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”

Zombie scientist Sonia Melo awarded by AstraZeneca

Zombie scientist Sonia Melo awarded by AstraZeneca

Sonia Melo is back, and not to be messed with. The Portuguese zombie scientist is responsible for a number of papers with manipulated data (only one was retracted, Melo et al, Nature Genetics, 2009), saw her EMBO Young Investigator funding withdrawn in 2016, but was whitewashed and reinstalled by her employing institute Instituto de Investigação e Inovação em Saúde (I3S) in Porto. Her key publication in Nature with MD Anderson professor Raghu Kalluri, Melo et al, 2015, which raised obscene money in industrial and public investment for Kalluri’s spin-off Codyak Biosciences to market exosome-based liquid biopsy for pancreatic cancer detection, was disproven as an artefact at best, the authors even admitted in a follow-up preprint to have intentionally manipulated flow cytometry data to achieve results they needed. Collaborators were instructed never to work with her again. All in all, Melo is as toxic as a zombie scientist can be. But apparently not in her home country Portugal.

In March 2018, Melo received a Prémio FAZ Ciência award from Fundação AstraZeneca (FAZ) and Sociedade Portuguesa de Oncologia (Portuguese Society of Oncology, SPO). Which means, not just Portuguese academia, also international Big Pharma industry trusts her Photoshop skills. The award comes with €35k cash, and this is how much or how little was needed for the University of Porto to drop all pretence at research integrity and celebrate their zombie scientist as a genius researcher about to cure cancer. Continue reading “Zombie scientist Sonia Melo awarded by AstraZeneca”

Indestructible Sumitran-Holgersson: Commit misconduct on patients, get EU funding to continue

Indestructible Sumitran-Holgersson: Commit misconduct on patients, get EU funding to continue

This is a story uncovered and researched with the tremendous help of Swedish investigative journalist, Sophia Tibblin. A Swedish start-up company, fed with generous funding from Swedish state, now received €2.2 Million from the European Union, to further develop the same regenerative medicine technology which was determined in two investigations to be tainted by research misconduct and patient abuse by the founder of this very company: Suchitra Sumitran-Holgersson. A clinical trial is scheduled based on debunked science of recellurising dead blood vessel grafts, to continue where 3 previous child patients were used as human Guinea pigs .

This might remind you of another ongoing Horizon 2020 clinical trial, where a similar decell-recell technology of the trachea transplanter Paolo Macchiarini is being prepared for mass-use in patients. There, EU refused to share any information. Also in the case of Sumitran-Holgersson and her company, all EU commission members and even press speakers I approached refused any communication.

Much credit for research behind this post goes to Sophia Tibblin.

Continue reading “Indestructible Sumitran-Holgersson: Commit misconduct on patients, get EU funding to continue”

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, 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”