The travelling circus of research integrity in Strasbourg

The travelling circus of research integrity in Strasbourg

On March 8, an international scientific review board will be evaluating the research at the French CNRS Institut de Biologie Moléculaire des Plantes (IBMP) in Strasbourg. This is the place where the former star (and now misconduct-tainted pariah) of plant sciences Olivier Voinnet shot to fame, where his main lab operated since 2002 until he was taken away control over it in 2015, after found guilty of massive data manipulations in many papers by his employers CNRS and ETH Zürich (see my various reports here). The Voinnet lab in Strasbourg had since been led by his right-hand man, Patrice Dunoyer, first author on 3 retracted papers, who also admitted his own data manipulations in several more instances (most recent Voinnet/Dunoyer retraction and correction list here). A serious institute might have reconsidered collaborating with such a questionable scientist as Dunoyer, not so CNRS and its IBMP (which is actually just as fair, because also the Swiss ETH kept his boss Voinnet as their professor). Dunoyer was only punished by a one-month suspension back then in 2015, to CNRS leadership he seems to be a perfect scientist to lead a research lab in this plant science institute. Indeed, Dunoyer is apparently well integrated at IBMP: on March 8th the review board will not only be judging his scientific performance, but also that of his several IBMP colleagues whose publications were also flagged for data integrity concerns on PubPeer, e.g. Christophe Ritzenthaler, Véronique Ziegler-Graff and Pascal Genschik. Incidentally, IBMP invited as review committee members such international scientists who will be well able to understand this delicate matter, because, like for example Martin Crespi, director of the Institute of Plant Sciences in Paris-Saclay, or Serge Delrot, professor at University of Bordeaux, their own publications were reported on PubPeer for serious data integrity concerns as well. One could quip here: it takes one to know one. Continue reading “The travelling circus of research integrity in Strasbourg”

The western blot doctors of Silesia

The western blot doctors of Silesia

Protein expression analysis by western blots appears to be the weak spot of life science, because these blots are so often reported to be manipulated. However, this is only because anybody, even without any background in biology can spot re-used western blot bands, just using a good eye or some computer skills. Unlike with other analytical tools, like real-time PCR or microscopy imaging, you don’t need specialist knowledge or access to raw data to spot digital manipulations of western blots. One of the most famous western blot breeders is the Brazilian diabetes researcher Mario Saad (see whistleblower reports on my site here and here). Below is the case of his two colleagues from Poland.

Some time ago, I was contacted by a Polish scientist with a dossier of suspected western blot duplications in the publication of the pharmacologist Bożena Gabryel from the Department of Pharmacology at the Medical University of Silesia in Katowice, Poland. Gabryel specializes in oxidative stress research, four of her publications on this topic were accused to feature duplicated western blots, in different context. Sometimes suspicions were raised that selected individual bands in different western blots look too similar, which might suggest manipulative band duplications.

Soon after, another whistleblower independently contacted me with another dossier about yet another set of Gabryel’s papers, all featuring as lead or even corresponding author Krzysztof Łabuzek, who is an adjunct professor at this same Medical University  of Silesia with interest in immune system and who also has a clinical practice for internal medicine in a small town near Katowice. Labuzek’s papers seem to feature a whole gallery of re-used western blots, as the dossier suggests. Additionally, that second whistleblower expressed concerns about  western blot splicing and suspected band re-used in papers featuring the first author Joanna Ślusarczyk, PhD student in the lab of Agnieszka Basta-Kaim at the Polish Academy of Sciences in Krakow. Basta-Kaim is also co-author on one Gabryel paper now suspected of data manipulations.

Continue reading “The western blot doctors of Silesia”

Two EMBO corrections for the martyred saint Maria Pia Cosma

Two EMBO corrections for the martyred saint Maria Pia Cosma

The cell biologist Maria Pia Cosma, top-funded and prize-winning professor in Barcelona, is either an indestructible zombie scientist or a martyred saint. Her name means in Italian Mary the Pious, so it is probably the latter. So the following post is written in the style of a canonical satire.

Holy Mary Pia was accused by evil tongues on PubPeer of research misconduct in several of her publications. Philistines pointed crooked fingers and cast stones at duplicated western blot bands in papers published by St. Maria Pia in exalted scriptures like Cell. The accusers, envious of such impact factors, wished those gospels of scientific truth crucified on the cross of retraction and demanded for Our Lady of Barcelona to be judged and investigated. Yet Lord took mercy upon the tortured saint and sent His angels to defend her.

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The martyr of research integrity, St. Maria Pia (right, standing) receives a sign for “Beatified”. Source: Cosma lab, under fair use

Continue reading “Two EMBO corrections for the martyred saint Maria Pia Cosma”

Kathrin Maedler loses Heisenberg Professorship, found guilty of misconduct by DFG

The German central research funding society DFG has issued a press release about two decisions on research misconduct. The main point concerns the Bremen University diabetes researcher Kathrin Maedler (see my story here) and strips her of the prestigious Heisenberg professorship awarded to her by DFG in 2014, after having found her guilty of misconduct and co-responsible for misrepresentation of research data in 6 publications. Today’s DFG decision stands in contrast to two previous investigations by the Universities of Bremen and Zürich, which acquitted Maedler of all suspicions of misconduct and upheld the validity of all her published research results. This is my Google-translate assisted English translation of the Mädler section of DFG press release.


Scientific misconduct: Decision in two DFG procedures

The General Committee decides to withdraw Heisenberg’s professorship […]

The German Research Foundation (DFG) is once again drawing conclusions from the scientific misconduct by the scientists it funded. In its meeting on 8 December 2016 in Bonn, the main committee of the largest research funding organization and central self-administration organization for science in Germany decided in two cases to implement measures in accordance with the DFG procedural rules for dealing with scientific misconduct. In doing so, it followed the recommendation of the DFG committee to investigate allegations of scientific misconduct. Continue reading “Kathrin Maedler loses Heisenberg Professorship, found guilty of misconduct by DFG”

Kathrin Maedler: persecuted genius or zombie scientist?

Kathrin Maedler: persecuted genius or zombie scientist?

The prize-winning German pharmacologist and diabetes researcher Kathrin Maedler is regularly in the German and international news, either as a celebrated genius about to cure diabetes or as a potential cheater, responsible for masses of duplicated images in her publications. The rectorate of her own University of Bremen absolved their professor of all suspicions of data manipulations, while admitting image duplications and loss of original data. One argument was that all results were successfully reproduced, yet by whom: that the Bremen rectorate prefers not to answer, together with all other relevant questions which would have made this investigation anywhere credible. In the same vein, another investigation at the University of Zürich in Switzerland, where Maedler did her PhD in 2000-2004 under the supervision of Marc Donath, absolved them both of any suspicion of misconduct as well, while refusing to provide any further explanations. Meanwhile, other labs have refuted Maedler’s discoveries, but these publications were dismissed by the University of Bremen as irrelevant. Maedler also had to retract a publication Ardestani et al 2011 from the Journal of Biological Chemistry (which is known to have a rather tough stance on suspected misconduct). Continue reading “Kathrin Maedler: persecuted genius or zombie scientist?”

The Voinnet investigator and the tricky issue of conflict of interests

The Voinnet investigator and the tricky issue of conflict of interests

Great scientists never have any conflicts of interests, and in the case of the investigation of the research misconduct by the plant scientist Olivier Voinnet, led by his Swiss employer ETH Zürich, this was also apparently the case. Voinnet was found guilty of misconduct and admitted image manipulations in many papers. Yet his science remained largely unquestioned, and even original data behind the most outrageously manipulated figures was said to have been available in many cases. The ETH investigation recommended 6 retractions, one of which was even avoided thanks to the concerns the journal Science had towards that paper’s junior authors (Voinnet’s current retraction count stands at 8 papers and almost 20 corrections, where manipulated data was simply exchanged with new one). Professor emeritus Witold Filipowicz, of the Friedrich-Mieschner-Institute in Basel, is like Voinnet a specialist in the field of regulatory small RNAs, and he was therefore one of two external Voinnet investigators whom ETH invited in early 2015. It did not matter to ETH that it was actually Filipowicz who nominated Voinnet for the EMBO Gold Medal, which the disgraced plant scientist then lost after EMBO’s own investigation into his many years of data manipulation. Continue reading “The Voinnet investigator and the tricky issue of conflict of interests”

Unveiling the mystery of fallen microbiologist Robert Ryan

Unveiling the mystery of fallen microbiologist Robert Ryan

The young star of microbiology Robert Ryan, rose to great heights only to be publicly shot down, without much of an explanation. Instead, newspapers were tipped-off underhand and internal emails discretely forwarded; the only half-way solid information we have is the evidence of image duplications in his papers as posted on PubPeer. Ryan now left the University of Dundee in Scotland; his institutional profile has been deleted. EMBO recently announced in a footnote that Ryan’s Young investigator Programme (YIP) funding was withdrawn.

Unlike the official news suggest though, Ryan did not resign. He was sacked, apparently after a half-a-year long external investigation organized by the University of Dundee and after appeals which involved lawyers on both sides. Unlike I previously assumed, there was no misconduct investigation by his main funder EMBO, the YIP funding was terminated upon unpublished notification forwarded to Ryan’s funders by the University of Dundee. The University College Cork (UCC) in Ireland claims to have initiated their own (also not officially announced) investigation which seems to involve Ryan’s former mentor and co-author on every single manipulations-tainted paper, Maxwell Dow. At least this is what I was told by direct sources, but again, there were no real official announcements whatsoever.

Continue reading “Unveiling the mystery of fallen microbiologist Robert Ryan”