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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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”

Yoshinori Watanabe data manipulations: much worse than officially presented

Yoshinori Watanabe data manipulations: much worse than officially presented

Earlier this months, a research misconduct scandal in molecular cell biology broke out in the big news. Yoshinori Watanabe, Japanese researcher of cell division and how cells separate their replicated DNA during mitosis and meiosis, was found guilty of scientific misconduct by his University of Tokyo (read the news here and here). This followed an investigation initiated in the fall of 2016, after anonymous whistleblowers submitted to the university a report accusing 6 Tokyo research groups of data manipulation, first and foremost, Watanabe (I managed to obtain this dossier, and publish it below).

As the outcome of the University of Tokyo investigations, which concluded on May 31st 2017, misconduct was determined in 5 publications from Watanabe’s lab, which appeared between 2008 and 2015 in the elite journals like Science, Nature and Nature Cell Biology. However, the whistleblower dossier lists 7 papers, one of them a paper in Cell from 2015 with duplicated gel images, and a 2011 EMBO Reports paper which contains a western blot which was obviously digitally retouched to remove unwanted bands. Watanabe’s assistant professor Yuji Tanno was also found guilty of misconduct, and indeed his 2015 Science paper with Watanabe looks like a total train wreck of data manipulations.  Yet it seems there is a tendency to present Watanabe’s deeds as mere mistakes (though grossly inappropriate ones) by a great genius scientist, who was confused by the complexity of rules on data acquisition and incidentally broke some while producing outstanding and absolutely reliable top-level research. Some of his peers seem to be calling for leniency or at least some understanding for Watanabe. The selected evidence from the whistleblower dossier which I post below suggests that Watanabe knew perfectly well what he was doing, and he did so in order to produce desirable results which his lab experiments failed to deliver, and which he needed in order to impress the choosy elite journals.

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Data integrity conspiracy against German research senator Roland Lill?

Data integrity conspiracy against German research senator Roland Lill?

Roland Lill is the quiet star of German molecular biology. The 63-year old professor works at the University of Marburg, on mitochondria, using yeast as a model organism. Lill is also since 2014 member of the Senate at the German Research Foundation (DFG), re-elected just recently, where he represents the interests of German molecular biologists and decides on federal funding distribution and research policies. Since 2016, the Marburg professor is also Senator for Biochemistry and Biophysics at the Leopoldina, which is the German Academy of Sciences. Furthermore, Lill is EMBO member since 2013 and he also used to be Fellow of the Max Planck Society.

Lill’s research focus is on iron-sulfur biogenesis, and his achievements for German science are indeed strong as iron, as evident by his awards and medals (including the Leibniz Prize of €1.55 Mn in 2003), his impressive funding acquisition success and publication record. Recently however, a sulfuric smell of rotten eggs emitted from the whistleblowing platform PubPeer, tainting his legacy. Currently 9 Lill papers are affected, the evidence looks worrisome, and might indicate possible data manipulations. Mostly it is about apparently duplicated gel bands. Luckily however, most papers are 13 and more years old, nobody would expect Professor Lill to have stored the original data for so long, even if it was ever available. The despicable attack on Professor’s Lill research record will be surely thwarted by the journals’ reluctance of dealing with problems in old papers, and of course by the tremendous respect and influence this Senator enjoys in German academia. In fact, both DFG and the two research integrity Ombudspersons of the University of Marburg refused to comment on the PubPeer evidence. Leopoldina announced to me to have the “accusations” addressed by their Ombudsman; DFG mentioned to have had the PubPeer information “forwarded inside the house”.

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Data manipulation evidence in Helin Vakifahmetoglu papers “warrants no further consideration”

Data manipulation evidence in Helin Vakifahmetoglu papers “warrants no further consideration”

The Swedish Karolinska Institutet (KI) has investigated its own cell biologist and well-funded autophagy researcher Helin Vakifahmetoglu-Norberg, following my publishing of a dossier with evidence for data manipulations in her papers. Also PubPeer evidence was considered. This was a second investigation of Vakifahmetoglu-Norberg, who was fully acquitted by KI already in 2016. While the new KI investigation progressed, one of Vakifahmetoglu-Norberg’s publications was retracted (Shen et al, Oncogene 2008), due to image duplications and unavailability of original data. With their second decision, KI again exonerated  Vakifahmetoglu-Norberg from all suspicions. One of the reasons was: since the Shen et al 2008 is retracted, it ceases to exist. Hence, all image duplications it shares with other Vakifahmetoglu-Norberg papers cease existing also. Other arguments were the author’s assertions to have reproduced more than 10 year old results faithfully (since the original data was unavailable), or her presenting evidence that similar looking images were in fact dissimilar. Unfortunately, where such original data could be recovered, it was shown only to internal investigators at KI, noone else. The case is closed, no appeal is possible. There will be no corrections even, unless journals do the unlikely thing and decide not to accept the KI decision.

Another Vakifahmetoglu paper (Imreh et al, J Cell Biol. 2011) is still under KI investigation but she has officially nothing to do with it. KI announced to follow this through with her former boss and the paper’s last author, Boris Zhivotovsky. He is under another KI investigation already, together with several of his colleagues including the  department’s prefect Ulla Stenius (see my report here), who received the KI letter about  Vakifahmetoglu whitewashing in cc.  Continue reading “Data manipulation evidence in Helin Vakifahmetoglu papers “warrants no further consideration””

The western blot doctors of Silesia

The western blot doctors of Silesia

Protein expression analysis by western blots appears to be the weak spot of life science, because these blots are so often reported to be manipulated. However, this is only because anybody, even without any background in biology can spot re-used western blot bands, just using a good eye or some computer skills. Unlike with other analytical tools, like real-time PCR or microscopy imaging, you don’t need specialist knowledge or access to raw data to spot digital manipulations of western blots. One of the most famous western blot breeders is the Brazilian diabetes researcher Mario Saad (see whistleblower reports on my site here and here). Below is the case of his two colleagues from Poland.

Some time ago, I was contacted by a Polish scientist with a dossier of suspected western blot duplications in the publication of the pharmacologist Bożena Gabryel from the Department of Pharmacology at the Medical University of Silesia in Katowice, Poland. Gabryel specializes in oxidative stress research, four of her publications on this topic were accused to feature duplicated western blots, in different context. Sometimes suspicions were raised that selected individual bands in different western blots look too similar, which might suggest manipulative band duplications.

Soon after, another whistleblower independently contacted me with another dossier about yet another set of Gabryel’s papers, all featuring as lead or even corresponding author Krzysztof Łabuzek, who is an adjunct professor at this same Medical University  of Silesia with interest in immune system and who also has a clinical practice for internal medicine in a small town near Katowice. Labuzek’s papers seem to feature a whole gallery of re-used western blots, as the dossier suggests. Additionally, that second whistleblower expressed concerns about  western blot splicing and suspected band re-used in papers featuring the first author Joanna Ślusarczyk, PhD student in the lab of Agnieszka Basta-Kaim at the Polish Academy of Sciences in Krakow. Basta-Kaim is also co-author on one Gabryel paper now suspected of data manipulations.

Continue reading “The western blot doctors of Silesia”