Research integrity University Affairs

Bad Choices in Dresden III

Lorenza Colzato was a rising star of psychology and a role model for Women in STEM. All Dutch media and even some local German newspapers talk about her now. But I want to talk about her husband Bernhard Hommel instead.

The psychologist Lorenza Colzato made a stellar career under the academic wings of her husband Bernhard Hommel. After she was found guilty of research fraud, both left Leiden University in the Netherlands for TU Dresden. The German university, recovering from their own fraud scandal in psychology, is now busy inventing alternative facts to justify the recruitments.

The Colzato affair made big news in the Netherlands. Maybe it is a coincidence, but the small country had some of the biggest fraud scandals in psychology, most famously that of Diederik Stapel. Stapel is one of those rare “official” research fraudsters because he a) freely admitted to have fabricated his datasets, b) got sacked, and c) even wrote an autobiography book, titled: “Faking Science: A True Story of Academic Fraud“.

Welcome to the third season of Bad Choices in Dresden. In the first season, the director of the Leibniz Institute for Polymer Research, Brigitte Voit, was eventually found guilty of research misconduct by negligence, because she chose not to investigate her favourite PhD student (now professor in China). In the second season, Max Planck Institute for Cell Biology and Genetics, the director Marino Zerial also didn’t sound very convincing when defending his problematic papers, let#s see what comes out of that.

Bad Choices in Dresden II

“I cannot help but wonder to what extent you will systematically scrutinize all publications from my group.” – Prof Dr Marino Zerial

Bad Choices in Dresden III

Colzato is currently employed by the TU Dresden, one of the top-ranking universities in Germany.

In February 2022, the Leiden University’s newspaper Mare reported (translated):

“It is October 2019 when Lorenza Colzato is appointed as a researcher at the Faculty of Medicine at the TU Dresden. Less than two months later, Leiden University, her previous employer, published a report from the Scientific Integrity Committee (CWI) stating that she had tampered with data and grant applications, had illegally drawn blood, invented experiments and made test subjects disappear. Two articles are retracted.

That investigation had no consequences for her appointment. And even after the follow-up investigation, which shows that Colzato has committed fraud in at least another fifteen articles, the TU Dresden is not taking any action against her. ‘Because the findings of the inquiry committee relate to the period that Colzato worked at Leiden University, that is where the responsibility lies,’ says Anne Vetter, university spokesperson for TU Dresden. Moreover, it is not a court decision. Our legal department states that we cannot take any action based on the investigation.’”

TU Dresden recruited Colzato while well aware that she was under research misconduct investigation, as Mare mentioned:

“When she was hired, Colzato informed the university that she had been accused of scientific misconduct and that she may be under investigation. But at that time it was not yet known that the investigation had already started.’

However, that is not correct. The investigation had already started in the spring of 2019 and the first hearings were in May and June that year.

‘Since Colzato has been working at the TU Dresden, no evidence has been found for scientific misconduct,’ says Vetter.”

The Seven Papers

The misconduct findings against Colzato are available here, case number 20-02. Yet for TU Dresden, those are apparently empty, unsubstantiated allegations which bear no merit. A normal university would have terminated or at least suspended the recruitment process of a scientist charged with research fraud, at least until the end of investigation. But not TU Dresden obviously, they create their own facts, as you will soon see.

It seems TU Dresden employed Colzato exactly because of fraud findings in Leiden, because the poor persecuted colleague urgently needed a new job. In fact, it seems it was a classic two-body recruitment, because it wasn’t just Colzato who ended up in Dresden. Also her husband, the influential psychologist Bernhard Hommel, moved there. Not as professor, but as a humble “research associate” – not really a career rise for someone who used to commandeer an entire institute.

Hommel’s wife Colzato was investigated trice. The first time by the Leiden University, the second time (because of her appeal) by the Dutch national research integrity authority Landelijk Orgaan Wetenschappelijke Integriteit (LOWI), and the third time again by Leiden University, where even more papers were found to be fraudulent.

The censored investigative report from August 2021 did not name the 7 Colzato papers which were determined to be fraudulent and slotted for retraction. Under media pressure, the information was revealed only in May 2022, in a follow-up report. Colzato’s other problematic papers remain unnamed, and you will soon understand why Leiden University was afraid to list those papers.

Original photos: Leiden University, TU Dresden

Here are the 7 papers which eventually got named, I quote the respective fraud findings. As the report mentioned, papers 1-5 were already confirmed by the publishers as to be retracted soon, papers 6-7 were still under publisher’s internal investigation:

  1. Sellaro R, Hommel B, de Kwaadsteniet EW, from the SW Group, Colzato L. Increasing interpersonal trust through divergent thinking. Front Psychol 2014; doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00561 (“Twenty-one test subjects were removed who as a group did not show any positive association“)
  2. Colzato L, Sellaro R, Samara I, Baas M, Hommel B. Meditation-induced states predict attentional control over time. Conscious Cogn 2015; DOI: 10.1016/j.concog.2015.08.006 (“a control group has been added and important data and test subjects were omitted.”
  3. Colzato L, Sellaro R, Samara I, Hommel B. Meditation-induced cognitive control states regulate response-conflict adaptation: Evidence from trial-to-trial adjustments in the Simon task. Conscious Cogn 2015; DOI: 10.1016/j.concog.2015.04.012 (“The research design was a cross-over design, while the research was reported as a parallel-arm study. Seven test subjects have also been omitted“)
  4. Jongkees B, Sellaro R, Beste C, Nitsche MA, Kühn S, Colzato L. L-Tyrosine administration modulates the effect of transcranial direct current stimulation on working memory in healthy humans. Cortex 2017; DOI: 10.1016/j.cortex.2017.02.014 (“Sixteen test subjects were omitted.”)
  5. Steenbergen L, Sellaro R, Stock A-K, Beste C, Colzato L. y-Aminobutyric acid (GABA) administration improves action selection processes: A randomised controlled trial. Sci Rep 2015; DOI: 10.1038/srep12770 (“Sixteen test persons were omitted, who are described in one of the files as the “best 30 subjects“.
  6. Steenbergen L, Sellaro R, Stock A-K, Verkuil B, Beste C, Colzato L. Transcutaneous vagus nerve stimulation (tVNS) enhances response selection during action cascading processes. Eur Neuropsychopharmacol 2015; DOI: 10.1016/j.euroneuro.2015.03.015 (“Twelve test subjects were omitted from the published article.“)
  7. Colzato L, Szapora A, Lippelt D, Hommel B. Prior meditation practice modulates performance and strategy use in convergent- and divergent-thinking problems. Mindfulness 2017; DOI: 10.1007/s12671-014-0352-9 (“Data from two groups studied, with a different result than assumed, were omitted from the publication. At least 49 subjects were omitted.”)

You will find certain recurrent names on this list of 7 fraudulent papers.

Early and late career researchers

There are the three whistleblowers Laura Steenbergen, Roberta Sellaro and Bryant Jongkees. Volkskrant reported about Colzato’s way to ran her little group:

“The four form a close-knit club, but that’s not all positive. “She completely isolated us from others,” Sellaro says. ‘We were not allowed to have lunch with other colleagues, we were not allowed to go to promotion ceremonies because that would be a waste of time, at conferences we were allowed a maximum of two alcoholic drinks and we had to go to bed early. The first email on my workdays came from her, “Come to my office.” Then you’d get either a list of things to do or a list of insults for everything you’d done wrong.”

Colzato also plays the three against each other. “There were always two the sweetheart and a third was the scapegoat,” says Steenbergen. “At some point you go along with it. We had sold our souls to the devil.”

Within that dynamic, Colzato encourages the three to behave in a way that they know is unacceptable. For Steenbergen, the most intense thing is taking blood from test subjects before permission from the Medical Ethics Review Committee – something that is prohibited by law. “We really can’t do that,” she says several times, but Colzato keeps talking to her until she gives in. The three also notice that Colzato is always on top of the research results. Others have nothing to say about it and discussion is not possible.”

The whistleblowers found out that Colzato was removing test subjects from the database because she didn’t like the results and reported her for misconduct. A brave move, given the circumstances that their institute head was Colzato’s husband.

An NRC article from December 2019 tell the story of the successful power couple:

“At the turn of the century, the German psychologist Bernhard Hommel was brought to Leiden to head the cognitive psychology department. He takes his wife, Lorenza Colzato, with him. The two know each other from the Max Planck Institute in Munich. […]

Under Hommel’s supervision, Colzato begins her PhD research in Leiden. The dissertation consists of five chapters, all of which appear as articles in scientistic journals, each with Hommel as co-author. But although Hommel is in fact her daily supervisor, he does not act as a supervisor during Colzato’s graduation in 2005, nor is he on the PhD defence committee. Emeritus professor Lex van der Heijden takes on that role, he says over the phone: “Hommel had asked the dean to appoint another supervisor. He had his reasons for that: he had just married Colzato.” Co-promoter Gezinus Wolters confirms that he and Van der Heijden had no substantive involvement in the promotion. But, says Wolters:

After Colzato’s promotion in 2005, the two continued to publish a lot together. Hommel is co-author of three quarters of the more than 160 scientistic articles Colzato produces during her Leiden career. He is often also listed as the last author, which according to scientistic usage means that he was in charge of the research.”

When the student whistleblowers raised their voices, the institute director not only didn’t believe the fraud allegations, he felt he and his wife were persecuted for their free love, as NRC quoted him in 2019:

I know a lot of couples in my field who work in the same place. This normally acts as a motivational benefit and a factor that increases the commitment of those involved to the university. It is only in the Netherlands that people are so mad about it, and especially in Leiden since Stolker has been rector. As far as I’m concerned, this is a reflection of the Calvinism apparently still present in this country.

The whistleblowers Bryant Jongkees, Laura ­Steenbergen and Roberta Sellaro. Photo: Guus Dubbelman / de Volkskrant

No wonder it took some time before the allegations were taken seriously and an investigation began. Now the Leiden University declared in their May 2022 press release:

“The Board concludes that: ‘Students and young university staff in a subordinate and dependent relationship with the former assistant professor involuntarily became involved in research misconduct.’”

But there was no statement at all about the responsibilities of other, senior, co-authors.

Like Christian Beste, who is the director of the University Neuropsychology Centre at TU Dresden and in this position he is currently the direct boss of Colzato, let’s call it coincidence because Beste (like Hommel) doesn’t answer to emails.

It would have been TU Dresden’s responsibility to address Beste’s role in the established fraud, in at least in the 3 out of 7 now named Colzato papers. According to my sources though, he was fully acquitted of all suspicions regarding Colzato affair by the university of Ombudsman, Christel Baier. Who chose not to deny my information that she was supposed to collaborate with Beste on an upcoming Excellence Cluster application. This can be deemed a big conflict of interests for the Ombudsperson, but Baier assured

that conflicts of interest are checked in every ombudsman matter and that since I took office there has not been an ombudsman case that I have worked on in which there was more than the institutional connection with the accused that is unavoidable for local ombudspersons.

And of course, the other senior co-author whose name you keep encountering on Colzato’s papers, is Bernhard Hommel. Her husband, her PhD and postdoc mentor, and her institute director. A successful Woman in STEM career of the marry-your-boss kind which all young female scientists are probably expected to work towards, I don’t know.

Hommel is also Editor-in-Chief of Frontiers in Psychology where the first paper on the list above was published. Guess this is why other papers on the list are already retracted, but this one isn’t.

Frontiers: a danger for public health?

Frontiers is a somewhat unconventional open access publisher, which likes to have it both ways: playing scientific elite while accepting almost anything from paying customers. My regular contributor Smut Clyde will tell you below how some anti-vaccine scare-mongers managed to sneak in some rather dangerous works thanks to Frontiers’ unofficial “we don’t judge, we just…

By the end of 2019, as an investigation found fraud in his and his wife’s papers, Hommel stopped being the director of the Cognitive Psychology Unit, and in 2020 he followed his wife to TU Dresden. He however retained his professorship in Leiden. The Dutch university confirmed to me Hommel’s active faculty affiliation, but do not comment on whether or not he still receives a salary in Leiden.

Datasets not available

There was more than the four out of seven fraudulent papers with Hommel as co-author. It’s just that the other Colzato publications determined as fraud-tainted, are still not named. The initial investigation in Leiden covered 53 papers. The report from August 2021 states:

“In the case of the following eight articles, it was not evident to the Committee that the manipulations had influenced the results and conclusions of the article. The manipulations are nonetheless such that the journal editors should be advised so that they can decide either how the readers should be informed or to retract the articles.”

These papers, which identity is secret to protect some their authors’ careers and reputations, were also found to be fraudulent, because of things like this:

“A number of test subjects were omitted, and a control group was added post hoc.”

But no retractions were requested because the investigative committee wasn’t sure if the proven fraud affected the scientific conclusions. Also, 27 out of 53 Colzato papers were exempt from investigation, for strange reasons like “Publication year in or before 2015” or ” Datasets were not available“. A strange choice of a cut-off date of 2015, since the investigation started in 2019. Anything older than 3 years was dropped, but what was the real reason?

It wasn’t just to protect Hommel. For example, there are 6 Colzato studies co-authored with Sander Nieuwenhuis, who took over the chair of the Cognitive Psychology Unit from Hommel in 2016. By sheer coincidence, Nieuwenhuis’ joint publications with Colzato end in 2015. He explained to me why his papers with Colzato were exempt from investigation:

The committee was not able to find the data sets of many of the older papers. One reason is that, at that time, Colzato usually still analyzed her own data, and she did not respond to the committee’s requests to hand over that data. 

Please be aware that this committee of several members already took over 1 year for their investigation. At some point they had to just draw a line. If publications were not checked by the committee and Colzato was first author, we cannot be sure about the science. Most co-authors generally do not get to see the raw data. I certainly did not, I only saw the processed data.

I learned however that raw data is always stored at Leiden University, and all co-authors and investigators had access to it, and that it was Colzato who was locked out from accessing the data and not her locking out the others. Nieuwenhuis’ version is a bit confusing in this regard.

Indeed, also the investigative report mentions “problems with collecting the underlying data sets and protocols” and announces “a more detailed
investigation of the present situation with regard to data management and guaranteeing compliance with the relevant protocols

I then asked Nieuwenhuis about the data management rules at his university, and whether breaching those can constitute research misconduct. He re-directed me to the press office, I wondered if that was because he didn’t know these rules, but he didn’t reply anymore.

Thing is, according to this Leiden University guideline, raw data must be stored for at least 10 years (§14) and it is the institute director (i.e, Nieuwenhuis and primarily Hommel) who is responsible for maintaining the data management plan and who is “accountable to the Faculty Board concerning the
elaboration and implementation of the data management policy within the institute and any deviations from the Data Management Regulations
” (§18).

Basically, Hommel and Nieuwenhuis would then be already guilty of failing to secure the raw data, especially for the Colzato papers they were co-author of.

Fousteri affair: Dutch integrity thwarted by academic indecency

Two and a half years after Maria Fousteri was found guilty of scientific misconduct by her former employer, the Leiden University Medical Center (LUMC), exactly nothing at all happened. ERC and Molecular Cell ignored LUMC letters from June 2016, while Fouster’s British co-authors interfered to save own papers. Of 4 scheduled retractions, none took place.

Also 3 of Colzato’s grant applications were investigated, and fraud was found. Those grant applications cannot be named either, maybe because of the very senior Leiden University professors whose names are on them? For two grants, the report declares:

“This application, which was honoured, was already examined in 2019, and it was established that non-existent research results were presented as ‘preliminary results’.”

Dresden investigates?

I found out why Hommel who, as Leiden University confirmed to me, is still their professor, was never investigated. Because of his lawyers and because nobody made an official complaint against him, as a source told me. But I now made a complaint, asking the Leiden University to investigate Hommel’s responsibilities as senior co-author and institute director.

Now, Hommel is a significant co-author on 4 out of 7 fraudulent papers about to be retracted, and likely on a number of other fraud-tainted papers by his wife. I couldn’t find out how the Dutch authorities define research misconduct, but the German public funder DFG says in its guideline on research integrity:

“In cases of intent or gross negligence, research misconduct also results from

1. co-authorship of a publication that contains false information…”

It is important that the Leiden University investigates, because TU Dresden won’t. The TU Ombudsperson Baier refused to open a research misconduct investigation. She kept telling me that the Leiden University has declared all co-authors of Colzato’s to be innocent. I told her that according to the press release and published investigative reports, only junior scientists, like PhD students were absolved. But Hommel is most definitely not a junior scientist. There are simply no statements on his responsibility.

So eventually Baier had enough and declared to me that her decision not to open an investigation against Hommel was agreed with a university’s lawyer and the rector, Ursula Staudinger. The Ombudsperson also added (translated):

I have also already informed you that the Rector of the TU Dresden is in close contact with the University of Leiden and that, according to the University of Leiden, no indications of scientific misconduct by Mr. Hommel or other co-authors of the meanwhile withdrawn papers were found.

The Leiden University spokesperson however disagreed and told me this:

We have not investigated the question of guilt and can therefore not confirm the statements of Dresden.

Oops. I challenged Baier with this proof that she provided me with false information. Baier protested:

I had not written that Leiden University had made any statement to me, nor did my email say that Leiden University had confirmed that Mr. Hommel and other co-authors were “completely innocent”.

Guess the university lawyer wrote this? In any case, Baier claimed that her rector told her that the Leiden University informed her, the rector, that “no indications of scientific misconduct by Mr. Hommel or other co-authors” (like Beste) were found. It may be perfectly true that the rector Staudinger told Ombudsperson Baier this, but the Leiden University never told this to Staudinger (or Baier, for that matter). Somebody is being dishonest and creating their own fantasy facts here.

The rector never replied to emails. And Baier stopped replying, too. Maybe she is busy giving a research integrity training to Hommel and Colzato.

Förster was innocent, too!

Hommel really seems to have no concept of what research fraud is. Before his own wife was exposed as a fraudster, he was publicly defending his fellow German psychologist Jens Förster. Now, Förster was found guilty of fraud by his former Dutch employer University of Amsterdam and had to surrender a €5 million professorship at the University of Bochum in Germany, and leave academia altogether.

But Hommel supported Förster, in a comment on Retraction Watch:

Well, how about some “concern” that the premature (as there is no decision yet, or is it?) identification of the defendant has consequences for him, something like: ruining his career? Yes, ethical conduct is important but shouldn’t it go both ways?
I for instance find it interesting that (a) that the investigation was only the second try, after earlier proceedings regarding the same matter did not ascertain any misconduct; someone seems to have an interest here that seems to go beyond mere observation and report;…

In a follow-up comment, Hommel insisted that the University of Amsterdam’s misconduct findings against Förster were based on unqualified opinions of some anonymous vengeful loser with a weak publication record. It is worth mentioning that the author of this tirade is Senator of the German National Academy of Sciences, Leopoldina. They have the most qualified senators there, it seems.

DFG Senator Roland Lill explains how to do science properly

My earlier article about strange image irregularities in the publications of the German mitochondria researcher Roland Lill seem to have motivated this pre-emeritus biochemistry professor of the University of Marburg to come to PubPeer and address the issues. While in his earlier statements he simply waved off all concerns of western blot band duplications, this…

DFG and Marburg drop misconduct investigation of Roland Lill papers

German Research Foundation (DFG) terminated the investigation against their Senator and Marburg University professor Roland Lill, after having found no research misconduct. No comments are issued on the integrity of the data in his papers on yeast biochemistry, or on some unusual image manipulations which were already admitted by Lill and his former PhD students

Like Hommel’s wife, also Förster falsified studies with human participants. And as the irony goes, Colzato used to be external professor at the same University of Bochum where her husband’s dear colleague Förster almost became full professor (incidently, Beste also graduated and then led a research group in Bochum). Colzato’s professorship was officially revoked in May 2021 because that German university learned from the Förster affair and its own past stupidity. You will see in a moment that TU Dresden was unfortunately unable to learn from their own past stupidities.

Colzato’s appointment as professor in Bochum in 2017. Source: Leiden University press release

Yelling at subordinates

There were more problems with Hommel which should have precluded his recruitment to Dresden. He was accused of creating a toxic and intimidating work climate, as NRC reported already in 2019 (translated):

“…little by little, a culture is emerging in which people no longer dare to openly criticize. Not even when it slowly becomes clear that Colzato is not always so careful with scientistic tasks.

Stories about the unsafe working atmosphere in psychology also reach people outside the institute. Bart van der Steen, member of the university council and assistant professor in history, heard about it two years ago. “I received signals about problems in psychology. Complaints were submitted to the confidential adviser and reports were made to the institute. But it was difficult to act against it, because people were afraid. It felt like swimming in syrup. The Executive Board constantly said: we have the matter under control. But then nothing changed.”

His predecessor Joost Augusteijn confirms this. “If I remember correctly, I heard about it six years ago. Employees did not feel safe in the department. Yelling at subordinates was reported. People were limited in their ability to do their job well.” Only after a report of scientific fraud in December 2018 did the Faculty Board intervene and let the Scientific Integrity Committee investigate the matter. At the same time, a study is being conducted into the working climate in the department.

“That research is still ongoing,” says Paul Wouters, dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences since the beginning of this year. “The most important part: feedback and discussion with the employees has yet to take place. This is expected to happen in the coming months.”

According to Wouters, ‘alarming signals’ from the annual report of the faculty confidential adviser for 2018 prompted the investigation into the working climate. That was separate from the integrity investigation, says Wouters. “But in hindsight, the two turn out to be quite intertwined. For years, the complainants did not dare to report abuses.”

The Wittchen scandal

Just recently TU Dresden had a nation-wide fraud and bullying scandal with Hans-Ulrich Wittchen, it went through all national news and took place in the same faculty of psychology where Hommel and Colzato found a home.

Wittchen was and probably still is the biggest star in German psychology and psychiatry, his word was literally the law, because his studies immediately translated into governmental policies. And in 2021, Wittchen was convicted of research fraud, and exposed for embezzlement.

He forged the results for the study on the quality and performance of psychiatric clinics in all of Germany, commissioned on behalf of the German government by the Society for Knowledge and Technology Transfer (GWT) and sponsored with €2.5 million. Wittchen submitted his final report in 2018, and soon after the scandal exploded.

Buzzfeed was first to report on the whistleblower evidence, already in February 2019, as other German newspapers hid under the table afraid of Wittchen’s lawyers. An investigation began at TU Dresden, after almost two years a devastating report was ready.

The national newspaper FAZ reported in January 2021 (translated):

“At the end of 2018, suspicion arose that it was fake. A commission set up by the Technical University of Dresden has been dealing with the allegation since February 2019. Its comprehensive, not yet published report, which is available to this editorial team, turns out to be devastating for Wittchen. According to the Commission, he not only deliberately encouraged his employees to extensively manipulate data, but also acted fraudulently in an attempt to subsequently conceal the forgeries. The Commission recognizes intentional action. It suggests examining criminal responsibility.

It was two of Wittchen’s own employees who contacted the TU Dresden ombudsman in January 2019. They stated that they could no longer reconcile their boss’s guidelines with their conscience. Mail shows how Wittchen instructed them to shift and to duplicate data. Overall, the impression was given that more clinics had been fully examined than actually happened, namely 93 instead of 71. Where data from one clinic was missing, the data from another clinic was simply transferred to it. In total, more than ten percent of the data was manipulated. “

Now, the TU Dresden Ombudsman back then was not Baier, but Achim Mehlhorn, this university’s former rector. Sources say he was not really that helpful in investigating the Wittchen affair, and my own experience with Mehlhorn confirms it. When I reported data forgery on a Dresden-coauthored paper to him, Mehlhorn ended his quick investigation with research misconduct findings against… Leonid Schneider.

The FAZ article also narrates how Wittchen lied to the investigative commission, forged raw data to fool his investigators, threatened the whistleblowers with the sack and criminal prosecution unless they retract their allegations and apologise. Wittchen was exposed as an abusive and exploitive bully who shouts at his subordinates and makes them cry. People were forced to work overtime unpaid, those who objected were dismissed.

Another German newspaper, Zeit, reported in February 2021 that Wittchen misused money from research projects, including employing his own daughter (who graduated in fashion!) as data analyst on a research project, even though she was most certainly not qualified, never contributed anything, never even appeared on the job, but was paid €40,000.

And this is really shameful for a man already paid an exorbitant salary:

“Hans-Ulrich Wittchen repeatedly billed private trips through the research project on the pretext that he had taken part in conferences or workshops. In January 2019, for example, Wittchen submitted a travel expense report to GWT. He then noted that he presented the results of the psychiatric study at a congress. Attached is an excerpt from a conference program in which a lecture by Wittchen is announced as one of the highlights. The conference will be referred to as the 27th Annual Meeting of the European Psychiatric Association and will take place in Madrid in the first days of January.

But: The 27th Congress of the European Psychiatric Association only took place in April 2019, in Warsaw. There was no congress in Madrid. The association confirms this. Had Wittchen forged the program or had it forged?”

The Zeit article also tells how Wittchen embezzled research money for private dinners, forging the receipts there also. I wonder if he stole toilet paper, too.

The TU Dresden leadership protected Wittchen for many years, while fully aware of his bad science, his bullying and his kleptomania. Because the psychology professor reached retirement age, the university (luckily unsuccessfully) tried to appoint him as director for life, of an institute to be named after him. All because Wittchen was extremely well connected in politics and brought in a lot of money.

In April 2021, Buzzfeed reported that Wittchen left TU Dresden. He also used to have another extremely well funded lab at another university, the LMU Munich, but the contract there was also dissolved. The former star of TU Dresden was found guilty of research misconduct, the embezzlement charges are still being followed up. There were apparently civil lawsuits and the state prosecutor opened a criminal investigation. Wittchen is now officially a failed scientist, nobody wants to be associated with him.

But just when the Wittchen affair of research fraud and bullying was boiling, the same psychology faculty at TU Dresden decided to recruit Colzato and Hommel.

The mighty Kirschbaum

As chance would have it, the man who brought Hommel into his Biopsychology research group is a former long-term scientific collaborator of Wittchen’s, Clemens Kirschbaum. In this regard, Kirschbaum told me (translated):

I haven’t spoken to Wittchen in person for more than two and a half years, according to what you call my ‘close cooperation partner’; the last publication that bears our two names in the author line dates from 2018. Since then there has been no collaboration between us.”

Kirschbaum is also dean of the faculty of sciences and mathematics, in this position he must have played a key role in investigating the Wittchen affair. Sources say the dean was not really vigorous in that, but Kirschbaum seems to disagree. And yet the faculty’s Ombudsperson only learned of the years-old scandal not from his dean, but from the national newspapers in February 2021, see this tweet:

Why did Kirschbaum recruit Hommel though? Human kindness and desire to help a colleague with an academic two-body problem? After all, Kirschbaum’s wife Angelika Buske-Kirschbaum is assistant professor in his department.

Some claim that Hommel and Kirschbaum know each other very well. Kirschbaum told me: (translated):

We don’t have a close friendship, I cultivate that outside of the academic world.

He then added (also translated):

Mr. Hommel is a world-renowned expert in the field of general psychology, awarded by the National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina and numerous project grants from the DFG and ERC. I have never acted as a reviewer for his publications (his field of research is outside my area of expertise) or research proposals. We have not worked together before and will not do so in the future. […] In your experience, does the scientific world function primarily through Good Old Boys Clubs? In the past 35 years of my work as a scientist, I have, thank God, been able to make other experiences.

My sources however claim to have very different knowledge regarding Kirschbaum and “Good Old Boys Clubs”. I told this to Kirschbaum, and he demanded from me to tell him my sources’ names. Despite my insistence, he refused to comment on the NRC artcile about Hommel’s leadership style. Or on Hommel’s responsibility for Colzato papers. Or on Colzato’s guilt in the first place.

Kirschbaum is an extremely powerful man. Allegedly he was also member of the recruitment committee which appointed his fellow psychologist Staudinger as rector. No wonder that Staudinger now hears voices from Leiden telling her that Hommel was fully acquitted.

Btw, Staudinger was from 2013 till 2018 founding director of the Robert N. Butler Columbia Aging Center at Columbia University in USA, afterwards for some reason just a normal professor for sociomedical sciences. Maybe she got bored with the responsibility of leading an institute at an elite US university? Here is her deleted Columbia profile, erased some time before her departure in July 2020. Also Staudinger’s official CV says she stopped being Columbia professor in July 2020, which is strange, because it used to be a “lifetime professorship”, at least according to Leopoldina and this March 2020 announcement by TU Dresden. Academics generally don’t voluntarily renounce a lifetime professorship, certainly not one at Columbia University.

One would have thought that after the Wittchen scandal the TU Dresden and their psychology faculty would be careful in their recruitment decisions and avoid the risks of fake science and bullying.

Obviously they are not. Maybe they regret it now. Hommel has another professorship since 2020, at Shandong Normal University in Jinan, China. Who knows, maybe he will soon move there together with his wife, Lorenza Colzato.

Or maybe TU Dresden will give them both professorships because of their own alternative reality about what went on in Leiden.

Bernhard Hommel & Lorenza Colzato
Bernhard Hommel & Lorenza Colzato. Photo: axel cleeremans


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7 comments on “Bad Choices in Dresden III

  1. Colzato’s science is so fraudulent it’s even on Wikipedia. They don’t even google the name of their candidates?


    • If you look into the history of the article, you will immediately see that this part was added after the hiring. If one would look however times correctly, one could not write such a smart-ass comment like this here…


  2. Multiplex

    Die Sachsensumpfblüte im Elbflorenz. Very nice!


  3. Klaas van Dijk

    Great work! The rules and the guidelines about measures and sanctions in regard to research misconduct in The Netherlands are listed in Chapter 5 of the ‘Netherlands Code of Conduct’. They are linked to a deviation from one or more of any of the 61 standards in Chapter 3 in this Code. See


  4. Two more papers retracted which were not part of the 7 “red” labelled:
    Steenbergen, L., and Colzato, L. S. Overweight and Cognitive Performance:High BodyMass Index Is Associated with Impairment in Reactive Control during Task Switching
    Front. Nutr. (2017). doi: 10.3389/fnut.2017.00051
    Retraction notice:
    “This follows the recommendations of an investigation by Leiden University’s Committee on Scientific Integrity which found that the paper contained gross data manipulation. “

    Lorenza S. Colzato, Laura Steenbergen & Roberta Sellaro The effect of gamma-enhancing binaural beats on the control of feature bindings
    Experimental Brain Research (2017) doi: 10.1007/s00221-017-4957-9
    Retraction notice:
    “The Editors-in-Chief have retracted this original article following an investigation by Universiteit Leiden providing evidence of manipulated data. The investigation concluded that the authors originally tested 88 participants but only data of 40 participants was included in the analysis, without adequate or transparent explanation in the article why participants were excluded from the analysis.”


  5. Pingback: Stuck with Hommel, or Bad Choices in Leiden – For Better Science

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