Post-publication peer review of a multimillion-dollar-heavy Nature paper, by Ana Pedro

Post-publication peer review of a multimillion-dollar-heavy Nature paper, by Ana Pedro

The Portuguese cancer researcher Sonia Melo has now achieved the status of a zombie scientist. After an internal investigation which records are kept secret, she was cleared of all suspicions of scientific misconduct and re-installed as group leader at the Instituto de Investigação e Inovação em Saúde (I3S) in Porto (see my report here). This despite an impressive PubPeer record of data integrity concerns, and despite the fact that the European research society EMBO revoked Melo’s Installation Grant funding after having determined problems with her publications. EMBO nevertheless stick to their decision, but Melo’s Portuguese funders like Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia (FCT) apparently see absolutely no need to reconsider their support, certainly not after the I3S whitewashing. Melo previously had to retract a paper (Melo et al, Nature Genetics, 2009) for data manipulations, her other works were however found not problematic by the I3S commission. In two papers in Cancer Cell (Melo et al 2010 and Melo et al 2014), the alleged duplications were apparently proven not to be duplications. As I learned, this was probably because while the top part of the gel images indeed did look suspiciously similar, the lower parts were clearly different. A possibility of digital image splicing was not considered, as it seems. In any case, even if the top bands are indeed the same, it doesn’t really matter. Cell editorial offices made on several occasions perfectly clear that data integrity is not one of their top concerns.

From Melo et al, Cancer Cell, 2014. Cannot be a duplication, according to I3S. Source: PubPeer

Continue reading “Post-publication peer review of a multimillion-dollar-heavy Nature paper, by Ana Pedro”

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”

Pontus Boström: cheater carousel in Sweden

Pontus Boström: cheater carousel in Sweden

Sweden is a tolerant country, which is a very good thing. Unfortunately, sometimes this Swedish tolerance seems ill-advised. Dishonest scientists caught faking data are happily given another chance and fat funding, like the case of the diabetes researcher Pontus Boström shows.

This scientist was found to have fabricated data during his PhD studies with late Sven‐Olof Olofsson at the University of Gothenburg, and went afterwards to publish a seminal paper in Nature with the biggest godfather of the diabetes research field, Bruce Spiegelman. Also this high-impact study turned out to be irreproducible by other researchers and a likely artefact of erroneous antibody use. Yet due to his impressive publishing record and unwavering support of the mighty Spiegelman, Boström was invited to head a group leader position at several Swedish universities, while he settled on the best offer by the Department of Cell and Molecular Biology at the prestigious Karolinska Institutet (KI) in Stockholm, supported by the elite EU funder ERC.  All despite his previous convictions of research misconduct in Gothenburg and ensuing retractions of two meeting abstracts, which were at all times perfectly known to all parties involved. Continue reading “Pontus Boström: cheater carousel in Sweden”

Conspiracy Theory: Is NPG being assimilated by Frontiers???

The post below is a satiric parody, though the general facts and the document I publish are real and true.

On Monday, the 13th of June, Nature Publishing Group (NPG) journals shut down. Instead of high-impact papers, all the bedazzled scientific community could see was: Internal Server Error (500).

The website collapse was first noticed with the NPG journal Scientific Reports, but then spread upwards the impact factor scale to Nature Communications and even Nature itself.

What happened? The NatureNews team, begged to give any insights, remained suspiciously silent. No announcements were made, questions remained unanswered. Continue reading “Conspiracy Theory: Is NPG being assimilated by Frontiers???”

The stem cell faith healers, or magic inside your bone marrow

The stem cell faith healers, or magic inside your bone marrow

Bone marrow stem cells are magic, they can do everything. If you don’t believe it, you are simply a loser scientist and will never get funded.

Prior to his bombastic fall from grace, the celebrity surgeon and professor of regenerative medicine Paolo Macchiarini was considered a genius stem cell wizard and a miracle healer. He not only fully trusted bone marrow cells to generate any kind of tissue inside his patients, nay, he also published his results in highest profile journals like The Lancet (which, by standard academic definition, is proof enough that his theory and methods were valid). Macchiarini did not chase money, neither funding nor salary, it was chasing him. Even after media revealed mass patient deaths and gross inconsistency between Macchiarini’s published reports and the actual medical files of his patients, the Elsevier-run Lancet is reluctant to retract his papers.

Simply put, the faith in the force of the bone marrow stem cells is stronger than their science. These cells are often referred to as mesenchymal stem cells; basically they are those undifferentiated cells from the bone marrow which do not carry the established markers of hematopoietic (blood-generating) stem cells.  What these “mesenchymal stem cells” are actually a mixture of, and which types of cells or tissues they are really able to differentiate into, is still a subject of an ongoing research. Unless you are a stem cell believer, that is, then you don’t bother with such details. Continue reading “The stem cell faith healers, or magic inside your bone marrow”

Optionally transparent peer review: a major step forward, but which direction?

Optionally transparent peer review: a major step forward, but which direction?

A journal of the Nature Publishing group (NPG) has recently announcedTransparent peer review at Nature Communications”.

I was dumbstruck. A journal of the notoriously elitist, secretive NPG, is opening its peer review, after going open access (OA) just one year before? Will Nature Communications be the avant-garde of open science at NPG, transforming the entire institution from the inside? Should all these OA and transparency advocating scientists, who turned their backs on established publishers in disappointment, return and start again submitting their research with the new, open NPG?

Hold your horses. The editorial announcement went on with the sub-headline: “Authors of papers submitted from January 2016 will be given the option to publish the peer review history of their paper”. This means, it is up to the authors to decide whether they want the world to see how their paper got accepted at Nature Communications. To me it looked as nothing but a pretence of openness, exactly because where the peer review history is expected to be most informative it might be unavailable. Straight away, I wrote an angry comment below the article that such “openness” is nothing more than a fig leaf, in fact a subversive move against the entire OA and science transparency movement. I even demanded that Nature Communications should instead follow the example of the EMBO Journal, which according to my knowledge published review reports of all their accepted manuscripts. Continue reading “Optionally transparent peer review: a major step forward, but which direction?”

Is EMBO funding misconduct?

This is a NEWS post.

My Twitter feed recently showed that the highly respected European research organisation, EMBO, is funding a scientist directly associated with possible misconduct and data manipulation.

EMBO has announced on December 8th: Nine scientists receive EMBO Installation Grants, each of the nine recipients is also to obtain the prestigious title of EMBO Young Investigator.

The problematic scientist in question is the Portuguese Sónia Melo, with research interest in “Exosomes in intra-tumor heterogeneity”. She is returning to Europe from the MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, US, and is to receive from EMBO the funding of ” 50,000 Euros annually for three to five years” for her new lab in University of Porto, Portugal.

Indeed, Melo’s publication list is stellar, her sheer impact factor justifies every possible research grant. Or does it? Are image duplications any kind of concern for EMBO, especially those strangely rotated and flipped ones, which can very unlikely happen due to negligence or technical error? Continue reading “Is EMBO funding misconduct?”