Anil Sood and how much MD Anderson doesn’t care: whistleblowers speak out

Anil Sood and how much MD Anderson doesn’t care: whistleblowers speak out

My earlier article presented the worrisome research integrity record at the gigantic US cancer research hospital MD Anderson Cancer Center, part of the University of Texas in Houston. Its particular focus was the ovarian cancer researcher Anil Sood, professor of Gynecologic Oncology and Reproductive Medicine and co-director of Center for RNA Interference and Non-Coding RNAs at MD Anderson. Meanwhile I have been contacted by no less than 4 former Sood associates with their concerns, because they say MD Anderson does not take them seriously. A pseudonymous guest post by one of these whistleblowers, together with some evidence, is published below.

Sood’s record of appalling duplications of microscopy image and western blot bands in his papers is evident on PubPeer, no less than 40 papers are flagged, spanning so far a period from 2004 until now. The whistleblowers who contacted me now also accuse Sood of inappropriate data handling, since he was apparently removing or adjusting data points on a whim, and taught his lab members to do the same. The results based on this creatively acquired mouse experiment data as well as duplicated images served to initiate at MD Anderson a clinical trial with up to 90 “patients with histologic proof of advanced solid tumors ” to test a siRNA based therapy, this trial is lead by Sood’s associate Robert Coleman, who is professor at the same department.

Worst of all: MD Anderson doesn’t care about what happens in Sood’s lab. They do have guidelines for research integrity, printable as pdf, but those seem to serve as a kind of toilet paper to wipe professorial bums with. As a whistleblower informed me, nine researchers working on different projects in Sood’s lab complained to Office of Research Integrity (ORI) or MD Anderson’s own Research Integrity Officer (RIO) William Plunkett or Department Chairs or Ombuds Office or Dean of Graduate School, Michelle Barton, since August 2016. In fact, those who complained where told to find another job, or were dealt otherwise with. There never was any investigation, only “leak of confidentiality”, while the University of Texas graduate school keeps sending fresh students to learn at Sood’s lab. Meanwhile, as a whistleblower wrote: “Most Sood core members already escaped, and got a job thanks to their publication with suspected allegations“.

Continue reading “Anil Sood and how much MD Anderson doesn’t care: whistleblowers speak out”

The Costs of Knowledge: scientists want their cut on the scam

The Costs of Knowledge: scientists want their cut on the scam

When the mathematician Timothy Gowers, with some co-signers, started in 2012 his initiative “The Costs of Knowledge” to boycott Elsevier for their business practices, he was hoping to release science from the grip of commercial publishers. His reasoning went: with academics boycotting Elsevier en masse as authors, reviewers and editors, the commercial publisher would be forced to change its greedy ways, or the universities would separate themselves from the blackmail-like practice of Elsevier subscriptions (not that NatureSpringer, Wiley or others are much better in that regard). Meanwhile only 16800 people signed The Cost of Knowledge pledge, and some renounced on it silently. Open Access (OA) movement gained speed at roughly the same time, originally with the goal of reducing publication costs. Exactly the opposite was achieved, in fact what subscription publishers did was to usurp the OA movement for their greedy purpose, by subsidising OA conferences and feeding the egos of or simply doing business with those most vocal OA proponents. By now, same megapublishers sell so-called Gold OA on top or in addition to subscriptions; NatureSpringer and Elsevier became world’s biggest and second -biggest OA publishers, respectively.

University library budgets are near breakpoint, in fact Germany just now cancelled Elsevier subscriptions, in a desperate attempt to negotiate a better deal which would include both subscriptions and OA article-processing charges (APC). But some academics seem to have a different viewpoint on how to respond to publishers ripping off their own research institutions. They want their cut on the scam, namely to be paid for their peer review services. The idea is: since peer reviewing duties are not directly specified as such in faculty employment contracts, they must be then not a part of research activities, but a kind of voluntary charity to your peers, or in fact to commercial publishers. As journals and their for-profit owners (because even academic society-run journals are for-profit) make such big money publishing peer reviewed research, the peer reviewers want their share. And they don’t seem to spare a thought if science gets damaged beyond repair in the process.

incompetent referee

Continue reading “The Costs of Knowledge: scientists want their cut on the scam”

COPE, the publishers’ Trojan horse, calls to abolish retractions

COPE, the publishers’ Trojan horse, calls to abolish retractions

Four private scientists without any agenda whatsoever published a research result preprint on the portal BioRxiv. The “new results” reported in the article are actually new ideas which are just as good as any research results, because they are supposed to bring the field of scholarly communication forward. The question is, where to, and why should anyone go there. Because the idea is to abolish the only tool science now has at hand to punish research misconduct: retractions. Fraudulent papers are to receive instead an amendment, which will notify those particularly inclined readers that research data or ethics approval (for clinical studies) might have been falsified or missing. Those proposing to remove the only punitive measure available in scholarly publishing are in fact the very people who are supposed to be overseeing the editorial integrity. The goats whom science welcomed as gardeners now dropped the pretence and declared their true vision for the garden. Continue reading “COPE, the publishers’ Trojan horse, calls to abolish retractions”

Open Letter in support of my investigation of trachea transplants in Germany, by Rafael Cantera

Below a support letter by Rafael Cantera, professor of zoology at the University of Stockholm in Sweden, addressed to the leadership of the University Clinic Würzburg. This is because two professors of this German university, Thorsten Walles and Heike Mertsching (now Walles) chose to respond to my inquiries about their earlier trachea transplants made from pig intestine (see my detailed report here) with lawyers’ financial blackmail and right after, with court actions, which had me sentenced guilty with a  threat of a prison term of 6 months, without my prior knowledge (see case description here). Such are the peculiarities of German law: internet bloggers are basically  legally defined here by default as criminals, and professors as infallible and divine beings (in fact, even Walleses’ former boss and collaborator Paolo Macchiarini is still a protected adjunct professor at their former common place of work, the Medical University Hannover). I received lots of support from my readers, and was also invited to give an interview with the French magazine Mediapart (German version here). Now, I am deeply grateful to Prof. Cantera for his support, and hope other international and maybe even German academics join in and sign below.  Continue reading “Open Letter in support of my investigation of trachea transplants in Germany, by Rafael Cantera”

Mass investigation of 9 senior scientists at Karolinska Institutet

Mass investigation of 9 senior scientists at Karolinska Institutet

The scandal-shaken Swedish Karolinska Institutet (KI) invited nine of their research group leaders and professors to explain themselves about data integrity concerns raised in regard to their publications. They have time until November 24th 2016 to address of the suspicions of image duplications which were posted on PubPeer by anonymous watchdogs and subsequently reported to Karolinska by a whistleblower. This was the email the 9 scientists received on November 10th from Lisen Samuelsson of KI’s legal department:

“Karolinska Institutet (KI) has been notified about inaccuracies in one or more scientific articles according to comments on the website PubPeer. You are named as the main author of the article (s) in question.

KI therefore requests that you provide a statement regarding whether the alleged inaccuracies are correct or not. If there are inaccuracies in the article (s), KI requests that you specify whether they have been corrected, or if they will be corrected, and if so, how. Please submit your statement to KI at registrator@ki.se regarding this matter by November 24, 2016”.

dear-scientist

The email was complemented by a list of these scientists’ respective PubPeer-flagged publications. Most of these 9 addressees are very senior KI researchers, like Ulla Stenius and Boris Zhivotovsky. Here is the list, with some background information:

Continue reading “Mass investigation of 9 senior scientists at Karolinska Institutet”

Professor Macchiarini, because Medical University of Hannover wants it so

If these days you should bump into the miracle surgeon Paolo Macchiarini, do not just greet him with some offhand “Ciao Paolo”. But also “Hello, Doctor Macchiarini” would not be respectful enough. As a saying goes among German clinicians: you must take your time, namely by addressing the great man in full as “Professor Doctor Macchiarini”. As we know, after investigations into the deaths and mutilation of a large number of his patients, the former star of regenerative medicine was sacked from his professorship at the Swedish Karolinska Institutet (KI), so that title is now definitely gone. Macchiarini’s other professorships which he used to convincingly carry in his CV, namely those from the University of Paris in France and University of Florence in Italy, proved to be fictional (see also KI report here). However, his adjunct professorship from the Medical University of Hannover (Medizinische Hochschule Hannover, MHH) in Germany is very much real. Here for a change it is not Macchiarini who is cheating, but the German university which allows him to carry that academic title against the state’s law on adjunct professorship, which binds it to ongoing teaching duties. Fortunately, the federal state of Lower Saxony (which owns this Hannover university) doesn’t seem to mind either. In fact, their officer for data protection told me it was none of my business asking whether Professor Macchiarini had been giving any lectures at MHH in the last years. Continue reading “Professor Macchiarini, because Medical University of Hannover wants it so”

Wellcoming the samizdat publishing revolution

Wellcoming the samizdat publishing revolution

The British research funder Wellcome Trust (now just Wellcome) is about to launch its own journal, where the funding recipients and their collaborators are invited to published their research free of charge (since Wellcome will be covering those costs). Wellcome Open Research will be open access (OA) and offer fully transparent post-publication peer review, i.e. all reviewer reports, manuscript versions as well as reviewer identities will be posted alongside the final articles. Manuscripts which received peer review approval will become proper research papers and feature accordingly on PubMed and other databases. Wellcome specifically invites scientists to publish negative and null results as well as databases. Importantly, the funder also promotes data sharing through “inclusion of supporting data”. The platform on which Wellcome Open Research will operate is that of F1000Research, a post-publication peer review journal which prides itself of its open science approach.

This sounds like excellent news for science, which is plagued by irreproducibility and misconduct crises, and many welcomed the Wellcome initiative, hoping that other national funding agencies in Europe, North America and elsewhere might follow. It is indeed the first serious attempt by a major western funder to move away from publisher-dependence towards a “samizdat”, a self-publishing service run exclusively for own researchers and their partners. However, a similar model of university press proved unsuccessful before and never became accepted by the scientific community. Therefore, some are sceptical that this Wellcome publishing enterprise may ever take off. Continue reading “Wellcoming the samizdat publishing revolution”