us to various Italian authorities. Sylvie was even fined upon Zauli’s denunciation for…. being me, this is how Kafkaesque Italian justice can be.

There was also constant reporting by the local journalist Daniele Oppo in l’Estense, and of course Zauli threatened and tried to destroy him, too.

Zauli also publicly threatened a peer, the Bologna University professor Lucio Picci, whom Zauli equalled to Joseph Goebbels, or as that illiterate dunce of a rector put it, “Goebels”. This Nazi accusation is strange, because it is Zauli himself who has no problem with being pimped to admiring fascists of Lega Nord and Fratelli d’Italia by his right-hand man, university exec and fascist politician, Andrea Maggi:

Zauli’s problem was not just the outside reporting, but also a mutiny on the inside. Not everyone at the University of Ferrara is a rotten fraudulent far-right crook like himself, che sorriso. So the university’s ethics commission actually tried to investigate their rector for research misconduct. Despite Zauli himself deciding which 10 papers (out of the 35 listed on PubPeer then) they were allowed to investigate, the commission’s report must have been devastating. Zauli resorted to claiming that all raw data was lost because he allegedly stored it on floppy disks which since went kaputt. For my younger readers: floppy disks were used in the last decades of the 20th century, yet too small to store image files, plus Zauli’s papers were not that old anyway. That floppy excuse is as credible as Zauli’s other one about “clerical errors“. Something radical had to be done: a “Heil Zauli” fascist purge.

To do that dirty job, Zauli dispatched his director general Giuseppe Galvan, whose official job description is something about ensuring corruption and preventing transparency. Galvan had the ethics committee dissolved and replaced by loyal arse-lickers. At the same time this freedom of information officer declared the investigative report first secret, and then illegal. He accused the resigned ethics committee head Andrea Puggiotto (a professor for constitutional law) to have denied Zauli his legal rights of defence, a baseless libellous claim for which Puggioto is currently suing Galvan. As l’Estense writes, the next court hearing is in January 2022. Sylvie Coyaud calls the University of Ferarra l’Ateneo dei Veleni, The Poisonous University.

While Galvan was working in the background to destroy all traces of the investigation, Zauli and his henchmen Luca Picchioni (head of university’s HR) and Valerio Muzzioli (Zauli’s department manager) were forcing university employees to sign an open letter in support of Zauli. That letter of “Solidarity with the Rector” was published on the university’s website and openly called for the heads of all journalists who “attack” Zauli by mentioning his PubPeer record. Even if only a minority of the Ferrara faculty signed, it is the minority who currently holds all the power now. If you need a handy list of over 360 Ferrarese crooks, bullies, sycophants and chickenshits, here is their (now deleted) Heil Zauli letter as a backup.

While the journalist Oppo unsuccessfully tried to obtain the investigative reports under the freedom of information law, Galvan used his authority to deny him that and then achieved not just to annul the Zauli investigation as if it never happened, but even to have the reports physically destroyed. Let’s hope just the reports.

La Magnifica

So, where do we stand now? Last month, the university held elections of the new rector because Zauli’s fixed rectorship term ends this October. The two candidates were the Ferrara professors, the biomedicla researcher Paolo Pinton and the economist Laura Ramaciotti, both of course signed the Heil Zauli letter you saw above. Ramaciotti won, so her new job as Rector, appointed till 2027, will probably be to seek and destroy those elements who refuse to fake data, or worse, those who blow the whistle on fraud and abuse.

Because this si exactly what the local politicans, both socialist and far-right, expect of her, as newspapers reported:

“the president of the Region, Stefano Bonaccini, and the regional councilor at the University, Paola Salomoni, congratulate the new rector. “We thank – Bonaccini and Salomoni conclude – the outgoing rector, Professor Giorgio Zauli, for his commitment to the university in the last six years, a period marked in the last part by the difficulties generated by the pandemic“.

A little while ago I called Laura Ramaciotti,” the mayor of the city, Alan Fabbri, wrote on Facebook. “I am happy because this is the first female rector of our university and I am sure that she has all the qualities to continue the excellent work done by Professor Zauli“.

Dr Ramaciotti may be politically on the left, but academically she is a staunch supporter of Il Duce Zauli. Students blowing the whistle on fraud should expect no mercy. Original image: Il Resto del Carlino.

Ramaciotti’s five year plan of crackdown on whistleblowers will be assisted by the new Ethics Commission, whose academic members Melchiore Giganti, Cristina Munari and Silvia Zucchini of course also proved their total loyalty to research fraud by signing the Heil Zauli letter. There is so much fraud for them to defend. The Ferrarese faculty may have been purged and silenced into submission, but new students are coming in all the time, some of them might try to take issue with fraud. They will be swiftly and mercilessly dealt with. Ramaciotti did not reply to my email. Elsewhere she did however hint that it was her competitor Pinto who is a Zauli clone, but she won’t promise continuity. But then again, Ramaciotti celebrated her election together with Zauli.

Because of course everything will continue as before. Itnever was just Zauli alone, it’s an entire mafia, La Piovra, spread over the whole medical faculty. No student will be able to avoid their clutches. Same Ferrarese medical faculty names keep popping up on Zauli’s 45 papers on PubPeer: Paola Secchiero, Rebecca Voltan, Silvano Capitani, Simona Ultimo etc, while Zauli’s key partner and Ferarra professor Luca Maria Neri has a string of research fraud of his own. What else can the man do, he works in mTOR field, I discussed some of his works here:

And if you think all this is a local problem of Italian corruption: no. It’s all part of the global academic rot, the only Italian bit here is the typical intertwining of politics and academia, so while the fascist-supported Zauli is replaced by the socialist Ramciotti, the research misconduct and corruption remain in place as before. You saw both the socialists of Partito Democratico and the fascists of Lega Nord praise Zauli, reminding Ramaciotti to continue with his policies.

La Piovra

Not one of the 45 PubPeer-listed papers of Zauli’s was retracted, the journals and their publishing societies are all on his side and have long buried the affair. Not because they like Zauli, probably nobody does, not even parts of his own family as I learned first-hand. It’s because the oncologist Zauli stands for the system of fraud in international cancer research, where public coffers are embezzled and the patients are duped and abused by professors of medicine in order to cash in and to advance the careers and status. It is not a coincidence that the infamous Carlo Croce is both unsackable by his Ohio State University in USA, and a celebrated faculty member in Ferrara. Another Italian crook in USA, Pier Paolo Pandolfi, remains salaried professor at the University of Turin:

It is a global academic mafia, and they protect each other to scam and defraud you.

Look at this paper, in an allegedly elite society journal, nothing happened:

Giorgio Zauli, Federica Corallini , Fleur Bossi , Fabio Fischetti , Paolo Durigutto , Claudio Celeghini , Francesco Tedesco , Paola Secchiero Osteoprotegerin increases leukocyte adhesion to endothelial cells both in vitro and in vivo Blood (2007) doi: 10.1182/blood-2007-01-068395

That intentionally falsified flow cytometry data (where same sample was deliberately manipulated to look like two different experiments) is just one of this paper’s fake figures. There are not even corrections issued, because you cannot correct such fraud. Like this lovingly falsified paper:

Paola Secchiero , Carlotta Zerbinati , Elisabetta Melloni , Daniela Milani , Diana Campioni , Roberto Fadda , Mario Tiribelli , Giorgio Zauli The MDM-2 antagonist nutlin-3 promotes the maturation of acute myeloid leukemic blasts Neoplasia (2007) doi: 10.1593/neo.07523 

This flow cytometry is not just fake, but recycled between different publications, in different context and with different quantification numbers. Nobody cares. There are also recycled western blots:

Two patients in Blood 2006 May 15:107(10):4122-9 become one patient in Neoplasia 207 Oct: 9(10):853-861(this paper), and then become two cells lines in Blood. 2009 Apr 30:113(18):4300-8.

It’s all really professional forgery, painstakingly done. It deserves an award:

There is so much more in that paper, and probably in all other works by Zauli, all that is required is someone having a look. The next publication already has an micro-RNA themed title of a Chinese paper mill product.

For all we know, maybe Zauli’s gang has been really buying manuscripts from paper mills.

Giorgio Zauli, Rebecca Voltan , Maria Grazia Di Iasio , Raffaella Bosco , Elisabetta Melloni , Maria Elena Sana , Paola Secchiero miR-34a induces the downregulation of both E2F1 and B-Myb oncogenes in leukemic cells Clinical cancer research (2011) doi: 10.1158/1078-0432.ccr-10-3244 

The Zauli gang dabbed in everything, and faked data there. Here, nanotechnology:

Rebecca Voltan , Paola Secchiero , Barbara Ruozi , Flavio Forni , Chiara Agostinis , Lorenzo Caruso , Maria Angela Vandelli , Giorgio Zauli Nanoparticles engineered with rituximab and loaded with Nutlin-3 show promising therapeutic activity in B-leukemic xenografts Clinical cancer research (2013) doi: 10.1158/1078-0432.ccr-13-0015

Stem cells:

Paola Secchiero , Elisabetta Melloni , Federica Corallini , Antonio Paolo Beltrami , Francesco Alviano , Daniela Milani , Federica D’Aurizio , Maria Grazia Di Iasio , Daniela Cesselli , Gian Paolo Bagnara , Giorgio Zauli Tumor necrosis factor-related apoptosis-inducing ligand promotes migration of human bone marrow multipotent stromal cells Stem cells (Dayton, Ohio) (2008) – doi: 10.1634/stemcells.2008-0512 

Snail slime (yes, snail slime!):

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 

This may be the only paper Zauli’s gang ever to have to issue a correction for. It came out in January 2020, “an incorrect image was used“.

If the fake biomedical data is too complicated for the crooks in Ferrara: here is a clear-cut case of outright plagiarism by Zauli and Neri. An idiot will understand that this is not OK.

Simona Ultimo, Alberto M. Martelli, Giorgio Zauli, Marco Vitale, George A. Calin, Luca M. Neri Roles and clinical implications of microRNAs in acute lymphoblastic leukemia Journal of Cellular Physiology (2018) doi: 10.1002/jcp.26290 

This review contains massive text plagiarism from Ye et al 2012 and Chiaretti et al 2014. Nobody cares.

And still, nothing happens. The journals and their publishing societies do nothing until the university asks. And the University of Ferrara is happy that the journals do nothing, so they don’t have to do anything either. Except hunting down some whistleblowers, that is.


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7 comments on “La Piovra Ferrarese di Giorgio Zauli

  1. Best to let Italy stew in its own juices.


  2. Pingback: Povera Eni (refrain) – ocasapiens

  3. Pingback: The Fraud Squad – For Better Science

  4. Zebedee

    Clin Cancer Res. 2022 Jul 1;28(13):2973.doi: 10.1158/1078-0432.CCR-22-1595.

    Editor’s Note: The Oncogene DEK Promotes Leukemic Cell Survival and Is Downregulated by Both Nutlin-3 and Chlorambucil in B-Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemic Cells
    Paola Secchiero, Rebecca Voltan, Maria Grazia di Iasio, Elisabetta Melloni, Mario Tiribelli, Giorgio Zauli

    PMID: 35775195 DOI: 10.1158/1078-0432.CCR-22-1595 

    The editors are publishing this note to inform readers of concerns about this article (1). Figures 5C and 6A contain two sets of similar control blots: p53 Nutlin-3 scr.+ in Fig. 5C and p53 Nutlin-3 24 h in Fig. 6A; and tubulin Nutlin-3 DEK+ in Fig. 5C and tubulin Nutlin-3 48 h in Fig. 6A. In addition, the siRNA tubulin scr. 24-hour and 48-hour bands in Fig. 4A are similar to the Normal B cells DEK Nutlin-3 24-hour and 48-hour bands in Fig. 6A.

    1. Secchiero P, Voltan R, Grazia di Iasio M, Melloni E, Tiribelli M, Zauli G. The oncogene DEK promotes leukemic cell survival and is downregulated by both nutlin-3 and chlorambucil in B-chronic lymphocytic leukemic cells
    . Clin Cancer Res 2010;16:1824–33.


  5. Zebedee

    Clin Cancer Res. 2022 Jul 1;28(13):2971.
    doi: 10.1158/1078-0432.CCR-22-1597.
    Editor’s Note: Nanoparticles Engineered with Rituximab and Loaded with Nutlin-3 Show Promising Therapeutic Activity in B-Leukemic Xenografts
    Rebecca Voltan, Paola Secchiero, Barbara Ruozi, Flavio Forni, Chiara Agostinis, Lorenzo Caruso, Maria Angela Vandelli, Giorgio Zauli

    PMID: 35775192 DOI: 10.1158/1078-0432.CCR-22-1597 

    The editors are publishing this note to inform readers of a concern about this article (1): the tubulin control in Fig. 2A is similar to both the EHEB tubulin and the JVM2 tubulin panels in Fig. 2C of the authors’ earlier work (2).

    1. Voltan R, Secchiero P, Ruozi B, Forni F, Agostinis C, Caruso L, et al . Nanoparticles engineered with rituximab and loaded with nutlin-3 show promising therapeutic activity in B-leukemic xenografts. Clin Cancer Res

    Voltan R, Grazia di Iasio M, Bosco R, Valeri N, Pekarski Y, Tiribelli M, et al . Nutlin-3 downregulates the expression of the oncogene TCL1 in primary B chronic lymphocytic leukemic cells. Clin Cancer Res


  6. Zebedee

    Clin Cancer Res. 2022 Jul 1;28(13):2972.doi: 10.1158/1078-0432.CCR-22-1596.

    Editor’s Note: Dasatinib Plus Nutlin-3 Shows Synergistic Antileukemic Activity in Both p53wild-type and p53mutated B Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemias by Inhibiting the Akt Pathway
    Giorgio Zauli, Rebecca Voltan, Raffaella Bosco, Elisabetta Melloni, Sandra Marmiroli, Gian Matteo Rigolin, Antonio Cuneo, Paola Secchiero

    PMID: 35775191 DOI: 10.1158/1078-0432.CCR-22-1596 

    The editors are publishing this note to inform readers of a concern about this article (1). Figures 3A and 4B contain three sets of similar tubulin control panels: the left panels of Fig. 3A MEC-2 tubulin and the P-ERK 1/2 tubulin panels in Fig. 4B; the right panels of Fig. 3A JVM-2 tubulin and the P-p38 tubulin panels in Fig. 4B; and the right panels of Fig. 3A BJAB tubulin and the P-Akt tubulin panels in Fig. 4B.

    1. Zauli G, Voltan R, Bosco R, Melloni E, Marmiroli S, Rigolin GM, et al . Dasatinib plus nutlin-3 shows synergistic antileukemic activity in both p53 wild-type and p53 mutated B chronic lymphocytic leukemias by inhibiting the Akt pathway. Clin Cancer Res 2011;17:762–70.


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