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”

After misconduct investigation, Irina Stancheva left Edinburgh, in secret

After misconduct investigation, Irina Stancheva left Edinburgh, in secret

A scientist was “dismissed” by the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Edinburgh, UK. All evidence points towards that it was the cell biologist Irina Stancheva who specialises on the epigenetics and regulatory methylation of DNA, and who departed from the university recently, after a forced leave. She also has an impressive record on PubPeer, where her publications were flagged for suspected data manipulations around 2 years ago. The suspicions were mostly of western blot band re-use and duplication. Around same time, an investigation started about these PubPeer issues, and by now Stancheva’s name does not feature of the Department’s list of academic staff. A archived version from December 2016 does feature Stancheva, but not that of August 2017. Her institutional website was deleted just hours after I sent my email inquiries to her former faculty colleagues. Continue reading “After misconduct investigation, Irina Stancheva left Edinburgh, in secret”

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).

Continue reading “Voinnet’s CNRS investigator Catherine Jessus with own data integrity issues”

Karolinska embarrasses itself to save two professors

Karolinska embarrasses itself to save two professors

The Swedish Karolinska Institutet (KI) is going through turbulent times. The Paolo Macchiarini scandal sensitised the European elite biomedical research centre and home of the Nobel Prize not just to patient abuse, but also to research misconduct and data manipulations, which its past professor Macchiarini was found guilty of. The misconduct and patient abuse investigations are ongoing. In parallel, several non-clinical KI professors were or still are under KI investigation, because of PubPeer evidence against their publications, as I reported before on my site. Two of them, as I wrote in a separate article, were the autophagy researcher Helin Vakifahmetoglu-Norberg and her former PhD supervisor, the apoptosis specialist  Boris Zhivotovsky. Both are now finally and irrevocably acquitted by KI of all suspicions of data manipulations in their common publications. The case is closed, there will be no external investigation.

In a previous decision regarding 9 of her papers, KI performed an amazing show of contortionism to absolve Vakifahmetoglu-Norberg from all suspicions of data manipulation (see this report). In one case, manipulated data was declared as non-existent because the paper containing it (Shen et al, Oncogene 2008) was retracted, and hence non-existent itself. No papers from Vakifahmetoglu-Norberg’s postdoctoral period in the US in the lab of Junying Yuan in Harvard were scrutinised by KI, despite the fact that KI originally based their decision to recruit Vakifahmetoglu-Norberg as assistant professor in no small part on these very publications. For example, western blot images from Vakifahmetoglu-Norberg et al, Genes & Dev 2013 were apparently re-used in her new lab’s paper in KI, Xia et al JCB 2015, see this PubPeer evidence: Continue reading “Karolinska embarrasses itself to save two professors”

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”