CNRS hits back at the stream of misconduct evidence

CNRS hits back at the stream of misconduct evidence

The French scientific society CNRS, a huge country-wide network of research institutes and one of the most influential science institutions in Europe, had enough of me and my reporting. They now blocked me on Twitter, so I don’t spoil their celebration of a book by their senior director and chief of research integrity, Catherine Jessus. The book is titled “Étonnant vivant”, which translated roughly means “Amazing ways to improve your Life science publications with just a little bit of photoshop”. I previously reported about some examples of this art in Jessus publications, which CNRS did not really appreciate.

And of course CNRS did not take it lightly when my past reporting forced them to deal with the Olivier Voinnet affair, whose investigator was Jessus. Neither did they like my writings about another misconduct scandal she had very successfully kept under wraps, that around the former Voinnet postdoc Charles-Henri Lecellier, now CNRS group leader in Montpellier. What finally took the biscuit was my constant leaking of misconduct evidence and of internal information from the former Voinnet institute in Strasbourg,  Institut de Biologie Moléculaire des Plantes (IBMP), or as I keep proposing to rebrand it, The Olivier Voinnet Institute for Research Integrity in Plant Sciences. CNRS initially tried it nicely, by sending the IBMP deputy director Jean-Luc Evrard to call me “baby”, then “idiot”, while instructing all other institute employees never to communicate with me, and eventually CNRS simply blocked me on Twitter.

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On this occasion, I will now bring more evidence on data rigging inside IBMP. Before dumping new evidence about the IBMP director Laurence Maréchal-Drouard, let us start with something traditional and well known, namely Voinnet and his sidekick Patrice Dunoyer, whose IBMP lab was supposed to be dissolved, but maybe he managed to save himself with a recent publication in Nature Plants.

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The rise and fall of an antivax paper, by Smut Clyde

The rise and fall of an antivax paper, by Smut Clyde

For the publisher Elsevier, antivax papers are apparently only a problem when they are too heavily manipulated. It took their journal 12 years to retract the notorious paper by Andrew Wakefield, because of data irregularities (details here and here). But the damage was done, an worldwide antivax movement was born, which keeps spreading bizarre and irrational paranoia that vaccines would cause autism in children (most recently supported by the disastrous US president Donald Trump, in tweets and in actual governmental policy). Vaccination rates dropped worldwide, and consequently deadly diseases considered long eradicated are making a comeback. But scholarly publishers and their journals bear here a heavy responsibility, by repeatedly publishing antivax papers and providing the anti-vax movement with the scientific legitimacy.

This was exactly what Elsevier did just now, again. Their Journal of Inorganic Chemistry published a paper by notorious antivax researchers Christopher Shaw, ophthalmology professor in the University of British Columbia, and his postdoc Lucija Tomljenovic. Both scientists enjoy full support of their Canadian university, despite that, together with another antivaxer, Yehuda Schoenfeld, they once had to retract a paper on the alleged neurotoxicity of aluminium adjuvant in vaccines, from the Elsevier journal Vaccine. The authors then simply republished the retracted masterpiece again in another journal, Immunologic Research, published by Springer.

The newly published Shaw paper in Journal of Inorganic Chemistry is again about alleged neurotoxicity of aluminium (or as authors prefer to call it, “aluminum”) , with a bold claim that it would cause autism in mice, as detected by some biomarkers authors saw as appropriate:

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Frontiers: vanquishers of Beall, publishers of bunk

Frontiers: vanquishers of Beall, publishers of bunk

It is now quasi official: do not mess with Frontiers. My earlier reporting made it a credible possibility that this Swiss publisher was behind the January 2017 shut-down and removal of Jeffrey Beall’s list of “potential, possible, or probable predatory scholarly open-access publishers”, and it was now indeed verified by an article in Chronicle of Higher Education. The librarian Beall used to be constantly under attack from Open Access (OA) publishers who were unhappy about his personal opinions and his private decisions to place them on his blog list. With those, his University of Colorado in Denver supported Beall. But the trouble started when he placed in October 2015 the Swiss publisher Frontiers onto his list, thus effectively declaring this Holtzbrinck-owned outlet a predatory publisher, after hearing of scientists’ complaints and reading my reports. To be fair, Frontiers are still defended by a much bigger number of scientists who see the advantage of having a reliable business partner who will publish certain manuscripts which hardly any respectable journal might consider.  Especially certain kinds of psychologists figured out that with the life-science-oriented Frontiers they can easily get merited as proper neuroscientists, or even biomedical polymaths (e.g., here). Regardless of the bunk they place there for $2500 a pop.

Frontiers first tried it nicely with Beall, when the Chief Executive Officer Frederick Fenter and journal manager Mirjam Curno (who is also trustee at Committee for Publication Ethics, COPE, read here) visited the librarian before Christmas 2016 in Denver (see my report here). Since Beall still did not remove Frontiers from his list, Fenter rallied its loyal journal editors and started together with them in August 2016 a campaign against Beall, demanding that his university punishes the librarian or at least forces him to remove Frontiers from his private list (read here). That information on my site served as (utterly uncredited) template for the aforementioned Chronicle of Higher Education article (as its author Paul Basken admitted to me, but his editor Brock Read denied). Basken then contacted Beall, who then also revealed to him that in January 2016 the University of Colorado Denver caved in to Frontiers demands and opened a misconduct case against its librarian. At this point, Beall decided to delete his list and save his job. An academic disagreement was resolved in a honed and cherished academic tradition: with a call to the employer and a threat of sacking.

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The Costs of Knowledge: scientists want their cut on the scam

The Costs of Knowledge: scientists want their cut on the scam

When the mathematician Timothy Gowers, with some co-signers, started in 2012 his initiative “The Costs of Knowledge” to boycott Elsevier for their business practices, he was hoping to release science from the grip of commercial publishers. His reasoning went: with academics boycotting Elsevier en masse as authors, reviewers and editors, the commercial publisher would be forced to change its greedy ways, or the universities would separate themselves from the blackmail-like practice of Elsevier subscriptions (not that NatureSpringer, Wiley or others are much better in that regard). Meanwhile only 16800 people signed The Cost of Knowledge pledge, and some renounced on it silently. Open Access (OA) movement gained speed at roughly the same time, originally with the goal of reducing publication costs. Exactly the opposite was achieved, in fact what subscription publishers did was to usurp the OA movement for their greedy purpose, by subsidising OA conferences and feeding the egos of or simply doing business with those most vocal OA proponents. By now, same megapublishers sell so-called Gold OA on top or in addition to subscriptions; NatureSpringer and Elsevier became world’s biggest and second -biggest OA publishers, respectively.

University library budgets are near breakpoint, in fact Germany just now cancelled Elsevier subscriptions, in a desperate attempt to negotiate a better deal which would include both subscriptions and OA article-processing charges (APC). But some academics seem to have a different viewpoint on how to respond to publishers ripping off their own research institutions. They want their cut on the scam, namely to be paid for their peer review services. The idea is: since peer reviewing duties are not directly specified as such in faculty employment contracts, they must be then not a part of research activities, but a kind of voluntary charity to your peers, or in fact to commercial publishers. As journals and their for-profit owners (because even academic society-run journals are for-profit) make such big money publishing peer reviewed research, the peer reviewers want their share. And they don’t seem to spare a thought if science gets damaged beyond repair in the process.

incompetent referee

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Yoshinori Watanabe data manipulations: much worse than officially presented

Yoshinori Watanabe data manipulations: much worse than officially presented

Earlier this months, a research misconduct scandal in molecular cell biology broke out in the big news. Yoshinori Watanabe, Japanese researcher of cell division and how cells separate their replicated DNA during mitosis and meiosis, was found guilty of scientific misconduct by his University of Tokyo (read the news here and here). This followed an investigation initiated in the fall of 2016, after anonymous whistleblowers submitted to the university a report accusing 6 Tokyo research groups of data manipulation, first and foremost, Watanabe (I managed to obtain this dossier, and publish it below).

As the outcome of the University of Tokyo investigations, which concluded on May 31st 2017, misconduct was determined in 5 publications from Watanabe’s lab, which appeared between 2008 and 2015 in the elite journals like Science, Nature and Nature Cell Biology. However, the whistleblower dossier lists 7 papers, one of them a paper in Cell from 2015 with duplicated gel images, and a 2011 EMBO Reports paper which contains a western blot which was obviously digitally retouched to remove unwanted bands. Watanabe’s assistant professor Yuji Tanno was also found guilty of misconduct, and indeed his 2015 Science paper with Watanabe looks like a total train wreck of data manipulations.  Yet it seems there is a tendency to present Watanabe’s deeds as mere mistakes (though grossly inappropriate ones) by a great genius scientist, who was confused by the complexity of rules on data acquisition and incidentally broke some while producing outstanding and absolutely reliable top-level research. Some of his peers seem to be calling for leniency or at least some understanding for Watanabe. The selected evidence from the whistleblower dossier which I post below suggests that Watanabe knew perfectly well what he was doing, and he did so in order to produce desirable results which his lab experiments failed to deliver, and which he needed in order to impress the choosy elite journals.

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Peer review ghost-writing, or do professors understand plagiarism?

Peer review ghost-writing, or do professors understand plagiarism?

Every academic will probably agree that plagiarism is wrong. It is absolutely not OK to pass someone’s else’s intellectual work as one’s own. Plagiarised research papers get retracted regularly, on several occasions plagiarism in dissertation led to withdrawal of doctorate, most notably among several German politicians. There is however one aspect of academic life where plagiarism is so normal that the parties involved  do not even consider it to be plagiarism, neither the plagiarist, nor the victim of plagiarism. It is the academic peer review, the process where research colleagues are invited by journal editors to submit their expert opinion on the scientific quality of the manuscript under editorial consideration. and it is not the incompetent youth plagiarising there, but professors, principal investigators (PIs), research institute directors and clinic heads. Our academic elite plagiarises daily, without anyone even raising an eyebrow.  Continue reading “Peer review ghost-writing, or do professors understand plagiarism?”

Journal announces to clean up past literature, gets “smeared” by Retraction Watch

Journal announces to clean up past literature, gets “smeared” by Retraction Watch

On June 9th 2017, the research integrity news website Retraction Watch brought an article titled: „Journal won’t look at allegations about papers more than six years old, nor from “public websites””. A public outcry followed, protesting about what was perceived an outrageous case of editorial cover-up of research fraud. The journal in question was Molecular & Cellular Biology (MCB), published by the American Society for Microbiology (ASM); the vituperative Retraction Watch article was prompted by an editorial in the June issue of this journal. The problem with that name-and-shame Retraction Watch article however was: the accusatory title did not fit their own main text at all, which did actually clarify that evidence on public websites like PubPeer is in fact very much looked at by the MCB journal editors, just not publicly commented upon. And that:

“The ASM spokesperson explained that, like the ORI, ASM journals will make exceptions to the six-year statute of limitations, for instance if older papers “provide evidence of an extensive pattern of misconduct.””

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