Research integrity

Never have heroes like Robert Roeder

The Schneider Rule says that if you follow one bad scientist, you will meet many other research cheaters among their mentees and collaborators.

The 80 year old Rockefeller University professor Robert Roeder is a grand old man of US science and a legend of international genetics and biomedicine. He is credited with discovering the RNA polymerases in 1969 and other things later on. He is very admired and venerated by his peers, and he received a number of very prestigious awards, but never a Nobel Prize.

This article is my urgent submission to the Nobel Prize committee in Sweden, because if they gave a Nobel to cheaters like Louis Ignarro and Gregg Semenza, it’s only fair Roeder gets one, too. Just hurry up, he is not that young anymore.

Fake data and real pomegranate juice in Nobelist Louis Ignarro’s papers

Louis J. Ignarro knew how to monetize his 1998 Nobel Prize for discovery of nitric oxide as molecular cell signalling agent. He made many millions selling dietary supplement for Herbalife and pomegranate juice for POM Wonderful Company. Some of that found its way (without proper conflict of interest declaration) into Ignarro’s peer reviewed papers. Those,…

Here is a nice paper from Roeder’s lab at Rockefeller, “Contributed by Robert G. Roeder” to PNAS in his capacity as National Academy of Sciences member:

Yun Kyoung Kang , Mohamed Guermah , Chao-Xing Yuan , Robert G. Roeder The TRAP/Mediator coactivator complex interacts directly with estrogen receptors alpha and beta through the TRAP220 subunit and directly enhances estrogen receptor function in vitro Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2002) doi: 10.1073/pnas.261715899

This figure is such lazy fraud… Well, this fraud isn’t much better:

Woojin An , Vikas B Palhan , Mikhail A Karymov , Sanford H Leuba , Robert G Roeder Selective requirements for histone H3 and H4 N termini in p300-dependent transcriptional activation from chromatin Molecular Cell (2002) doi: 10.1016/s1097-2765(02)00497-5 

Most of what you find in this article was originally detected by the pseudonymous image integrity sleuth Clare Francis. Here is a selection of Faux Science by Roeder, for your viewing pleasure, and there is more on PubPeer:

Norinaga Urahama , Mitsuhiro Ito , Akiko Sada , Kimikazu Yakushijin , Katsuya Yamamoto , Atsuo Okamura , Kentaro Minagawa , Akio Hato , Kazuo Chihara , Robert G. Roeder , Toshimitsu Matsui The role of transcriptional coactivator TRAP220 in myelomonocytic differentiation Genes to Cells (2005) doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2443.2005.00906.x 
Hwa Jin Baek , Yun Kyoung Kang , Robert G. Roeder Human Mediator enhances basal transcription by facilitating recruitment of transcription factor IIB during preinitiation complex assembly Journal of Biological Chemistry (2006) doi: 10.1074/jbc.m601983200 

Roeder never replied to my emails and he also never replied on PubPeer. The only indirect reaction was this, by one of Roeder’s all-China-based authors (with Roeder himself obviously a recipient of a gift authorship): 

Xiao Yao , Zhanyun Tang , Xing Fu , Jingwen Yin , Yan Liang , Chonghui Li , Huayun Li , Qing Tian , Robert G Roeder , Gang Wang The Mediator subunit MED23 couples H2B mono-ubiquitination to transcriptional control and cell fate determination The EMBO Journal (2015) doi: 10.15252/embj.201591279

Gang Wang commented on PubPeer

These should be from the same blot using different antibodies against distinctive modifications for Histone 3. Commonly seen in reblotting after stripping treatment. Mutiple experiments have been performed to make sure the results repeatable.”

This explanation about similarities due to “reblotting after stripping” is of course nonsense. But Professor Roeder is too busy polishing his many awards to step in and clarify.

How about this one, with all-Japanese coauthors, all at Kobe University, another obvious gift authorship turned a liability:

Shumpei Mizuta , Tomoya Minami , Haruka Fujita , Chihiro Kaminaga , Keiji Matsui , Ruri Ishino , Azusa Fujita , Kasumi Oda , Asami Kawai , Natsumi Hasegawa , Norinaga Urahama , Robert G. Roeder, Mitsuhiro Ito CCAR1/CoCoA pair-mediated recruitment of the Mediator defines a novel pathway for GATA1 function Genes to Cells (2014) doi: 10.1111/gtc.12104 

Roeder’s former postdoc and now Kobe University professor Mitsuhiro Ito (you’ll find his name on other papers discussed here) commented on PubPeer:

In the original version of Figure 1G a duplicated picture was erroneously got into the left panel (siControl). A correct picture is now provided in corrected Figure 1G as attached. A proposal for correction has been sent the publisher. We thank for your kind attention for our recognition of the inadvertent error.”

Pictures don’t get flipped and rotated by inadvertent errors. Imagine what Ito teaches his PhD students. Well, probably the same crappy attitude to research integrity Roeder taught him.

One case all-Korean paper (done in USA though) was “clarified” already in 2019. Roeder’s contribution to it obviously consisted solely of contributing it to PNAS as academy member in order to bypass peer review. Which made Roeder co-corresponding author and hence fully responsible for this fraud:

Seunghee Lee , Dong-Kee Lee , Yali Dou , Jeongkyung Lee , Bora Lee , Eunyee Kwak , Young-Yun Kong , Soo-Kyung Lee, Robert G. Roeder , Jae W. Lee Coactivator as a target gene specificity determinant for histone H3 lysine 4 methyltransferases Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2006)doi: 10.1073/pnas.0607313103

The last author Jae W Lee, now professor at the University of Buffalo (where he proudly lists this same paper under “selected publications“), replied on PubPeer:

I noticed that once in a while a wrong red flag is raised due to some unexplained artifacts made when a published image/figure is blown up. I wish there were a better way to check the integrity of a figure which is more error-resistant. Please speak up if anyone has any input in this regard in order to avoid unnecessary stresses in the future.
At any rate, I was able to dig out these very old (already fading…) original images for both figure images.”

Uh-uh. A wrong red flag, honest scientists wrongfully accused! Well, thing is, what Lee pulled out of his a… his drawer, are totally unrelated gels. The gel bands are not even similar, look:

There is also an analysis by Tulipa fosteriana on PubPeer, a member of our sleuths team who agreed to have a look. Thus, the only thing Lee (and Roeder) proved here is that they still may have some gel pictures lying around which are not fake (yet). But to shove these unrelated gel pictures into our faces, expecting an apology, is absolutely insolent. Is this research misconduct? I’m afraid this question can only be answered by checking how much money this cheater Lee brings to the University of Buffalo.

In this regard, this is how Roeder-trained Lee does his own research, flagged by Tulipa f.:

Dae-Hwan Kim , Jeongkyung Lee , Bora Lee , Jae W. Le ASCOM Controls Farnesoid X Receptor Transactivation through Its Associated Histone H3 Lysine 4 Methyltransferase Activity Molecular Endocrinology (2009) doi: 10.1210/me.2009-0099

Multiple splicings the lower 3 rows in Fig 5A.

There must have been a very toxic climate in Roeder’s lab at Rockefeller, where only the cheaters flourished. The Wall Street Journal broke a crazy story in 1994, which was picked up by New York Times and others, here a summary by AP (typos theirs):

“The strange goings on began June 6 when someone put sodium fluoride in the laboratory’s communal coffee pot, The Wall Street Journal reported today.

In small doses, the chemical helps prevent dental decay. In large doses, it can be lethal. About a dozen researchers became ill.

That same night, someone turned on gas valves around the lab at the prestigious research university, the Journal reported. Lab workers discovered the opened valves and quickly turned them off. No one was hurt.

The next day, a pile of smoldering paper towels was discovered in a stockroom; the fire was quickly extinguished.

Then a few days later, letters addressed to two female researchers were found in a restroom, warning them to quit their jobs ″or you will be killed,″ the paper quoted a former lab worker as sayign.

″Some of the women (researchers) are afraid to come in at night. One woman is so frightened she hasn’t come in since the incidents began,″ one university scientist was quoted as saying.

The lab is headed by Robert Roeder, professor of molecular biology and a world-reknowned scientist, the Journal reported.”

Nature News wrote, also back in 1994:

“Roeder himself also received threatening letters. […] In describing this and the other incidents, the Wall Street Journal quoted a university official as suggesting that a possible contributory factor was tension among laboratory researchers caused by the continuous pressure to produce top-quality research.”

Right, it does sound people were bullied by their PI to produce certain results for top-rank journals. The usual practice in elite labs since 1980ies.

Nature News continued:

“”I think it is unfair that Roeder should be pointed out as some villain in this,” says Torsten Wiesel, the 1981 Nobel prizewinner in medicine, who took over as president of Rockefeller two years ago following the resignation of the molecular biologist David Baltimore.
Wiesel says there is “a certain intensity to one’s activity” in all laboratories that are “serious” about science. “We are all under pressure to produce interesting results,” he says. “This is part of the reality of life.”

The researchers in the laboratory have also jumped to Roeder’s defence. A letter to Nature signed by almost 40 postdoctoral researchers, postgraduate students and other staff (see panel) acknowledges that pressures exist in Roeder’s department. But it claims that most of them “are derived from our own drive and ambition”.

“While Roeder is demanding, he is no harder on those who work with him than he is upon himself”

Well, I probably don’t need to comment on that, do I? Nature also mentions that Rockefeller University and the police then agreed it must have been a love-sick “foreign postgraduate researcher” who’s done it, even though the forensic evidence did not match their suspect. Here is by the way why the Nobel Prize laureate Baltimore had to resign as Rockefeller’s president (hint: over research fraud):

The outcome of bullying in the lab is always bad science. And it will catch up with you eventually. It’s not like Roeder never has to correct anything. This paper wasn’t even flagged on PubPeer:

Sohail Malik , Mohamed Guermah , Chao-Xing Yuan , Weizhen Wu , Soichiro Yamamura , Robert G. Roeder Structural and functional organization of TRAP220, the TRAP/mediator subunit that is targeted by nuclear receptors Molecular and Cellular Biology (2004) doi: 10.1128/mcb.24.18.8244-8254.2004 

An “Author Correction” recently appeared out of nowhere, on 18 October 2022, where the authors in a Freudian slip admitted to having published “artwork” instead of actual research data:

“Fig. 4A: Because of an error in preparing artwork, we inadvertently used a figure that had earlier been published elsewhere (Ge K, Guermah M, Yuan C-X, Ito M, Wallberg, AE, Spiegelman BM, and Roeder RG, Nature 417:563-567, 2002) and that was visually nearly identical to and done in parallel with the one intended to be shown. The correct panel is shown below. Given that the previously published and the corrected figures are virtually indistinguishable and that ligand-dependent TR-Mediator interactions were clearly demonstrated in another figure in the paper, the conclusions in the paper remain unaffected. We regret the oversight and offer our apologies to the scientific community.”

Ha, Roeder collaborated with Bruce Spiegelman, the inventor of non-existent irisin! Read about irisin and other fraud of Spiegelman’s mentee Pontus Boström here:

Pontus Boström: cheater carousel in Sweden

Sweden is a tolerant country, which is a very good thing. Unfortunately, sometimes this Swedish tolerance seems ill-advised. Dishonest scientists caught faking data are happily given another chance and fat funding, like the case of the diabetes researcher Pontus Boström shows. This scientist was found to have fabricated data during his PhD studies with late…

But of course that Roeder-Spiegelman paper in Nature is problematic also, but don’t expect a correction:

Kai Ge , Mohamed Guermah , Chao-Xing Yuan , Mitsuhiro Ito , Annika E. Wallberg , Bruce M. Spiegelman , Robert G. Roeder Transcription coactivator TRAP220 is required for PPAR gamma 2-stimulated adipogenesis Nature (2002) doi: 10.1038/417563a

And here is a study by Roeder with another questionable scientist at Rockefeller, Michel Nussenzweig:

Rafael Casellas , Mila Jankovic , Gesa Meyer , Anna Gazumyan , Yan Luo , Robert G. Roeder , Michel C. Nussenzweig OcaB is required for normal transcription and V(D)J recombination of a subset of immunoglobulin kappa genes Cell (2002) doi: 10.1016/s0092-8674(02)00911-x 

You can read about the Nussenzweig brothers here:

Now, remember the Schneider Rule that if you follow a science cheater you will meet many other cheaters? Here is a Roeder-coauthored fake study with his former mentee at Columbia University in New York, USA:

Jianyuan Luo , Muyang Li , Yi Tang , Monika Laszkowska , Robert G. Roeder , Wei Gu Acetylation of p53 augments its site-specific DNA binding both in vitro and in vivo Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2004) doi: 10.1073/pnas.0308762101 

The usual, two fake gel figures. But there is more, because Columbia’s cancer research professor Wei Gu has a PubPeer record of his own (caveat: due to the nature of Chinese names, the list includes other people named Wei Gu). This for example is by our Gu, an old paper with his postdoctoral mentor Roeder:

Wei Gu , Sohail Malik , Mitsuhiro Ito , Chao-Xing Yuan , Joseph D Fondell , Xiaolong Zhang , Ernest Martinez , Jun Qin , Robert G Roeder A novel human SRB/MED-containing cofactor complex, SMCC, involved in transcription regulation Molecular Cell (1999) doi: 10.1016/s1097-2765(00)80178-1 

As you see, this is the good old paper-scissors-glue artisan forgery, before Adobe Photoshop became standard tool of cancer research. Compare with newer artworks:

Miao Yu , Kun Liu , Zebin Mao , Jianyuan Luo , Wei Gu , Wenhui Zhao USP11 Is a Negative Regulator to γH2AX Ubiquitylation by RNF8/RNF168 Journal of Biological Chemistry (2016) doi: 10.1074/jbc.m114.624478

Here is more great cancer research from Professor Gu’s lab at Columbia University:

Delin Chen , Omid Tavana , Bo Chu , Luke Erber , Yue Chen , Richard Baer , Wei Gu NRF2 Is a Major Target of ARF in p53-Independent Tumor Suppression Molecular Cell (2017) doi: 10.1016/j.molcel.2017.09.009 

Look, a Nature paper:

Delin Chen , Jing Shan , Wei-Guo Zhu , Jun Qin , Wei Gu Transcription-independent ARF regulation in oncogenic stress-mediated p53 responses Nature (2010) doi: 10.1038/nature08820

Look, another Nature paper:

Jianyuan Luo , Fei Su , Delin Chen , Ariel Shiloh , Wei Gu Deacetylation of p53 modulates its effect on cell growth and apoptosis Nature (2000) doi: 10.1038/35042612 

Look, a Cell paper:

Delin Chen , Ning Kon , Muyang Li , Wenzhu Zhang , Jun Qin , Wei Gu ARF-BP1/Mule is a critical mediator of the ARF tumor suppressor Cell (2005) doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2005.03.037

Arrows indicate a gel band digitally spliced in
A box was placed (arrows), to hide undesired bands?

Look, another Cell paper from Gu’s lab, with Leonard Guarente no less! See how many cheaters you meet by starting to follow one?

Jianyuan Luo , Anatoly Y. Nikolaev , Shin-ichiro Imai , Delin Chen , Fei Su , Ariel Shiloh , Leonard Guarente , Wei Gu Negative control of p53 by Sir2alpha promotes cell survival under stress Cell (2001) doi: 10.1016/s0092-8674(01)00524-4

If you don’t know the MIT professor Guarente already, I wrote about him before, he is the mentor and business partner of the supplement scammer and Harvard professor David Sinclair. They published some fake science together:

Oh look, Gu with Pier Paolo Pandolfi, who was some years ago sacked first by Harvard and then by Italians for sexual harassment and fake science:

Ailan Guo , Paolo Salomoni , Jianyuan Luo , Alan Shih , Sue Zhong , Wei Gu , Pier Paolo Pandolfi The function of PML in p53-dependent apoptosis Nature Cell Biology (2000) doi: 10.1038/35036365 

You can read about Pandolfi’s adventures here:

Gu never replied to my email. Now come, follow Gu to meet Domenico Accili, who is also a professor at the Columbia University, and who also refused to reply to my email:

Yukari Ido Kitamura , Tadahiro Kitamura , Jan-Philipp Kruse , Jeffrey C. Raum , Roland Stein , Wei Gu , Domenico Accili FoxO1 protects against pancreatic beta cell failure through NeuroD and MafA induction Cell Metabolism (2005) doi: 10.1016/j.cmet.2005.08.004  

Accili has whooping 25 papers on PubPeer. For example, this forgery:

Marta L. Hribal , Jun Nakae , Tadahiro Kitamura , John R. Shutter , Domenico Accili Regulation of insulin-like growth factor-dependent myoblast differentiation by Foxo forkhead transcription factors The Journal of Cell Biology (2003) doi: 10.1083/jcb.200212107

As I mentioned, there’s quite a lot by Accili on PubPeer, but you probably have a life and better things to do. I will end with this collaborative paper of this Italian-born scholar, with Lewis Cantley, C. Ronald Kahn and Kahn’s mentee Kohjiro Ueki, just to prove how well the Schneider Rule of following a research cheater to meet other cheaters works:

Franck Mauvais-Jarvis , Kohjiro Ueki , David A. Fruman , Michael F. Hirshman , Kei Sakamoto , Laurie J. Goodyear , Matteo Iannacone , Domenico Accili, Lewis C. Cantley , C. Ronald Kahn Reduced expression of the murine p85alpha subunit of phosphoinositide 3-kinase improves insulin signaling and ameliorates diabetes Journal of Clinical Investigation (2002) doi: 10.1172/jci13305

Look closer, this gel figure is much faker than labelled!

You can read about Kahn, Ueki and Cantley here:

mTOR: conclusions not affected?

David Sabatini, remember that story? Well, it seems the conclusions were not affected. I take an ill-informed look at the mTOR signalling research field, to understand how photoshopped data gets to be independently verified by other labs.

Accili’s papers on PubPeer are mostly old, but the fraud in Gu’s publications is all rather recent, many of these papers are below 10 years of age, so it should be straightforward to demand of these failed scientists to cough up the raw data, (which they most likely won’t be able to fudge convincingly), slap them with research misconduct findings and show them the door. Oh well, whom am I fooling. Gu and Accili bring grant money to Columbia, and this is all what counts in science, certainly in USA. Gu is also protected by Roeder.

And as for Roeder himself: he is 80 and still at it, bullying, sorry, motivating his lab members to produce trash science.

a new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.

Max Planck

One funeral at a time.

Original Roeder photo: Shanghai Jiao Tong University on Facebook

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11 comments on “Never have heroes like Robert Roeder

  1. Robert Roeder has a good business model. Run a gel, publish it! In vitro biology. Similar cookery lark to the extremely rich British fraudster, David Latchman, who also works on transcription factors.

    Like

  2. Wei Gu may just be following community standards at Columbia, Carol Prives and Tom K. Hei having set the standards. To see what I mean enter those last 2 names into the Pubpeer search box and press the search symbol, or press return.

    Like

  3. Despite the stature of the institution and group involved, fraud has not spared them.
    You can imagine what happens in other situations.

    Liked by 1 person

    • “Fraud has not spared them.” How about: they have not spared their august institution from fraud, nor has that institution protected itself from a crime that is not random, victimless or unconscious. Together they form a conspiracy of dunces desperate prevail in a zero-sum game by any means. In the absence of immediate or long-term consequences, this is the ideal – indeed the only – strategy available to those bereft of scientific talent and ideas. As for PNAS – like we used to have written on the fridge when I was a student, that stands for Probably Not Actually Science.

      Like

      • “In the absence of immediate or long-term consequences”.

        Yes, there are consequences: they fly upwards.

        Anybody who complains about the problematic data is mean and nasty, and some kind of loser.

        Like

      • August institutions don’t give a damn about warning signs as long as the cash continues flowing into their pockets, and indeed there were warning signs in Roeder’s lab before. Institutions are jointly guilty from head to toe. I would avoid placing them on an altar as symbols of purity.

        Like

  4. You wrote that it was the Washington Post that first reported on the poisoning incident at Rockefeller. However with a bit of googling I can’t find any reference to a Washington Post article. It seems like The Wall Street Journal was actually the first to report it.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. “The Schneider Rule says that if you follow one bad scientist, you will meet many other research cheaters among their mentees and collaborators.”

    Angel Nebreda leads to Renate J Scheibe.

    Angel Nebreda.https://www.irbbarcelona.org/en/research/angel-r-nebreda

    Problematic data.https://pubpeer.com/search?q=nebreda

    Angel Nebreda/Renate J Scheibe “cross-over event”.https://pubpeer.com/publications/1A5FEF46F25A73B3135FAC8B01E0BE

    Renate J Scheibe.https://www.medifind.com/doctors/renate-j-scheibe/258651875

    Problematic data.https://pubpeer.com/search?q=renate+scheibe

    Like

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