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”

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”

Oncogene EiC Justin Stebbing, a hypocrite of research integrity?

Oncogene EiC Justin Stebbing, a hypocrite of research integrity?

The cancer research journal Oncogene issued on October 16th 2017 an Editorial on the topic of research integrity:

“The importance of being earnest in post-publication review: scientific fraud and the scourges of anonymity and excuses”.

The editorial contains a list of 8 common excuses dishonest authors used to escape responsibility for manipulated data. It was authored by David Sanders, virologist and professor at the Department of Biological Sciences at the Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, US, as well as Justin Stebbing, professor of cancer medicine and oncology at the Imperial College London, UK, who is also one of the two Editors-in-Chief (EiC) of the journal Oncogene. Sander is one of these rare brave academics who is unafraid to call out scientific misconduct while his peers hide in the bushes and instead even point fingers at whistleblowers like him. As the newspaper USA Today wrote earlier this year, Sanders made himself a very powerful enemy, the star US cancer researcher with Italian origins, Carlo Croce:

“But that didn’t stop Sanders from alleging that Dr. Carlo Croce, a prominent cancer researcher at Ohio State University, falsified data or plagiarized text in more than two dozen articles Croce has authored. For the past two-plus years, Sanders has contacted scientific journals in which the articles appeared to alert them of his concerns. Earlier this month, he went more public with his claims in an investigative piece by the New York Times that delved into years of ethics charges against Croce.

“There are, and I anticipate there will be additional, consequences for my career,” Sanders said Tuesday afternoon while sitting in his office inside the Hockmeyer Hall of Structural Biology at Purdue.

This isn’t the first time Sanders has publicly accused a scientist of bad behavior. In 2012, Sanders had an article by a former colleague retracted on the basis that the colleague used their former deceased research partner’s data in the paper without permission”.

A long article appeared in The New York Times prior to that, “Years of Ethics Charges, but Star Cancer Researcher Gets a Pass“, detailing the case of Carlo Croce and the role of Sanders the whistleblower, and the Ohio State University, who were mostly covering up the affair. Croce hit back: he is now suing the newspaper, and in separate lawsuit, also Sanders at a New York court, as reported by Retraction Watch.

Hence, Sanders knows first-hand what research misconduct is and how to act upon it. Indeed, the editorial was his idea, and his co-author Stebbing joined afterwards. As Sanders wrote to me:

“The impulse for the editorial and the list was from me.  We discussed the inclusion of particular items and how they were described together”.

Stebbing indeed is not much of a whistleblower, quite the opposite, he can be in fact seen as victim of such. His own publication was heavily criticised on PubPeer, for suspected western blot band duplications. And the piquant bit is: Stebbings, together with his first author  Georgios Giamas (now Reader in Biochemistry at the University of Sussex, UK) offered on PubPeer explanations which sound very much as what he himself has been ridiculing in the Sanders & Stebbing editorial in his journal Oncogene. Continue reading “Oncogene EiC Justin Stebbing, a hypocrite of research integrity?”

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”

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.

Capture+_2017-10-17-15-31-03

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”

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”

The rise and fall of an antivax paper, by Smut Clyde

The rise and fall of an antivax paper, by Smut Clyde

For the publisher Elsevier, antivax papers are apparently only a problem when they are too heavily manipulated. It took their journal 12 years to retract the notorious paper by Andrew Wakefield, because of data irregularities (details here and here). But the damage was done, an worldwide antivax movement was born, which keeps spreading bizarre and irrational paranoia that vaccines would cause autism in children (most recently supported by the disastrous US president Donald Trump, in tweets and in actual governmental policy). Vaccination rates dropped worldwide, and consequently deadly diseases considered long eradicated are making a comeback. But scholarly publishers and their journals bear here a heavy responsibility, by repeatedly publishing antivax papers and providing the anti-vax movement with the scientific legitimacy.

This was exactly what Elsevier did just now, again. Their Journal of Inorganic Chemistry published a paper by notorious antivax researchers Christopher Shaw, ophthalmology professor in the University of British Columbia, and his postdoc Lucija Tomljenovic. Both scientists enjoy full support of their Canadian university, despite that, together with another antivaxer, Yehuda Schoenfeld, they once had to retract a paper on the alleged neurotoxicity of aluminium adjuvant in vaccines, from the Elsevier journal Vaccine. The authors then simply republished the retracted masterpiece again in another journal, Immunologic Research, published by Springer.

The newly published Shaw paper in Journal of Inorganic Chemistry is again about alleged neurotoxicity of aluminium (or as authors prefer to call it, “aluminum”) , with a bold claim that it would cause autism in mice, as detected by some biomarkers authors saw as appropriate:

Continue reading “The rise and fall of an antivax paper, by Smut Clyde”