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?”

The Kathrin Maedler Dynasty

The Kathrin Maedler Dynasty

German academic jargon has a peculiar expression: Doktorvater. It means “doctoral father”, a fatherly figure who takes his helpless PhD student progeny by the hand and guides and teaches the offspring of his academic loins the wisdom of science, up to the graduation. Nowadays with the system being less patriarchal, one can instead have the figure of a Doktormutter, doctoral mother. Which obviously doesn’t bring same gravitas or inspires same respect and awe, and is therefore hardly ever used.

The German diabetologist and Professor and University of Bremen Kathrin Maedler is a central figure of an academic dynasty. Using Photoshop simulations (read here), she discovered a cure for diabetes via inhibition of the inflammatory cytokine interleukin-1-beta (IL-1β), which was then confirmed as a definite cure for diabetes in clinical trials led by her own Swiss Doktorvater Marc Donath, then professor at University of Zürich, now in Basel. Over 15 years later, the Maedler-Donath cure was proven as utterly ineffective against hypoglycaemia and diabetes by same Donath, in another clinical trial. Because of her Photoshop creativity with discovering diabetes cures and ensuing retractions, Donath’s past PhD student Maedler was asked by the German Research Council DFG to surrender her prestigious Heisenberg professorship, while the German Diabetes Society (DDG) revoked her Ferdinand Bertram Prize from 2011 (read here). Since 2017, her PhD thesis is again under investigation of University of Zürich.

That diabetes research was also what made the career of Maedler’s own PhD student, Amin Ardestani, presently junior research group leader at the University of Bremen. His thesis received an award from the local Rotary Club, of course also Ardestani got a prize from DDG, which he also saw revoked for engaging into same activities as his Doktormutter. Still, he is still receiving awards, including from Elsevier. I will present below some data irregularities and unacknowledged textual reuse from Ardestani’s 2013 PhD thesis, which was supervised by Maedler.

Continue reading “The Kathrin Maedler Dynasty”

How Elsevier finds its peer reviewers

How Elsevier finds its peer reviewers

We all have been there: you read a paper and wonder: how did this ever pass peer review? Who were these incompetent peer reviewers? The following email exchange gives some insights into the farcical quagmire which the traditional peer review process is. It took place between the Editor-in-Chief of an Elsevier subscription  journal Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice and a professor of physics and astronomy, who was invited to peer review a clinical trial study on gestational diabetes, his expertise assumed from some  obscure “keywords”. Apparently any academic can be spontaneously invited to act as Elsevier reviewers, actual expertise doesn’t matter.

In the end, the indignant editor Antonio Ceriello, Italian research clinician with an h-index of 80, appeared to be threatening the physics professor with legal consequences from his own lawyer and Elsevier’s legal department, should he not cease complaining about these editorial practices of recruiting inappropriate reviewers.

Continue reading “How Elsevier finds its peer reviewers”

How Irun Cohen and Weizmann Institute almost cured diabetes

How Irun Cohen and Weizmann Institute almost cured diabetes

This is a new episode of the data manipulation affair around Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel (and another guest post by “Smut Clyde“), with the hope that Israeli researchers and their state officials finally step in and investigate what goes on in this institute, supported by external experts from the academic community. There are many good and honest researchers working at Weizmann, the dishonest deeds which used to happen (and maybe still happen at Weizmann) should never throw a shadow upon their work. This can only be achieved by an open debate in the scientific community worldwide and a large, independent investigation inside Weizmann.

My earlier article about Weizmann’s “stars” of research integrity, and the follow-up guest post by Smut Clyde, prompted a wider scrutiny by internet sleuths on PubPeer. One of them was the well-known pseudonymous Claire Francis. In this case presented below, while Ofer Lider, associate professor of Immunology at Weizmann, was dying from leukaemia, his dedicated colleagues were apparently secretly stuffing manipulated data into his publications. They continued to do so even after his death in 2004, and now Lider papers are being plucked apart on PubPeer. There are many co-authors, and the scientific narrative mostly circles around a “visionary” diabetes cure, the substance DiaPep277, a peptide fragment of the ubiquitous heatshock protein Hsp60.

What was done to the scientific and human legacy of the immunologist Ofer Lider, is the basically academic equivalent of urinating of someone’s literal grave. If this won’t make Weizmann leadership feel shame, I do not know what would. It was a travesty of two retracted papers and a meeting abstract of a DiaPep277 clinical trial by the trainwreck company Andromeda Biotech, and it made world news in 2014. What came out only now, thanks to the sleuths of PubPeer, is that this scandal of clinical trial statistics was supported by a preclinical cornucopia of rigged western blots made at Weizmann, which all served the purpose of delivering a promise of a diabetes “vaccine”.

Continue reading “How Irun Cohen and Weizmann Institute almost cured diabetes”

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?

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

Kathrin Maedler loses Heisenberg Professorship, Diabetes award, 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, Diabetes award, 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?”