How Emilie Marcus and Cell covered up misconduct at Weizmann

How Emilie Marcus and Cell covered up misconduct at Weizmann

I previously reported about numerous cases of suspected (or even blatantly obvious) data manipulation at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel (here, here and here).  Initially I wrongly assumed that the institute does not investigate misconduct evidence on principle. It turned out they do, but these investigations “are not public” as Michal Neeman, Vice President of the Weizmann Institute, told me in an email.

Below I present the documents from one such investigation from 2012, regarding two papers by the Weizmann cell biologist, apoptosis researcher and keen dancer Atan Gross.  The original report was filed in July 2012 by a peer of Gross, David Vaux, deputy director of The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne, Australia. The Weizmann investigation ended just one month later with data manipulations confirmed, original raw data absent, but with the conclusion that it all was only an “unfortunate decision about presentation of the data” with “no evidence for falsification with an intent to deceive”. The case was closed with the request of two corrections, one to Journal of Biological Chemistry (JBC), and another one to Cell, with the manipulated data replaced by newly generated Ersatz. While the former journal duly issued a correction, Cell‘s Editor-in-Chief and Cell Press CEO Emilie Marcus declared that she will do nothing at all. Continue reading “How Emilie Marcus and Cell covered up misconduct at Weizmann”

Nature rewards data manipulation with a Mentoring Award

Nature rewards data manipulation with a Mentoring Award

In Spain, there seems to be a tradition of reacting to emerging evidence of data manipulation with handing out prestigious awards to authors of these papers. This is how we were all taught that all the PubPeer evidence matters nothing whatsoever, as Pura Munoz-Canoves, Maria Pia Cosma and Manel Esteller were celebrated with prizes and grants for their research achievements (read here , here and here).  Now there is a new popular academic hero in Spain, Carlos López-Otín, Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Oviedo, and EMBO member. Lopez-Otin was now awarded a 2017 Mentoring Award,  presented to him by Sir Philip Campbell, on behalf of his journal Nature, which Editor-in-Chief Sir Philip has been for the last 22 years.

The journal Nature remains the highest authority in science, this Mentoring Award is Sir Philip’s parting present to the Nature-reading scientific community, as he is being promoted inside Springer Nature’s publishing hierarchy. It is in this way a statement of what Nature and its publisher think of research integrity. Lopez-Otin’s evidence record on PubPeer is telling enough, however most of the evidence of digitally manipulated gel images there was posted around 2-3 months ago, by the pseudonymous Claire Francis. Maybe the evidence appeared too late, and the award decision couldn’t be stopped anymore. Which would explain why Nature deleted their own tweet announcing the mentorship awards after I replied to it with PubPeer evidence on Lopez-Otin’s papers. According to another Nature website, which was for some reason also deleted, the closing date for nominations was Monday 31 July 2017. So I share some examples below, all are from papers where Lopez-Otin is last and corresponding author.

Continue reading “Nature rewards data manipulation with a Mentoring Award”

Karl Lenhard Rudolph barred from DFG funding for 2 years, as supportive peers flock to his conference

Karl Lenhard Rudolph barred from DFG funding for 2 years, as supportive peers flock to his conference

More trouble for the German stem cell and DNA damage researcher Karl Lenhard Rudolph (not to be confused this Christmas season with Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer), after his own Leibniz Society found him guilty of misconduct in 8 papers and forced his resignation as director of the the Fritz-Lippmann-Institute (FLI) in Jena (read here). Before that, FLI he used to head was raided by the police for suspected animal abuse, and forbidden to perform any mouse experiments. Today the central German funding agency DFG issued a press release declaring that Rudolph received a written reprimand for data manipulation in 3 of his recent papers, and was barred from DFG funding for 2 years. As usual in Germany, no investigative reports were released, we know no details or which papers or which data is affected. The DFG assures that Rudolph was only responsible by failing to provide oversight, and that no data was faked anyway, though the previous Leibniz Society investigation determined the loss of original data and lab books.

This is also probably why Rudolph is still welcome at the ISSCR Annual Meeting 2018, to take place on 20-23 June, 2018 in Melbourne, Australia, where he is even listed as Plenary Speaker, for some reason under his very much outdated affiliation of the Hannover Medical School MHH (amazing university btw, read more here). Rudolph also used to be listed as invited speaker at the prestigious Keystone Symposium “Pushing the Limits of Healthspan and Longevity“, to take place also in Hannover, on April 15th -19th, 2018, but then something strange happened and Rudolph’s name was removed from the programme. Never mind, for Rudolph set up his own meeting, at FLI in Jena, and almost everyone who counts is coming to show support. Continue reading “Karl Lenhard Rudolph barred from DFG funding for 2 years, as supportive peers flock to his conference”

How Irun Cohen and Weizmann Institute almost cured diabetes

How Irun Cohen and Weizmann Institute almost cured diabetes

This is a new episode of the data manipulation affair around Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel (and another guest post by “Smut Clyde“), with the hope that Israeli researchers and their state officials finally step in and investigate what goes on in this institute, supported by external experts from the academic community. There are many good and honest researchers working at Weizmann, the dishonest deeds which used to happen (and maybe still happen at Weizmann) should never throw a shadow upon their work. This can only be achieved by an open debate in the scientific community worldwide and a large, independent investigation inside Weizmann.

My earlier article about Weizmann’s “stars” of research integrity, and the follow-up guest post by Smut Clyde, prompted a wider scrutiny by internet sleuths on PubPeer. One of them was the well-known pseudonymous Claire Francis. In this case presented below, while Ofer Lider, associate professor of Immunology at Weizmann, was dying from leukaemia, his dedicated colleagues were apparently secretly stuffing manipulated data into his publications. They continued to do so even after his death in 2004, and now Lider papers are being plucked apart on PubPeer. There are many co-authors, and the scientific narrative mostly circles around a “visionary” diabetes cure, the substance DiaPep277, a peptide fragment of the ubiquitous heatshock protein Hsp60.

What was done to the scientific and human legacy of the immunologist Ofer Lider, is the basically academic equivalent of urinating of someone’s literal grave. If this won’t make Weizmann leadership feel shame, I do not know what would. It was a travesty of two retracted papers and a meeting abstract of a DiaPep277 clinical trial by the trainwreck company Andromeda Biotech, and it made world news in 2014. What came out only now, thanks to the sleuths of PubPeer, is that this scandal of clinical trial statistics was supported by a preclinical cornucopia of rigged western blots made at Weizmann, which all served the purpose of delivering a promise of a diabetes “vaccine”.

Continue reading “How Irun Cohen and Weizmann Institute almost cured diabetes”

Yehiel Zick, Weizmann’s resident Western blot artist; by Smut Clyde

Yehiel Zick, Weizmann’s resident Western blot artist; by Smut Clyde

The  Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, is not just a renowned biomedical research centre of world calibre. It is also home to many Israeli artists, who take mundane scientific tools like western blot and microscopy images and transform those into modern, or in fact postmodern art. I listed some of these artists in my previous article, after which one of these researchers wrote to me comparing me to “a “judge” in some totalitarian countries”, waving “a ready death sentence”. Now, I am presenting a guest post from the pseudonymous “Smut Clyde” (who honoured my site before), which extolls the artistic achievements of yet another Weizmann artist, an actual Wunderkind of postmodern Western blot collage, Yehiel Zick.

In his day job, the near-pensioner Zick is a humble diabetes researcher, still studying insulin resistance, but also mechanisms of cancer and bone remodelling. He also heads the Department of Molecular Cell Biology at Weizmann. Less known is Zick for his published Western blot collages, which are being honoured in the guest post below. No less than seven Zick publications are currently being admired on PubPeer, all appeared in the Journal Of Biological Chemistry (JBC). Which is likely soon to become a major problem, because this journal destroyed the career of Zick’s colleague and another famous Western blot artist at Weizmann, Rony Seger, after the editors retracted 9 of his papers in one go. Both Seger and Zick earned their PhD degrees in the same lab of the late biochemist Shmuel Shaltiel at Weizmann, both worked on a related project, the former in 1975-1980, the latter in 1983-1988. The two published also some papers together. Did their mentor Shaltiel fail to spot his two students’ artistic inclinations? And if he did, how did he react? We will never know.

I did learn however from one Weizmann professor that this institute has a strange approach to investigating suspected research misconduct. Seger was apparently under investigation for some time, yet not much happened until JBC pulled the plug on his nine papers. Then things happened pretty quickly, though Seger still keeps his tenured job. Is Zick facing some retractions, followed by an involuntary retirement? And are all others safe, because they mostly had the wise foresight to avoid publishing in JBC?

Continue reading “Yehiel Zick, Weizmann’s resident Western blot artist; by Smut Clyde”

DFG Senator Roland Lill explains how to do science properly

DFG Senator Roland Lill explains how to do science properly

My earlier article about strange image irregularities in the publications of the German mitochondria researcher Roland Lill seem to have motivated this pre-emeritus biochemistry professor of the University of Marburg to come to PubPeer and address the issues. While in his earlier statements he simply waved off all concerns of western blot band duplications, this time and with other papers he admitted those, while presenting the original Western Blot scans. Together with the first author on two such papers, Janneke Balk, Lill explained why copy-pasting western blot bands, sometimes on top of other gel images, had nothing at all sinister in it, but used to be somewhat of a normal research practice 10-15 years ago. And in some cases, gel bands can naturally duplicate themselves.

Any advice on research integrity from the side of a Senator of the German Research Foundation (DFG) and of the German Academy of Sciences Leopoldina is certainly most valuable, this is why I will present here his explanations, so the younger generation of scientists can learn about correct figure preparation, including the proper use of gel band copy-paste function. The past evidence was forwarded to me by a reader of my site.  I will also offer Professor Lill and you for debate another example from his past publication, where a western blot was duplicated in different context. This was forwarded me from yet another reader of my site.  Continue reading “DFG Senator Roland Lill explains how to do science properly”

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”