Research integrity

“I feel harassed and targeted”

"It was done for 'esthetic' reason ONLY." - Prof Hagit Eldar-Finkelman

Tel Aviv University. A place where trash science found its home. They cured COVID-19, twice, once with a cell culture supernatant by Professor Nadir Arber and then with the hyperbaric oxygen therapy by Professor Shai Efrati, both quack cures celebrated at that time in national and even international media.

This happens because apparently neither the Tel Aviv University’s leadership nor many of its scientists understand the concept of good scientific practice. As proof of concept, I would like you to meet Professor Hagit Eldar-Finkelman and the fake western blots her lab published.

Operation Cytokine Storm

Exceptional times call for exceptional men. In Israel, men of science boldly step forward to face the coronavirus, armed with miracle cures. Pandemic, like a good war, is always good for business.

Eldar-Finkelman is a biologist, trained during her postdoc by the Nobel Prize laureate Edwin G. Krebs in USA. Her Tel Aviv University lab website declares:

“We study the molecular mechanisms underlying human disease and focus on cellular signaling networks. […] We focus on neurodegenerative disorders and cancer.”

Her CV mentions she used to hold several high posts for “for Animal care and ethics“. I don’t know how manipulation of data in animal experiments is compatible here, because the Professor has currently 14 papers on PubPeer, most flagged by Clare Francis and most with rather serious problems. But Eldar-Finkelman thinks these PubPeer posts constitute harassment.

Here one example:

Sanhua Leng , Wenshuo Zhang , Yanbin Zheng , Ziva Liberman , Christopher J Rhodes , Hagit Eldar-Finkelman , Xiao Jian Sun Glycogen synthase kinase 3 beta mediates high glucose-induced ubiquitination and proteasome degradation of insulin receptor substrate 1 The Journal of endocrinology (2010) doi: 10.1677/joe-09-0456 

Maybe it was the rogue collaborators in China? Ok, what about this study, every single author is a affiliated with the Department of Human Genetics and Molecular Medicine, Sackler School of Medicine, Tel Aviv University, Israel:

Noa Kirshenboim , Batya Plotkin , Shani Ben Shlomo , Oksana Kaidanovich-Beilin , Hagit Eldar-Finkelman Lithium-mediated phosphorylation of glycogen synthase kinase-3beta involves PI3 kinase-dependent activation of protein kinase C-alpha Journal of molecular neuroscience : MN (2004) doi: 10.1385/jmn:24:2:237

Figures 3 and 5. Much more similar and different than expected.” Also, the second p-GSK-3b band in Fig 3 is “truncated”

Or this, again all authors from same department and likely members of the Eldar-Finkelman lab:

Ido Rippin , Katherina Bonder , Shirley Joseph , Ammar Sarsor , Lilach Vaks , Hagit Eldar-Finkelman Inhibition of GSK-3 ameliorates the pathogenesis of Huntington’s disease Neurobiology of Disease (2021) doi: 10.1016/j.nbd.2021.105336 

Eldar-Finkelman replied on PubPeer, but it seemed she did not understand the accusation. It was individual gel bands cloned, not the entire actin strip reused:

We split the data to two panels that present two different issues […] we added the beta-actin panel to both panels to make presentation more ‘complete’.”

Also in her other comments, the professor kept pretending not to understand the problem:

Racheli Karyo , Yael Eskira , Albert Pinhasov , Rh Belmaker , Galila Agam , Hagit Eldar-Finkelman Identification of eukaryotic elongation factor-2 as a novel cellular target of lithium and glycogen synthase kinase-3 Molecular and cellular neurosciences (2010) doi: 10.1016/j.mcn.2010.08.004

“Figure 1F. Vertical changes in background in peEF-2 panel, but not in other 2 panels.

This means the second peEF-2 gel lane was digitally spliced in, a form of data manipulation. Eldar-Finkelman commented on PubPeer:

Please explain what is vertical changes on background. To my understanding we did not make such manipulation.

There are also other papers from that lab with stealthily spliced gel bands, e.g. Talior et al 2005. Eldar-Finkelman also seemed not to understand what the problem with this paper is:

Oksana Kaidanovich-Beilin , Hagit Eldar-Finkelman Long-term treatment with novel glycogen synthase kinase-3 inhibitor improves glucose homeostasis in ob/ob mice: molecular characterization in liver and muscle Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics (2006) doi: 10.1124/jpet.105.090266 

Eldar-Finkelman: “In Fig. 3A the lanes may look similar but they are not identical and present different animals.”
“it is possible that lanes (from the same gel) were cut and put together. This was the way we prepared figures 20 years ago and it was done for ‘esthetic’ reason ONLY.”.

I presume the CREB bands were cloned and the p85 band digitally spliced in “for esthetic reasons” as well? Eldar-Finkelman has a strange concept of beauty…

There are, according to psychologists, 5 stages to grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. Professor Eldar-Finkelman started on PubPeer with denial, and moved in her emails to me to anger and bargaining.

Ziva Liberman , Batya Plotkin , Tamar Tennenbaum , Hagit Eldar-Finkelman

Coordinated phosphorylation of insulin receptor substrate-1 by glycogen synthase kinase-3 and protein kinase C betaII in the diabetic fat tissue AJP Endocrinology and Metabolism (2008) doi: 10.1152/ajpendo.00050.2008 

Eldar-Finkelman replied on PubPeer with denial:

Regarding figures 4B, the indicated lanes may look similar but they are not identical. We enclose the original figure. A simple magnification shows that the lanes have different patterns, we also used photoshop analysis to show that lanes are different.

Two experts concurred that Eldar-Finkelman’s analysis actually proves that the gel bands are copy-pasted:

Orchestes quercus: “Just like in this thread not all pixels are identical between the images. They are, however, images of the same object. Given the low quality and ‘dotted’ nature of the original -figure- I would guess that the differences are actually due to compression artifacts.

This was the other thread Orchestes quercus referenced:

Ronit Ilouz , Noga Kowalsman , Miriam Eisenstein, Hagit Eldar-Finkelman Identification of novel glycogen synthase kinase-3beta substrate-interacting residues suggests a common mechanism for substrate recognition Journal of Biological Chemistry (2006) doi: 10.1074/jbc.m604633200

Of course, Eldar-Finkelman saw nothing wrong here as well, she shared her own analysis on PubPeer:

The machine developer occasionally caused spots and scratches on the developed films that could give the impression of similarity and even identity.”
“…we may find some differences, a careful inspection indicate that a band that runs as a doublet in lane 2 appears as a ‘single’ band in lane 6.

But also here, my expert colleague Orchestes quercus proved the Tel Aviv professor wrong:

Fig. 3b WT and N95a are (practically?) indentical. And instead of worrying about the improbability of throwing tens of times a dice and get a six every time, you seem to be happy to point out the few pixels that differ. That does not take away the concerns at all. […] A few pixels differ. Most are identical. All odd features (dust particles? scratches?) and the bands match. What makes you think we are looking at a different object here?.”
Same for Fig. 2a. Lane 3 and 7 are identical. Lane 4 and 6 are identical. Background features repeat between lanes.. […] lane 7 replaces lane 3
lane 4 replaces lane 6
background of lane 2 (bottom) replaces lane 3

Instead, denials upon denials:

Limor Avrahami , Dorit Farfara , Maya Shaham-Kol , Robert Vassar , Dan Frenkel, Hagit Eldar-Finkelman Inhibition of glycogen synthase kinase-3 ameliorates β-amyloid pathology and restores lysosomal acidification and mammalian target of rapamycin activity in the Alzheimer disease mouse model: in vivo and in vitro studies Journal of Biological Chemistry (2013) doi: 10.1074/jbc.m112.409250

Orchestes quercus: “Fig. 3&4a. Dark features in 3a correspond to gray areas in 4a

Of course Eldar-Finkelman did her own analysis and explained:

Looking carefully into these bands, especially under magnification, it is clearly seen that the bands are different.

The paper is 9 years old. But when the professor was asked on PubPeer if she has the raw data, she stated:

Not at the moment, you can run a more sophisticated analysis to show that the bands are not identical, Thanks

To be fair, the attitude is not limited to Eldar-Finkelman’s lab, or the Tel Aviv University, or to Israeli Scientists in general: it is present everywhere, in every research institution on this planet. I met with a very similar behaviour of denial and complaints about being harassed with the Spanish cheaters Angela Valverde and Antoni Camins:

The dishonest US researchers Robert Bloch and David Danielpour combined their denials with rudeness and aggression, must be a men’s thing.

Heiko Hermeking in Germany threatened to sue me, and mentioned his ex-mentor’s Bert Vogelstein‘s plans to do same. Not entirely unexpectedly Hermeking’s German university, the LMU Munich, announced not to open an investigation because Hermeking was not responsible for his own papers, as I was educated.

At Eldar-Hinkelman’s Tel Aviv University and its Sackler Medical School, there is no point of even trying to write to anyone. Nobody is responsible there for research integrity, there is no ombudsman, you can just talk to the wall which is actually what I experienced because their leadership just doesn’t answer any emails. All this Sackler School has, is a Disciplinary Code, but for students only:

“The Sackler School of Medicine operates under an Honor Code whereby students are expected to act ethically, professionally and with integrity in all situations pertaining to examinations, course work, attendance, and interactions with peers and teachers. However, if a student violates this Honor Code, he/she will be subject to strong disciplinary actions.”

Sackler professors on the other hand are obviously free to do whatever they want, especially if what they do brings money, see Arber, Efrati, or Tal Dvir who keeps bioprinting living human organs in his regmed lab, or so he says. I am pretty sure that reporting your professor for research misconduct constitutes a violation of the Honor Code and will lead to “strong disciplinary actions”.

I wrote to Eldar-Finkelman about the PubPeer evidence, asking if she cares about data forgery taking place in her lab. She wrote to me:

I had answered the concerns raised  by pubpeer and showed no forgery in our data. I feel harassed and targeted. Please stop.”

She then elaborated:

“…you find similar bands – but they are not identical, I kept showing this in some of my replies, when you look very carefully you see the bands are not identical.

I think that since no manipulations of gels/bands were found so far, why keep going and harm my reputation? Especially looking at papers from very long time where photo quality was not so great as today, plus we processed figures differently, so perhaps things look different they way you expect in 2022.  


As no manipulations of gels/bands were found so far, why keep going and harm my reputation?

Uhm, the problem is actually that MANY manipulations of gels/bands were found so far. What was indeed never found so far, was Eldar-Finkelman’s raw data.

Like, what about this paper for example?

Ronit Ilouz, Shmuel Pietrokovski , Miriam Eisenstein , Hagit Eldar-Finkelman New insights into the autoinhibition mechanism of glycogen synthase kinase-3beta Journal of Molecular Biology (2008) doi: 10.1016/j.jmb.2008.08.079 

Suddenly, Prof Eldar-Finkelman found the raw data:

this is 32P in vitro phosphorylation assay of the same protein GSK-3 (mutants), the assay was done with purified proteins. It is expected that they will look VERY similar, especially the minus assay that has very low signal. Nevertheless, I looked at the original figures, it is possible to see by magnification (although difficult due to low exposure) that patterns are different. I enclose this analysis.

She then added:

We do not duplicate data for DIFFERENT samples.   It is true that in some cases we used the same band that represent the SAME animal/model, this for presentations.

But but but, her own analysis proves that the bands are identical. Even inside those random circles she placed, they are.

The only common name on these problematic papers form the Eldar-Finkelman’s lab is her own. I am not raising any ad hominem research misconduct accusations here, I am just noticing the coincidence. It probably will be a rogue nameless technician at some point, should any journals unexpectedly care and request retractions. We might even ever reach the stage of acceptance then.

Original image: Hagit Eldar-Finkelman, collage for satire/parody purposes

Eldar-Finkelman may be just pretending not to understand the problems in her papers. But even where there is no obvious Photoshop fudgery, we must face the problem that many of our academic elites don’t have the faintest grasp on the concept oft the scientific method as such. They have been trained as storytellers, generation after generation of storytelling scientists, and nobody ever bothered to stop and think: are my results actually reproducible? Do they even exist as raw data? It was enough to publish a nicely told paper, use it to obtain some fame and money for yourself and your lab, and then move on to the next story. The scholarly publishing industry symbiotically grew to accommodate such requirements.

And the professors in charge of investigating the misconduct allegations, the vice-chancellors, the deans, the heads of departments, the ombudspeople, and the academic editors – they often don’t understand the concept of research integrity either, because also they were all trained as storytellers.

Science became one huge storytelling industry. It’s output is fairytales.

Or bullshit.


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6 comments on ““I feel harassed and targeted”

  1. Eldar-Finkelman, like many other researchers, should resign instantly, pay back 20 years of wrongfully received salaries and go dig the land.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Dr. E-F, like others we meet on PubPeer, seem astonished that anyone would review her papers with a critical eye. She is not a scientist… a scientist would welcome the scrutiny and be able to defend any concerns with data. This is the fundamental reason to publish research, after all. If a researcher wasn’t interested in defending their work publicly, they should keep notes in a private diary instead.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ah, but the defence phase ends after peer review and acceptance. After that it’s a sacrilege to criticize a published paper. If you find problems in a peer reviewed paper, you must communicate it in a peer reviewed paper of your own. In same journal or one with comparable impact factor. If you fail to publish your silly “gel band too similar” allegations in this manner, it means your allegations are baseless, and you should be charged with research misconduct and expelled from the scientific community.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Albert Varonov

        Should correct you a little bit for the defense phase, it may not exist at all and frequently does not. If otherwise some of these papers should have never been published. The hardline “believers” in the cult “peer review science” are mainly such “scientists” for which after publication, you are not allowed to criticise, you must believe and cite, cite and cite again.
        These “believers” are also journal editors, board members and distinguished reviewers, they publish, they review => they decide what to be published. Rotten to the core…


      • Peer review in science is like bureaucracy in USSR. You can of course try the honest way, good luck. Otherwise it’s bribes, and I am sure even in science alcohol is a valid one.


  3. Love the animations! They make you think that the blots are alive and telling their own story, which perhaps they are.


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