The biochemistry research lab of professor Roland Lill at the Philipps University Marburg in Germany is a place where space, time and western blot continuum collapses into an anomalous singularity, where paradoxes abound, but only one fact remains certain: there was never any data manipulation in the lab of this senator of the German Research Council (DFG). Only misunderstandings (here) and solid science, with sometimes unorthodox figure assembly methods (here).
One of those anomalies is the recent correction by Lill and his former PhD student Heike Lange (now tenured CNRS researcher at The Olivier Voinnet Institute for Research Integrity in Plant Sciences (IBMP) in Strasbourg, France, published in the prestigious journal PNAS in March 2018. A western blot was found to contain duplicated, triplicated and mirrored bands, and was replaced with a version of same gel, its irregularities fixed. What exactly the new old figure shows, is not clear. The Ombudsman of Marburg University insists that no digital image versions of the western blot exist, only some almost two decade old thermo-paper printouts which were shared only with PNAS. Neither can those archive documents be scanned or photographed, as it will probably either destroy them, or alter the results they show. A PNAS editor however admitted to me that the correction actually shows a pdf file which the authors Lill and Lange supplied by email, a gel image which again seems to be different from the original thermoprinter records. Yet also this digital pdf file cannot be shared, probably because otherwise the time-space continuum will collapse and our universe, or at least the Marburg lab of DFG Senator Lill might end up teleported back into the year 1999, when the prints were made. And anyway, all two decade old experiments were faithfully reproduced by the Lill lab just now, using exactly same reagents. Those results however are also apparently not for sharing.
Continue reading “Lill space-time-blot anomaly in Marburg”
Gandalf the Wizard has been awarded €75k in cash and Pezcoller-AACR International Award for Extraordinary Achievement in Cancer Research, for his magical western blots, where gel bands multiply under his spell to summon a bigger impact factor. Well, maybe not that Gandalf, but the bearded gel wizard Tony Hunter, of prestigious Salk Institute for Biological Studies (where impure womenfolk is not welcome) in San Diego, California, USA. On April 15th, Hunter will be giving a lecture at the annual meeting of American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) in Chicago, and then go to beautiful Trento in Italy to pick up his award. All because of those western blots of his, which repetitive enchanted beauty was spotted by the image integrity sleuth Clare Francis and then posted on PubPeer. It was in fact Clare Francis who wrote to me to accuse Tony Hunter of being Gandalf The Wizard.
A breathlessly sycophantic article in San Diego Union Tribune described Hunter as “superstar” of 50 years productivity, congratulated him on his new Nature paper and the cash prize, for which the Salk Gandalf can probably buy himself a new BMW broom stick to whiz about, to and fro. That sum of €75k is actually poppycock compared to the $ half a million Tony the Wizard got from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences as Sjöberg Prize for Cancer Research, but that is probably intended as lab investment into more of his magic western blots. Probably as compensation for 2012, when Thomson Reuters, (past keepers of the sacred Impact Factor) requested for Gandalf The Western Blot Wizard the Nobel Prize.
So now, let us see what dashing sorcery the King of Sweden and AACR thought was so astounding to give awards for.
Continue reading “Salk Gandalf Tony Hunter gets AACR prize for magic western blots”
If you wish to report data irregularities, especially a recurrent pattern thereof, one is well adviced not to write to the scientist behind those published papers, but to the institutional Ombudsman. This is also what is recommended by the US Office for Research Integrity (ORI, here) and by two real-life whistleblowers from Sweden:
“Collect evidence, but don’t contact the accused with questions if you are certain that they fabricated data, because they may then hide their tracks. Identify the appropriate authority where misconduct should be reported; this could be at your own or the accused’s institution”.
My own experience with reporting evidence to institutional Ombudspersons is mixed. Some do not reply at all (one of those has actually shady data in his own papers), some eventually write something non-saying back, some do take the issue seriously. A German university Ombudsman quickly put right a professor and dean of her department, and issued an apology on her behalf, after she attacked me for disagreeing with her on the academic merits of predatory conferences and medals issued by the false Linköping University professor Ashutosh Tiwari.
The Ombudsman of the University of Osnabrück in northern Germany, when alerted to PubPeer evidence of some strange image duplications in papers by an Osnabrück plant scientist, acted differently. The Ombudsman, a law professor, indirectly threatened me with a libel lawsuit, and refused to process the notification. The next day, the plant scientist admitted duplications on PubPeer, one paper has been already extensively corrected. Continue reading “Princess Sabine, her Ombudsman chaperone and a frog”
Bad news for regenerative medicine enthusiasts, the data manipulating biologist Suchitra Sumitran-Holgersson and her surgeon partner Michael Olausson, both professors at the University of Gothenburg (GU) in Sweden. They were previously found guilty of breach of medical ethics and patient abuse for their experiments with “regenerated” decellurised veins, which incidentally serve as basis for an EU-funded clinical trial currently prepared by the Gothenburg-based company VeriGraft (founded by Sumitran-Holgersson and her husband Jan Holgersson, also a GU professor, read here). There was even a trachea transplant: that patient died very soon after, the paper later retracted for data manipulation and absent ethics vote. It was a decellurised cadaveric graft by method very similar to that of Paolo Macchiarini. Another tracheal graft was prepared for one of Macchiarini’s patients at Karolinska Institutet (KI) after her plastic trachea failed, but it was sent back unused. Because of such expertise in misconduct and medical ethics breach, Olausson and his GU colleague Hasse Ejnell served as experts who helped Swedish prosecutor drop manslaughter charges against Macchiarini (read all that here).
Now that Sumitran-Holgersson’s research funding was withdrawn, with the new decision by the Expert Group at the Swedish Central Ethical Review Board (CEPN) she becomes even more of a liability for GU: eight out of her ten analysed papers with Olausson are set for retraction, due to data manipulation by the corresponding author Sumitran-Holgersson (while all her co-authors were made co-responsible to various degrees). I reported the evidence before, on my site, after my readers notified me and posted it on PubPeer. The 2012 paper in The Lancet describing a regenerated vein transplant was however not earmarked for retraction, despite that among other things it contained a fake ethics vote (see my earlier reporting), which the journal The Lancet couldn’t care less about.
The original misconduct report was written for GU in September 2017 by the external investigator Ole Didrik Laerum, medicine professor at University of Bergen in Norway, who was appointed exactly one year before that. Sumitran-Holgersson didn’t like his results and demanded from CEPN a revision by the Expert Group on Research Misconduct, in which she was supported by her GU colleague Kristoffer Hellstrand. This now proved to be her big mistake, because what Sumitran-Holgersson et al got now, was findings of research misconduct and instructions for retractions. The Swedish original of CEPN Expert Group report is available here, (Update 21.03.2018: English version here), these are its findings: Continue reading “Sumitran-Holgersson and Olausson to retract 8 papers for research misconduct”
An update to the ongoing cartoon Stalinism propaganda and purge activities at the EU largest research institution, the French CNRS, in the wake of the affair around manipulated data of CNRS chief biologist Catherine Jessus, according to their press release an innocent “victim” of my “slanderous” and “unscientific” blogging. First of all, a reliable source forwarded to me information from inside CNRS who one of the anonymous investigators was: Francis-André Wollman, CNRS researcher and professor at Jessus’s university UPMC (now Sorbonne University) in Paris. Wollmann is plant cell biologist, specialising in chloroplasts, the technology of western blot is standard in his lab. He did not reply to my emails, also the CNRS and Sorbonne University press speakers chose not to deny his role as anonymous Jessus investigator. The experts namely declared western blot manipulation to be good scientific practice, and lashed out at those who have a problem with copy-pasted gel bands (read here).
Then, the new CNRS President Antoine Petit, who replaced interim president Anne Peyroche (deposed after my reporting about data manipulations in her papers) proved to be not really a reformer, quite the opposite. Petit approved the new definition of what research misconduct in biology is, following cues from Sorbonne University and its president Jean Chambaz (who is cell biologist, specialising on intestinal metabolism and thus also a western blot expert), as well as Wollman and other Jessus investigators. New Sorbonne and CNRS Party doctrine is that data manipulation is definitely not research misconduct, but criticising that data manipulation is.
This is how Petit responded to the Jessus affair in public so far:
- Called myself and other PubPeer commenters “arseholes” (in French connards) at his first meeting with the section heads of CNRS (one of whom is Jessus)
- Claimed that PubPeer evidence and my reporting was an accusation of misconduct directed personally at Jessus and Peyroche (a lie, check my articles here and here), in this radio interview.
- Described documented and now validated data integrity concerns raised against publications by Jessus and Peyroche as equivalent to false accusations of pederasty (then corrected to paedophilia), in same radio interview.
- Announced to use IT surveillance technology to identify anonymous PubPeer commenters after their evidence was exposed as “wrong” (as it was in case of Jessus), in same radio interview.
Continue reading “Jessus investigator identity leaked, CNRS President to expose whistleblowers”
Following my recent article about attempts to fix data irregularities in the papers by CNRS’ chief biologist and director of l’Institut des sciences biologiques (INSB) Catherine Jessus, this state-owned French research institution, the biggest in Europe, now went full Pravda. Just as the notorious propaganda newspaper of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Pravda means Truth in Russian), CNRS press release of February 21st about the Jessus misconduct investigation combines lies, disinformation, and thinly veiled threats and calls for mass denunciation of traitors. The foreign enemy of French science is clearly identified: myself, the slanderous blogger.
All that would be mildly entertaining, were it not for the main victim of that investigative report: research integrity. We learn from that Soviet-style propaganda piece that Jessus took responsibility for almost all of the data manipulations in her papers, in fact even more data integrity problems emerged during the investigation, in figures previously not flagged either on my site or on PubPeer. Jessus was tasked by the commission to analyse her own incriminated figures herself, and to report her findings to her investigators. These professors of the l’Université Pierre et Marie Curie (UPMC, now Sorbonne University) who wisely chose to hide their identities (while decrying same with PubPeer commenters, sic!) had then the cheek to actually endorse the practice of data manipulations, in a public document, most astonishingly that of gel band duplications across different gel images, “for reasons of visual symmetry”. In other instances of cloned gel bands, the investigators spoke of scientifically-irrelevant “assembly errors” of western blots. No, not of separate antibody panels. Of individual gel images. They do not believe in monolithic photographs of an experimental gel, but prefer those as a digital puzzle or a collage, to be assembled from various bits and pieces in Photoshop, where a scientist sometimes inadvertently slips and uses the same gel band or bit of background twice.
Masquerading research misconduct as good scientific practice is a form of scientific misconduct in itself. It doesn’t matter if these so-called experts really believed into the greater good of data manipulations, or strategically trolled the scientific community under cover of anonymity to save Jessus from herself, or were professionally unqualified to judge on the matters of biological science. Their decision not to see any misconduct despite ascertained evidence, while appropriating the entire blame onto those who blew the whistle, was borderline criminal, considering the circumstances. These dishonest UPMC investigators should be dragged out of their anonymity and publicly shamed and disciplined for the damage they just did to the reputation of French science. Continue reading “Pravda of Jessus report, CNRS Politburo scared of own people”
UPDATED. My earlier reporting about image irregularities in the papers by CNRS’ chief biologist and director of l’Institut des sciences biologiques (INSB) Catherine Jessus had some interesting effects, including two Corrigenda I discuss below. Evidence of data manipulation in several Jessus’ co-authored papers on cell cycle progression in Xenopus oocytes was collected by my readers, which I then posted on PubPeer. There, it was soon supplemented with additional evidence from other PubPeer users. CNRS now publicly accused me of “slanderous campaign” against Jessus, declared gel band duplications to be either technical incidents or in fact scientifically well justified and called its scientists to “collective vigilance” against people like myself (see below).
While CNRS, an institution of of 32,000 research employees and annual budget of €3.2 Billion, was busy suppressing the Jessus affair (allegedly on orders from the French Ministry of Higher Education, Research and Innovation), something even bigger exploded: evidence of data manipulation appeared in the papers of the then-interim President of CNRS, Anne Peyroche, which then led to her removal and institutional investigation which could result in sacking. My own role in reporting data manipulations in Peyroche papers, initially dismissed as so-called compression artefacts by PubPeer moderation, was then acknowledged by Le Monde. The French national newspaper also brought the well-hidden Jessus case into the spotlight:
“It’s also on PubPeer that Catherine Jessus, head of research in biology at CNRS, was incriminated – she did not consider it appropriate to answer on the site”.
Unlike the unlucky CNRS interim president, behind whose devastating PubPeer postings Retraction Watch suspected “political motivations in trying to take Peyroche down“, the powerful CNRS’ chief biologist apparently doesn’t have to answer to anyone. Jessus was whitewashed in a secret investigation by l’Université Pierre et Marie Curie (UPMC), which professorship she holds. UPMC experts found only minor errors in 3 Jessus publications, and dismissed all other evidence.
Two Jessus papers have now been corrected, a key co-author on those is Aude Dupre, Jessus former PhD student and presently staff scientist at UPMC. Another coauthor is Olivier Haccard, “Directeur de Recherche” at CNRS I2BC in Paris. These papers from 2017 and 2015 were relatively simple cases, where no gel band duplications were spotted. One could even have explained those away as honest mistakes of negligence. But Jessus’ corrections of these two recent papers are not that straightforward, and do little to dismiss suspicions of her lab’s lack of research integrity.