The court trial against me by German trachea transplanters Heike and Thorsten Walles ended with the settlement in the appeal court in Bamberg. A costly one, which I had to accept, giving the danger of seeing me and my family driven to bankruptcy before the next very costly court instance can even be invoked for my defence, what with the two impending court fines for the alleged breach of the injunction Walles passed against me with the help of a certain evidence-allergic judge in Würzburg. My legal costs tally up to at least €12,000 and I am now stuck with those. On the plus side, none of my own and my generous donors’ money goes to Walles, they have to pay their own lawyers and half of the court fees, which made them very fuming and livid indeed, as their behaviour in the court room showcased. There the married trachea transplanters also made clear that they saw the operation on their 3 patients (described here and here) as successful research. This Walles stance is unblemished by the undisputed fact that their patients received no actual health benefits from those pig-intestine-based tracheal grafts whatsoever, in fact it looks quite the opposite. Thing is, those 3 operations were all performed in 2003, 2007 and 2009 as compassionate use, without any previous animal experiments, appropriate safety tests or in fact any ethics approvals. A question rises if, or rather how far Walles breached the Nuremberg Code of 1947 and the German medicinal product law, which forbid exactly that kind of research on patients. Continue reading “Walles court trial against me ends with “amicable settlement””
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?
Every academic will probably agree that plagiarism is wrong. It is absolutely not OK to pass someone’s else’s intellectual work as one’s own. Plagiarised research papers get retracted regularly, on several occasions plagiarism in dissertation led to withdrawal of doctorate, most notably among several German politicians. There is however one aspect of academic life where plagiarism is so normal that the parties involved do not even consider it to be plagiarism, neither the plagiarist, nor the victim of plagiarism. It is the academic peer review, the process where research colleagues are invited by journal editors to submit their expert opinion on the scientific quality of the manuscript under editorial consideration. and it is not the incompetent youth plagiarising there, but professors, principal investigators (PIs), research institute directors and clinic heads. Our academic elite plagiarises daily, without anyone even raising an eyebrow. Continue reading “Peer review ghost-writing, or do professors understand plagiarism?”
The German trachea transplanters Heike and Thorsten Walles treated the 3 patients with their pig-intestine-based tracheal transplants (one of them performed with Paolo Macchiarini). They are currently suing me in court for reporting about those, while their employer, the University of Würzburg, investigates these tracheal transplants together with the evidence for blatant data manipulations in several Walles publications on suspicion of misconduct. None of those 3 patients is alive today, yet Walles insist that neither of their transplant operations was in any way related to the patients deaths or that it might have reduced their quality of life. They keep declaring those operations as resounding successes, free from any evidence, though the last transplant was performed in 2009 and never again. A corresponding clinical trial, financed by the German Ministry of Education and Research with €1.5 Million between 2009 and 2015 (and briefly mentioned at the beginning of the PEI letter), did not achieve even a single milestone. Not even animal experiments were permitted by the responsible watchdog institution, the Paul Ehrlich Institute (PEI). For almost 7 months, PEI refused to answer my Freedom of Information inquiry. It seems however, my complaints to authorities and the Federal Ministry of Health, finally had an effect.
The Swedish Karolinska Institutet (KI) has investigated its own cell biologist and well-funded autophagy researcher Helin Vakifahmetoglu-Norberg, following my publishing of a dossier with evidence for data manipulations in her papers. Also PubPeer evidence was considered. This was a second investigation of Vakifahmetoglu-Norberg, who was fully acquitted by KI already in 2016. While the new KI investigation progressed, one of Vakifahmetoglu-Norberg’s publications was retracted (Shen et al, Oncogene 2008), due to image duplications and unavailability of original data. With their second decision, KI again exonerated Vakifahmetoglu-Norberg from all suspicions. One of the reasons was: since the Shen et al 2008 is retracted, it ceases to exist. Hence, all image duplications it shares with other Vakifahmetoglu-Norberg papers cease existing also. Other arguments were the author’s assertions to have reproduced more than 10 year old results faithfully (since the original data was unavailable), or her presenting evidence that similar looking images were in fact dissimilar. Unfortunately, where such original data could be recovered, it was shown only to internal investigators at KI, noone else. The case is closed, no appeal is possible. There will be no corrections even, unless journals do the unlikely thing and decide not to accept the KI decision.
Another Vakifahmetoglu paper (Imreh et al, J Cell Biol. 2011) is still under KI investigation but she has officially nothing to do with it. KI announced to follow this through with her former boss and the paper’s last author, Boris Zhivotovsky. He is under another KI investigation already, together with several of his colleagues including the department’s prefect Ulla Stenius (see my report here), who received the KI letter about Vakifahmetoglu whitewashing in cc. Continue reading “Data manipulation evidence in Helin Vakifahmetoglu papers “warrants no further consideration””
A major misconduct finding hits German life sciences. Karl Lenhard Rudolph, stem cell and ageing researcher, director of the Fritz-Lippmann-Institute (FLI) of the Leibniz Society, was found guilty of research misconduct by an investigation of the Leibniz Society, in a decision published on June 15th. 11 papers in total were investigated, going back as far as 2001. One paper is to be retracted, seven Errata were requested. The investigation confirmed duplications of image parts, inappropriate splicing, rigged loading controls etc. No original data or lab books were available.
Just in Mai 2016, Rudolph’s FLI was raided by the police “on suspected breaches of the animal welfare and drug law, as well as embezzlement” . All animal experimenting was stopped till present day, according to Radio Jena, other sources quoted Rudolph in May 2017 that mouse experiments were approved again, though the police investigation continued. Rudolph also admitted that his own lab was also part of the problem and that 13,000 mice were killed unnecessarily. Was Leibniz Society’s recent tough and public disciplinary action upon FLI director Rudolph the consequence?
The translated report on Rudolph’s research misconduct (my own version) is published below, the German original is here. I have not yet determined which publications from Rudolph lab were investigated, but 5 Rudolph papers were previously flagged on PubPeer. His institute, located in the Eastern German town of Jena, is now banned from Leibniz funding for 3 years, FLI now must report back to the Leibniz Executive Board until November 1st 2017 on the improvements regarding data documentation, quality control as well as tutoring and supervision of employees. Continue reading “German Leibniz institute director Karl Lenhard Rudolph guilty of misconduct”
The court litigation of the German trachea transplanters Heike and Thorsten Walles against me and my reporting has moved into the appeal stage. The appeal hearing will be on July 3rd 2017 in the Bavarian Higher State Court (Oberlandesgericht) in Bamberg. At the same time, the Walles case turns into an institutional conspiracy farce straight of a bad spy novel, which seems to go up to the very top, including the German government.
The central German watchdog on regenerative medicine, the Paul Ehrlich Institute (PEI), keeps breaking German federal law on Freedom of Information (FOI, Informationsfreiheitsgesetz) by refusing to comment on the legality of the 3 tracheal transplants Walles performed (one of them with Paolo Macchiarini). The FOI oversight authority (Bundesbeauftragter für Informationsfreiheit) failed despite several attempts to get PEI to adhere to this federal law and gave up, after admitting to me to lack any means to enforce it. My repeated complaints to the German Federal Ministry of Health, under whose roof PEI operates, did not even achieve an acknowledgement of receipt.
Meanwhile, their current employer, the University of Würzburg, has widened its misconduct investigations against Walles, to collaborate with their past employer, the Hannover Medical School (MHH) and the hospital where two tracheal transplants were performed by Thorsten Walles, the Clinic Schillerhöhe in Stuttgart. It is another question how collaborative or in fact keen on investigating anything at all these two institutions will be. The Stuttgart hospital decided to transplant two patients in 2007 and 2009 with Walles-made pig-intestine-based tracheal grafts in absence of own internal ethics review board and without procuring an ethics vote from an appropriate external institution (instead, they approached an inappropriate one, were sent away, and published this refusal of ethics opinion as an ethics approval).
The medical university MHH on the other hand seems to have no clue what medical ethics are. Just recently, they declared the MD dissertation of Macchiarini’s student Philipp Jungebluth to be utterly unproblematic and refused to investigate it. In light of this and a previous incident (see below), it appears MHH sees foreign patients abroad to be equivalent to research animals.
Even more significant about the widening of the Würzburg investigation is namely who apparently decided not to participate in it.