Why Nature Genetics overlooks Voinnet cheatings

Why Nature Genetics overlooks Voinnet cheatings

The Olivier Voinnet affair, the biggest research fraud scandal in modern plant science, is officially over. It is time to forgive, to forget and to move on. Let us not look back on those retracted, corrected and let’s-pretend-fraud-evidence-isn’t-there Voinnet papers and focus on what’s really important: science. The pure, unadulterated academic science, which is obviously first and foremost about placing beautiful papers in impactful journals and helping yourself and your friends to public money, while making sure that traitors, snitches and envious haters are “drummed out of science”, as Voinnet himself once threatened it towards his whistleblower, Vicki Vance.

Everyone moved on. Plant scientists summarily put the Voinnet embarrassment behind them, some see my past Voinnet reporting to be a kind of obsessive stalking. French CNRS, Voinnet’s original employer, declared in a more recent case of CNRS chief biologist Catherine Jessus the Photoshop data manipulations to be good scientific practice and called all French scientists to vigilance against whistleblowers (read here). Swiss federal university ETH must be quite happy with having elegantly avoided to sack their now CNRS-delegated professor despite the massive misconduct findings: just in the last two years Voinnet published papers in elite journals The Plant Cell, Molecular Cell, and PNAS . The journal Nature Plants even explained why Voinnet and his associates are welcome to submit their papers again. Despite new evidence of manipulated data still popping up, the journals drew the line and are not interested anymore.  Especially the elite journal Nature Genetics, whom I sent in June (as a reminder) a dossier of four Voinnet’s papers in need of some editorial attention. Not much happened, which may or may not have to do with the fact that the editor of Nature Genetics Myles Axton has some strange data in his own last-author paper in the journal Development. Incidentally, same journal which found itself unable to retract a Jessus paper having established massive data manipulations in it.

Continue reading “Why Nature Genetics overlooks Voinnet cheatings”

Janine Erler dossiers which ERC does not want

Janine Erler dossiers which ERC does not want

Janine Erler is a star of Danish cancer research. She is professor at the University of Copenhagen, group leader at the university’s Biotech Research and Innovation Centre (BRIC) and member at the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters. Her earlier research led to the discovery of the key role of the enzyme lysyl oxidase (LOX) in hypoxia-induced cancer metastasis, postulated during her research stay in Stanford University in USA, in her seminal Nature paper 12 years ago, Erler et al Nature 2006. Next year, the entrepreneur Erler co-founded the company Arresto Biosciences, ready to market an LOX inhibitory antibody simtuzumab. A phase 1 clinical trial began, and in 2010 the business was sold to the pharma giant Gilead for $225mn. The clinical trial on 32 patients completed in 2012, unfortunately Dr Erler and her clinical collaborators were too busy to post any results or publish any papers about the outcomes. It was assumed however that LOX inhibition by simtuzumab “led to reduction in size of several solid tumors”. Even before that phase 1 trial completed, phase 2 on 250 patients with with metastatic pancreatic adenocarcinoma began, and ended in 2015. Yet for some reason, the LOX inhibitor suddenly proved no more effective than a placebo (Benson et al 2017), meaning it had no effect whatsoever. In November 2016, Gilead dropped the product completely. Not the first time when many millions get wasted in clinical research just because something was published in Nature. Never mind the burdens and false hopes given to patients.

In 2008, Erler was group leader at the ICR London (known for highly creative cancer research) and in 2012, she moved her lab to BRIC. In 2016, the European elite funding institution European Research Council (ERC) recognised the potential of Erler’s innovative approach to scientific discoveries and awarded her with €2mn Consolidator grant for 5 years. Without false modesty, Dr Erler is not just a very successful businesswoman and celebrated scientist, but she has also been very close to curing cancer. Until some sad envious bad-wishers found duplicated gel bands in her papers.

Luckily, neither BRIC nor ERC were bothered. When I received two dossiers with evidence of data manipulation, I tried to send them to ERC Standing Committee on Conflict of Interests, Scientific Misconduct and Ethical Issues, but I was made to understand that I am not welcome. Just like the ERC press office, the members of the committee refused to reply to my emails. Incidentally, the head of that Committee and ERC Vice-president is the Danish chemist Klaus Bock, senior executive with Danish beer maker Carlsberg and the Danish National Research Foundation. Which probably means that Denmark’s star scientist Janine Erler not only has friends in high places, but also free beer.

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Catherine Jessus case: journals hide behind Sorbonne & COPE to avoid retractions

Catherine Jessus case: journals hide behind Sorbonne & COPE to avoid retractions

Some rather jaw-dropping corrections for the French martyr saint of research integrity, Catherine Jessus, head of biology branch at the French CNRS, professor of developmental biology at Sorbonne University in Paris. Jessus is the feared CNRS executive whose case divided French academics and even media into loyal Stalinists and enemies of the people, after Sorbonne whitewashed their professor in a parody of an investigation. The Stalinists being the over 500 signature supporters of Jessus, the enemies of the people to be rooted out are 10 critical authors of a counter-report and the daily newspaper Le Monde. The fresh corrections were now issued by the UK-based non-profit academic publisher The Company of Biologists, in their two journals Development and Journal of Cell Science. Two of these four papers, the worst ones, feature as first author Jessus’ mentee Anthi Karaiskou (now associate professor at Sorbonne University). All these works of science contain such appalling Photoshop manipulations (while the relevant raw data was reliably missing) that the academic publisher had to bend over backwards to invent the reason why they did not retract those. In one case, there wasn’t even a correction. The journal simply issued a strange “publisher’s note”, telling which figures have been rigged and that original data was unavailable.

The argument went: the investigation by the Sorbonne University declared those copy-pasted gel bands to be good scientific practice, and even announced in advance on behalf of the journals that no corrections will be necessary. Based on that investigative report (which, as it was leaked, was written by Jessus’ personal ally and subordinate colleague Francis-Andre Wollman, assisted by Jessus herself), namely that manipulated data has no impact on the scientific message of the paper, the two journals resorted to the guidelines by the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) which say that a retraction is not appropriate where scientific message is solid. The circle of Pravda-esque idiocy was complete, and here come the three corrections and the bizarre “publisher’s note”, illustrated by the evidence from my site and on PubPeer. Do compare them with what now serves as replacement, the scientific message is not really always the same. Continue reading “Catherine Jessus case: journals hide behind Sorbonne & COPE to avoid retractions”

Former KI rector Dahlman-Wright: stones in a glass house

Former KI rector Dahlman-Wright: stones in a glass house

The irony is rich. Just last month, the Swedish Karolinska Institutet (KI) announced the results of the investigation into papers by their former guest professor Paolo Macchiarini and his right-hand man Philipp Jungebluth. The two were found guilty of research misconduct and their plastic trachea transplant papers were set for retraction, where at least the journal The Lancet finally obliged (read here). Exemplary decision, but there is a snag: next to the ruthless trachea transplanters, other scientists were found guilty of misconduct, among them Karl-Henrik Grinnemo, one of the four original KI whistleblowers without whose brave actions there would have been no Macchiarini scandal. Two more whistleblowers were found “blameworthy” of negligence. Also KI professor Katarina Le Blanc was found guilty of misconduct, incidentally a whistleblower herself who reported severe ethics breaches in a different case of regenerative medicine and human research at KI two years ago. Finally, KI fingered the sacked UCL nanotechnologist Alexander Seifalian for research misconduct, using the very same shaky arguments the London university pulled off in its investigative report in 2017 (read here). The bizarre thing: back then UCL did not allow Seifalian to defend himself or to appeal against the accusations, and KI now did exactly same. He was served a misconduct verdict, but was denied by KI a right to testimony or appeal, which Macchiarini and his gang were granted generously and made ample use of.

The Macchiarini investigation was initiated in 2016 by the interim KI Vice-Chancellor (rector) Karin Dahlman-Wright and was completed this year by the newly installed Vice-Chancellor Ole Petter Ottersen. The promised irony is that several Dahlman-Wright papers were now scrutinised by the pseudonymous data integrity sleuth Clare Francis with the result that one wonders if Dahlman-Wright was the right person to supervise a research misconduct investigation. Here comes namely even more irony: that former interim rector and her successor Ottersen previously absolved the notorious KI group leader Helin Vakifahmetoglu-Norberg and her former PhD mentor, the KI professor Boris Zhivotovsky (read here), despite heavy evidence of manipulated data. Nine more professors were under misconduct investigation during Dahlman-Wright’s tenure (read here), and since we heard nothing yet, one can assume that all the duplicated and photoshopped data in their papers was also a misunderstanding which bears no relevance on the quality of their research. The Dahlman-Wright evidence I present below is heavy, but also Ottersen himself might be tainted: he is co-author on an old paper with a likely image duplication. Continue reading “Former KI rector Dahlman-Wright: stones in a glass house”

Latchman and Wohl Foundation: gifts that keep on giving

Latchman and Wohl Foundation: gifts that keep on giving

Imagine being so rich that not you are employed as rector by the university, it is your university whom you give money to, from the inherited charity trust you preside over. If such a precious rector had over 40 of his publications flagged for what definitely looks like grossly manipulated data, it would be simply stupidly irresponsible for the university to actually investigate that. And if they really had to investigate, the only sensible solution is to find the entire blame with someone else.

This is basically the situation of David Latchman, Master of Birkbeck, professor of genetics at UCL and Commander of the Order of the British Empire. The scientist who was once again cleared of all suspicions of research misconduct, while his two subordinates took all the blame, for just 7 papers. Past and apparently even future evidence for all other dozens of papers Latchman co-authored was dismissed, which let my regular contributor Smut Clyde present some of it last month. Now Smut offers an extra serving of duplicated graphs of experimental kinetics, in a Latchman coda below.

Latchman is not your pedestrian scientist who does science as a job to earn a living. For the Master of Birkbeck is nephew of the late London property developer and philanthropist Maurice Wohl, who died childless. One can guess who is the likely heir to the immense wealth Maurice Wohl left, and indeed, Latchman is Chair of the over £100 Million-heavy Maurice Wohl Charitable Foundation, a charity which donates in no small part to healthcare and medical research in UK. Latchman’s own Birkbeck pays him a yearly salary of GBP 400k, one of the highest rector’s salaries in UK, yet the university received from Lathcman’s Wohl Foundation, according to these records between 2013 and 2016, over 5 Million British Pounds: Continue reading “Latchman and Wohl Foundation: gifts that keep on giving”

Another dead scientist framed with manipulated data?

Another dead scientist framed with manipulated data?

On 7 April 2010 the Spanish diabetes researcher Margarita Lorenzo, Professor of Biochemistry at the Complutense University in Madrid, died of metastatic melanoma, aged only 51. Two months after her death, Lorenzo’s colleagues submitted a paper to the journal Diabetes (published by American Diabetes Association), which was accepted for publication 4 weeks later. These colleagues, primarily the corresponding authors Sonia Fernandez-Veledo (now research group leader at IISPV in Tarragona) and Cristina Murga (now deputy director at CBMSO in Madrid), wrote in the paper’s acknowledgements:

“This work is dedicated to the memory of Prof. Margarita Lorenzo, who passed away April 7, 2010, at the age of 51”.

The paper, which studies the mechanisms of obesity and insulin resistance, seems to be full of manipulated western blot data. The only thing which is rather clear: the late Margarita Lorenzo didn’t do it. While she was dying of cancer, her colleagues advanced their careers using her reputation, but their own disreputable Photoshop skills. This shows too many uncanny parallels with another case in diabetology research, where some unscrupulous scientists at Weizmann Institute in Israel urinated on the grave of their dying colleague, by placing manipulated western blots into his last papers. That scientist was Ofer Lider, and he died of cancer (leukaemia) at 49, a similar age as Margarita Lorenzo. Obituaries were written by those responsible for the publishing of rigged research, in both cases.

Continue reading “Another dead scientist framed with manipulated data?”

Gothenburg to sack Sumitran-Holgersson, requests 7 retractions

Gothenburg to sack Sumitran-Holgersson, requests 7 retractions

The travesty around the data faking regenerative medicine enthusiast Suchitra Sumitran-Holgersson is finally over. Her Swedish employer University of Gotheburg (GU) announced yesterday to have opened labour law proceedings against her, with the expressed goal of her dismissal as university professor. No appeal is possible anymore, and her loyal GU supporters Elias Eriksson and Kristoffer Hellstrand can now take a rest from nearly 10 years of lobbying, obstructing and bullying everyone involved in the misconduct investigations of their dear colleague. On top, retractions of 7 Sumitran-Holgersson publications were requested by the GU rector.

Sumitran-Holgersson, formerly a Karolinska Institutet researcher, survived a misconduct investigation by the Swedish Research Council from 2009-2011, because her friends achieved a dismissal of all damning evidence of data manipulation on formality grounds; the two investigators themselves ended up threatened with lawsuits. The newly appointed GU professor only had to retract one paper. In early 2016, when the regenerative medicine scandal around Paolo Macchiarini exploded in Sweden, PubPeer evidence of image manipulations was posted en masse (including by certain readers of my site) about Sumitran-Holgersson’s work in the field. That prompted a new misconduct investigation by GU and the Swedish Central Ethics Review Board (CEPN). In spring 2016, Sumitran-Holgersson saw her funding frozen and her paper retracted, which reported an unethical Macchiarini-style trachea transplant, likely responsible for the death of that patient. That work was performed together with GU surgeon Michael Olausson, with whom Sumitran-Holgersson also developed bioengineered blood vessels which they tested on children without proper ethics approvals. For that, both were found guilty of misconduct one year later, in March 2017. Which not only still didn’t cost Sumitran-Holgersson her job as GU professor: her own business Verigraft was right after awarded €2.3 mn by the EU Commission under Horizon 2020, based on her papers tainted with data manipulations and severe ethics breaches. The money was earmarked by excited EU bureaucrats to market and bring that very same blood vessel graft technology into a large clinical trial; in this regard please read the excellent investigation for my site by Sophia Tibblin. Olausson’s own misconduct activities in the area of regenerative medicine and especially trachea transplantation served as his qualification to advice the Swedish State Prosecutor to drop manslaughter charges against Macchiarini in October 2017.

In March 2018, both Sumitran-Holgersson and Olausson were found guilty of misconduct once again, this time it was about data manipulation flagged on PubPeer 2 years before. Retractions of 8 papers was recommended by the CEPN decision, which GU now largely upheld in the rector’s yesterday’s announcement, with the difference that now all co-authors were freed of suspicions of misconduct. Update 7.07.2018: That was because GU’s (now updated) good scientific practice rules of the time did not sanction negligence, of which Michael Olausson and Jan Holgersson (Suchitra’s husband, also professor at GU and Chairman of Verigraft) were found guilty of, but with no disciplinary consequences.

For the indestructible Sumitran-Holgersson though it is now the end of the road. Continue reading “Gothenburg to sack Sumitran-Holgersson, requests 7 retractions”