Maria Fousteri, the ERC-funded western blot cheater

Maria Fousteri, the ERC-funded western blot cheater

Maria Fousteri is a highly successful Greek molecular cell biologist who studies the molecular mechanisms of DNA damage repair in human cells and their protective roles “against mental dysfunction or cancer”. Her works in the field of nucleotide exchange repair and epigenetic chromatin remodelling, done at the Leiden University Medical Center (LUMC) in the Netherlands in the department led by the LUMC professor Leon Mullenders, appeared in elite journals such as Molecular Cell.  These publications, described to me by a leading DNA repair researcher as “definitely major papers in the field” consequently helped Fousteri to an ERC starting grant of €1.5 Million for her research project “TransArrest” in 2012. Her young ERC-funded lab is located at the Biomedical Sciences Research Center “Alexander Fleming”in Greece, 20 km south of Athens.

The economic crisis-struck Greek science community should surely be rejoicing about such success of their returning top-scientist, with the most prestigious EU funding award from the ERC in tow. Instead, Fousteri’s colleagues at Alexander Fleming recently learned that a LUMC investigation found her guilty of data manipulations and research misconduct in 5 publications. Once again, it is about western blots. Images were re-used in unrelated context, lanes spliced and occasionally even bands duplicated inside a continuous gel image. The DNA nucleotide exchange repair specialist Fousteri seems to be just as professional in exchanging of western blot bands. These are the five papers, the first four (all in Molecular Cell) were recommended for retraction: Continue reading “Maria Fousteri, the ERC-funded western blot cheater”

Voinnet aftermath: ethical bankruptcy of academic elites

Voinnet aftermath: ethical bankruptcy of academic elites

Olivier Voinnet, the disgraced former star plant scientist and professor at ETH Zürich, is apparently on extended sick leave, his lab members have been redistributed to other research groups inside the faculty. This I learned from several independent sources, which made the information sufficiently reliable to share here. Previously, Voinnet was investigated by two expert commissions, one very secret by CNRS at his former Institut de Biologie Moleculaire des Plantes (IBMP), and another, more transparent one, at ETH (report here, my overview of the Voinnet scandal here). There, the investigative team comprised of four peers, two of whom were Voinnet’s faculty colleagues, and one was Witold Filipowicz, professor at Friedrich Miescher Institute in Basel. Filipowicz had been evaluating Voinnet’s research as IBMP review board member in 2008, before he nominated him for the 2009 EMBO Gold Medal:

“Olivier Voinnet’s discoveries represent true breakthroughs in his field. He has written several illuminating reviews recently, and participated as a speaker in many prestigious meetings. I consider him to be one of the most talented, original and effective young scientists”.

Update 8.04.2016: The supposedly impartial Voinnet investigator Filipowicz was also a recipient of the 2014 Chaire Gutenberg at Voinnet’s own IBMP as well as neighbouring IBMC in Strassbourg. The Gutenberg Chair is financed by the Alsace Region and the Urban Community of Strasbourg  with € 60,000 of which € 10,000 went to Filipowicz personally as ‘Gutenberg Prize’ and € 50,000 were awarded to his host, the teams of LabEx NetRNA of IBMP and IBMC. Coincidently, one of LabEx NetRNA teams is still headed by Voinnet’s  IBMP lab keeper and key partner in data manipulation, Patrice Dunoyer.

Under such conditions, it is hardly surprising that the ETH investigative commission concluded that Voinnet’s research was still largely reliable, despite his inexplicably compulsive urge to manipulate his perfectly good experimental data. As ETH press release then announced, Voinnet research was “Conducted properly – published incorrectly”. Well, this depends what ETH leadership understands under proper research.

Below I will show evidence from Voinnet’s peers that the published experimental evidence for his bold discoveries was shaky even before the data manipulations were discovered. Finally, I could not find a single lab which could confirm to me that they reproduced his results. Continue reading “Voinnet aftermath: ethical bankruptcy of academic elites”

April Fools: Elsevier pledges integrity, sacks Marcus, Horton

April Fools: Elsevier pledges integrity, sacks Marcus, Horton

On March 22nd, Tom Reller, Head of Global Corporate Relations for the publishing giant Elsevier, declared the often criticised and occasionally reviled Dutch conglomerate to be “4th largest open access publisher” and announced: “we will continue to produce that highly relevant academic and professional research and knowledge”.

Today, on April 1st, Reller explained how exactly Elsevier aims to deliver on its promise. He stated:

“The new Elsevier will not be the greedy and unscrupulous monster of the past, but an open and transparent publisher every true scientist will be proud to work with. There will be no tolerance for research irreproducibility, misconduct and data manipulation at Elsevier from now on. The times, where dishonest scientists could safely rely on our quasi-official policies of looking away and cover-up are over. We will be revising all evidence on PubPeer and elsewhere, which we previously only used to laugh at, and we will correct all problematic literature accordingly. We will demand unconditional sharing of original research data and we will call out research misconduct for what it is. There will be many retractions coming”.

Continue reading “April Fools: Elsevier pledges integrity, sacks Marcus, Horton”

Jingmai O’Connor interview: if you have valid criticisms, publish them!

Jingmai O’Connor, a 32-year old professor at the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, has been recently harshly criticised for her opinions on scientific blogging, which were published as a Q&A for Current Biology. Such interviews are generally reserved for outstanding and successful scientists, who are seen as role models and influencers.

O’Connor’s last reply, to a question of academic commenting via blogs and social media, produced a Twitterstorm of indignation. Many on Twitter were debating: did O’Connor really accuse all blogging scientists of being incapable of proper academic publishing? Did she really mean to say, as Lenny Teytelman summarized it, “Good scientists publish. shitty ones blog”? Is doing both mutually exclusive?

Continue reading “Jingmai O’Connor interview: if you have valid criticisms, publish them!”