Why Nature Genetics overlooks Voinnet cheatings

Why Nature Genetics overlooks Voinnet cheatings

The Olivier Voinnet affair, the biggest research fraud scandal in modern plant science, is officially over. It is time to forgive, to forget and to move on. Let us not look back on those retracted, corrected and let’s-pretend-fraud-evidence-isn’t-there Voinnet papers and focus on what’s really important: science. The pure, unadulterated academic science, which is obviously first and foremost about placing beautiful papers in impactful journals and helping yourself and your friends to public money, while making sure that traitors, snitches and envious haters are “drummed out of science”, as Voinnet himself once threatened it towards his whistleblower, Vicki Vance.

Everyone moved on. Plant scientists summarily put the Voinnet embarrassment behind them, some see my past Voinnet reporting to be a kind of obsessive stalking. French CNRS, Voinnet’s original employer, declared in a more recent case of CNRS chief biologist Catherine Jessus the Photoshop data manipulations to be good scientific practice and called all French scientists to vigilance against whistleblowers (read here). Swiss federal university ETH must be quite happy with having elegantly avoided to sack their now CNRS-delegated professor despite the massive misconduct findings: just in the last two years Voinnet published papers in elite journals The Plant Cell, Molecular Cell, and PNAS . The journal Nature Plants even explained why Voinnet and his associates are welcome to submit their papers again. Despite new evidence of manipulated data still popping up, the journals drew the line and are not interested anymore.  Especially the elite journal Nature Genetics, whom I sent in June (as a reminder) a dossier of four Voinnet’s papers in need of some editorial attention. Not much happened, which may or may not have to do with the fact that the editor of Nature Genetics Myles Axton has some strange data in his own last-author paper in the journal Development. Incidentally, same journal which found itself unable to retract a Jessus paper having established massive data manipulations in it.

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Catherine Jessus case: journals hide behind Sorbonne & COPE to avoid retractions

Catherine Jessus case: journals hide behind Sorbonne & COPE to avoid retractions

Some rather jaw-dropping corrections for the French martyr saint of research integrity, Catherine Jessus, head of biology branch at the French CNRS, professor of developmental biology at Sorbonne University in Paris. Jessus is the feared CNRS executive whose case divided French academics and even media into loyal Stalinists and enemies of the people, after Sorbonne whitewashed their professor in a parody of an investigation. The Stalinists being the over 500 signature supporters of Jessus, the enemies of the people to be rooted out are 10 critical authors of a counter-report and the daily newspaper Le Monde. The fresh corrections were now issued by the UK-based non-profit academic publisher The Company of Biologists, in their two journals Development and Journal of Cell Science. Two of these four papers, the worst ones, feature as first author Jessus’ mentee Anthi Karaiskou (now associate professor at Sorbonne University). All these works of science contain such appalling Photoshop manipulations (while the relevant raw data was reliably missing) that the academic publisher had to bend over backwards to invent the reason why they did not retract those. In one case, there wasn’t even a correction. The journal simply issued a strange “publisher’s note”, telling which figures have been rigged and that original data was unavailable.

The argument went: the investigation by the Sorbonne University declared those copy-pasted gel bands to be good scientific practice, and even announced in advance on behalf of the journals that no corrections will be necessary. Based on that investigative report (which, as it was leaked, was written by Jessus’ personal ally and subordinate colleague Francis-Andre Wollman, assisted by Jessus herself), namely that manipulated data has no impact on the scientific message of the paper, the two journals resorted to the guidelines by the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) which say that a retraction is not appropriate where scientific message is solid. The circle of Pravda-esque idiocy was complete, and here come the three corrections and the bizarre “publisher’s note”, illustrated by the evidence from my site and on PubPeer. Do compare them with what now serves as replacement, the scientific message is not really always the same. Continue reading “Catherine Jessus case: journals hide behind Sorbonne & COPE to avoid retractions”

Tarantino & Finelli: i plagiatori di Napoli

Tarantino & Finelli: i plagiatori di Napoli

Plagiarism and self-plagiarism used to be an easy way for career advancement for many ruthless and entitled academics. It became a bit more difficult now, in the times of internet where automatic software can flush out a cheater in a matter of minutes. Provided of course, the scholarly publishers care about such things. And in fact, many don’t. My regular contributor Smut Clyde now presents you the case of two medical plagiarists from Naples in Italy, who became infamous after one of them was caught having stolen the work of a US colleague he was peer reviewing. In other cases, the two Napolitans were even too lazy to plagiarise. They simply republished their already plagiarised “works” several times, and not just as some pedestrian papers, but as book chapters, all in order to boost their publishing record even further. Smut Clyde alerted the journals, but most of them couldn’t care less. To their defence: some are known predatory publishers.

And these are the two Plagiatori di Napoli: Giovanni Tarantino , born 1946, likes to present himself as “Professor of Internal Medicine” at the Università degli Studi di Napoli Federico II, thought the university website has no records of his faculty membership. He was apparently a subordinate group leader there for 20 years till 2005 and might have had afterwards an adjunct professorship under a Napoli faculty member Giovanni Di Minno, whom Tarantino invited to join the plagiarism game. Their common paper in Oncotarget disappeared from the internet without a trace when the misconduct became known. Tarantino’s junior partner in the plagiarism scam is Carmine Finelli, educated at the same university, last (allegedly) affiliated with the hospital Stella Maris Mediterraneo in Puglia and now a “free medical professional”, whatever that might be. Continue reading “Tarantino & Finelli: i plagiatori di Napoli”

Karolinska gets taught German medical ethics

Karolinska gets taught German medical ethics

A most bizarre thing happened. In the aftermath of the scandal around the thoracic surgeon and regenerative medicine enthusiast Paolo Macchiarini, which left many patients dead, his former employer Karolinska Institutet (KI) in Stockholm, Sweden, requested a retraction of one of his papers. It was not about a trachea transplant, but about unethical and painful medical experiments on a dying patient (actually, two of them). KI’s decision to request a retraction of the paper Jungebluth et al, “Autologous peripheral blood mononuclear cells as treatment in refractory acute respiratory distress syndrome”, Respiration, 2015 was based on the investigation commissioned by Swedish Central Ethics Review Board (CEPN). The Swiss-German and family-owned medical publisher Karger and its journal Respiration however categorically refused to retract the paper and ordered KI not “to patronize the readers of the journal ‘Respiration’.

It gets much worse. The German Editor-in-Chief of this journal has a huge conflict of interest. It is better you just read on, because if I try to summarize it here, I might get sued by Macchiarini’s German friends and associates once again, and next time it might even be prison for me. In Germany, doctors have a very special status. Journalists or even patients do not, as I learned in court.

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Editor sacked over rejection rate: “not inline with Frontiers core principles”

Editor sacked over rejection rate: “not inline with Frontiers core principles”

Frontiers, the Switzerland-based publishing company run by EPFL professor and brain simulant Henry Markram and his wife Kamila and owned by the German giant Holtzbrinck and some investors, describes itself as “a community-rooted, open-access academic publisher”, and as such it boasts a ~71,000 head strong “virtual editorial office” which is bigger than the number of all Frontiers articles published since its inception in 2007 (~65,000). This communal character however doesn’t mean that the editorial board the size of a large town is invited to have any actual influence over editorial policies at Frontiers (which fits into one open-space office in Lausanne). In fact, the following guest post by Regina-Michaela Wittich, a former senior editor of a Frontiers journal narrates how she was sacked by Frontiers because she rejected too many papers for being of insufficient scientific quality, instead of sending them into the “rigorous” Frontiers peer review process (allegedly “enhanced with artificial intelligence”) where rejection becomes quite unlikely, and reviewers are sometimes reminded of their duty to be constructive. Continue reading “Editor sacked over rejection rate: “not inline with Frontiers core principles””

CNRS: chief biologist Catherine Jessus “victim of slanderous campaign” by blogger

CNRS: chief biologist Catherine Jessus  “victim of slanderous campaign” by blogger

UPDATED. My earlier reporting about image irregularities in the papers by CNRS’ chief biologist and director of l’Institut des sciences biologiques (INSB) Catherine Jessus had some interesting effects, including two Corrigenda I discuss below. Evidence of data manipulation in several Jessus’ co-authored papers on cell cycle progression in Xenopus oocytes was collected by my readers, which I then posted on PubPeer. There, it was soon supplemented with additional evidence from other PubPeer users. CNRS now publicly accused me of  “slanderous campaign” against Jessus, declared gel band duplications to be either technical incidents or in fact scientifically well justified and called its scientists to “collective vigilance” against people like myself (see below).

While CNRSan institution of of 32,000 research employees and annual budget of €3.2 Billion, was busy suppressing the Jessus affair (allegedly on orders from the French Ministry of Higher Education, Research and Innovation), something even bigger exploded: evidence of data manipulation appeared in the papers of the then-interim President of CNRS, Anne Peyroche, which then led to her removal and institutional investigation which could result in sacking. My own role in reporting data manipulations in Peyroche papers, initially dismissed as so-called compression artefacts by PubPeer moderation, was then acknowledged by Le Monde. The French national newspaper also brought the well-hidden Jessus case into the spotlight:

It’s also on PubPeer that Catherine Jessus, head of research in biology at CNRS, was incriminated – she did not consider it appropriate to answer on the site”.

Unlike the unlucky CNRS interim president, behind whose devastating PubPeer postings Retraction Watch suspectedpolitical motivations in trying to take Peyroche down“, the powerful CNRS’ chief biologist apparently doesn’t have to answer to anyone. Jessus was whitewashed in a secret investigation by l’Université Pierre et Marie Curie (UPMC), which professorship she holds. UPMC experts found only minor errors in 3 Jessus publications, and dismissed all other evidence.

Two Jessus papers have now been corrected, a key co-author on those is Aude Dupre, Jessus former PhD student and presently staff scientist at UPMC. Another coauthor is Olivier Haccard, “Directeur de Recherche” at CNRS I2BC in Paris. These papers from 2017 and 2015 were relatively simple cases, where no gel band duplications were spotted. One could even have explained those away as honest mistakes of negligence. But Jessus’ corrections of these two recent papers are not that straightforward, and do little to dismiss suspicions of her lab’s lack of research integrity.

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PLOS One publishes near-copy of retracted JBC paper, sans coauthor Carlo Croce

PLOS One publishes near-copy of retracted JBC paper, sans coauthor Carlo Croce

On July 29th 2016, Journal of Biological Chemistry (JBC) retracted a cardiology paper from 2009 for data manipulations. Only some days later, on August 20th 2016, the corresponding authors Sathyamangla Naga Prasad and Sadashiva Karnik (both from the same Department of Molecular Cardiology at Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, US, submit that same paper, under same title, with only some changes, to PLOS One. All authors remained the same, only two mysteriously fell off the paper: George Calin and his former mentor Carlo Croce. The latter is a notorious cancer researcher from Ohio State University, PubPeer star accused of misconduct and author on 7 retracted papers (according to the new Retraction Watch database). Croce even made it into New York Times, which he now sues, together with his critic David Sanders. (some more details here).

It makes sense why Prasad and Karlin decided to play it safe and throw their toxic Ohio colleague Croce and his loyal former lab member Calin off their paper. They even replaced a fake western blot which caused the JBC retraction. This refurbished PLOS One paper was accepted on January 5th 2017 and published on March 22nd 2017. Now also the handling editor at PLOS has now a lot of explaining to do: Sudhiranjan Gupta, from Texas A&M University. A man who understood Prasad’s and Karnik’s dilemma, because also Gupta has his own record of gel band duplications on PubPeer, all of these incidentally with his former boss at Cleveland Clinic, Subha Sen, who in turn is co-author on both the retracted Prasad et al JBC 2009 and the new Prasad et al PLOS One 2017.

Using the free online plagiarism tool at Draftable.com, I was able to establish an extensive textual overlap, the files are available here and here. The well-known sleuth Claire Francis established figure re-use, which I document below.

Continue reading “PLOS One publishes near-copy of retracted JBC paper, sans coauthor Carlo Croce”