Call to research integrity, or at least a minor revolution at CNRS

Call to research integrity, or at least a minor revolution at CNRS

When I first started digging into the affair of data manipulations around the former star of plant sciences Olivier Voinnet in early 2015, I was sure to be dealing with a singular case of fraud in French science, which went totally unnoticed for decades. When 2 years later I wrote “a fish stinks from the head down” in my article about Voinnet’s former Strasbourg plant sciences institute and its problematic director, I did not know how far up to the very top this data manipulation scandal will go. Now, it looks like the entire leadership of  the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), French state’s own network of research institutes, might be corrupted and rotten. Research and its integrity at this “largest fundamental research organization in Europe” are overseen by the very people whose own publications should be under investigation for suspected misconduct. A minor revolution is in order in French science, for which I would like to make a case here.

The new interim president of the entire CNRS of 32,000 research employees with the annual budget of €3.2 Billion, Anne Peyroche, has seen now her own publications flagged on PubPeer for data irregularities. In fact, PubPeer itself, which is run by two CNRS employees, seems to be in a pickle. They now vigorously police and delete attempts of criticisms of Peyroche papers. Is the whistleblowing site fighting for its survival, afraid that CNRS might impose its demise any time? How far is the CNRS’ leadership prepared to go, now that their power is threatened by the evidence of misconduct in their own papers?

Catherine Jessus, being the director of its l’Institut des sciences biologiques (INSB) basically the head biologist at CNRS, already reacted to a stream of evidence against her publications on my site and on PubPeer. No, she is apparently not going to check lab books or provide for original data. Instead she declared to her colleagues that CNRS will soon start a massive legal action against yours truly. If true, the State of France announced to soon set its power and resources upon a German blogger, yet the French media refuses to report anything until CNRS issues an official statement in this regard. This information I have from direct sources.

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CNRS hits back at the stream of misconduct evidence

CNRS hits back at the stream of misconduct evidence

The French scientific society CNRS, a huge country-wide network of research institutes and one of the most influential science institutions in Europe, had enough of me and my reporting. They now blocked me on Twitter, so I don’t spoil their celebration of a book by their senior director and chief of research integrity, Catherine Jessus. The book is titled “Étonnant vivant”, which translated roughly means “Amazing ways to improve your Life science publications with just a little bit of photoshop”. I previously reported about some examples of this art in Jessus publications, which CNRS did not really appreciate.

And of course CNRS did not take it lightly when my past reporting forced them to deal with the Olivier Voinnet affair, whose investigator was Jessus. Neither did they like my writings about another misconduct scandal she had very successfully kept under wraps, that around the former Voinnet postdoc Charles-Henri Lecellier, now CNRS group leader in Montpellier. What finally took the biscuit was my constant leaking of misconduct evidence and of internal information from the former Voinnet institute in Strasbourg,  Institut de Biologie Moléculaire des Plantes (IBMP), or as I keep proposing to rebrand it, The Olivier Voinnet Institute for Research Integrity in Plant Sciences. CNRS initially tried it nicely, by sending the IBMP deputy director Jean-Luc Evrard to call me “baby”, then “idiot”, while instructing all other institute employees never to communicate with me, and eventually CNRS simply blocked me on Twitter.

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On this occasion, I will now bring more evidence on data rigging inside IBMP. Before dumping new evidence about the IBMP director Laurence Maréchal-Drouard, let us start with something traditional and well known, namely Voinnet and his sidekick Patrice Dunoyer, whose IBMP lab was supposed to be dissolved, but maybe he managed to save himself with a recent publication in Nature Plants.

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Voinnet’s CNRS investigator Catherine Jessus with own data integrity issues

Voinnet’s CNRS investigator Catherine Jessus with own data integrity issues

More suspected data manipulations in the papers by the French elite biologists. It was funny enough when the director and several lead figures at the Strasbourg CNRS institute for plant sciences IBMP, former home of the master data manipulator Olivier Voinnet, and even the institute’s evaluators, were found to sport quite a lot of shifty-looking data in their papers. This time, the irony is just too much. Catherine Jessus, developmental biologist specialising on cell cycle research on oocytes and director of CNRS l’Institut des sciences biologiques (INSB) was in charge of two misconduct cases, and now the data integrity of her own papers is called in question. One investigation led by Jessus was about, whom else, Voinnet and his IBMP sidekick Patrice Dunoyer. In summer 2015, Voinnet was barred from CNRS for 2 years (which sounds worse than it is, because his professorship at ETH Zürich in Switzerland remained untouched, read here), and Dunoyer was suspended for one entire month. Jessus’ secret investigation ended with no documents whatsoever but a terse press release made available to outsiders. Both Voinnet and Dunoyer are by now back to publishing papers in prestigious journals.

Jessus was also in charge of dealing with the misconduct evidence against Voinnet’s former postdoc Charles-Henri Lecellier, whom the mighty plant scientist (according to my sources) banned from his Strasbourg lab because he did not trust his research results. It seems Lecellier started to fudge data already during his PhD at CNRS Hôpital Saint-Louis in Paris (PubPeer record here). Imagine how bad it must get that Voinnet expels you for data manipulation! The tenured CNRS researcher was hence moved out of Voinnet’s sight, to work as group leader at the Institut de Génétique Moléculaire de Montpellier, where he continued his own line of data rigging, helped by his trusted friend from IBMP, Guillaume Vetter (see my earlier reporting for a German magazine here and here). Apparently, with full protection from CNRS: in 2013 Jessus actively opposed on behalf of CNRS the impending retraction of a Lecellier co-authored paper, despite earlier misconduct findings against his partner Vetter at the University of Luxembourg (evidence here, especially this letter, example of data manipulations here).

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