Bad news for regenerative medicine enthusiasts, the data manipulating biologist Suchitra Sumitran-Holgersson and her surgeon partner Michael Olausson, both professors at the University of Gothenburg (GU) in Sweden. They were previously found guilty of breach of medical ethics and patient abuse for their experiments with “regenerated” decellurised veins, which incidentally serve as basis for an EU-funded clinical trial currently prepared by the Gothenburg-based company VeriGraft (founded by Sumitran-Holgersson and her husband Jan Holgersson, also a GU professor, read here). There was even a trachea transplant: that patient died very soon after, the paper later retracted for data manipulation and absent ethics vote. It was a decellurised cadaveric graft by method very similar to that of Paolo Macchiarini. Another tracheal graft was prepared for one of Macchiarini’s patients at Karolinska Institutet (KI) after her plastic trachea failed, but it was sent back unused. Because of such expertise in misconduct and medical ethics breach, Olausson and his GU colleague Hasse Ejnell served as experts who helped Swedish prosecutor drop manslaughter charges against Macchiarini (read all that here).
Now that Sumitran-Holgersson’s research funding was withdrawn, with the new decision by the Expert Group at the Swedish Central Ethical Review Board (CEPN) she becomes even more of a liability for GU: eight out of her ten analysed papers with Olausson are set for retraction, due to data manipulation by the corresponding author Sumitran-Holgersson (while all her co-authors were made co-responsible to various degrees). I reported the evidence before, on my site, after my readers notified me and posted it on PubPeer. The 2012 paper in The Lancet describing a regenerated vein transplant was however not earmarked for retraction, despite that among other things it contained a fake ethics vote (see my earlier reporting), which the journal The Lancet couldn’t care less about.
The original misconduct report was written for GU in September 2017 by the external investigator Ole Didrik Laerum, medicine professor at University of Bergen in Norway, who was appointed exactly one year before that. Sumitran-Holgersson didn’t like his results and demanded from CEPN a revision by the Expert Group on Research Misconduct, in which she was supported by her GU colleague Kristoffer Hellstrand. This now proved to be her big mistake, because what Sumitran-Holgersson et al got now, was findings of research misconduct and instructions for retractions. The Swedish original of CEPN Expert Group report is available here, (Update 21.03.2018: English version here), these are its findings: Continue reading “Sumitran-Holgersson and Olausson to retract 8 papers for research misconduct”
An update to the ongoing cartoon Stalinism propaganda and purge activities at the EU largest research institution, the French CNRS, in the wake of the affair around manipulated data of CNRS chief biologist Catherine Jessus, according to their press release an innocent “victim” of my “slanderous” and “unscientific” blogging. First of all, a reliable source forwarded to me information from inside CNRS who one of the anonymous investigators was: Francis-André Wollman, CNRS researcher and professor at Jessus’s university UPMC (now Sorbonne University) in Paris. Wollmann is plant cell biologist, specialising in chloroplasts, the technology of western blot is standard in his lab. He did not reply to my emails, also the CNRS and Sorbonne University press speakers chose not to deny his role as anonymous Jessus investigator. The experts namely declared western blot manipulation to be good scientific practice, and lashed out at those who have a problem with copy-pasted gel bands (read here).
Then, the new CNRS President Antoine Petit, who replaced interim president Anne Peyroche (deposed after my reporting about data manipulations in her papers) proved to be not really a reformer, quite the opposite. Petit approved the new definition of what research misconduct in biology is, following cues from Sorbonne University and its president Jean Chambaz (who is cell biologist, specialising on intestinal metabolism and thus also a western blot expert), as well as Wollman and other Jessus investigators. New Sorbonne and CNRS Party doctrine is that data manipulation is definitely not research misconduct, but criticising that data manipulation is.
This is how Petit responded to the Jessus affair in public so far:
- Called myself and other PubPeer commenters “arseholes” (in French connards) at his first meeting with the section heads of CNRS (one of whom is Jessus)
- Claimed that PubPeer evidence and my reporting was an accusation of misconduct directed personally at Jessus and Peyroche (a lie, check my articles here and here), in this radio interview.
- Described documented and now validated data integrity concerns raised against publications by Jessus and Peyroche as equivalent to false accusations of pederasty (then corrected to paedophilia), in same radio interview.
- Announced to use IT surveillance technology to identify anonymous PubPeer commenters after their evidence was exposed as “wrong” (as it was in case of Jessus), in same radio interview.
Continue reading “Jessus investigator identity leaked, CNRS President to expose whistleblowers”
Following my recent article about attempts to fix data irregularities in the papers by CNRS’ chief biologist and director of l’Institut des sciences biologiques (INSB) Catherine Jessus, this state-owned French research institution, the biggest in Europe, now went full Pravda. Just as the notorious propaganda newspaper of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Pravda means Truth in Russian), CNRS press release of February 21st about the Jessus misconduct investigation combines lies, disinformation, and thinly veiled threats and calls for mass denunciation of traitors. The foreign enemy of French science is clearly identified: myself, the slanderous blogger.
All that would be mildly entertaining, were it not for the main victim of that investigative report: research integrity. We learn from that Soviet-style propaganda piece that Jessus took responsibility for almost all of the data manipulations in her papers, in fact even more data integrity problems emerged during the investigation, in figures previously not flagged either on my site or on PubPeer. Jessus was tasked by the commission to analyse her own incriminated figures herself, and to report her findings to her investigators. These professors of the l’Université Pierre et Marie Curie (UPMC, now Sorbonne University) who wisely chose to hide their identities (while decrying same with PubPeer commenters, sic!) had then the cheek to actually endorse the practice of data manipulations, in a public document, most astonishingly that of gel band duplications across different gel images, “for reasons of visual symmetry”. In other instances of cloned gel bands, the investigators spoke of scientifically-irrelevant “assembly errors” of western blots. No, not of separate antibody panels. Of individual gel images. They do not believe in monolithic photographs of an experimental gel, but prefer those as a digital puzzle or a collage, to be assembled from various bits and pieces in Photoshop, where a scientist sometimes inadvertently slips and uses the same gel band or bit of background twice.
Masquerading research misconduct as good scientific practice is a form of scientific misconduct in itself. It doesn’t matter if these so-called experts really believed into the greater good of data manipulations, or strategically trolled the scientific community under cover of anonymity to save Jessus from herself, or were professionally unqualified to judge on the matters of biological science. Their decision not to see any misconduct despite ascertained evidence, while appropriating the entire blame onto those who blew the whistle, was borderline criminal, considering the circumstances. These dishonest UPMC investigators should be dragged out of their anonymity and publicly shamed and disciplined for the damage they just did to the reputation of French science. Continue reading “Pravda of Jessus report, CNRS Politburo scared of own people”
UPDATED. My earlier reporting about image irregularities in the papers by CNRS’ chief biologist and director of l’Institut des sciences biologiques (INSB) Catherine Jessus had some interesting effects, including two Corrigenda I discuss below. Evidence of data manipulation in several Jessus’ co-authored papers on cell cycle progression in Xenopus oocytes was collected by my readers, which I then posted on PubPeer. There, it was soon supplemented with additional evidence from other PubPeer users. CNRS now publicly accused me of “slanderous campaign” against Jessus, declared gel band duplications to be either technical incidents or in fact scientifically well justified and called its scientists to “collective vigilance” against people like myself (see below).
While CNRS, an institution of of 32,000 research employees and annual budget of €3.2 Billion, was busy suppressing the Jessus affair (allegedly on orders from the French Ministry of Higher Education, Research and Innovation), something even bigger exploded: evidence of data manipulation appeared in the papers of the then-interim President of CNRS, Anne Peyroche, which then led to her removal and institutional investigation which could result in sacking. My own role in reporting data manipulations in Peyroche papers, initially dismissed as so-called compression artefacts by PubPeer moderation, was then acknowledged by Le Monde. The French national newspaper also brought the well-hidden Jessus case into the spotlight:
“It’s also on PubPeer that Catherine Jessus, head of research in biology at CNRS, was incriminated – she did not consider it appropriate to answer on the site”.
Unlike the unlucky CNRS interim president, behind whose devastating PubPeer postings Retraction Watch suspected “political motivations in trying to take Peyroche down“, the powerful CNRS’ chief biologist apparently doesn’t have to answer to anyone. Jessus was whitewashed in a secret investigation by l’Université Pierre et Marie Curie (UPMC), which professorship she holds. UPMC experts found only minor errors in 3 Jessus publications, and dismissed all other evidence.
Two Jessus papers have now been corrected, a key co-author on those is Aude Dupre, Jessus former PhD student and presently staff scientist at UPMC. Another coauthor is Olivier Haccard, “Directeur de Recherche” at CNRS I2BC in Paris. These papers from 2017 and 2015 were relatively simple cases, where no gel band duplications were spotted. One could even have explained those away as honest mistakes of negligence. But Jessus’ corrections of these two recent papers are not that straightforward, and do little to dismiss suspicions of her lab’s lack of research integrity.
The Cardiff University in UK is now investigating two cancer researchers, both senior professors, for suspected scientific misconduct. The evidence was submitted by pseudonymous Clare Francis, I publish below the results of preliminary investigations. One of these two professors is Robert Nicholson, specialist in breast cancer, former director of Tenovus Centre for Cancer Research, now professor of Cardiff School of Pharmacy & Pharmaceutical Sciences, celebrated on BBC in 2008 for discovering a therapy target for tamoxifen-resistant tumours. The other is Wen Jiang, professor of Surgery and Tumour Biology at Cardiff University School of Medicine specialising in metastatic solid tumours, Fellow of Royal Society of Medicine and chair of Cardiff China Medical Research Collaborative. Jiang also made it into BBC news in 2013, when he announced to have discovered a “formula”, “consisting of 14 herbs” from traditional Chinese medicine, to stop cancer metastasis.
The two great doctors Jiang and Nicholson made great promises to cancer patients. A preliminary investigation by Cardiff University now determined that those promises were based on duplicated images and cloned gel bands. Importantly, the committee also saw irregular splicing of gels as a problem, an issue many tend to dismiss. The traditional excuse goes that gel splicing was allegedly permitted until 2008 or so. In fact, irregular splicing of gels, where bits of different gels are assembled to look as it were one intact physical gel, was never permitted and always considered to be data manipulation. Especially where due to splicing the gel loading controls are proven not to match the analytic gels, the entire figure becomes meaningless. Or worse, it indicates research misconduct. Continue reading “Cardiff investigates two cancer research professors for data manipulation”
The Science and Technology Committee of the British House of Commons is now dealing with the trachea transplants performed by the scandal surgeon Paolo Macchiarini and his former parter at UCL, Martin Birchall as part of its inquiry into Research Integrity. Two UK scientists from Liverpool initiated this with their written submission from November 21st 2017 which I previously re-published: Patricia Murray, professor in stem cell biology and regenerative medicine, previously a nurse on a Head and Neck unit, and Raphael Lévy, senior lecturer in nanotechnology. Their concerns were not just the past trachea transplants, but also the present clinical trials with bioengineered trachea and larynx which UCL is most keen to start with, following the recommendation of an investigative commission from last year. UCL’s problem is however, that the two phase 1 UK trials are suspended by the UK authorities, and the big phase 2 EU-sponsored trial cannot begin recruiting patients without the results from phase 1.
By now it looks like UCL and their laryngology professor Birchall are in a pickle. Their own reply to the letter by Murray and Levy was not really honest when describing past UCL trachea transplant patients to the Parliament committee. On top of it, it turned out Birchall was reusing data from same old experiments on 16 pigs across different publications which were meant to show separate studies. This, and many more inconsistencies of UCL’s reply to the House of Commons are addressed in the re-published new letter by Murray and Levy from January 30th 2018 below. Continue reading “Trachea transplanters: Round 2 at UK Parliament”
Before biology became digital, with its -omics and big data, there were mostly gels and microscopy images. The peak of image use in biomedical papers was reached at the turn of the century, those became the golden times of Photoshop-assisted data manipulation. Not many suspected that scientists would sit at their computers digitally cloning gel bands inside gel images, stitching seemingly continuous figure panels from various, often unrelated gels, erasing image background and fragments which might have spoiled the narrative, or reusing old published pictures as new results. Many of the authors of such manipulated papers are meanwhile professors and directors of institutes, some also act as academic editors of scholarly journals. Nothing can touch them now, all they have to do when fingers are pointed on internet, is to sit it out until the evidence of misconduct turns into entertaining anecdotes of their wild youth.
These Millennial years, which became the Golden Age of Biological Imaging is why PubPeer is overflowing with evidence of grossly manipulated data from the period around late 1990ies till around 2010. It is not that scientists became more honest since, but they sure became more difficult to catch on data rigging. For one reason, gross image reuse or manipulation is rare these days, after the warning stories of research misconduct became widely known. Scientists probably returned to manipulating data the old way, by tweaking the experimental conditions or rigging samples in the lab. You can’t get caught on that until a colleague blows a whistle, and Academia has its long-honed ways of swiftly dealing with such despicable rat-finks. The other reason why evidence of data manipulation will soon become rare, is digitalisation of biological analytic technologies. As long as noone can force you to release your original gene expression analyses, microscopy files, code or spreadsheet quantifications, it is all up to your ingenuity. After all, your data is just a row of numbers, no IT or Photoshop skills needed there.
To celebrate the past Golden Age of Biological Imaging, I selected an example of the British cancer researcher Paul Workman, President and CEO of the huge Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) in Sutton, which is in greater London and part of the University of London. Workman, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry, received many awards and much funding thanks to his work on the heatshock protein 90 (HSP90), which his papers reliably validated as a druggable cancer target. Prof Workman is about to cure cancer, and indeed, his preclinical research on HSP90 has moved into clinical trials. Continue reading “Collages by Paul Workman, from the Golden Age of Biological Imaging”