Oncogene EiC Justin Stebbing, a hypocrite of research integrity?

Oncogene EiC Justin Stebbing, a hypocrite of research integrity?

The cancer research journal Oncogene issued on October 16th 2017 an Editorial on the topic of research integrity:

“The importance of being earnest in post-publication review: scientific fraud and the scourges of anonymity and excuses”.

The editorial contains a list of 8 common excuses dishonest authors used to escape responsibility for manipulated data. It was authored by David Sanders, virologist and professor at the Department of Biological Sciences at the Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, US, as well as Justin Stebbing, professor of cancer medicine and oncology at the Imperial College London, UK, who is also one of the two Editors-in-Chief (EiC) of the journal Oncogene. Sander is one of these rare brave academics who is unafraid to call out scientific misconduct while his peers hide in the bushes and instead even point fingers at whistleblowers like him. As the newspaper USA Today wrote earlier this year, Sanders made himself a very powerful enemy, the star US cancer researcher with Italian origins, Carlo Croce:

“But that didn’t stop Sanders from alleging that Dr. Carlo Croce, a prominent cancer researcher at Ohio State University, falsified data or plagiarized text in more than two dozen articles Croce has authored. For the past two-plus years, Sanders has contacted scientific journals in which the articles appeared to alert them of his concerns. Earlier this month, he went more public with his claims in an investigative piece by the New York Times that delved into years of ethics charges against Croce.

“There are, and I anticipate there will be additional, consequences for my career,” Sanders said Tuesday afternoon while sitting in his office inside the Hockmeyer Hall of Structural Biology at Purdue.

This isn’t the first time Sanders has publicly accused a scientist of bad behavior. In 2012, Sanders had an article by a former colleague retracted on the basis that the colleague used their former deceased research partner’s data in the paper without permission”.

A long article appeared in The New York Times prior to that, “Years of Ethics Charges, but Star Cancer Researcher Gets a Pass“, detailing the case of Carlo Croce and the role of Sanders the whistleblower, and the Ohio State University, who were mostly covering up the affair. Croce hit back: he is now suing the newspaper, and in separate lawsuit, also Sanders at a New York court, as reported by Retraction Watch.

Hence, Sanders knows first-hand what research misconduct is and how to act upon it. Indeed, the editorial was his idea, and his co-author Stebbing joined afterwards. As Sanders wrote to me:

“The impulse for the editorial and the list was from me.  We discussed the inclusion of particular items and how they were described together”.

Stebbing indeed is not much of a whistleblower, quite the opposite, he can be in fact seen as victim of such. His own publication was heavily criticised on PubPeer, for suspected western blot band duplications. And the piquant bit is: Stebbings, together with his first author  Georgios Giamas (now Reader in Biochemistry at the University of Sussex, UK) offered on PubPeer explanations which sound very much as what he himself has been ridiculing in the Sanders & Stebbing editorial in his journal Oncogene. Continue reading “Oncogene EiC Justin Stebbing, a hypocrite of research integrity?”

On Western blot loading controls: lessons from Richard Moriggl lab

On Western blot loading controls: lessons from Richard Moriggl lab

Western blot, a method to separate proteins by size and analyse their relative expression levels, is a much maligned technique of molecular cell biology. The website PubPeer is flooded with evidence of manipulated Western blots, where gel lanes were inappropriately spliced, or where bands digitally duplicated or erased. Some even question the technology as such, since it is indeed mostly Western Blots (and other gels, like Northern Blots for RNA or Southern Blots for DNA or RNA PCR-amplification gels) which are flagged for image manipulation.

It is however not the technology to blame for all the rigging done with it, but the simple fact that it is image based. Anyone with a minimum of image analysis skills or a good eye for duplications can spot Western Blot manipulations. You do not need to be an expert in the technology or even a biologist, to find data rigging. This is exactly why a certain aberration in Western Blot integrity is often either overlooked or dismissed as incompetent nitpicking: the absence of proper loading controls. Just like it seems to be occasionally the case in the publications from the lab of Richard Moriggl, director of the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute Cancer Research and professor at the Medical University of Vienna, Austria. The Moriggl lab studies molecular signalling in cancer cells and tissues, hence its focus on the analysis of regulatory protein phosphorylation and how it changes under various conditions. Such analysis must be always supported by proper gel loading controls, which seems not always be the case here. A reader of my site contacted me with some examples of such inappropriate gel presentation in Moriggl papers, some of which he already posted on PubPeer.

Continue reading “On Western blot loading controls: lessons from Richard Moriggl lab”

Carol Prives, innocent victim of Susana Gonzalez’ data manipulations?

Carol Prives, innocent victim of Susana Gonzalez’ data manipulations?

Recent news brought us yet another retraction of the Spanish zombie scientist Susana Gonzalez, formerly famous for her impactful ERC-funded research into stem cells and ageing. It is her fifth retraction (others here), and meanwhile Gonzalez is not even a zombie scientist anymore. She has no research group in her new Madrid institute, noone in Spain wants to work in the same building with her, in fact though she is still formally employed with the Spanish Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC), it seems she stopped coming to work long ago, being on an endless sick leave. Even the European Research Council (ERC), usually most accommodating with research misconduct of their elite grant recipients, didn’t know what to do with Gonzalez suspended €2Mn grant and eventually terminated it.

The recent Gonzalez retraction at the  Molecular and Cellular Biology (MCB) is interesting in two aspects. First, Retraction Watch previously chastised the journal in a headline for allegedly refusing to investigate evidence of data manipulations in papers older than 6 years (read here). No reference is made to that “smear” accusation in the current Retraction Watch article on Gonzalez retraction.  But the second aspect is really much more intriguing. The retracted MCB paper, from Gonzalez period as postdoc at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) in New York, was coauthored by the US researcher Carol Prives, professor at the Columbia University in New York, and specialist for the cell cycle control protein p53: Continue reading “Carol Prives, innocent victim of Susana Gonzalez’ data manipulations?”

The PubPeer Stars of Weizmann Institute

The PubPeer Stars of Weizmann Institute

Journals generally avoid acting on data manipulation, unless forced to by investigations from universities and research institutions. The Lancet‘s current stance on Macchiarini (and previously Wakefield) affair is probably the most dangerous example. Practically at every single research integrity conference (which are usually organised by major publishers like Elsevier), publishing executives preach that journals should never be asked to deal with data manipulations in papers they publish,  but only respond to the final results of institutional investigations.

Actually, even there journals prefer not to retract as requested, as Science did in the case of Olivier Voinnet. On the other hand, some publishers are ready to forgive all misconduct when a unrepentant cheater offers them a new hot paper. Nature Publishing group, EMBO Press and even the publisher lobby group COPE recently protested against journals’ cheater blacklists, in connection with the data-faking plant researcher Patrice Dunoyer, a past Voinnet associate (his story here). And some journals even openly take the side of cheater scientists, while attacking PubPeer whistleblowers, as F1000 Research seemingly did, see tweet below.

Scholarly journals mostly act like grocery shops, which despite better knowledge refuse to remove contaminated foods off the shelves until manufacturer’s official recall, regardless of how many glass shards were found inside. It therefore lies in the hands of research institutions when fraud and cheating continue unabated, while research community is fooled and robbed, left alone with futile attempts to reproduce dishonest papers full of secret data manipulations. Yet this is exactly what Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel is good at:

The Art of Not Investigating

The following article lists Weizmann scientists with some serious evidence on PubPeer against the trustworthiness of their research. Before this elite institution from Rehovot, that most famous biomedical research centre in Israel, dismisses my article as anti-Semitic slander of an obscure German Nazi blogger, they should first try it with declaring me an assimilation-corrupted, self-hating diaspora Jew. Continue reading “The PubPeer Stars of Weizmann Institute”

Anil Sood and other questionable stars of MD Anderson

Anil Sood and other questionable stars of MD Anderson

The MD Anderson Cancer Center, part of the University of Texas and located in Houston, is a giant hub of huge cancer research money, even for US standards. They also do a lot of science there, which only purpose seems to be publishing in big journals in order to generate even more money. If there is any genuine interest to help cancer patients with actual research: this stands in a stark contrast with MD Anderson’s evident attitude to research reproducibility and data integrity. A number of their star researchers who published in most respectable journals papers, had their data flagged on the whistleblowing platform PubPeer as highly problematic. Yet MD Anderson apparently cannot care less. Their star cancer researcher and businessman Raghu Kalluri was never investigated for many problems in his publications, either in those with or those without his misconduct-tainted Portuguese co-author and ex-MD Anderson employee Sonia Melo. When nobody ever investigates your research practices (e.g., because your research institution is blinded by the investor money you brought in), you will per definition never be found guilty of any misconduct. This is probably exactly why the elite journal Nature recently accepted a new paper from the Kalluri lab (Kamerkar et al 2017), on the same topic of exosomes as cancer biomarkers as his irreproducible earlier masterpiece with Melo (Melo et al, Nature 2015). The new Nature paper even again features the same disgraced co-author, who lost a Nature Genetics paper (Melo et al, 2009) and her EMBO Young Investigator funding due to data manipulation.

There is more evidence for research misconduct at MD Anderson. Continue reading “Anil Sood and other questionable stars of MD Anderson”

Melo and Kalluri defend discredited Nature paper with preprint, where they admit data “adjustments”

Melo and Kalluri defend discredited Nature paper with preprint, where they admit data “adjustments”

Sonia Melo, the Portuguese cheater scientist and her former US-boss Raghu Kalluri issued some days ago a biorxive preprint, which sole purpose is to defend their discredited Nature paper from 2015. There, they originally claimed to have found a unique biomarker for early pancreatic cancer, a much hailed promise to save lives of many cancer patients. However, soon it was found out that the results were not reproducible, the Nature paper Melo et al, 2015 contained evidence of data manipulation (just like other Melo publications with Kalluri and her PhD boss Manel Esteller). The antibody, on which the central evidence for the allegedly unique pancreatic cancer biomarker glypican 1 (GPC1) was based, proved to be delivering staining artefacts; the vendor Thermo Scientific soon discontinued it. Even Kalluri seemingly distanced himself from his results.

Now in their new preprint, Melo and Kalluri claimed to have perfectly reproduced their original 2015 GPC1 results with a new antibody, which however proved to be likely exactly the same as the old one, but sold by a different vendor.  As soon as this became known, the authors issued a new preprint version just two days later, featuring yet another entirely new GPC1 antibody, with an utterly new set of results to complement the 6 day older ones.  However, also these results are most likely useless. The authors namely freely admit in their preprint method description to have intentionally manipulated their flow cytometry (FACS) data to obtain a positive signal specifically where needed. It seems that one full professor and three research group leaders have absolutely no understanding about data integrity in flow cytometry (or maybe even in research in general). Obviously, they simply adjust the FACS settings for each sample in an analytic row any way it pleases them until they see a result they like. As they don’t even hide it, they seem to think this is the proper way to do science. Continue reading “Melo and Kalluri defend discredited Nature paper with preprint, where they admit data “adjustments””

Pfizer announces more retractions for sacked lab head Min-Jean Yin, whistleblower revealed

The pharma giant Pfizer announced to continue investigating the data manipulations committed by their former cancer researcher Min-Jean Yin, retractions of two more publications were requested and yet another paper’s fate is being currently decided. Again it is about studies of pharmacological inhibitors of cancer molecular pathways which Yin’s former lab at the Pfizer California research site has faked. These two retraction requests come is addition to 5 Yin retractions which Pfizer already announced on my site in October 2016 and which meanwhile happened. The PubPeer-listed evidence was first presented on my site in May 2016. Back then, the reader of my site, who posted that evidence of duplicated western blots on PubPeer and alerted me to it, preferred to remain unnamed. Now however, she agreed to be named: it was the microbiologist, image integrity specialist and host of the successful public outreach blog Microbiome Digest, Elisabeth Bik. She now forwarded to me this message: Continue reading “Pfizer announces more retractions for sacked lab head Min-Jean Yin, whistleblower revealed”