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”

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”