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”

Does ERC help cheaters pay protection money?

Does ERC help cheaters pay protection money?

Did you ever wonder why certain zombie scientists were still in academic jobs? Despite having been caught on data manipulation or biomedical ethics breach?

It seems the answer is simpler than you thought. They are paying for their protection, by giving pizzo to their crooked research institutions, just as in some unoriginal mafia film. Well, actually YOU are paying their pizzo, through your taxes, which in turn are awarded to these zombie scientists as public research funding, from the national, international and European funding agencies. In fact, the most prestigious and self-important European funding agency ERC is completely unprepared or maybe just unwilling to respond to evidence of research misconduct by their elite grant recipients.  

My understanding is provocative, and I may be utterly wrong. But absent of any reasonable alternative explanations, let us for a moment go with this one. I will provide you with examples where questionable European scientists surprisingly retained their European funding unquestioned (or even received fresh millions of Euros), and coincidently or not,  many institutions did not at all mind to keep them in their jobs. Continue reading “Does ERC help cheaters pay protection money?”

Regenerating in Hannover, Part 2: Axel Haverich’s “growing” heart valves

Regenerating in Hannover, Part 2: Axel Haverich’s “growing” heart valves

The science of the fallen star of regenerative medicine Paulo Macchiarini was simple: take a dead organ, strip it of its cells and seed the carcass with stem cells (usually the magic cells from bone marrow). After some days in a “bioreactor”, you take out a living trachea, esophagus, even heart, and implant it into a patient. Another human life saved, and not only media, even scientist colleagues fell for this outrageous quackery. As the result of this hubris, several patients died, others remained in permanent critical care. Macchiarini and his partners Philipp Jungebluth, Martin Birchall and others had to fake ethics approvals as well as to lie and cheat about medical records in their publications in The Lancet, all in order to present a miserably suffering recipient of a ”regenerated” trachea as fully recovered. Animal experiments were performed only after Macchiarini’s team operated their first human patient, as indirectly evidenced by Jungebluth’s own doctorate thesis at the Medical University Hannover (MHH) in Germany.

Macchiarini began to develop his “decell-recell” method of organ regeneration while working in Hannover, close to the renowned heart surgeon and MHH clinic director, Axel Haverich (see Part 1 for the background). In 2009, the Italian cheater then moved on to a professorship at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, where he was showered in funding money and received best institutional protection, despite his patient abuse and his lies about his qualifications. Continue reading “Regenerating in Hannover, Part 2: Axel Haverich’s “growing” heart valves”

Pontus Boström: cheater carousel in Sweden

Pontus Boström: cheater carousel in Sweden

Sweden is a tolerant country, which is a very good thing. Unfortunately, sometimes this Swedish tolerance seems ill-advised. Dishonest scientists caught faking data are happily given another chance and fat funding, like the case of the diabetes researcher Pontus Boström shows.

This scientist was found to have fabricated data during his PhD studies with late Sven‐Olof Olofsson at the University of Gothenburg, and went afterwards to publish a seminal paper in Nature with the biggest godfather of the diabetes research field, Bruce Spiegelman. Also this high-impact study turned out to be irreproducible by other researchers and a likely artefact of erroneous antibody use. Yet due to his impressive publishing record and unwavering support of the mighty Spiegelman, Boström was invited to head a group leader position at several Swedish universities, while he settled on the best offer by the Department of Cell and Molecular Biology at the prestigious Karolinska Institutet (KI) in Stockholm, supported by the elite EU funder ERC.  All despite his previous convictions of research misconduct in Gothenburg and ensuing retractions of two meeting abstracts, which were at all times perfectly known to all parties involved. Continue reading “Pontus Boström: cheater carousel in Sweden”

The 3rd editor and failure of ‘proper channels’

The 3rd editor and failure of ‘proper channels’

A scientist finds serious measurement errors in three publications of his former collaborators. He alerts the journals and makes his concerns public, openly under his own name. The errors would make obsolete several key observations of an established German neurophysiology lab. Indeed, one journal retracts the criticised paper, another issues a correction describing the affected results as “not reliable”. The Editor-in-Chief of the third journal however accuses the whistle-blower of unspecified conflict of interests and retracts his already published letter to editor, in the process tainting his reputation with a public insinuation of research misconduct.

Here is this story in detail. Continue reading “The 3rd editor and failure of ‘proper channels’”

False priorities at EU2016NL: Mandate Open Data instead of Gold Open Access!

False priorities at EU2016NL: Mandate Open Data instead of Gold Open Access!

Open Science is these days largely about mandatory publishing in Open Access (OA), regardless of the costs to poorer scientists or the universities which already struggle to pay horrendous subscription fees. Meanwhile, publishers openly declare that the so-called Gold (author-pays) OA will be much more expensive than even current subscription rates, yet wealthy western institutions like the Dutch university network VSNU or the German Max Planck Society do not seem troubled by this at all. They seriously expect the publishing oligopoly of Elsevier, SpringerNature and Wiley to lower the costs for Gold OA later on, out of the goodness of their hearts (as this winter’s invitation-only Berlin12 OA conference suggests).

At the last major Open Science conference in Amsterdam on April 4-5 (EU2016NL) the EU Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation, Carlos Moedas and EC Director-General for Research and Innovation, Robert-Jan Smits, announced to achieve the flip to Gold OA by 2020. Open Data, on the other hand, is just a buzzword to them.

Below, I will argue that Open Data is much more important than OA, which in turn will be much cheaper and easier to achieve once unconditional sharing of research data is in place. Continue reading “False priorities at EU2016NL: Mandate Open Data instead of Gold Open Access!”

The stem cell faith healers, or magic inside your bone marrow

The stem cell faith healers, or magic inside your bone marrow

Bone marrow stem cells are magic, they can do everything. If you don’t believe it, you are simply a loser scientist and will never get funded.

Prior to his bombastic fall from grace, the celebrity surgeon and professor of regenerative medicine Paolo Macchiarini was considered a genius stem cell wizard and a miracle healer. He not only fully trusted bone marrow cells to generate any kind of tissue inside his patients, nay, he also published his results in highest profile journals like The Lancet (which, by standard academic definition, is proof enough that his theory and methods were valid). Macchiarini did not chase money, neither funding nor salary, it was chasing him. Even after media revealed mass patient deaths and gross inconsistency between Macchiarini’s published reports and the actual medical files of his patients, the Elsevier-run Lancet is reluctant to retract his papers.

Simply put, the faith in the force of the bone marrow stem cells is stronger than their science. These cells are often referred to as mesenchymal stem cells; basically they are those undifferentiated cells from the bone marrow which do not carry the established markers of hematopoietic (blood-generating) stem cells.  What these “mesenchymal stem cells” are actually a mixture of, and which types of cells or tissues they are really able to differentiate into, is still a subject of an ongoing research. Unless you are a stem cell believer, that is, then you don’t bother with such details. Continue reading “The stem cell faith healers, or magic inside your bone marrow”