Call to research integrity, or at least a minor revolution at CNRS

Call to research integrity, or at least a minor revolution at CNRS

When I first started digging into the affair of data manipulations around the former star of plant sciences Olivier Voinnet in early 2015, I was sure to be dealing with a singular case of fraud in French science, which went totally unnoticed for decades. When 2 years later I wrote “a fish stinks from the head down” in my article about Voinnet’s former Strasbourg plant sciences institute and its problematic director, I did not know how far up to the very top this data manipulation scandal will go. Now, it looks like the entire leadership of  the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), French state’s own network of research institutes, might be corrupted and rotten. Research and its integrity at this “largest fundamental research organization in Europe” are overseen by the very people whose own publications should be under investigation for suspected misconduct. A minor revolution is in order in French science, for which I would like to make a case here.

The new interim president of the entire CNRS of 32,000 research employees with the annual budget of €3.2 Billion, Anne Peyroche, has seen now her own publications flagged on PubPeer for data irregularities. In fact, PubPeer itself, which is run by two CNRS employees, seems to be in a pickle. They now vigorously police and delete attempts of criticisms of Peyroche papers. Is the whistleblowing site fighting for its survival, afraid that CNRS might impose its demise any time? How far is the CNRS’ leadership prepared to go, now that their power is threatened by the evidence of misconduct in their own papers?

Catherine Jessus, being the director of its l’Institut des sciences biologiques (INSB) basically the head biologist at CNRS, already reacted to a stream of evidence against her publications on my site and on PubPeer. No, she is apparently not going to check lab books or provide for original data. Instead she declared to her colleagues that CNRS will soon start a massive legal action against yours truly. If true, the State of France announced to soon set its power and resources upon a German blogger, yet the French media refuses to report anything until CNRS issues an official statement in this regard. This information I have from direct sources.

Continue reading “Call to research integrity, or at least a minor revolution at CNRS”

CNRS hits back at the stream of misconduct evidence

CNRS hits back at the stream of misconduct evidence

The French scientific society CNRS, a huge country-wide network of research institutes and one of the most influential science institutions in Europe, had enough of me and my reporting. They now blocked me on Twitter, so I don’t spoil their celebration of a book by their senior director and chief of research integrity, Catherine Jessus. The book is titled “Étonnant vivant”, which translated roughly means “Amazing ways to improve your Life science publications with just a little bit of photoshop”. I previously reported about some examples of this art in Jessus publications, which CNRS did not really appreciate.

And of course CNRS did not take it lightly when my past reporting forced them to deal with the Olivier Voinnet affair, whose investigator was Jessus. Neither did they like my writings about another misconduct scandal she had very successfully kept under wraps, that around the former Voinnet postdoc Charles-Henri Lecellier, now CNRS group leader in Montpellier. What finally took the biscuit was my constant leaking of misconduct evidence and of internal information from the former Voinnet institute in Strasbourg,  Institut de Biologie Moléculaire des Plantes (IBMP), or as I keep proposing to rebrand it, The Olivier Voinnet Institute for Research Integrity in Plant Sciences. CNRS initially tried it nicely, by sending the IBMP deputy director Jean-Luc Evrard to call me “baby”, then “idiot”, while instructing all other institute employees never to communicate with me, and eventually CNRS simply blocked me on Twitter.

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On this occasion, I will now bring more evidence on data rigging inside IBMP. Before dumping new evidence about the IBMP director Laurence Maréchal-Drouard, let us start with something traditional and well known, namely Voinnet and his sidekick Patrice Dunoyer, whose IBMP lab was supposed to be dissolved, but maybe he managed to save himself with a recent publication in Nature Plants.

Continue reading “CNRS hits back at the stream of misconduct evidence”

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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Voinnet’s sidekick Dunoyer welcomed at Nature Plants, despite retractions and admitted misconduct

Voinnet’s sidekick Dunoyer welcomed at Nature Plants, despite retractions and admitted misconduct

The Olivier Voinnet scandal of almost two decades-long research misconduct and data manipulations has reached its logical conclusion. The French plant pathogen researcher, and everyone who helped him manipulating and publishing dishonest (and occasionally retracted) papers was either forgiven or declared as fully reformed. The siRNA-co-discoverer Voinnet who, cynically put, was too big to fail, remained professor at ETH Zürich and kept his ERC funding. He is meanwhile back to publishing in exactly the same elite journals where he had to retract and correct papers for manipulations. Of all his “partners-in-crime”, only his dependent right-hand man (or sidekick) Patrice Dunoyer was ever investigated, and as punishment suspended for an entire month by his French employer CNRS. His lab was about to be dissolved, but the Nature Publishing Group came to rescue and accepted his paper (Incarbone et al 2017) just in the nick of time (it’s not even Dunoyer’s only recent publishing success, another one is Montavon et al 2017 in Nucleic Acids Research). The accompanying editorial in Nature Plants, written by the chief editor Chris Surridge can only be described as bizarre, and is titled: “Giving research a sporting chance“. Surridge, who apparently sees data manipulation as a professional sports in race with doping detectives, wrote:

“Dunoyer has been a long-time colleague and collaborator of Olivier Voinnert, and recently a number of their studies, three with Dunoyer as first author, have been retracted while a number more have had formal corrections published to address problems with presented data. However, these instances were investigated by the CNRS and Dunoyer served a temporary suspension as a result. We therefore treated the study we received as we would any other. It was accepted following two rounds of review, during which it was seen by four reviewers. The published paper contains substantial supplementary information (SI). Along with 10 additional figures, there are a further 12 pages presenting the raw data from which the presented figures have been assembled”.

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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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Is Guillaume Moissiard that Voinnet co-author now under investigation by CNRS and ETH?

The research misconduct scandal around the former star plant scientist, CNRS research director and currently ETH Zürich professor Oliver Voinnet is not over, and finally also some of his close collaborators and possible “partners in crime” start to feel the heat. One of Voinnet’s former co-authors is now being investigated by the French research society CNRS and the Swiss university ETH Zürich, according to the available information. It is likely to be Guillaume Moissiard.

A reader notified me about this September 8th 2016 news release on the site AlphaGalileo:

“Scientific misconduct: CNRS and ETH Zurich are setting up a commission of inquiry

Over the past few weeks, serious doubt has emerged regarding the figures featuring in several Molecular Biology publications. The CNRS and ETH Zurich have decided to set up a scientific commission of inquiry, with CNRS in the lead and contribution from ETH Zurich, which will be composed of experts. Their role will be to establish the facts.

In this context, institutions have a duty to act in strict compliance with ethical standards, which do not allow any public statement to be issued prior to completion of the process in order to ensure that an in-depth analysis is carried out, in which all parties can freely express their views. In the same logic and to guarantee that the inquiry is conducted serenely, the name of the experts forming part of the commission cannot be disclosed at this stage.

When the process is completed, the two institutions will decide if disciplinary measures have to be taken. The results and the consequences of the inquiry will then be made public”.

Continue reading “Is Guillaume Moissiard that Voinnet co-author now under investigation by CNRS and ETH?”

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”