Sharma’s bad karma, or is anyone peer reviewing nanotechnology?

Sharma’s bad karma, or is anyone peer reviewing nanotechnology?

Nanotechnology is the way to cure cancer and to save humanity of all its problems in general, often using all possible plants and their parts to create nanoparticles. This is what one learns from certain publications which often appear in chemistry journals, where one can be quite sure no biologist was ever invited to peer review those. In fact, one wonders if anyone at all ever peer reviewed them. That is certainly the impression one gets from the evidence gathered by my now regular pseudonymous guest contributor, “Smut Clyde. Below, he will tell us a tale of the photoshopping team around the physicist Prashant Sharma at the Indian School of Mines in Dhanbad, India. There are currently two dozens of Sharma papers flagged on PubPeer, several feature a regular coauthor Rashmi Madhuri, who was apparently threatening hers and Sharma’s critics with “an International cyber complaint and formal police complaint” and “a case of defamation of worth 50,000 $ (per author)”.

Besides already available PubPeer evidence of what looks like the most lazy approach to data photoshopping, Smut Clyde lists a case of a single cell culture microscopy image which found its way in no less but (currently) 8 papers by Sharma et al, in different context. There are also examples of some apparently very insolent cloning of nanoparticles and other stuff inside same image, that bad that one feels ashamed for everyone involved. Certainly for the respected journals.

In those cases, the expert nanotechnology editors and reviewers do not have an excuse to have missed the evidence of gross data manipulation due to being dazzled by heavy biology they are not really experts in. Here, it was obviously duplicated electron microscopy, spectra analyses and chemical reaction kinetics which did not at all look like they represented original experimental data. Maybe they are supposed to stand in as illustration, and the authors promised to send their real research data afterwards, and then forgot.

Except that in one case, Sharma et al did have to fix a publication with a Corrigendum, which apparently shows the same photoshopped collage, but slightly zoomed out. For the esteemed editor-in-chief of ACS Biomaterials and professor at Tufts University School of Engineering, David Kaplan, this was apparently good enough. The irony: this was only caught because the original manuscript version is available on the “pirate” site Sci-Hub, which hosts almost all paywalled scholarly publications. The same site, which ACS (American Chemical Society) just now successfully sued in US court and had several of its internet domains removed, to prevent nosy people from accessing ACS property without paying. All, as ACS declares: “for the benefit of Earth and its people”.

After the evidence against Sharma et al papers began to pop up on PubPeer, a strange thing happened. Massive wave of comments targeting many papers from Sharma’s institutional colleague at Indian School of Mines, Sagar Pal, appeared on PubPeer, which were basically randomly picked figures from Pal’s papers combined with a comment declaring those to be fake. The tone occasionally tried to emulate the jovial descriptions of irregularities found in Sharma et al papers. Yet those accusations were all without exception ridiculously empty and utterly unfounded, and indeed PubPeer removed them soon (possibly after my tweets).  Continue reading “Sharma’s bad karma, or is anyone peer reviewing nanotechnology?”

Tissue-engineered tracheas: an assessment of the scientific, clinical and ethical implications

Tissue-engineered tracheas: an assessment of the scientific, clinical and ethical implications

Here I republish the written evidence submitted to by two UK scientists to the Science and Technology Committee of the British House of Commons and its inquiry into Research Integrity, as originally published on November 21st 2017. It deals with the trachea transplants performed by the surgeons Paolo Macchiarini and his former parter at UCL, Martin Birchall. The report’s lead author is Patricia Murray, professor in stem cell biology and regenerative medicine, previously a nurse on a Head and Neck unit. She generously invited me in May 2017 to give a seminar at her department at the University of Liverpool on this topic. Her coauthor is Raphael Lévy, senior lecturer in nanotechnology and imaging at the same university. I wrote about his reproducibility studies on the topic of nanoparticles in this article.

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Prof. Patricia Murray

UCL recently investigated Birchall’s past trachea transplants, and recommended to continue with his two current clinical trials to transplant cadaveric decellurised trachea and larynx, regenerated with bone marrow cells, as I reported here. For some reason, UCL Registrar Wendy Appleby, when speaking as witness on November 21st in front of the Parliament Inqury, found herself unable to answer the rather straightforward question whether the UCL investigative commission advised to continue transplanting trachea or not (watch here, from 11:50 on). Appleby and her UCL were instructed by the Inquiry to address the concerns by Murray and Levy in writing.

Both clinical trials  Inspire and RegenVox were already placed by the supervising authorities on hold, Murray and Levy now call to stop the dangerous and science-unsupported experimenting on misinformed human patients and to return back to the lab.

Following is a copy of the (originally published on the UK Parliament website), Continue reading “Tissue-engineered tracheas: an assessment of the scientific, clinical and ethical implications”

Anil Sood and how much MD Anderson doesn’t care: whistleblowers speak out

Anil Sood and how much MD Anderson doesn’t care: whistleblowers speak out

My earlier article presented the worrisome research integrity record at the gigantic US cancer research hospital MD Anderson Cancer Center, part of the University of Texas in Houston. Its particular focus was the ovarian cancer researcher Anil Sood, professor of Gynecologic Oncology and Reproductive Medicine and co-director of Center for RNA Interference and Non-Coding RNAs at MD Anderson. Meanwhile I have been contacted by no less than 4 former Sood associates with their concerns, because they say MD Anderson does not take them seriously. A pseudonymous guest post by one of these whistleblowers, together with some evidence, is published below.

Sood’s record of appalling duplications of microscopy image and western blot bands in his papers is evident on PubPeer, no less than 40 papers are flagged, spanning so far a period from 2004 until now. The whistleblowers who contacted me now also accuse Sood of inappropriate data handling, since he was apparently removing or adjusting data points on a whim, and taught his lab members to do the same. The results based on this creatively acquired mouse experiment data as well as duplicated images served to initiate at MD Anderson a clinical trial with up to 90 “patients with histologic proof of advanced solid tumors ” to test a siRNA based therapy, this trial is lead by Sood’s associate Robert Coleman, who is professor at the same department.

Worst of all: MD Anderson doesn’t care about what happens in Sood’s lab. They do have guidelines for research integrity, printable as pdf, but those seem to serve as a kind of toilet paper to wipe professorial bums with. As a whistleblower informed me, nine researchers working on different projects in Sood’s lab complained to Office of Research Integrity (ORI) or MD Anderson’s own Research Integrity Officer (RIO) William Plunkett or Department Chairs or Ombuds Office or Dean of Graduate School, Michelle Barton, since August 2016. In fact, those who complained where told to find another job, or were dealt otherwise with. There never was any investigation, only “leak of confidentiality”, while the University of Texas graduate school keeps sending fresh students to learn at Sood’s lab. Meanwhile, as a whistleblower wrote: “Most Sood core members already escaped, and got a job thanks to their publication with suspected allegations“.

Continue reading “Anil Sood and how much MD Anderson doesn’t care: whistleblowers speak out”

Yehiel Zick, Weizmann’s resident Western blot artist; by Smut Clyde

Yehiel Zick, Weizmann’s resident Western blot artist; by Smut Clyde

The  Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, is not just a renowned biomedical research centre of world calibre. It is also home to many Israeli artists, who take mundane scientific tools like western blot and microscopy images and transform those into modern, or in fact postmodern art. I listed some of these artists in my previous article, after which one of these researchers wrote to me comparing me to “a “judge” in some totalitarian countries”, waving “a ready death sentence”. Now, I am presenting a guest post from the pseudonymous “Smut Clyde” (who honoured my site before), which extolls the artistic achievements of yet another Weizmann artist, an actual Wunderkind of postmodern Western blot collage, Yehiel Zick.

In his day job, the near-pensioner Zick is a humble diabetes researcher, still studying insulin resistance, but also mechanisms of cancer and bone remodelling. He also heads the Department of Molecular Cell Biology at Weizmann. Less known is Zick for his published Western blot collages, which are being honoured in the guest post below. No less than seven Zick publications are currently being admired on PubPeer, all appeared in the Journal Of Biological Chemistry (JBC). Which is likely soon to become a major problem, because this journal destroyed the career of Zick’s colleague and another famous Western blot artist at Weizmann, Rony Seger, after the editors retracted 9 of his papers in one go. Both Seger and Zick earned their PhD degrees in the same lab of the late biochemist Shmuel Shaltiel at Weizmann, both worked on a related project, the former in 1975-1980, the latter in 1983-1988. The two published also some papers together. Did their mentor Shaltiel fail to spot his two students’ artistic inclinations? And if he did, how did he react? We will never know.

I did learn however from one Weizmann professor that this institute has a strange approach to investigating suspected research misconduct. Seger was apparently under investigation for some time, yet not much happened until JBC pulled the plug on his nine papers. Then things happened pretty quickly, though Seger still keeps his tenured job. Is Zick facing some retractions, followed by an involuntary retirement? And are all others safe, because they mostly had the wise foresight to avoid publishing in JBC?

Continue reading “Yehiel Zick, Weizmann’s resident Western blot artist; by Smut Clyde”

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:

Continue reading “The rise and fall of an antivax paper, by Smut Clyde”

The one who asked questions: interview with Johannes Wahlström, by Alla Astakhova

The one who asked questions: interview with Johannes Wahlström, by Alla Astakhova

Below I am re-publishing an interview which the Russian health journalist Alla Astakhova conducted with the Swedish journalist Johannes Wahlström. Wahlström’s work for the Swedish television SVT, together with Bosse Lindquist, was decisive in uncovering the patient abuse by the fallen star surgeon Paolo Macchiarini (see here the full list of trachea transplant patients). Without the dedicated work of the Swedish journalists, Macchiarini would probably still be experimenting on humans with his cadaveric and plastic tracheas, generating even more death and suffering in the process. In the interview with Astakhova, Wahlström tells about his research for the famous SVT film Experimenten, and how the SVT team found out about the four Karolinska Institutet whistleblowers Oscar SimonsonKarl-Henrik Grinnemo, Matthias Corbascio and Thomas Fux (see my reports about them here, here and here).

For Wahlström, the scandal is not just about Macchiarini. The central figures here are the abused patients, most, if not almost all of them no longer alive. And Macchiarini is not the only one guilty. Wahlström explains how everyone else orbiting that grandiose thorax surgeon was co-responsible, by looking away, covering things up or contributing their small share to the grand horror. The multilingual Swedish journalist specifically criticises the irresponsible dishonesty of Macchiarini’s Russian surgeon partners Vladimir Parshin and Igor Polyakov in the face of the catastrophe they participated in, or the bizarre attitude of Macchiarini’s biographer and Megagrant-manager Elena Kokurina, who seems to have been deliberately avoiding learning the real fate of his patients. Wahlström also questions the ethics of German TV producers who decided to air their Macchiarini-extolling documentary Supercells! in Germany and France despite knowing that its protagonist, Yulia Tuulik, was not cured at all. She was miserably dying. Continue reading “The one who asked questions: interview with Johannes Wahlström, by Alla Astakhova”

Fishy peer review at Science, by citizen scientist Ted Held

Fishy peer review at Science, by citizen scientist Ted Held

Sweden and the international research community recently faced yet another research misconduct scandal. It was about a Science paper by Oona Lönnstedt and Peter Eklöv, which in 2016 made worldwide headlines with its findings that young fish larvae (or fry), namely Eurasian perch, would eat up plastic pollution like teenagers eat fast food. It soon turned out the research was apparently never performed as described, the original data was missing (allegedly stored only on a laptop, which was then stolen from a car), the results likely made up. The Lönnstedt & Eklöv 2016 paper received an editorial expression of concern in December 2016 and was eventually retracted on May 26th 2017 following misconduct findings by the Swedish Central Ethics Review Board (CEPN), while the two Swedish whistleblowers Josefin Sundin and Fredrik Jutfelt, initially themselves stiffly criticised by the University of Uppsala, were finally exonerated (see panel verdict here and here, further documents here and here).  I also make available here the original report by the whistleblowers to the University of Uppsala and CEPN, detailing their “Key points highlighting scientific misconduct by Lönnstedt and Eklöv”. For further reference, read Martin Enserink’s reporting for Science here, here and here.

However, there was more to that Science paper than fraudulent science. Even if the results were not made up, their objective scientific value would still be very questionable, because it had very little connection to the reality of the plastic pollution in the oceans and the fish feeding behavior. The uniformly small, freshly industrially synthesized plastic balls which were fed to the fishes were not really representative of the actual plastic particles polluting our seas. But even those arbitrary chosen particles were not likely to have been eaten by the fishes voluntarily. If the fishes ever did swallow those, it was probably because they were simply made to, being at the point of death by starvation, something which rarely ever happens to actual plankton-feeding fishes in the sea. Of course one cannot expect peer reviewers to spot misconduct and data manipulation, but objectively assessing scientific methodology, result and conclusions of a manuscript is actually what the peer review is all about. One does wonder why the “highly qualified, dedicated” reviewers at Science failed to notice all these obvious scientific shortcomings, and instead decided that Lönnstedt & Eklöv work belonged indeed to “the very best in scientific research”. Was it because the socially and ecologically relevant conclusions sounded so important and welcome, that one simply had to blindly ignore the poor science behind them?

Continue reading “Fishy peer review at Science, by citizen scientist Ted Held”