David Latchman, the reckless Master of Birkbeck

David Latchman, the reckless Master of Birkbeck

This is a story of David Latchman, Master of Birkbeck at University of London, professor of genetics at UCL and Commander of the Order of the British Empire. All this he achieved also by his impressive publishing record, part of which will be discussed below by my regular contributor Smut Clyde. Just part of it, because there are in fact oodles of Latchman co-authored papers discussed on PubPeer for evidence of data manipulation. As Birkbeck and UCL were repeatedly bombarded by whistleblowers, Latchman was (pretend)-investigated on misconduct charges twice. Naturally, neither whitewashing report was released to public. After the first investigation of 2015, we only learned:

“UCL confirms that the conclusion of its investigation is that Professor Latchman has no case to answer in relation to research misconduct”.

Last month, UCL declared that Latchman committed “recklessness” and was “insufficiently attentive” to what his junior researchers used to do in his lab and in his papers, namely the cardiologist Tiziano Scarabelli and the cancer researcher Anastasis Stephanou. The former is presently professor of medicine at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) Medical Center in USA, while the latter is professor at European University Cyprus. These two were found guilty of having manipulated images in 7 papers. All other Latchman co-authored papers (of the 32 investigated) are perfectly fine, and anyway, as Birkbeck explained:

“The matter does not relate to Professor David Latchman’s leadership of Birkbeck, which has been excellent for the past 15 years.  Furthermore, there is no suggestion by UCL that Professor Latchman had any knowledge of, or involvement in, the image manipulation identified”

This is a typical academic attitude. When a paper is needed to get promotion and funding money, boss claims the main credit. When a paper is exposed as fraudulent, boss never had anything to do with it (see for example this Spanish case).

Retrospectively, both UCL investigation look even more of a farce, as Latchman himself seems to have been instructing the university how to properly investigate others and not him:

“In my view, the investigation should focus on those actually involved in preparing the questionable figures and those directly involved in supervising their production”

Despite at least 5 retractions, Latchman remains in his position as Master of Birkbeck, where he is paid GBP 400k a year, one of the highest rector salaries in UK. Without diminishing the responsibilities of Scarabelli and Stephanou (in fact, Smut Clyde presents much more below), there seems to be a pattern at UCL of finding the exclusive blame with those no longer employed, while their English-bred senior professors turn out utterly blameless. Recent revelations in the Macchiarini trachea transplant affair also suggest that. However, some of problematic Latchman papers have neither Scarabelli nor Stephanou as co-author. Very reckless of UCL not to have investigated those.

Continue reading “David Latchman, the reckless Master of Birkbeck”

The Perennial Northern Blot of Lopez-Otin

The Perennial Northern Blot of Lopez-Otin

On the Iberian peninsula, there seems to be a tradition to give well-connected scientists suspected (or even convinced) of data fudging an award. In Spain, Carlos López-Otín, Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Oviedo, was given a Mentoring Award from the elite journal Nature, on recommendation from Spanish academia and despite evidence of data irregularities in his papers. This prompted my readers, in particular the famous pseudonymous data integrity sleuth Clare Francis, to comment on on PubPeer and on my site (as “Zebedee”) with additional evidence, which made Lopez-Otin’s scientific credibility look progressively worse and worse, with each new post.

Eventually, an image of a Northern blot (showing expression of mRNAs which code for proteins) was found to appear recurrently across several papers from that Oviedo lab, where the authors pretended it was a newly produced analysis. In reality, it was a “library” loading control reused so the authors could re-run same RNA gel of human tissue lysates over the years and never check ever again what they have actually loaded on their gels. Eventually Lopez-Otin et al even stopped caring what order of samples that original loading control had.

Clare Francis was soon joined on his quest for the Perennial Northern Blot of Oviedo by Elisabeth Bik, famous microbiology blogger and image duplication detective, and my regular contributor (also pseudonymous) Smut Clyde, who now presents you the findings of no less than 23 appearances of that same northern blot in 23 publications from Lopez-Otin’s lab in the guest post below. It is just as convincing as if the Spanish actor Antonio Banderas appeared in 23 different films still dressed in same costume from his 1995 hit Desperado, carrying same guitar case. Incidentally, also Lopez-Otin’s Perennial Northern Blot made its first appearance at around that year.
Continue reading “The Perennial Northern Blot of Lopez-Otin”

Michael Persinger’s crank magnetism

Michael Persinger’s crank magnetism

“What about you? Do you find it risible when I say the name…”

Michael Persinger?

Either you are laughing already, or you wonder what this is all about. Both audiences will sure be entertained by the following guest post of my regular contributor, Smut Clyde. For this is about Professor Michael Persinger, born 1945, psychologist and “natural philosopher” at Laurentian University in Canada, smart dresser and undervalued science fiction writer. Undervalued, because the scientific community seems to take his Kilgore-Trout-esque output at face value, his academic peers really seem to think that was Persinger publishes on neuroscience, cancer, particle physics and virtually any topic which springs to his mind, is actual research. Scientific journals like PLOS One publish his science fiction short stories as peer reviewed works of science, while the revered PNAS and possibly also the less revered Scientific Reports invite him as guest editor to host fan fiction of his admirers. When Professor Persinger does get in trouble, it is never for impersonating a scientist, but for things like using rude words in the classroom.

No spoilers now, just read Smut Clyde’s guest post.

Continue reading “Michael Persinger’s crank magnetism”

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””

Linköping researcher protests bad science of corneal implants

Linköping researcher protests bad science of corneal implants

Imagine: Your collaborative research work is about to submitted for publication, but you are not convinced of its scientific validity. The lead author tells you: either you accept her interpretation of results and become co-author, or she kicks you off the paper. Her shady claims will pass peer review and be published, the scientific community as well as clinicians and patients will be misled.  You can be part of it, with another paper decorating your CV, or you surrender your data and leave, but this paper is happening.

This is what happened to Jaywant Phopase, principal research engineer at the Linköping University (LiU) in Sweden, who now asks for your advice below. The university is known to readers of my site for the scandal around the fake professor and predatory conference organiser Ashutosh Tiwari. Incidentally, Phopase’s research was originally performed at the same Faculty of Science and Engineering (IFM), where Tiwari found support and protection by the former prefect Ulf Karlsson. Same Karlsson who allegedly used to bully Phopase, exactly because the latter raised a fuss about bad science being published and patients abroad being mistreated.

That science in question was led by former LiU professor May Griffith, then at LiU Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences (FSM). Griffith’ research project was about artificial corneal implants, made as a composite of a chemical polymer and human collagen, manufactured at LiU and tested for biocompatibility on human subjects in Ukraine and India. For that she was found guilty of research misconduct by “repeated negligence”, in a LiU investigation from 2015 (see LiU press release and the Swedish-language report summary). Continue reading “Linköping researcher protests bad science of corneal implants”

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.

800ABE38-9C0C-4E6A-A0A6-014E8827B9E3 Trish
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”