Bullying and harassment Lawyering-up

The Sex Privileges of mTORman David Sabatini

"The Plaintiff is Professor Sabatini [...] the self-described powerful senior scientist, who had demanded sex of her when she was a graduate student ending her studies and about to start a fellowship at the Whitehead, in a program Sabatini would direct. [...] And it is the man who had made it clear – throughout her training and employment with the Whitehead – that he would ruin anyone who dared to speak against him."

As many of you will know, David Sabatini, “mTORman” and a former star of cancer, ageing and diabetes research, has been sacked by the Whitehead Institute and HHMI for sexual harassment. An investigation by his academic employer MIT about a possible revocation of tenure is still ongoing.

Whitehead Institute recruited a law firm in January 2021, their Title IX investigation concluded in August 2021. Incidentally, a year before that, on 31 January 2020, yours truly informed MIT of the massive evidence of data manipulation in Sabatini’s publications, days later MIT’s Vice President for Research Maria Zuber announced to follow that up. On 20 August 2021, Sabatini was fired by Whitehead and HHMI for sexual harassment, the news leaked to media.

In October 2021, Sabatini hit back: he lodged a defamation lawsuit against the Whitehead Institute, its director Ruth Lehmann and a female mentee who charged him with sexual harassment. The latter point is quite chilling, also because the same woman is currently serving as witness in the active disciplinary proceedings on Sabatini’s tenure at MIT.

All victims and witnesses have now been warned what they can expect if they dare to speak out. Money is not an issue for the rich science entrepreneur Sabatini who has nothing to lose anymore, but can afford to sue everyone. And his lawyer eagerly informed the press of the defamation lawsuit, this is how the lawsuit became a public affair. In USA, court documents are available online for those who know how to find them. With the help of my readers, I obtained Sabatini’s court filings, plus the rebuttals by the Whitehead Institute and the mentee X, who is now a group leader at MIT herself and whom I will not name here.

Tweets from 29 January 2020

It seems a complicated affair, but maybe it isn’t really. Sabatini, who is clearly a diva narcissist unable to see any flaws with himself, plays a victim of harassment on any occasion, his critics are openly addressed as “failed scientists” when he is in good mood and as “steaming turd” when he isn’t. The great mTORman openly admits to have had sex with various female members of his lab, apparently he even specifically recruited some women in order to have sex with them. A privilege of an elite professor, you see.

Now Sabatini even boasts in his court brief to have lifted several female mentees into group leader positions, as proof that he can never be a sexual predator, but actually a staunch supporter of women in science who “helped many female members of his lab launch successful careers in academia and elsewhere” while offering them “opportunities and workplaces free from discrimination or harassment“. Very inclusively even, or so Sabatini’s lawyers claim:

“Of the 36 post-doctoral fellows and 18 graduate students who have completed their time in the Sabatini lab at the Whitehead, 29 are currently running their own academic labs at distinguished research universities or institutions, including Harvard, Stanford, Rockefeller, NYU, Yale, and MIT. […] The Sabatini lab trained a wide diversity of members, including a significant number of female lab members. In the 24 years since it started, 71 post-doctoral fellows and students have worked in the Sabatini lab. Of these students, 29 (40%) are racial or ethnic minorities.”

Seven female scientists are then named, some of them incidentally also prominently featuring on PubPeer as Sabatini’s co-authors (please see my earlier article and its comment section for details). Here, I share some of the newer PubPeer material, like this:

Yasemin Sancak , Carson C. Thoreen , Timothy R. Peterson , Robert A. Lindquist , Seong A. Kang , Eric Spooner , Steven A. Carr, David M. Sabatini PRAS40 is an insulin-regulated inhibitor of the mTORC1 protein kinase
Molecular Cell (2007) doi: 10.1016/j.molcel.2007.03.003

It’s always S6K data
We didn’t like the baseline results or what?

Sabatini’s lawsuit filing begins with educating the court at length what a great genius the discoverer of the mTOR is and how his “pure scientific research“, “at the cutting edge of scientific research in a laboratory singularly devoted to the truth” saves lives, by delivering “groundbreaking scientific discoveries that impact the world“. Sabatini, the court must know, has been busy curing “cancer and diabetes” , while his mTOR “research also has implications for obesity, aging, and neurological disease“. Of course the main audience of this drivel is the public, since Sabatini’s lawyers handed the filings to every journalist they contacted.

The audience is also informed that

“Dr. Sabatini has published over 247 articles during his career, 174 of those as a senior author. Dr. Sabatini’s articles are published in prestigious academic journals such as Nature, Science and Cell.”

There is a concept of “Genius“, a superhumanly hyper-intelligent and visionary saviour figure, which dates to late 19th/early 20th century, most prominently espoused by the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. We all know where this genius cult lead. Did our society learn to never worship the genius again? Nope. At least not in science.

A genius stands above the laws and rules, which apply only to simple mortals; a genius is entitled to do as he pleases and to take whatever he desires (yes, he, a genius is always male). This is also how Sabatini’s lawyers apparently argue, using the modern definition of science genius as someone who publishes in Nature/Science/Cell and gets all big grants and awards. These young women were rightly Sabatini’s to take, and they should thank the great mTORman on their knees instead of complaining of sexual harassment.

But sure, mTOR research is a huge money machine which generates big papers, big funding projects, big awards and a lot of big empty promises. Because the field is full of research fraud, as it happens, and Sabatini’s own papers are no exception.

For some reason, the data forgeries in Sabatini’s genius science haven’t been the subject of this court exchange yet. Hopefully they will be.

And this is how Sabatini’s lawyers describe the affair which led to his dismissal from Whitehead institute:

“Beginning in April 2018, Dr. Sabatini had a consensual sexual relationship with a friend, colleague and peer, Defendant Dr. [X]. At this time, Dr. Sabatini was a world renowned medical and scientific researcher and a tenured professor at MIT with a stellar reputation who conducted groundbreaking research into the pathways that regulate growth and metabolism and how they are deregulated in diseases like cancer and diabetes.”

The last part may be true (Sabatini used to be a science star, as per accepted definition), but the first part is a lie. First of all, X may have had her own research grants to start her own lab, but Sabatini was her host and her boss, even listed officially on X’s fellowship grants as her mentor. X switched to Sabatini’s lab in spring 2018 because her original mentor, the MIT researcher Angelica Amon, was dying of cancer. Apparently Amon and Sabatini were close friends, or maybe this is what Sabatini claimed (also in the court filing) after Amon’s death, being a ruthless opportunist and a narcissist. It’s not like Amon can protest.

Sabatini met X already in 2012, when she just started her PhD in Amon’s lab. One can wonder if he groomed X already then. In any case, as soon as X started under Sabatini in spring 2018, she became Sabatini’s lover. We can’t know if sex was an implied condition for mentorship, but it cannot be excluded. In any case, this is what X’s defence filing says:

“On October 20, 2021, a young scientist in her first months of her first faculty job got a call as she was finishing an experiment. She had to return home, she was told, to receive a package. When she did, she was slapped with a lawsuit.
The Plaintiff is Professor Sabatini (“Sabatini”), the self-described powerful senior scientist, who had demanded sex of her when she was a graduate student ending her studies and about to start a fellowship at the Whitehead, in a program Sabatini would direct. It is the man who had outlined the relationship he sought with her as one where he could have “casual sex[]” without responsibility.1 And it is the man who had made it clear – throughout her training and employment with the Whitehead – that he would ruin anyone who dared to speak against him.”

Sabatini claims it was X who demanded “casual sex” from him, and even went on to sexually harass him. Rejected because the master recruited another, sexier woman, so X allegedly designed a gigantic conspiracy to have Sabatini fired, by creating false evidence, manipulating witnesses and co-conspiring with the institute leadership. All this is as credible as if Sabatini claimed that X used witchcraft to turn him into a newt. Or maybe he did, who knows.

And of course all that X did with the support of an evil feminist Ruth Lehmann, whose main crime was her failure to show gratitude to Sabatini. Seriously, that is what his legal filing says:

“After taking over as the Director of the Whitehead, Dr. Lehmann held a dinner for many of the female investigators and trainees at the Whitehead, including Dr. [X]. Dr.Lehmann stated during this dinner that she intended to “clean-up” the boys’ club at the Whitehead, or words to that effect.

During a presentation at the Whitehead, Dr. Lehmann shared that she had unsuccessfully tried to “oust” a male professor at a prior employer. Dr. Lehmann’s statements made it clear that she was proud of these efforts and was frustrated she did not succeed.

Though Dr. Sabatini supported Dr. Lehmann for the position as Director of the Whitehead, a position that Dr. Sabatini had been asked to consider but had turned down, she expressed animosity and hostility towards him after her appointment.

One example of this is an interaction that Dr. Lehmann and Dr. Sabatini had at a Whitehead retreat in the fall of 2019, which Dr. Lehmann attended as a guest before she took over her official duties as Director. During a dinner at the retreat, Dr. Sabatini asked Dr. Lehmann what she thought of the scientific presentations she had seen by Whitehead scientists at the retreat. Instead of responding professionally, Dr. Lehmann stared at Dr. Sabatini and asked in a hostile tone “What? Do you want me to tell you that you gave the best talk?”

As a reminder, Sabatini is not a petulant child aged 9, but a very rich white heterosexual male narcissist who thinks he is entitled to be constantly provided with praise from his peers and superiors and with sex from his subordinates.

Timothy R. Peterson, Mathieu Laplante, Carson C. Thoreen, Yasemin Sancak, Seong A. Kang , W. Michael Kuehl, Nathanael S. Gray, David M. Sabatini DEPTOR is an mTOR inhibitor frequently overexpressed in multiple myeloma cells and required for their survival Cell (2009) doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2009.03.046

Men’s world: the first author of that Photoshop masterpiece, Timothy Peterson, organised an event with the life extension guru Aubrey De Grey, who was soon after exposed as a sexual predator and abuser himself.

X was apparently not the only one whose body Sabatini had feudal claims on. But these victims’ reports of sexual harassment must be disqualified, because you see, they were allegedly “friends” with X, as Sabatini’s lawyers argue:

“In January 2021, Dr. [X] and two former members of the Sabatini lab complained to the Whitehead about Dr. Sabatini. One of the former Sabatini lab members continues to work at the Whitehead, but completed her training in the lab in 2016. The other left the Sabatini lab in or about October 2020 for an Associate Professor position at Harvard. Both of these former Sabatini lab members who filed complaints were friends with Dr. [X]. […]

One witness, Postdoc 6, was initially interviewed by investigators and was generally supportive of Dr. Sabatini. Voluminous messages between Dr. Sabatini and Postdoc 6 confirm that Dr. Sabatini supported her and she confirmed that she felt supported professionally and personally by him. Postdoc 6 eventually hired the same attorney as Dr. [X] and thereafter changed her story…”

J Moffat, DA. Grueneberg, X Yang, SY Kim, AM Kloepfer, G Hinkle, B Piqani, TM Eisenhaure, B Luo, K. Grenier, AE Carpenter, SY Foo, SA. Stewart, BR. Stockwell, N Hacohen, WC Hahn, ES Lander, DM Sabatini, DE Root A lentiviral RNAi library for human and mouse genes applied to an arrayed viral high-content screen Cell (2006) doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2006.01.040

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Women refusing to show gratitude and to comply with orders, even conspiring together against their master, Sabatini is shocked where the world has come to. The filings by X’s lawyers narrate how her boss tried to control the narrative early on:

“Indeed, at the start of 2021, as questions swirled about the work environment in his Lab, Sabatini wrote this young scientist, reminding her that he would be the one who would comment upon her at the Whitehead faculty retreat when the faculty evaluated the fellows. And in April of 2021, as the investigation was getting underway, he wrote her again, this time emphasizing his power to weigh in on her candidacy for a faculty position at MIT. From there the complaint spins wild fantasies of a conspiracy to take him down orchestrated by this young woman and the Whitehead’s leadership.

Sabatini seeks to justify complaints from this young scientist by noting that he moved his sexual attention from her to another young woman in training whom he pressured others to hire – and then hired himself – so that she would come to the Whitehead and he could play out his desires. And he looks to avoid responsibility for the retaliatory threats he has repeatedly made to members of his own lab, by arguing that he never had to make good on those threats.”

Do-Hyung Kim , Dos D. Sarbassov , Siraj M. Ali , Jessie E. King , Robert R. Latek , Hediye Erdjument-Bromage , Paul Tempst , David M. Sabatini mTOR interacts with raptor to form a nutrient-sensitive complex that signals to the cell growth machinery Cell (2002) doi: 10.1016/s0092-8674(02)00808-5

So we didn’t like the result in the last myc lane and replaced it?
The data on S6K, allegedly key kinase in mTOR pathway, is cursed. It seems to be always rigged one way or another.

Sabatini instead seems to argue that since nobody dared to protest against his sexism and predatory behaviour, it means they liked it.

“The investigators also found that Dr. Sabatini “engag[ed] in” and otherwise tolerated sexist and sexualized discussions with his lab. This finding is false and, based on evidence that was before the investigators or easily available to them, the investigators knew or should have known it was false.

In part, this finding stemmed from an extremely inflammatory and generalized allegation in the anonymous DEI Survey that Dr. Sabatini “openly sexually harassed women in his lab and threatened to ‘ruin the careers’ of trainees who commented on the harassment.” The sole basis for this false allegation was a stray comment (which the recipient did not find offensive) and the misplaced perception that Dr. Sabatini favored attractive women.”

Jason R. Cantor , Monther Abu-Remaileh , Naama Kanarek , Elizaveta Freinkman , Xin Gao , Abner Louissaint , Caroline A. Lewis , David M. Sabatini Physiologic Medium Rewires Cellular Metabolism and Reveals Uric Acid as an Endogenous Inhibitor of UMP Synthase Cell (2017) doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2017.03.023

“In Table S3.( Media profiling_24hr_R), it was odd to find that Choline and citrate presents all same values (and standard deviation) in three different conditions.” The authors also failed to declare conflict of interests, a patent.

A perfectly normal lab, where female members are instructed by male colleagues how to seduce the boss and what his sexual preferences are. Even Sabatini’s twisted version of events reveals what went on:

“With respect to the individual in the Sabatini lab, the Report alleged that Dr. Sabatini made a comment in which he suggested that he “preferred European women.” Notably, the individual to whom he made the comment was not offended by it and reported that it had been made in a “joking fashion” when confronted about the comment by the investigators.

In attempting to heighten the allegations against Dr. Sabatini, the Report essentially projects onto Dr. Sabatini the perception of a few members of the Whitehead that he was partial to attractive women. In support, the Report relies on three separate comments: (1) a comment made by a male graduate student to a female undergraduate that she should “play hard to get”; (2) a stray comment by a graduate student to Dr. [X] that Dr. Sabatini used the whisky tastings to “drool” over Dr. [X]; and (3) a text exchange between a post-doc in the Sabatini lab and another individual, in which the other individual asserted there was sexism in the Sabatini lab.”

Those whiskey tastings in the lab… It is not clear who tried to get whom drunk, but the fact remains Sabatini was the boss and he liked it. It seems he initiated the piss-ups himself, as his lawyer proudly admits:

“One example of this is the whiskey tastings at the Sabatini lab. When she was in Dr. Amon’s lab Dr. [X] was one of many individuals, including other graduate students from outside of the Sabatini lab, as well as other Whitehead Fellows and Faculty who attended social events held by the lab. Whiskey tastings were held occasionally by Dr. Sabatini for his lab members and friends of the lab”

Timothy R. Peterson , Shomit S. Sengupta , Thurl E. Harris , Anne E. Carmack , Seong A. Kang , Eric Balderas , David A. Guertin, Katherine L. Madden , Anne E. Carpenter , Brian N. Finck David M. Sabatini mTOR complex 1 regulates lipin 1 localization to control the SREBP pathway Cell (2011) doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2011.06.034

Petersen provided on PubPeer a replacement for Fig 4A after it was found “HMGCR and FDPS mRNA expression in DMSO and Torin1 seem to be exactly same“. Turned out, “the SCD1 data were also wrong. Of note, the statistical significance for Rapa 24 is not there any more in the new SCD1 graph“, plus “Some results from Figure 4, don’t match the results from the thesis https://dspace.mit.edu/handle/1721.1/58293“. No correction for that Cell paper was issued.

Sabatini and X clearly had a sexual relationship which at least at the beginning seemed consensual, something which Sabatini lawyers use as argument. A more important issue however is if such power-skewed relationships in academia can be ever called consensual. One party (the young woman) is totally dependent on her mentor’s good will, the other party (the male professor) has the total power to make or to destroy careers. And a bigwig like Sabatini can reach you in every corner of the world with his revenge and make sure you will never get employed as scientist.

It doesn’t apply to women only of course. Sure, also male lab members who displeased their boss do suffer consequences of the lovely academic tradition I’ll make sure you never find work again. The difference in our patriarchal society is that while both male and female lab members are expected to show total loyalty and devotion to their academic master, only women are additionally often expected to have sex with him (that said, sometimes male researchers also become victims of sexual harassment, from male and female professors). Becoming undesired for whatever reason can lead to revenge for betrayal, much more viciously than a disloyal male subordinate would ever experience.

David A. Guertin, Deanna M. Stevens , Carson C. Thoreen, Aurora A. Burds , Nada Y. Kalaany, Jason Moffat , Michael Brown , Kevin J. Fitzgerald , David M. Sabatini Ablation in mice of the mTORC components raptor, rictor, or mLST8 reveals that mTORC2 is required for signaling to Akt-FOXO and PKCalpha, but not S6K1 Developmental Cell (2006) doi: 10.1016/j.devcel.2006.10.007

Things you see by reversing colours…

This is the sad reality of academia, and the details of those alleged sexual arrangements between Sabatini and X, true or not, should matter only to him and his lawyers, but not to us. The message for women in science remains that yes, sleeping with your boss may be a career boost, but it can also badly backfire when the services are not provided as requested or simply not desired anymore. The men in Sabatini’s lab only had to serve his ego but not his penis, a much simpler and straightforward way to a career. These men, at least the “real” men among them, had it quite good, as Sabatini’s lawyers hint:

“Among the more inflammatory “findings” in the Report was that a visiting post-doc (referred to as Visiting Postdoc 1 in the Report) in the Sabatini lab made sexist and racist comments. The Report asserted Dr. Sabatini “failed to properly address” the comments made by Visiting Post Doc 1, while in the same sentence conceding that Dr. Sabatini had “warn[ed]” him to act professionally. Visiting Postdoc 1 was also terminated by the Whitehead as a result of the Report. […]

The allegations concerning Visiting Postdoc 1 also originated from the DEI Survey. In the DEI Survey, “[t]he anonymous complainant contended that Sabatini was not only aware of this behavior, but directly blocked lab members from reporting Visiting Postdoc 1 to HR.” The Report did not validate this allegation, finding instead that “there was no evidence that Sabatini directly blocked lab members from reporting Visiting Postdoc 1 to HR.” Nevertheless, the Report laid much of the blame for Visiting Postdoc 1’s behavior on Dr. Sabatini…”

Maybe that visiting postdoc was producing scientific results Sabatini liked? And this is all that counts? For sure he most definitely never angered his boss by refusing his sexual advances.

Samantha W. Alvarez , Vladislav O. Sviderskiy , Erdem M. Terzi , Thales Papagiannakopoulos , Andre L. Moreira , Sylvia Adams , David M. Sabatini, Kıvanç Birsoy, Richard Possemato NFS1 undergoes positive selection in lung tumours and protects cells from ferroptosis Nature (2017) doi: 10.1038/nature24637

shNFs1/lung panels are the same picture just 180ºC rotated.”
Raw data for Figure 3B contains a set of duplicates values between replicate 1 and 2.

And now it’s all over. Sabatini’s court filing bemoans:

“During his career, Dr. Sabatini developed strong and valuable relationships with leading scientific journals, including but not limited to Science and Nature. […] When Dr. Sabatini was terminated, his lab had two articles under review and revision for publication in Science and three articles under review and revision for Nature. […]

After Dr. Sabatini was terminated, Dr. Lehmann and the Whitehead spoke directly with journals at which Dr. Sabatini had pending articles. Without consulting Dr. Sabatini, the Whitehead and Dr. Lehmann took the position that he was “not in a position to execute the responsibilities as a corresponding author” because Dr. Sabatini was no longer at the Whitehead.
The Whitehead and Dr. Lehmann also expressed their conviction that Dr. Sabatini “should not have any direct contact with lab members.”

The editors of Nature and Science stopped kissing the Genius’ arse! And the Whitehead director Lehmann is to blame! Worse:

“Dr. Sabatini lost his lab, and currently has no place where he can pursue the scientific research which is his life’s work. He has been stripped of his position as an American Cancer Society Research Professor, and he may lose his status as a corresponding author for several forthcoming publications.”

And also:

“After the announcement of his termination was made, Dr. Sabatini lost an award that would have provided him with over $200,000.”

It must have been the 12th Frontiers of Knowledge Awards, issued by the Spanish Foundation BBVA (Bank Bilbao Vizcaya). Sabatini was supposed to receive it, together with the mTOR co-discoverer Michael Hall, already in 2020. Due to COVID-19, the ceremony was postponed to 21 September 2021. Guess who wasn’t invited and missed out on a huge chunk of cash.

This is no way to treat a genius! So someone must pay for the perceived injustice, and it has to be the young woman who failed to show gratitude for the gifts she received from her master:

“At or around the time that the investigation began, Dr. [X] referred to Dr. Sabatini as “Harvey Weinstein” while at the Whitehead and in the presence of Dr. Sabatini’s former professional colleagues. […] Dr. [X] attended a stem cell conference in Greece in late September and early October 2021. At a dinner early in the conference, Dr. [X] sat with other professionals who knew Dr. Sabatini and with whom he had professional relationships. At this dinner, Dr. [X] described herself as one of Dr. Sabatini’s “victims” and stated that she had heard Dr. Sabatini had had other inappropriate relationships with MIT students.”

Sabatini’s lawyer, who wrote this, merely goes on to protest that Dr X cannot call herself a “victim”, presumably the same applies to all the other MIT students Sabatini has sex with. I guess they should feel honoured by have been chosen by the great mTORman?

Scott R. Floyd , Michael E. Pacold , Qiuying Huang , Scott M. Clarke , Fred C. Lam , Ian G. Cannell , Bryan D. Bryson , Jonathan Rameseder , Michael J. Lee , Emily J. Blake , Anna Fydrych , Richard Ho , Benjamin A. Greenberger , Grace C. Chen , Amanda Maffa , Amanda M. Del Rosario , David E. Root , Anne E. Carpenter , William C. Hahn, David M. Sabatini, Clark C. Chen, Forest M. White, James E. Bradner, Michael B. Yaffe The bromodomain protein Brd4 insulates chromatin from DNA damage signalling Nature (2013) doi: 10.1038/nature12147

Supplemental Fig. S1c – more similar than expected
Supplemental Fig. S2c – more similar than expected”

The lawyer then narrates how countless students and other lab members wrote emails to their sacked boss, expressing their eternal gratitude to him. These people however are not named. The lawyer argues they were somehow not allowed not say all that during the Whitehead investigation because of the big conspiracy against Sabatini and the bullying by Dr X.

Here again, a take by X’s lawyers on the situation in the Sabatini lab:

“Although it is not convenient for Sabatini, the findings of the Whitehead’s independent investigation were not solely – and not even primarily – about the young woman scientist he has sued. As documents setting out communications and reactions within the lab as they occurred in real-time confirm, the Sabatini Lab was a highly sexualized work environment where Sabatini himself set the tone.

Consider what just a couple of the texts reveal: Sabatini reveled in the hiring of a European woman graduate student, telling her (as she reported at the time) that he liked hiring women from Europe because they talk about sex more freely that Americans. Male members of Sabatini’s lab, unfortunately well-schooled in their leader’s approach to women, advised an undergraduate to “entertain” Sabatini but then “play hard to get” if she wanted to succeed. And then there are the texts that reveal the real-time fear of members of Sabatini’s lab
in light of his threatened retaliation against anyone who would dare to report problems and his various compliance failures, even with respect to safety protocols, to Human Resources.”

Stefanie S. Schalm , Diane C. Fingar, David M. Sabatini, John Blenis TOS Motif-Mediated Raptor Binding Regulates 4E-BP1 Multisite Phosphorylation and Function Current Biology (2003) doi: 10.1016/s0960-9822(03)00329-4

Two bands digitally inserted
The last anti-HA lane is just an empty white square. This is how safe Sabatini and his mates felt.
Band or lane digitally pasted in

 

The bulk of the X’s defence filing is about the possibly illegal subpoena Sabatini’s lawyers served her. First of all, they were not supposed to knowingly contact a person with legal representation directly, only through her lawyer. Second, as Whitehead letter explains at length, X is currently serving as witness in the MIT investigation against Sabatini.

The Whitehead Institute argued in this regard:

“Sabatini’s action involves an independent workplace investigation commissioned by the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research (“Whitehead”). The “extensive investigation and report” identified “multiple violations of Whitehead’s policies, including a policy prohibiting sexual harassment.” See Exhibit 1, Statement of L. Rafael Reif, President of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (“MIT”), August 21, 2021. As a result, Sabatini’s employment was terminated as an investigator by Howard Hughes Medical Institute (“HHMI”), and he resigned from Whitehead. MIT placed Sabatini on leave and is now undergoing its own investigative process, “with consequences that could extend to revocation of tenure.” Id. Thus, this lawsuit is about what happened in the context of the Whitehead’s workplace investigation – and what is happening at MIT – as a result.

This is the quoted Exhibit 1:

The main purpose of the Whitehead filing is to obtain a stay from court trial while the MIT’s Title IX investigation into Sabatini’s conduct is ongoing, because his defamation lawsuit is clearly aiming to derail that investigation and to silence and intimidate all witnesses. Until then, Sabatini, who was already sacked by his employer HHMI for having “violated the Institute’s policies on sexual and workplace harassment among other policies“, has been placed by MIT “on administrative leave pending the results of MIT’s review” which can result in “revocation of tenure proceedings“. The Whitehead lawyers argue:

“Notwithstanding, Sabatini decided – with MIT’s processes ongoing – to file this action before this Court. He named as a defendant a young woman scientist who had responded when asked to participate in the Whitehead investigation and who had raised concerns about Sabatini’s conduct. While she did not stand alone, as several men and women spoke to investigators about troubling conduct in the Sabatini Lab, Sabatini focuses on her. His purpose is clear: to chill this young woman’s participation in the ongoing investigation and send a message to anyone else who might otherwise come forward. […]

“The Defendants submit that these statutory and policy guarantees will be nullified if this lawsuit is permitted to continue while MIT’s investigation is ongoing. The ability of a senior male professor to rally the resources to file suit and publicly “shame” a Whitehead Fellow/MIT junior faculty member who has complained about his conduct, particularly while an investigation is ongoing, will effectively end the ability of educational institutions to enforce Title IX and/or
obligations under Chapter 151B.”

Dohoon Kim, Brian P. Fiske , Kivanc Birsoy , Elizaveta Freinkman , Kenjiro Kami , Richard L. Possemato , Yakov Chudnovsky , Michael E. Pacold , Walter W. Chen , Jason R. Cantor, Laura M. Shelton , Dan Y. Gui , Manjae Kwon , Shakti H. Ramkissoon , Keith L. Ligon , Seong Woo Kang , Matija Snuderl , Matthew G. Vander Heiden, David M. Sabatini SHMT2 drives glioma cell survival in ischaemia but imposes a dependence on glycine clearance Nature (2015) doi: 10.1038/nature14363

“In Supplemental Table 8 (Summary – peak areas), the data regarding citrate mass isotopomers M0 and M5 are the same for some – but not for all – conditions.”

Basically, if the court allows Sabatini’s lawsuit to proceed, it would sabotage all misconduct investigations in USA and silence all complaints before these are even placed confidentially and through proper channels. Any accused senior figure with enough cash can willy-nilly sue their critics during ongoing institutional investigation and thus achieve an acquittal because nobody will dare to talk. It is the legal equivalent of mafia’s practice of “silencing” of the witnesses before they can testify. This is how the Whitehead lawyers put it:

“The timing of this Complaint in this context is intentionally designed to deter and chill participation in any further investigation into Sabatini’s conduct. It is difficult enough to speak against senior scientists as an undergraduate or graduate student, post-doctoral fellow, employee, junior faculty member or less senior principal investigator. Where one risks the treatment now being taken by Sabatini against Whitehead and its former Whitehead Fellow, participation in a
MIT investigation surely will be affected. This is not matter of speculation, as even in his Complaint, Sabatini goes after the protected conduct of participants in Whitehead’s investigation, targeting the content of the specific complaints that he presumes were raised by individuals and investigated by Whitehead and with which he disagrees. […]

“While it is unclear whether any stay will lessen the retaliatory impact of the fact that this lawsuit was publicly filed, a stay must be granted to attempt to provide some reassurance to the Defendants and others, that is, those interviewed for the Whitehead investigation or who may be interviewed by MIT.”

Lawrence D. Schweitzer , William C. Comb , Liron Bar-Peled, David M. Sabatini
Disruption of the Rag-Ragulator Complex by c17orf59 Inhibits mTORC1
Cell Reports (2015) doi: 10.1016/j.celrep.2015.07.052
the HA-Metap2 bands of Figure 4A and 4B are very similar.

Dos D. Sarbassov, David M. Sabatini Redox regulation of the nutrient-sensitive raptor-mTOR pathway and complex Journal of Biological Chemistry (2005) doi: 10.1074/jbc.m506096200Fig. 3B. All bands in P-S6K1 are much more similar than expected to their respective bands in S6K1.

Jan H Reiling , Clary B Clish , Jan E Carette , Malini Varadarajan , Thijn R Brummelkamp , David M Sabatini A haploid genetic screen identifies the major facilitator domain containing 2A (MFSD2A) transporter as a key mediator in the response to tunicamycin Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2011) doi: 10.1073/pnas.1018098108 

“Supplemental Fig. S5: More similar than expected.

Seong A Kang , Michael E Pacold , Christopher L Cervantes , Daniel Lim , Hua Jane Lou , Kathleen Ottina , Nathanael S Gray , Benjamin E Turk, Michael B Yaffe, David M Sabatini mTORC1 phosphorylation sites encode their sensitivity to starvation and rapamycin Science (2013) doi: 10.1126/science.1236566
Dudley W. Lamming, Gokhan Demirkan , Joan M. Boylan , Maria M. Mihaylova , Tao Peng , Jonathan Ferreira , Nicola Neretti, Arthur Salomon, David M. Sabatini, Philip A. Gruppuso Hepatic signaling by the mechanistic target of rapamycin complex 2 (mTORC2) The FASEB Journal (2014) doi: 10.1096/fj.13-237743
Figure 5 – possible duplication in AKT bands in a different set of animals according the figure legends.
Raghu R. Chivukula, Daniel T. Montoro , Hui Min Leung , Jason Yang , Hanan E. Shamseldin , Martin S. Taylor , Gerard W. Dougherty , Maimoona A. Zariwala , Johnny Carson , M. Leigh Anne Daniels , Patrick R. Sears , Katharine E. Black , Lida P. Hariri , Ibrahim Almogarri , Evgeni M. Frenkel , Vladimir Vinarsky , Heymut Omran, Michael R. Knowles, Guillermo J. Tearney, Fowzan S. Alkuraya, David M. Sabatini A human ciliopathy reveals essential functions for NEK10 in airway mucociliary clearance Nature Medicine (2020) doi: 10.1038/s41591-019-0730-xExtended Fig. 5b (NEK10) doesn’t match with the raw figure provided by the authors. […] In the published Fig. 5b NEK10 expression is decreased in de-ciliated ALI in the NEK10G>C condition, while on the original scans it’s expressed in the same levels as de-ciliated ALI WT.

Let’s see how it develops. It may be that Sabatini is actually not as smart as he thinks he is.


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35 comments on “The Sex Privileges of mTORman David Sabatini

  1. John Fryer

    The article is interesting but not detailed enough to comment properly.
    Surely it is possible to paste the defamation suit.
    Who is the lady and what did she say.
    If the police questioned her then she would be bound to tell the truth even if what she said was contested by the other party.
    If he is no longer associated with the colleges then they cause him more actual harm at this time.
    The actual defamation seems top secret!

    Like

    • “The article is interesting but not detailed enough to comment properly.”

      Do you care to comment on the scientific data?

      Like

    • The accuser’s name is easy to find. Some of the tweets she sent to Sabatini are still on Twitter. They are very friendly actually. You can even find the suit that Sabatini filed on line. He names her.

      Like

  2. The names in this article are incompletely redacted.

    Like

  3. I think it is really bad journalism to mix criticism of scientific work with reporting of a lawsuit about sexual harassment. While both are important issues and should be reported on, they have absolutely nothing to do with each other. Presenting a harassment lawsuit as if it is somehow related to the integrity of scientific work is just as nonsensical as showing evidence of data manipulation in the context of a Title IX investigation.

    Like

  4. When someone’s ego grows unchecked as we saw in this case, he/she will likely misbehave on many fronts. Scientific results are kicked to the curb, people treated as objects, etc….

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: “A crazy mess” – ocasapiens

  6. tv you have absolutely no clue of how the judiciary system works. Of course that evidence of dishonesty in one field (sciences, here) can count when investigating claims. You really believe in a court of law the fact you are a proven cheater is of no value regarding allegations of sexual misconducts? Nothing is simple in a court, but the overall credibility of people is usually something highly scrutinized. So yes, the fact he lied in so many science papers is relevant to the case of sexual harassment.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. reply to tv,
    a boss who happened to be a so-called scientist has textbook symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) syndrome. He increasingly abuses his power whether by sexual harassment of females or work-related harassment of everybody in the lab (retaliations for those who are not loyal and don’t boost his ego). The same person with NPD syndrome-as is the case with a majority of scientific leaders who suffer from this mental illness- cheats on papers and grants when it suits him. why aren’t these two issues related? cheating and lying to get to the big journals, and get big money and hit the top glamour means abusing the scientific system to get what you desire, at any cost. Therefore it is PART OF THE SAME PACKAGE as abusing your employees. Unfortunately, many SLAVE MASTERS with this illness tend to fight for and land themselves in top positions in academia and especially in leadership positions . Their arrogance, dishonesty, attention-seeking and a self-serving attitude can cost a lot for science, careers and organizations.

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  8. There is a staggering lack of due process in these title IX investigations and this is not unique to the Sabatini case. If you read his complaint you will see that he wasn’t provided with written charges, he wasn’t permitted counsel, he was misled about the seriousness and consequences of the investigation and he has no access to any of the materials collected during the investigation aside from the final report. I expect the main reason he filed his suit is to enable discovery of everything collected during the Whitehead investigation while the MIT tenure dismissal process is ongoing. The defendants essentially double down on this point in their response and say that the case can’t go forwards because of the MIT investigation. I am sure Sabbatini will go back to the court saying that he has been denied due process in the Whitehead and now MIT investigations and this is his only recourse. Having said that, I find it surprising that as soon as Sabatini realized that the Whitehead investigation was being conducted by a team led by a former Federal Prosecutor he would have got the message that this was a serious business. I am sure there is an element of hubris here. In cases where these investigations are being conducted by people with legal training and and active license to practice law the first thing they will say is that they are not acting in their capacity as an attorney. That’s because no attorney would ever counsel a client to participate in one of these title IX investigations without representation.

    Obviously Sabatini is a dick and probably cheat. But for readers who have not worked at a US university or had experience of these title IX investigations its important to acknowledge that there are real issues with the way these are handled that probably do need to be litigated.

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  9. Its America. You can sue anyone for anything. And the Whitehead/MIT “investigations” and processes are not court proceedings. The purpose of the Sabatini suit is to get access to discovery materials and to raise issues of fact and intent (rather than law) that would merit a jury trial where he might have a fighting chance of a massive settlement.

    It is very surprising to me that Whitehead/MIT are taking such drastic action against Sabatini for a “first offense” and I strongly suspect that he has been formally warned about his behavior but you can imagine that it suits both the institution and Sabatini to keep that out of the public eye. Because these are private institutions it would not be possible to find out about this through some sort of an open records request.

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    • “And the Whitehead/MIT “investigations” and processes are not court proceedings.”

      The general courts may defer to specialised courts. For example military courts, as in courts martial, and to academic institutions/medical bodies/other professional bodies such as those for lawyers themselves.
      The general courts are unlikely to know much about these fields.

      MIT needs to examine the Pubpeer, and other claims of David M Sabatini’s problematic scientific data.

      Like

      • Those are all good points. Since Whitehead/MIT have explicitly said that the suspension and possible termination of Dr Sabatini is not related to research misconduct there really isn’t anything “specialized” about the case. He could get sacked from a job at a department store for the same behavior. The only “specialized” aspect of the case is the title IX obligations of the institution that govern the way the investigation is conducted, the burden of proof and the consequences for the accused.

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    • “It is very surprising to me that Whitehead/MIT are taking such drastic action against Sabatini for a “first offense” and I strongly suspect that he has been formally warned about his behavior but you can imagine that it suits both the institution and Sabatini to keep that out of the public eye.”

      How do you that is a “first offense”?

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  10. That is my point. I don’t know if this is his “first offense” but I would be surprised if it is.
    At the more risk adverse institutions I am familiar with the standard approach for a first offender in situations of this type would be to issue a formal warning with a clear message that a repeat would be grounds for immediate termination. Then if/when the behavior happens again you can terminate the faculty member in a way that makes it almost impossible for them to sue.

    I do agree that the evidence of massive research misconduct is relevant here because this requires a high level of compliance from lab members that is often achieved through bullying and controlling behavior of the type that Sabatini is being accused of.

    Anyway, if I was the court I would just sit on the case for a bit while the MIT investigation continues. Presumably a response from Sabatini to the defendant’s motion will appear soon and that should be interesting reading.

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  11. “He could get sacked from a job at a department store for the same behavior.”

    I think they have all gone now.

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  12. Good point. And if you work at an amazon distribution center you have no time to go to the bathroom let alone for sexual harassment.

    I looked at the court web site and there has been a flurry of motions and a conference with the judge in the past ~24 hrs. Sabatini has served the defendants with subpoenas requesting a broad range of documents related to the Whitehead Investigation. An interesting subplot raises the possibility that the women who were allegedly harassed are themselves seeking damages (presumably from Whitehead). A second female complainant against Sabatini is identified in these subpoena requests. Lots of legal bickering but in the end the main issue will be the relationship between the Whitehead and MIT and consequently between the Whitehead title IX investigation and the MIT tenure revocation process. If they are linked then no discovery because title IX protections would apply. If they are not then Sabatini will eventually get his discovery. I believe that Whitehead is fiscally and administratively distinct from MIT. Sabatini says that he has not been informed that MIT have received Title IX complaint(s) against him.
    I couldn’t find any mention of research misconduct or an ongoing research misconduct investigation anywhere in these documents.

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  13. FakedWesterns

    According to her lab’s website, the alleged victim received her PhD in 2017 from MIT, her MD in 2018 from Harvard, and started her faculty position at MIT in 2018. No months are specified.

    According to Sabatini’s lawsuit, the relationship began in April of 2018. If this is indeed the case, then I don’t see how it could violate MIT’s prohibition on sexual relationships between students and faculty, since the alleged victim was definitely not an MIT PhD student in April 2018. She may have been a Harvard MD student in April 2018 (graduating in May 2018), but I don’t think this falls afoul of MIT’s policy, which as far as I know only applies to relationships between MIT faculty and MIT students.

    For the record, I think Sabatini should unequivocally be fired for his research misconduct. If what he presents in the lawsuit is indeed true (big if!), it is much less clear cut that he should be fired for sexual harassment.

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    • I am sure you recall Pier Paolo Pandolfi, who was sacked in Harvard for his amorous pursuit of a postdoc.
      https://forbetterscience.com/2020/05/20/pier-paolo-pandolfi-out-of-harvard-spotted-in-italy-and-nevada/
      Also Pandolfi has a massive Pubpeer record of published fraud, and readers wrote to me mentioning a practice of bullying.
      Yet he was sacked for sexual harassment.
      The main difference seems to be: Pandolfi was asked to leave quietly, the deal being he buggers off to lead an institute in Italy. But then Michael Balter and yours truly spoiled everything, Pandolfi was then sacked again in Padua and now hides in Arizona while continuing to draw a full professor salary in Turin which he was somehow granted many years ago.
      https://forbetterscience.com/2021/06/01/pier-paolo-pandolfi-shrouded-in-turin/
      Sabatini apparently refused to leave quietly, was then sacked in shame, and now sues. I personally think it serves all involved right.

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      • Its much easier to sack someone for a title IX violation where there is essentially no due process than it is for research misconduct where there is an over abundance of due process.

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      • I know. Even when found guilty of research misconduct, you need to prove intent to prove actual fraud which would lead to sacking.
        And that’s impossible.
        Luckily, research fraudsters often take other liberties.

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      • The current workflow for these misconduct investigations (at least in the US) is excessively complicated. There needs to be a way to incentivize people to admit guilt in these misconduct investigations and there also needs to be a way to sanction PIs for failure to properly supervise their laboratories/staff/students/trainees/research programs irrespective of who did the misconduct and what the intent was.

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      • The current situation is akin to being accused of killing someone where the only charge possible is capital murder. As in the criminal code there needs to be an element of culpability and if the misconduct isn’t purposeful on the part of the PI inclusion of fraudulent data in publications or grant proposals is clearly being done knowingly, or recklessly or negligently and this would be much simpler to establish. Publishing fraudulent data isn’t a crime but making false, fictitious or fraudulent statements when contracting with the federal government is a crime and this applies to NIH grant applications as pubpeer frequent flier Sam W. Lee recently found out:
        https://www.justice.gov/usao-ma/press-release/file/1422211/download
        So re defining research misconduct at the University or NIH level to incorporate a measure of culpability on the part of the PI/lab head and beefing up the threat of prosecution for fraud in grant proposals would certainly provide more of a deterrent than we have now.

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  14. Title IX basically weaponizes sexual harassment and discrimination inquiries to the extent that literally anything that makes someone feel harassed or discriminated against can be the basis for a complaint. Sabatini is almost certainly guilty of something but the bar is set very low and (as you can see) its almost impossible to defend yourself against these allegations because there are no written charges, there is no discovery and if you do go on the offensive you fall foul of the “no retaliation” policy. Its terrifying once these things get going. Faculty working at title IX institutions (ie anywhere with federal funding) would be well advised to be on their best behavior. What exactly happened with the “victim” isn’t completely clear from the public documents but I am wondering if she is claiming Sabatini pressurized her into sex in return for supporting her candidacy for the prestigious and lucrative Whitehead fellowship?

    My other observation is that I have had some professional interactions with Ruth Lehmann and her lab. She known for careful thorough and enduring science and does not spew out dozens of science/nature/cell papers every year. I am sure she saw Sabatini for what is is as soon as she arrived at the Whitehead.

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  15. You mentioned that “It seems a complicated affair, but maybe it isn’t really. Sabatini, who is clearly a diva narcissist unable to see any flaws with himself, plays a victim of harassment on any occasion, his critics are openly addressed as “failed scientists” when he is in good mood and as “steaming turd” when he isn’t. The great mTORman openly admits to have had sex with various female members of his lab, apparently he even specifically recruited some women in order to have sex with them.”

    Can you tell us where you got this information?
    It is well known that to have a sexual relationship with a post doc is a serious violation in any institute and if he is not an idiot, he would not openly mention about it.

    As a writer, you should have a balance on both sides and you should not just take the so- called” victim’s claims until any trials conclude that the victim is a real victim. Besides his paper issues, it looks like you already have a bias against him.
    Most of the” me too” cases, it is true that females are usually victims. However, in this case, it seems like there are more complicated issues since, his prior male members were also very successful in their career as well as female members.
    I want to wait and see more.

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  16. The source material can be accessed online:
    https://www.mass.gov/search-court-dockets-calendars-and-case-information
    Superior Court/Middlesex County then search for the relevant parties.

    Like

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