French Biologists: CNRS-Sorbonne investigators “totally incompetent”, data manipulations in Jessus papers “intentionally fraudulent forgeries”

French Biologists: CNRS-Sorbonne investigators “totally incompetent”, data manipulations in Jessus papers “intentionally fraudulent forgeries”

The revolution in French science has begun, and its target is the corrupt elite who betrayed against basic principles of research integrity and conspired to protect one of their own, the CNRS chief biologist Catherine Jessus. French scientists seem to finally have enough of watching fraudsters eat cake and now storm the Bastille.

Much of evidence of data manipulation in papers from Jessus’ lab was originally forwarded to me by my readers and reported on my site, I then posted it also on PubPeer. Under mounting pressure from her peers, Jessus started to correct some of her papers, and eventually her employer CNRS, Europe-largest network of research institutes, decided to switch to attack mode of defence. Sorbonne University in Paris, where Jessus holds a professorship, delivered an outrageous whitewashing report about Jessus’s data manipulations, which were either declared to be minor errors, or denied outright, or even declared to be actually good scientific practice, all despite absence of original data. The authors of that opus hid their identity, but one was eventually exposed by my sources: Francis-André Wollman, an elite CNRS and Sorbonne biologist. I was personally accused of libellous slander in a CNRS press release, which also announced to persecute those raising misconduct allegations, while urging French researchers to “collective vigilance” against such traitors. CNRS new president Antoine Petit, whose predecessor Anne Peyroche was deposed after my reporting about data manipulations in her own papers, then announced to smoke out anonymous PubPeer commenters using IT tools of deep surveillance.

Yesterday, an Open Letter has been published on the website Sauvons l’Université ! , authored by around 10 unnamed French biologists. It plucks apart the Sorbonne report of Jessus papers and declares:

“We, geneticists, biochemists, cell and molecular biologists, have read this report, have analysed, criticised it point by point and can conclude that all the arguments of the Inquiry Commission are against all common rules of good scientific practice and of the interpretation of results, which form the basis of research integrity. Worse, and that is the reason that led us to react (see our open letter), it encourages image manipulations which are nevertheless recognized as fabrications and falsifications of results”.

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Flawed cytometry of Rector Giorgio Zauli

Flawed cytometry of Rector Giorgio Zauli

Giorgio Zauli is Italian clinical haematologist and cancer researcher, who used to be director of Burlo Garofolo Pediatric Institute in Trieste, till in 2015 he was appointed Rector of the respected University of Ferrara. In this position he might soon be investigating his own papers, because given the massive evidence uncovered by the pseudonymous data integrity sleuth Clare Francis and others, Zauli seems to become a second Alfredo Fusco, and given his Rector status, probably just as unshakable. In Italy, science and politics are unhealthily interconnected, as demonstrated by the deadly scandal of Paolo Macchiarini in Florence. In any case, the list of gross irregularities in Zauli’s papers on PubPeer grows daily.

Zauli’s impressive publishing record consists of almost 200 first- and last-author papers in prestigious journals and his h-index bears the impressive size of 57. Some of this academic output, largely co-authored by his close associate and head of his department in Ferrara, Paola Secchiero (h-index 41), was achieved by their rather questionable attitude to data integrity. Of course we have the usual: western blots with duplicated gel lanes and bands re-appearing in several figures and papers, standing in for different experiments and even different patients. This article however will focus on Zauli’s flow cytometry studies, and how such data in his publications apparently got manipulated in a way which is supposed to provide deniability should the authors ever be caught.

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The Perennial Northern Blot of Lopez-Otin

The Perennial Northern Blot of Lopez-Otin

On the Iberian peninsula, there seems to be a tradition to give well-connected scientists suspected (or even convinced) of data fudging an award. In Spain, Carlos López-Otín, Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Oviedo, was given a Mentoring Award from the elite journal Nature, on recommendation from Spanish academia and despite evidence of data irregularities in his papers. This prompted my readers, in particular the famous pseudonymous data integrity sleuth Clare Francis, to comment on on PubPeer and on my site (as “Zebedee”) with additional evidence, which made Lopez-Otin’s scientific credibility look progressively worse and worse, with each new post.

Eventually, an image of a Northern blot (showing expression of mRNAs which code for proteins) was found to appear recurrently across several papers from that Oviedo lab, where the authors pretended it was a newly produced analysis. In reality, it was a “library” loading control reused so the authors could re-run same RNA gel of human tissue lysates over the years and never check ever again what they have actually loaded on their gels. Eventually Lopez-Otin et al even stopped caring what order of samples that original loading control had.

Clare Francis was soon joined on his quest for the Perennial Northern Blot of Oviedo by Elisabeth Bik, famous microbiology blogger and image duplication detective, and my regular contributor (also pseudonymous) Smut Clyde, who now presents you the findings of no less than 23 appearances of that same northern blot in 23 publications from Lopez-Otin’s lab in the guest post below. It is just as convincing as if the Spanish actor Antonio Banderas appeared in 23 different films still dressed in same costume from his 1995 hit Desperado, carrying same guitar case. Incidentally, also Lopez-Otin’s Perennial Northern Blot made its first appearance at around that year.
Continue reading “The Perennial Northern Blot of Lopez-Otin”

Lill space-time-blot anomaly in Marburg

Lill space-time-blot anomaly in Marburg

The biochemistry research lab of professor Roland Lill at the Philipps University Marburg in Germany is a place where space, time and western blot continuum collapses into an anomalous singularity, where paradoxes abound, but only one fact remains certain:  there was never any data manipulation in the lab of this senator of the German Research Council (DFG). Only misunderstandings (here) and solid science, with sometimes unorthodox figure assembly methods (here).

One of those anomalies is the recent correction by Lill and his former PhD student Heike Lange (now tenured CNRS researcher at The Olivier Voinnet Institute for Research Integrity in Plant Sciences (IBMP) in Strasbourg, France, published in the prestigious journal PNAS in March 2018. A western blot was found to contain duplicated, triplicated and mirrored bands, and was replaced with a version of same gel, its irregularities fixed. What exactly the new old figure shows, is not clear. The Ombudsman of Marburg University insists that no digital image versions of the western blot exist, only some almost two decade old thermo-paper printouts which were shared only with PNAS. Neither can those archive documents be scanned or photographed, as it will probably either destroy them, or alter the results they show. A PNAS editor however admitted to me that the correction actually shows a pdf file which the authors Lill and Lange supplied by email, a gel image which again seems to be different from the original thermoprinter records. Yet also this digital pdf file cannot be shared, probably because otherwise the time-space continuum will collapse and our universe, or at least the Marburg lab of DFG Senator Lill might end up teleported back into the year 1999, when the prints were made. And anyway, all two decade old experiments were faithfully reproduced by the Lill lab just now, using exactly same reagents. Those results however are also apparently not for sharing.

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Salk Gandalf Tony Hunter gets AACR prize for magic western blots

Salk Gandalf Tony Hunter gets AACR prize for magic western blots

Gandalf the Wizard has been awarded €75k in cash and Pezcoller-AACR International Award for Extraordinary Achievement in Cancer Research, for his magical western blots, where gel bands multiply under his spell to summon a bigger impact factor. Well, maybe not that Gandalf, but the bearded gel wizard Tony Hunter, of prestigious Salk Institute for Biological Studies (where impure womenfolk is not welcome) in San Diego, California, USA. On April 15th, Hunter will be giving a lecture at the annual meeting  of American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) in Chicago, and then go to beautiful Trento in Italy to pick up his award. All because of those western blots of his, which repetitive enchanted beauty was spotted by the image integrity sleuth Clare Francis and then posted on PubPeer. It was in fact Clare Francis who wrote to me to accuse Tony Hunter of being Gandalf The Wizard.

A breathlessly sycophantic article in San Diego Union Tribune described Hunter as “superstar” of 50 years productivity, congratulated him on his new Nature paper and the cash prize, for which the Salk Gandalf can probably buy himself a new BMW broom stick to whiz about, to and fro. That sum of €75k is actually poppycock compared to the $ half a million Tony the Wizard got from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences as Sjöberg Prize for Cancer Research, but that is probably intended as lab investment into more of his magic western blots. Probably as compensation for 2012, when Thomson Reuters, (past keepers of the sacred Impact Factor) requested for Gandalf The Western Blot Wizard the Nobel Prize.

So now, let us see what dashing sorcery the King of Sweden and AACR thought was so astounding to give awards for.

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Sumitran-Holgersson and Olausson to retract 8 papers for research misconduct

Sumitran-Holgersson and Olausson to retract 8 papers for research misconduct

Bad news for regenerative medicine enthusiasts, the data manipulating biologist Suchitra Sumitran-Holgersson and her surgeon partner Michael Olausson, both professors at the University of Gothenburg (GU) in Sweden. They were previously found guilty of breach of medical ethics and patient abuse for their experiments with “regenerated” decellurised veins, which incidentally serve as basis for an EU-funded clinical trial currently prepared by the Gothenburg-based company VeriGraft (founded by Sumitran-Holgersson and her husband Jan Holgersson, also a GU professor, read here). There was even a trachea transplant: that patient died very soon after, the paper later retracted for data manipulation and absent ethics vote. It was a decellurised cadaveric graft by method very similar to that of Paolo Macchiarini. Another tracheal graft was prepared for one of Macchiarini’s patients at Karolinska Institutet (KI) after her plastic trachea failed, but it was sent back unused. Because of such expertise in misconduct and medical ethics breach, Olausson and his GU colleague Hasse Ejnell served as experts who helped Swedish prosecutor drop manslaughter charges against Macchiarini (read all that here).

Now that Sumitran-Holgersson’s research funding was withdrawn, with the new decision by the Expert Group at the Swedish Central Ethical Review Board (CEPN) she becomes even more of a liability for GU: eight out of her ten analysed papers with Olausson are set for retraction, due to data manipulation by the corresponding author Sumitran-Holgersson (while all her co-authors were made co-responsible to various degrees). I reported the evidence before, on my site, after my readers notified me and posted it on PubPeer. The 2012 paper in The Lancet describing a regenerated vein transplant was however not earmarked for retraction, despite that among other things it contained a fake ethics vote (see my earlier reporting), which the journal The Lancet couldn’t care less about.

The original misconduct report was written for GU in September 2017 by the external investigator Ole Didrik Laerum, medicine professor at University of Bergen in Norway, who was appointed exactly one year before that. Sumitran-Holgersson didn’t like his results and demanded from CEPN a revision by the Expert Group on Research Misconduct, in which she was supported by her GU colleague Kristoffer Hellstrand. This now proved to be her big mistake, because what Sumitran-Holgersson et al got now, was findings of research misconduct and instructions for retractions. The Swedish original of CEPN Expert Group report is available here, (Update 21.03.2018: English version here), these are its findings: Continue reading “Sumitran-Holgersson and Olausson to retract 8 papers for research misconduct”

Pravda of Jessus report, CNRS Politburo scared of own people

Pravda of Jessus report, CNRS Politburo scared of own people

Following my recent article about attempts to fix data irregularities in the papers by CNRS’ chief biologist and director of l’Institut des sciences biologiques (INSB) Catherine Jessus, this state-owned French research institution, the biggest in Europe, now went full Pravda. Just as the notorious propaganda newspaper of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Pravda means Truth in Russian), CNRS press release of February 21st about the Jessus misconduct investigation combines lies, disinformation, and thinly veiled threats and calls for mass denunciation of traitors. The foreign enemy of French science is clearly identified: myself, the slanderous blogger.

All that would be mildly entertaining, were it not for the main victim of that investigative report: research integrity. We learn from that Soviet-style propaganda piece that Jessus took responsibility for almost all of the data manipulations in her papers, in fact even more data integrity problems emerged during the investigation, in figures previously not flagged either on my site or on PubPeer. Jessus was tasked by the commission to analyse her own incriminated figures herself, and to report her findings to her investigators. These professors of the l’Université Pierre et Marie Curie (UPMC, now Sorbonne University) who wisely chose to hide their identities (while decrying same with PubPeer commenters, sic!) had then the cheek to actually endorse the practice of data manipulations, in a public document, most astonishingly that of gel band duplications across different gel images, “for reasons of visual symmetry”. In other instances of cloned gel bands, the investigators spoke of scientifically-irrelevant “assembly errors” of western blots. No, not of separate antibody panels. Of individual gel images. They do not believe in monolithic photographs of an experimental gel, but prefer those as a digital puzzle or a collage, to be assembled from various bits and pieces in Photoshop, where a scientist sometimes inadvertently slips and uses the same gel band or bit of background twice.

Masquerading  research misconduct as good scientific practice is a form of scientific misconduct in itself. It doesn’t matter if these so-called experts really believed into the greater good of data manipulations, or strategically trolled the scientific community under cover of anonymity to save Jessus from herself, or were professionally unqualified to judge on the matters of biological science. Their decision not to see any misconduct despite ascertained evidence, while appropriating the entire blame onto those who blew the whistle, was borderline criminal, considering the circumstances. These dishonest UPMC investigators should be dragged out of their anonymity and publicly shamed and disciplined for the damage they just did to the reputation of French science. Continue reading “Pravda of Jessus report, CNRS Politburo scared of own people”