Research integrity

The Timeless Art of Emile Levy

"At no time has the University of Montreal or any other institution, regardless of their mission, had anything to reproach me for." -Dr Emile Levy

Not only Smut Clyde is a connoisseur of paintings. Elisabeth Bik also discovered an interest in the classic canvas art, specifically in the works of Émile Lévy, the French painter from the 19th century. She found image duplications there!

Of course not, we are talking about a different Emile Levy, the Canadian diabetologist and gastroenterology researcher, professor at the University of Montreal and one of scientific directors at the Sainte-Justine University Hospital Research Center. Like his long-dead namesake in France, the Canadian’s studio also created amazing artworks, and now Levy keeps complaining about the horrible injustice of his three PLOS retractions.

It is not my first virtual visit to Montreal. At the McGill University, cancer researcher and anti-aging enthusiast Moshe Szyf, together with his colleague Shafaat Rabbani, also blessed the world with interesting art, not oil on canvas though, but in the good old Photoshop.

Apparently the McGill University did decide to do at least something, because Szyf sent lawyers demanding of me to delete my earlier article and to publicly apologise. I drew a cartoon instead, because art is for everyone:

“Canadian Scientist”, by Leonid Schneider (2021), ink and pencil on paper.

Just as Szyf’s, Levy’s conclusions were also all entirely unaffected, or so he insists. But he was less lucky with editors.

But then again, for Levy and his colleagues at the neighbouring University of Montreal, there never will be any misconduct investigation. I mean, the university officials don’t even reply to emails. Previously, I had the displeasure to deal with them regarding another problematic case, that of the biomaterials fabricator May Griffith, professor at the department of ophthalmology in Montreal. She was previously found guilty of research misconduct and medical ethics breach by the Linköping University in Sweden, and also accused by her former colleague of intellectual property theft. Eventually, the University of Montreal’s rector Guy Breton refused to admit the evidence I submitted, declared Griffith and his university to be the rightful owners of her Linköping colleague’s research, and me as blacklisted from submitting anything ever again. Read here:

Also now, University of Montreal ignored all my emails. And there is no national research integrity authority in Canada, which probably closes the case.

But I know you came here to look at fake gels, do give me a minute, we are getting there.

The PubPeer evidence is actually 8 years old, all posted by Elisabeth Bik, who also mentioned:

These concerns have been reported to the journal per email in May 2014

Retraction Watch cited in this regard the PLOS spokesperson David Knudson:

The case involving these four articles is from this historical backlog. PLOS began discussing the concerns with the authors in 2014, and we reactivated the case in January 2022. Unfortunately, some of the 2014 records for this case are no longer accessible to PLOS staff, as we acknowledged in the public notices.

We retracted pone.0011817, pone.0040992, and pone.0053725 because the extensive figure concerns cannot be resolved without the original primary data. According to the corresponding author’s statements and PLOS’ current records, the primary data are not available at this time.

PLOS ONE is still investigating pone.0063456.

OK, now the fake gels you kept demanding, and the three belated retractions which all were published on 14 April 2022:

Rame Taha , Ernest Seidman , Genevieve Mailhot , François Boudreau , Fernand-Pierre Gendron , Jean-François Beaulieu , Daniel Ménard , Edgard Delvin , Devendra Amre , Emile Levy Oxidative stress and mitochondrial functions in the intestinal Caco-2/15 cell line PLoS ONE (2010) doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0011817

Bik: “Several cuts appear to be visible between lanes. Examples include the POLRMT panel (top right, Figure 9A), the MtTFA panel in Figure 9B, and three of the four actin panels in Figure 9B.
Figure 9B. All four lanes in the GAPDH panel appear to look very similar to each other (orange arrows).

The retraction notice mentioned:

“The PLOS ONE Editors retract this article. Although we have been unable to review the primary data, the nature and extent of image concerns call into question the integrity of data reporting in the published figures and the reliability of the article’s results and conclusions.

GM, FB, and FPG agreed with the retraction and apologise for the issues with the published article. JFB, ED, and EL did not agree with the retraction. RT, DM, and DA either did not respond directly or could not be reached. ES is deceased.”

The deceased, Ernest Seidman, was professor at the McGill University and Levy’s mentor. In April 2018, Levy, together with other Seidman’s mentees, held a speech on the occasion of their patron’s birthday. A Festschrift was issued, which is a German academic tradition (especially in medicine) of ceremonial speeches and banquet for your Doctorvater, the patriarch who fathered your own professorial career. Former mentees (who must be professors or other society elites, or they won’t be are invited) hold speeches in honour of their Godfather, as Levy did:

““Ernie wears several hats, as a superb physician, innovative researcher, teacher, compassionate mentor and judicious administrator,” said Dr. Emile Levy from Université de Montréal. “This festschrift recognizes not only his remarkable scientific and clinical contributions to the fields of gastroenterology, hepatology and nutrition, but also his outstanding achievements as teacher, mentor, supportive colleague and friend.””

Seidman died the next year, in December 2019, McGill now has an award named after him. And now his legacy contains a string of papers with fake data, all with Levy as key author. Put this in your Festschrift, Emile…

Another regular co-author is Edgard Delvin, who like Levy did not agree to the retraction. Delvin is also a director at the Sainte-Justine University Hospital Research Center of the University of Montreal. I wrote to him, but my message was automatically rejected, just as the University of Montreal rector Guy Breton blocked my emails before.

In another PLOS One retraction, Delvin became unreachable also:

Emilie Grenier , Carole Garofalo , Edgard Delvin , Emile Levy Modulatory role of PYY in transport and metabolism of cholesterol in intestinal epithelial cells PLoS ONE (2012) doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0040992

The retraction notice mentioned:

“The corresponding author states that the similarity between proteins is due to the stripping and re-probing of the same blot, and clarifies that some blots were spliced to remove extra lanes and/or duplicate or triplicate samples from the panel. The underlying data for the figures or concern are no longer available.

In light of the concerns affecting multiple figure panels that question the integrity of these data, the PLOS ONE Editors retract this article.

EG, CG and ED either did not respond directly or could not be reached. EL did not agree with the retraction.”

Same with the third retraction, Delvin unreachable, Levy opposing, while the retraction notice mentioned same excuses about stripping and re-probing of blots:

Marie Claude Denis , Alexandra Furtos , Stéphanie Dudonné , Alain Montoudis , Carole Garofalo , Yves Desjardins , Edgard Delvin , Emile Levy Apple peel polyphenols and their beneficial actions on oxidative stress and inflammation PLoS ONE (2013) doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0053725

A fourth PLOS One paper only got an Expression of Concern, but it’s also problematic and liable to be retracted soon:

Sabrina Yara , Jean-Claude Lavoie , Jean-François Beaulieu , Edgard Delvin , Devendra Amre , Valerie Marcil , Ernest Seidman , Emile Levy Iron-ascorbate-mediated lipid peroxidation causes epigenetic changes in the antioxidant defense in intestinal epithelial cells: impact on inflammation PLoS ONE (2013) doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0063456

Again:

“The corresponding author stated that the underlying data for other Fig panels in question were provided to PLOS ONE in 2014 but are no longer available in the laboratory records. PLOS is unable to access the journal’s 2014 correspondence records for this case. We sincerely regret that this case was not resolved much sooner after the prior correspondence.”

I wrote to Levy, and he provided me with what looks like a longer version of the explanation he already shared with Retraction Watch:


“Dear Mr. Schneider,

I am disturbed and shocked by your email that calls my scientific career into question. Throughout all these years, I have behaved with dignity and loyalty in the development of knowledge by instilling principles of honesty and honor in my students who today hold honorable positions, including professorships at the University of Montreal or elsewhere.

You are an independent science journalist and I appreciate your activity to promote good science. However, you should have at least asked me about the events surrounding the retraction of the 4 scientific papers by the journal PLOS ONE before drawing conclusions and taking the side of PLOS ONE Ethical Division, which did not do its job properly.

These four papers were published by 4 independent Ph.D. students from my laboratory, in this same journal, 9-12 years ago (2010-2013). In 2014, PLOS ONE alerted me to concerns regarding these 4 publications. I was asked to provide clarifications about the data of certain figures, and even to submit the raw uncropped blots. Although I was in Europe for a scientific tour, without any hesitation and diligently, I urged the coordinator of my laboratory (Carole Garofalo) and the scientific coordinator (Schohraya Spahis) to make every effort to convene the concerned students who had already finished their doctorate, but who luckily were still in Montreal. All responded positively and spontaneously. They quickly tracked down all the necessary data required by PLoS One, responded to comments, organized the raw uncropped blots, and provided explanations for all the journal’s concerns.

When I arrived in Montreal from abroad, I contacted Mrs. Sarah Wade (Publications Assistant, PLOS ONE) to know if she intercepted the whole files while mentioning I remain at her disposal for additional information (while the students were still in Montreal and available to tackle any additional issues). I did my best to ensure full collaboration with PLoS ONE in order to remove any possible doubt. However, despite our insistence, the response from PLoS One never came. The only reaction/response from PLOS ONE was to thank us for the documents made available for them. Inexplicably, all our attempts until the end of 2015 to obtain PloS ONE feedback failed. At no time did PLoS One consider it useful to inform us or give us any answer despite our insistence.

Dr Zalm, Senior Editor with the PLOS Publication Ethics team, came back to this subject 8-12 years after the articles were published and after the departure of my students, and 8 years after having done my duty with PLoS One with conviction, honesty and conscientiously. PLoS ONE as a respected journal should have finalized this sensitive issue when it was time. Currently, I no longer have my laboratory head coordinator (in knowledge of all the data from the various projects) because she retired four years ago; the contacted previous students no longer have  their protocols and results on their computer; moreover, most of the old files and laboratory notebooks of research were eliminated during the move to the new Research Center a few years ago.

On another side, to verify the published data of the 4 articles, I made some proposals to PLOS ONE :

1. I proposed that the journal editor selects the points that seem most problematic to you in each article, and my staff will repeat the experiments, and we will provide him with all the fresh data after a reasonable period of 4 to 5 months for carrying out the experiments. Despite the enormous work and costs involved, this is the best strategy for validating data. The new results can be attached to the articles with a notice from the journal. We believe this ethic allows new scientific knowledge to add to existing knowledge and for science to advance.

3. I also suggest we can write an exhaustive review for each article to show that the scientific literature largely supports our findings. Here again, the review will be attached to the articles with a notice from the journal.

4. A note could be added to the articles, mentioning that there were points that seemed problematic despite exhaustive review, but Plos One had difficulty completing/checking the process a decade ago. Noteworthy, a ‘’correction’’ could be issued by various journals instead of retraction.

Currently, we are in the process of organizing an appeal to the international Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) given the blatant silence and astonishing lack of sensitivity from PLOS ONE’s Ethics Division, which was legally indefensible and inexplicable to us and to the students who had mobilized fully to collaborate and get to the bottom of this issue. Now, ten years later, we are the ones in the dock when we had previously done everything possible to establish the truth. We have to face the retraction of our papers and clear repercussions on our credibility because we no longer have any material. Is this ethical on the part of the Plos One journal? On our side, have we not acted according to the best ethical expectations and standards?

I just want to tell you that the most stringent standards were respected in the development of our projects and the compilation of the results given the precautionary measures set up in my laboratory. Indeed, the studies, carried out by the students in my laboratory were closely controlled by the lab coordinators (Carole Garofalo and Alain Sane), presented and analyzed during the weekly meetings, and monitored by the scientific coordinator (Dr Schohraya Spahis) before submitting them the first editorial draft to me.

Without abdicating my responsibility, I must also tell you that I have never compiled the student data myself, and I have never made a single figure. I don’t even know the use of Photoshop that you are talking about.  The remarkable coordination of my coordinators promoted the excellent training of my students, and allowed me to actively participate in the organization of symposia, teaching, and several other important tasks. At no time has the University of Montreal or any other institution, regardless of their mission, had anything to reproach me for. If I find any irregularities in the published articles, I can assure you that I will clarify the points with the editors of scientific journals who are doing their job.

Sincerely yours,

Emile Levy

CHU Sainte-Justine

Université de Montréal


“Death of A Research Paper”, by Émile Lévy (1866). Not sure which one is Elisabeth Bik in this painting.

What a tragedy! Levy’s innocent papers were assassinated, slaughtered in cold blood, by ruthless criminals of PLOS One! Revenge! Revenge!

Also Retraction Watch shamed PLOS for “losing original correspondence“, already in the title of the article. Let us assume for a moment that PLOS really can’t find these emails from 2014 because they lost them, and not because the emails with allegedly attached raw data were actually never sent. Well, I heard many times of scientists losing original data to thieves and lab floods. But losing your own emails? I asked Levy how he and his university achieved the incredible feat of losing these messages and their digital attachments, having same academic employer during these 8 years. He didn’t reply anymore.

Levy also categorically refused to discuss his other papers on PubPeer. Even when I pointed him towards these threads, he pretended they don’t exist. Good thing the University of Montreal sees it similarly and promised to Levy to never investigate his lab for research misconduct.

Want more fake blots?

Here one of Levy’s, with his colleague Delvin:

Valérie MARCIL , Edgard DELVIN , Alain Théophile SANE , André TREMBLAY , Emile LEVY Oxidative stress influences cholesterol efflux in THP-1 macrophages: Role of ATP-binding cassette A1 and nuclear factors Cardiovascular Research (2006) doi: 10.1016/j.cardiores.2006.08.024 

Here a paper with Delvin, and Levy’ deceased mentor Seidman:

Sandra Bernotti , Ernest Seidman , Daniel Sinnett , Sylvain Brunet , Serge Dionne , Edgard Delvin, Emile Levy Inflammatory reaction without endogenous antioxidant response in Caco-2 cells exposed to iron/ascorbate-mediated lipid peroxidation AJP Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology (2003) doi: 10.1152/ajpgi.00042.2003 

Cloned bands. Poor Ernie Seidman. Look at this one:

Emilie Grenier, Françoise Schwalm Maupas , Jean-François Beaulieu , Ernest Seidman , Edgard Delvin, Alain Sane , Eric Tremblay , Carole Garofalo , Emile Levy Effect of retinoic acid on cell proliferation and differentiation as well as on lipid synthesis, lipoprotein secretion, and apolipoprotein biogenesis AJP Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology (2007) doi: 10.1152/ajpgi.00295.2007

The marked gel band was digitally inserted, presumably to replace an undesired result.
Another digitally inserted band in 8D, plus other falsified gels in Figures 6,7 and 8.

This one could have been an innocent mistake, but seeing what else these people published…

Alain Montoudis , Ernest Seidman , François Boudreau , Jean-François Beaulieu , Daniel Menard , Mounib Elchebly , Geneviève Mailhot, Alain-Theophile Sane , Marie Lambert , Edgard Delvin, Emile Levy Intestinal fatty acid binding protein regulates mitochondrion β-oxidation and cholesterol uptake Journal of Lipid Research (2008) doi: 10.1194/jlr.m700363-jlr200 

Apparently bowel inflammation can be treated with apple peels and Photoshop:

Marie-Claude Denis , Denis Roy , Pantea Rahmani Yeganeh , Yves Desjardins , Thibault Varin , Nour Haddad , Devendra Amre , Alain Théophile Sané , Carole Garofalo , Alexandra Furtos , Natalie Patey , Edgard Delvin , Eric Tremblay , André Marette, Jean-François Beaulieu, Emile Levy Apple peel polyphenols: a key player in the prevention and treatment of experimental inflammatory bowel disease Clinical Science (2016) doi: 10.1042/cs20160524 

The bands are not just copy-pasted, but also flipped.

More apple peel magic:

Pantea Rahmani Yeganeh , Jade Leahy , Schohraya Spahis , Natalie Patey , Yves Desjardins , Denis Roy , Edgard Delvin , Carole Garofalo , Jean-Philippe Leduc-Gaudet , David St-Pierre , Jean-François Beaulieu , André Marette , Gilles Gouspillou , Emile Levy Apple peel polyphenols reduce mitochondrial dysfunction in mice with DSS-induced ulcerative colitis The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry (2018) doi: 10.1016/j.jnutbio.2018.03.008 

The bands are shifted one lane.”

Would you like some cranberries instead?

Marie-Claude Denis , Yves Desjardins , Alexandra Furtos , Valérie Marcil , Stéphanie Dudonné , Alain Montoudis , Carole Garofalo , Edgard Delvin , André Marette , Emile Levy Prevention of oxidative stress, inflammation and mitochondrial dysfunction in the intestine by different cranberry phenolic fractions Clinical Science (2015) doi: 10.1042/cs20140210 

Bik: “three bands in the b-actin panel of Figure 6B look like three lanes in the b-actin panel of Figure 6C, but shifted.

Really, maybe there is a connection between pushing plant polyphenols to cure all possible diseases and data fudgery? In any case, Levy patented the apple peel thing as a cure for liver cirrhosis.

More on the joys of plant polyphenols:

Mireille Koudoufio , Francis Feldman , Lena Ahmarani , Edgard Delvin , Schohraya Spahis , Yves Desjardins , Emile Levy Intestinal protection by proanthocyanidins involves anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory actions in association with an improvement of insulin sensitivity, lipid and glucose homeostasis Scientific Reports (2021) doi: 10.1038/s41598-020-80587-5 

Bik: “Blue and green boxes show panels that are appropriately duplicated. No concerns here.
Red boxes: The same panel appears to be used twice to represent a b-actin panel and twice to represent an Akt panel.

One of the authors, the University of Montreal tenured researcher Schohraya Spahis (whom Levy mentioned in his email), explained on PubPeer:

The technique of stripping and re-probing a single membrane, instead of running and blotting multiple gels, was used to minimize inter-membrane discrepancy and save samples, products and time […] It turned out that indeed there was a confusion in the numbering of the blots during the assembly of the 2 upper panels of Figure 7. Order has been restored appropriately. We have reanalyzed the data in Figure 7 following your message and are providing you with the files. The new analyses taking into account the correct location of the reference protein β-actin, show the same trends.

Well, the pAKT and AKT blots in Panel F are definitely from two different gels, so much for stripping and re-probing. And the actin blot in E is identical to the AKT blot in F, and it was not a mistake of oversight, because look at this:

Bik: “Note that the position of the marker has to be incorrect for at least one of these two images.” I personally also wonder how the marker lane came to be separated from the rest, and more importantly. how the authors managed to strip the piece of membrane with actin (~50kDa) on it and blot it for AKT (~65kDa) which would be outside the cut strip.

A similar problem is in panels G, H and I, there are two actin blots which fit neither the pI3K nor the pPI3K gel. And so on. Basically, the authors never had the appropriate loading controls for their experiments, but pretended otherwise. But hey, great to know they repeated it and found “the same trends”.

Dr Spahis chose not to comment on this case:

Emilie Grenier , Geneviève Mailhot, Danielle Dion , Zaava Ravid , Schohraya Spahis, Moise Bendayan, Emile Levy Role of the apical and basolateral domains of the enterocyte in the regulation of cholesterol transport by a high glucose concentration Biochemistry and cell biology = Biochimie et biologie cellulaire (2013) doi: 10.1139/bcb-2013-0053

Silence here also:

Emile Levy, Geneviève Lalonde , Edgard Delvin , Mounib Elchebly , Louis P. Précourt , Nabil G. Seidah , Schohraya Spahis , Rémi Rabasa-Lhoret, Ehud Ziv Intestinal and hepatic cholesterol carriers in diabetic Psammomys obesus Endocrinology (2010) doi: 10.1210/en.2009-0866

Bik: “My concern is that the b-actin loading control panels of NPC1L1 and SR-B1 appear to be overlapping, with a shift of one lane.

Rememberer how Levy explained that he “I have never compiled the student data myself, and I have never made a single figure.”? I wonder if it’s true, and he became professor of Cellular Biology without ever working in the lab himself, and now doesn’t even understand what the problem with his papers is.

Disclaimer: I am aware that a number of scientists I wrote about here and elsewhere (Levy, Seidman, Szyf etc) are Jewish. What can I do, I myself am a self-hating Jew.


One-Time
Monthly

I thank all my donors for supporting my journalism. You can be one of them!
Make a one-time donation:

I thank all my donors for supporting my journalism. You can be one of them!
Make a monthly donation:

Choose an amount

€5.00
€10.00
€20.00
€5.00
€10.00
€20.00

Or enter a custom amount


Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

DonateDonate monthly

5 comments on “The Timeless Art of Emile Levy

  1. Also from Montreal, (but McGill), the case of Dr Maya Saleh, and the paper Nature did not retract, even though figures were “intentionally contrived and falsified”: https://retractionwatch.com/2013/01/25/mcgill-committee-says-nature-figures-were-intentionally-contrived-and-falsified/

    Like

  2. Klaas van Dijk

    Is Levy aware that a former PLOS ONE editor is involved in the processing of his appeal at COPE? https://publicationethics.org/cope-team

    Like

  3. Research papers are intended to stand on their own. They are supposed to include all relevant data and fully describe the methods used so other researchers have confidence in the results or can perform a replication. The authors should also be in a position to supply original data in case the published results are later in doubt. These are the duties and responsibilities of the authors.

    That the authors attempt to turn these responsibilities on their head to argue that the journal is somehow at fault is ludicrous. They are pretending to believe that once a paper is published it is somehow sacrosanct… this too is ludicrous.

    If the authors wish to publish papers with replicated experiments, no one is stopping them.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: