Lack of transparency in ERC funding decisions, by Shravan Vasishth

Lack of transparency in ERC funding decisions, by Shravan Vasishth

Academic research is dependent on funding, and funding agencies, both public and charity ones, play a crucial gatekeeper function in deciding who will go on to continue researching or even working in science, and who will not. With great power comes great responsibility. Unfortunately, funders traditionally end up serving the interests of select elite scientists by confusing the needs of those with the greater good of science as such. Money is dumped on the biggest pile, either to established star researchers or to their privileged academic scions. In this zero-sum game of science funding, many early career researchers see their grant applications rejected and are forced out of academia. The logic seems to be that this research proletariat would have spent it on booze and candy anyway, while the high elite will be investing it wisely to produce great science. Or whatever the funders, advised by that very elite, perceive to be great science. The guest post below by Shravan Vasishth, professor for psycholinguistics and neurolinguistics at the University of Potsdam, Germany, tells of a peer reviewer experience of his when it hit against such attitude from the most prestigious EU research funder, the European Research Council (ERC).

Continue reading “Lack of transparency in ERC funding decisions, by Shravan Vasishth”

The Kenneth Chien Case at Karolinska, by Johan Thyberg

The Kenneth Chien Case at Karolinska, by Johan Thyberg

This is a new guest post from Johan Thyberg, a retired professor for cell and molecular biology from Sweden, a known activist against science fraud and author of the 2009 book “Scientific Fraud or Legal Scandal?”. Thyberg played a key role in uncovering the research misconduct and horrendous patient abuse around the trachea transplant surgeon Paolo Macchiarini, which took place at Alma Mater, the Karolinska Institutet (KI) in Stockholm, and left at KI alone 3 patients dead (his last plastic trachea recipient there, Yesim Cetir, died yesterday after years of suffering).

After a previous guest post by Thyberg, which criticised KI’s handling of the Macchiarini scandal, it is an honour for me to present his new article on my site. It deals with another international star of regenerative medicine whom KI recruited soon after Macchiarini: Kenneth Chien. The people who recruited Chien were also the same who made Macchiarini’s professorship at KI possible: the then-chancellor Harriet Wallberg and the cell biology professor Urban Lendahl. Both had to resign from their positions with the KI’s Nobel Committee in the wake of Macchiarini scandal (see my report here).

This is what Chien’s 20-head strong lab is working on at KI, according to its website:

“The central scientific interest of the Chien lab is to understand heart development at the molecular and cellular level, with the ultimate goal of applying the developmental principles, logic, pathways, technology, and model systems to unravel human heart disease”.

According to Thyberg, Chien’s engagement at KI is less about his actual scientific achievements, which seem objectively rather modest relative to his elite status there, but more about personal networks and money, which include pharma industry and a certain Chinese investor. One of these Chien-related businesses is Moderna Therapeutics, a biotech start-up which STAT News brought a critical special report on.

Below I am publishing Thyberg’s own English version article, a Swedish version appeared on March 17th on NewsVoice.

Continue reading “The Kenneth Chien Case at Karolinska, by Johan Thyberg”

Macchiarini and his Russian megagrant

Macchiarini and his Russian megagrant

Below I am publishing the most recent dossier authored by the four whistle-blowers from the Karolinska Institutet (KI) in Sweden: Oscar SimonsonKarl-Henrik Grinnemo, Matthias Corbascio and Thomas Fux. Two of their earlier notifications of research misconduct to KI by their former colleague Paolo Macchiarini are available in full on my site, here and here.

This time it is about Macchiarini’s trachea transplants in Russia, and the so-called Megagrant funding he received from the Russian government for his work at the Kuban State Medical University in Krasnodar. The accusation goes that the KI star surgeon misrepresented the true outcomes of his two first disastrous human experiments with a plastic trachea, performed at KI on the patients Andemariam Beyene and Chris Lyles, both of who died. Also, the whistle-blowers criticise that KI failed to investigate these failed transplants and patient deaths and did not report those to the Russian authorities, which might have helped avoid the unnecessary deaths of at least two Russian patients, Yulia Tuulik and Alexander Zozulya. Continue reading “Macchiarini and his Russian megagrant”

Karolinska in denial, by Johan Thyberg

Karolinska in denial, by Johan Thyberg

This is a guest post by Johan Thyberg, a 1947-born Swedish biologist and a well-known activist against science fraud. His 2009 published book “Scientific Fraud or Legal Scandal?” meticulously narrates several fraud scandals in Swedish science, one of which I referred to when introducing a guest post of another concerned Swedish academic. Until his academic retirement, Thyberg used to be professor for cell and molecular biology at Karolinska Institutet (KI) in Stockholm, the showplace of probably the biggest medicine scandal of recent times, that of the trachea transplant surgeon Paolo Macchiarini. Continue reading “Karolinska in denial, by Johan Thyberg”

Chocolate health: advice by Thomas Lüscher and peer review by Jonas Malmstedt

Chocolate health: advice by Thomas Lüscher and peer review by Jonas Malmstedt

Christmas season is the time to eat lots of chocolate. And as science teaches us, your confectionery is actually the superfood which will make you healthy, slim and clever. Good for you, good for the chocolate industry which often generously sponsors such scientists.

In May 2016, I brought a story about chocolate health research and how it is funded by food industry giants Mars and Nestle. The main protagonist was Thomas Lüscher, cardiology professor at the University of Zürich and head of the heart centre at the University Hospital Zurich in Switzerland. Lüscher postulated that eating dark chocolate daily is beneficial for heart insufficiency patients and may prevent heart attacks, he now offers some additional advice. Now his peer, the Swedish vascular surgeon Jonas Malmstedt, provides his analysis of Lüscher’s publications below. Another study which Malmstedt unpicks, is an opus from the Luxembourg Institute of Health (Alkerwi et al, 2016), which declared that eating chocolate makes you younger and healthier, and prevents diabetes on top. Continue reading “Chocolate health: advice by Thomas Lüscher and peer review by Jonas Malmstedt”

Post-publication peer review of a multimillion-dollar-heavy Nature paper, by Ana Pedro

Post-publication peer review of a multimillion-dollar-heavy Nature paper, by Ana Pedro

The Portuguese cancer researcher Sonia Melo has now achieved the status of a zombie scientist. After an internal investigation which records are kept secret, she was cleared of all suspicions of scientific misconduct and re-installed as group leader at the Instituto de Investigação e Inovação em Saúde (I3S) in Porto (see my report here). This despite an impressive PubPeer record of data integrity concerns, and despite the fact that the European research society EMBO revoked Melo’s Installation Grant funding after having determined problems with her publications. EMBO nevertheless stick to their decision, but Melo’s Portuguese funders like Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia (FCT) apparently see absolutely no need to reconsider their support, certainly not after the I3S whitewashing. Melo previously had to retract a paper (Melo et al, Nature Genetics, 2009) for data manipulations, her other works were however found not problematic by the I3S commission. In two papers in Cancer Cell (Melo et al 2010 and Melo et al 2014), the alleged duplications were apparently proven not to be duplications. As I learned, this was probably because while the top part of the gel images indeed did look suspiciously similar, the lower parts were clearly different. A possibility of digital image splicing was not considered, as it seems. In any case, even if the top bands are indeed the same, it doesn’t really matter. Cell editorial offices made on several occasions perfectly clear that data integrity is not one of their top concerns.

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From Melo et al, Cancer Cell, 2014. Cannot be a duplication, according to I3S. Source: PubPeer

Continue reading “Post-publication peer review of a multimillion-dollar-heavy Nature paper, by Ana Pedro”

Frontiers reviewer told: don’t be strict, endorse paper, reports Giulia Liberati

Journal peer review is a mysterious black box all scientists fear. The task of the reviewers is to help authors to improve their manuscripts scientifically and to help journal editors to weed out scientifically substandard and inappropriate works. That’s the theory anyway, in practice there are good reasons why the peer review process is traditionally something to be hidden by all means from the readers of published papers. Probably to avoid occasional shock, disgust  and repulsion, similar to how the supermarket customers should by no means be made aware of the true origins of industrially raised meat. In a kind of a vicious circle, this peer review secrecy is a direct invitation to rig it even more. Editors tend to assign friendly reviewers according to authors’ eminence, while peer reviewer conflicts of interests are routinely disregarded, since no one will ever find out anyway. In the same vein, scientists who made themselves some powerful enemies will see their manuscripts destroyed by unreasonable and aggressive peer review. They often naively hope the editor was decent enough not to invite those same adversaries whom the authors specifically asked to be excluded. Continue reading “Frontiers reviewer told: don’t be strict, endorse paper, reports Giulia Liberati”