Human Brain Project and other Flagships: is EU outsourcing funding decisions?

Human Brain Project and other Flagships: is EU outsourcing funding decisions?

The EU €1-Billion-Flagship Human Brain Project (HBP) started in 2013 as an closed enterprise run by three men. The triumvirate is no more:  the visionary founder Henry Markram sidelined into almost insignificance after a coup, his Lausanne colleague Richard Frackowiak almost retired, only the German Karlheinz Meier, physics professor at University of Heidelberg, still seems to hold quite a lot of sway. The control of HBP is now basically in German hands: the “independent” mediator of the anti-Markram coup and director of Forschungzentrum Jülich (FZJ), Wolfgang Marquardt, is key member of the all-decisive HBP Stakeholder Board representing Germany, his FZJ colleague Katrin Amunts is the new scientific director of HBP. The bombastic goal of HBP used to be simulating the human brain in a supercomputer, including various brain diseases and even consciousness (read here and here for HBP background). That Markram’s “brain child” was silently mothballed, the big plan is now only revealed to select insider audiences (who occasionally blab on Twitter). The once high and mighty Markram, whose not-so-groundbreaking Cell paper (Markram et al, 2015) was once touted as HBP’s mega-success, was apparently forced to publish his recent brain simulation research in his own publishing outlet Frontiers (Reimann et al 2017), where he proclaimed a discovery of nothing less but a “Multi-Dimensional Universe in Brain Networks”. Regardless of what Markram thinks he is doing or what fairy tales HBP graduate students are told: dissolving the monster HBP and redistributing its EU funding onto smaller projects was obviously not an opinion. The new purpose of HBP seems to be:

  • distributing the EU Flagship money, in the way HBP see it best fit, thus
  • sparing the EU Commission the tedious work of research grant reviewing and management

Continue reading “Human Brain Project and other Flagships: is EU outsourcing funding decisions?”

Macchiarini leaves Russia: federal grant denied and Kazan lab shut down

Macchiarini leaves Russia: federal grant denied and Kazan lab shut down

Paolo Macchiarini is leaving Russia, his research and surgery stint there is over. The fallen star surgeon was able to find a professorship with the Federal University of Kazan (KFU), after his plastic trachea transplants at the Kuban State Medical University in Krasnodar left 3 patients dead, and one with a lucky escape (see details here).  His new research focus was on artificial oesophagus, which he apparently already started to test on hapless baboons. In March 2017, the Russian state decided that Macchiarini’s federal grant on oesophagus research will not be renewed, the Kazan University announced in regard to their professor’s further employment to follow the instructions from the Russian Science Foundation. The professorship contract expires by December 2017. On April 20th, Kazan University made the official decision to shut down Macchiarini’s research programme. A Russian opposition party, Yabloko, demanded of the Ministry for Research and Education to investigate Macchiarini’s Megagrant funding and the use of that money, especially in view of the fact that no final report was published. All this information was revealed by the Russian health and medicine journalist Alla Astakhova on her website. Continue reading “Macchiarini leaves Russia: federal grant denied and Kazan lab shut down”

Lack of transparency in ERC funding decisions, by Shravan Vasishth

Lack of transparency in ERC funding decisions, by Shravan Vasishth

Academic research is dependent on funding, and funding agencies, both public and charity ones, play a crucial gatekeeper function in deciding who will go on to continue researching or even working in science, and who will not. With great power comes great responsibility. Unfortunately, funders traditionally end up serving the interests of select elite scientists by confusing the needs of those with the greater good of science as such. Money is dumped on the biggest pile, either to established star researchers or to their privileged academic scions. In this zero-sum game of science funding, many early career researchers see their grant applications rejected and are forced out of academia. The logic seems to be that this research proletariat would have spent it on booze and candy anyway, while the high elite will be investing it wisely to produce great science. Or whatever the funders, advised by that very elite, perceive to be great science. The guest post below by Shravan Vasishth, professor for psycholinguistics and neurolinguistics at the University of Potsdam, Germany, tells of a peer reviewer experience of his when it hit against such attitude from the most prestigious EU research funder, the European Research Council (ERC).

Continue reading “Lack of transparency in ERC funding decisions, by Shravan Vasishth”

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”

Collapse of Biotrachea, or how Macchiarini’s greed saved human lives

Collapse of Biotrachea, or how Macchiarini’s greed saved human lives

The trachea transplant experiments by Paolo Macchiarini left many of his trusting patients dead or mutilated. His €5.5 Million EU-funded research project Biotrachea started in April 2012 and was specifically designed to treat even more human beings with lethal plastic tracheas (and with the slightly less lethal cadaveric ones). The consortium was terminated in 2014 (see some background here), but not because the Biotrachea scientists or EU officials suddenly had second thoughts when the Macchiarini scandal unraveled and when his misconduct, ethics breaches as well as painful deaths and suffering of his plastic trachea recipients became known. Unlike an EU spokesperson previously insisted, there were no ethics concerns at all regarding Biotrachea. In fact, all ethics approvals were in place, human Guinea pigs were supposed to be lured en masse using a highly inappropriate patient consent form towards their likely deaths for the sake of EU-funded mega-science.

In truth, Biotrachea collapsed only because of Macchiarini’s greed for money. His financial conflict about patent revenues with the British university UCL drove the star surgeon to seek another plastic transplant manufacturer and then to destroy the entire multinational research consortium which he was presiding over, after the EU rejected his new plastic provider. Not because that one was also deemed unsafe, but as the EU negotiators mentioned, it was because that new type of plastic trachea lacked novelty. All this only became known after the original Biotrachea documents, which the EU and all consortium participants refused to grant me any insight into, were fully legally obtained by Jonas Malmstedt under Swedish transparency from Macchiarini’s ex-employer, the Karolinska Institutet (KI). Thanks to this brave and decent surgeon, I make all that secret documentation available below.

Continue reading “Collapse of Biotrachea, or how Macchiarini’s greed saved human lives”

Sonia Melo fully exonerated and reinstalled as PI by her Portuguese employer I3S

The Portuguese cancer researcher Sonia Melo has been cleared of all suspicions of scientific misconduct by her employer Instituto de Investigação e Inovação em Saúde (I3S) in Porto. She is now re-installed as research group leader, despite of an earlier EMBO investigation which stripped Melo of her start-up funding and the title of EMBO Young Investigator. Previously, PubPeer users raised strong suspicions of data manipulations as well as concerns about irreproducibility and artefactual results based on questionable reagents. The affected publications were authored by Sonia Melo during her stays in the laboratories of Manel Esteller in the Spanish city Barcelona (see my report here) and Raghu Kalluri at MD Anderson in Texas, USA.

Neither of her former supervisors has been investigated by his respective host institution in connection to PubPeer-posted concerns about their publications with or without Melo. Aside of the EMBO investigation (the findings of which were only made available to Melo’s former and current employers), I3S was the only institution to initiate their own investigation. Unfortunately, its report is not available to the public either. All we now receive is a press release, in which I3S admits to the existence of data manipulations (interpreted as cases of “negligence” which “do not compromise the scientific content”) in 3 of Melo’s papers: the now retracted Melo et al, Nature Genetics, 2009, plus Melo et al, PNAS 2011 and Melo et al, Nature 2015. Both papers will be corrected; the latter was seminal in the fundraising of at least $80 Million for the purpose of developing a commercial cancer diagnostics test. No further Melo publications were investigated, including this one: Continue reading “Sonia Melo fully exonerated and reinstalled as PI by her Portuguese employer I3S”

Macchiarini and the bonfire of greed

Macchiarini and the bonfire of greed

The aftermath of the Paolo Macchiarini scandal: many dead or mutilated trachea transplant patients, many stellar academic careers destroyed or damaged beyond repair, the reputation of the once world leading Karolinska Institutet (KI) in shatters and even the Nobel Prize itself is dented. The latter is because several members of the 50-head strong committee of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine were forced to resign:

  • Urban Lendahl, KI professor of genetics, quit his postas Nobel Committee Secretary General already in February, due to his involvement into Macchiarini recruitment. Lendahl also used to be Macchiarini’s superior, as director of three research centres in stem cell research and regenerative medicine: DBRMStratRegen and WIRM(the Wallenberg Institute for Regenerative Medicine).
  • Hans-Gustaf Ljunggren, former KI Dean of Research resigned from this post and Nobel Committee in February 2016. Ljunggren decreedin August 2015 together with the then-Rector Anders Hamsten that Macchiarini did not commit any misconduct, and trashed the results of the Bengt Gerdin investigation.
  • Katarina Le Blanc, immunology professor and Macchiarini co-author, who is apparently herself under investigation on suspicion of misconduct and data manipulation.
  • Anders Hamsten and Harriet Wallberg-Henriksson were asked to resign by the new Secretary of the Nobel Assembly, Thomas Perlmann, after the KI report was published. Both ex-Rectors played a crucial role in the Macchiarini recruitment and the cover-up of his patient abuse and misconduct.

Two more members of the Committee were possibly asked to step down, but this information is not confirmed. Bo Risberg, emeritus professor of surgery at the University of Gothenburg and longstanding Macchiarini critic (see his earlier guest post for my website), proposed “a moratorium for two years to the Nobel prize” and for the award money to be donated to Macchiarini’s victims and their families.

The corrupt Ethics Council of KI was dissolved by the new Rector Karin Dahlman-Wright, other heads rolled as well. Two investigations, one by KI and one by Karolinska University Hospital revealed a culture of cover-up and disregard for basic research integrity and medical ethics. Meanwhile, the entire KI University Board was dismissed by a governmental decision.

What drove so many scientists and doctors to support Macchiarini and his outrageous visions? It seems, the driving force was, just as elsewhere in science, greed. Greed for research funding and the fame and power it brings. And Macchiarini attracted many millions of Kronen, Euros, Dollars and even Roubels, and he kept promising even more. It seems the lust for money and fame made everyone at Karolinska switch off their brains. As the result, innocent people have died.

Continue reading “Macchiarini and the bonfire of greed”