John Innes Centre director Dale Sanders rebuffs a non-peer reviewed internet troll

John Innes Centre director Dale Sanders rebuffs a non-peer reviewed internet troll

Regarding the Olivier Voinnet scandal and a recent data integrity case in Germany (marginally featuring a current group leader of the John Innes Centre in Norwich, UK), I had an email exchange with the director of this British plant science research centre, Dale Sanders. It started with Sanders demanding of me to cease-and desist from ever associating the misconduct-tainted cheater professor Voinnet with his John Innes Centre (despite that connection being very well-documented), and ended with Sanders calling me an “internet troll” and decreeing that my Voinnet reporting is not worth ever being read because it has not been peer reviewed.

The whole case revolves around the former star of plant sciences and current ETH professor Voinnet, though it is actually not at all about him or his own data manipulations. In July 2017, I brought an article, where concerns about the data integrity in publications of a very senior and influential German yeast biologist, Roland Lill, were raised on PubPeer. A past member of Lill’s lab, his PhD student Heike Lange, is now tenured researcher at the same CNRS institute in Strasbourg where Voinnet did most of his data manipulations. Lange has a number of papers which contain what clearly looks like duplicated western blot bands, she and LIll went to PubPeer to declare that the bands were never duplicated (details in my article). Yet Lange and Lill never substantiated their claims or showed any original gel scans for their common papers, which lets one wonder if those actually exist.

It turned out somewhat differently with another former PhD student of Lill, Janneke Balk, who is now the above mentioned group leader at Sanders’ John Innes Centre. Two common papers of Balk and Lill were flagged on PubPeer: Balk et al EMBO J 2004 and Balk et al, Mol Cell Biol. 2005.  She has not managed to address the concerns about the former yet (more about it later), but she did reply on PubPeer to the evidence of gel band duplication by admitting the copy-paste, posting the original gels and explaining at length exactly which band was duplicated and why:

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Voinnet’s CNRS investigator Catherine Jessus with own data integrity issues

Voinnet’s CNRS investigator Catherine Jessus with own data integrity issues

More suspected data manipulations in the papers by the French elite biologists. It was funny enough when the director and several lead figures at the Strasbourg CNRS institute for plant sciences IBMP, former home of the master data manipulator Olivier Voinnet, and even the institute’s evaluators, were found to sport quite a lot of shifty-looking data in their papers. This time, the irony is just too much. Catherine Jessus, developmental biologist specialising on cell cycle research on oocytes and director of CNRS l’Institut des sciences biologiques (INSB) was in charge of two misconduct cases, and now the data integrity of her own papers is called in question. One investigation led by Jessus was about, whom else, Voinnet and his IBMP sidekick Patrice Dunoyer. In summer 2015, Voinnet was barred from CNRS for 2 years (which sounds worse than it is, because his professorship at ETH Zürich in Switzerland remained untouched, read here), and Dunoyer was suspended for one entire month. Jessus’ secret investigation ended with no documents whatsoever but a terse press release made available to outsiders. Both Voinnet and Dunoyer are by now back to publishing papers in prestigious journals.

Jessus was also in charge of dealing with the misconduct evidence against Voinnet’s former postdoc Charles-Henri Lecellier, whom the mighty plant scientist (according to my sources) banned from his Strasbourg lab because he did not trust his research results. It seems Lecellier started to fudge data already during his PhD at CNRS Hôpital Saint-Louis in Paris (PubPeer record here). Imagine how bad it must get that Voinnet expels you for data manipulation! The tenured CNRS researcher was hence moved out of Voinnet’s sight, to work as group leader at the Institut de Génétique Moléculaire de Montpellier, where he continued his own line of data rigging, helped by his trusted friend from IBMP, Guillaume Vetter (see my earlier reporting for a German magazine here and here). Apparently, with full protection from CNRS: in 2013 Jessus actively opposed on behalf of CNRS the impending retraction of a Lecellier co-authored paper, despite earlier misconduct findings against his partner Vetter at the University of Luxembourg (evidence here, especially this letter, example of data manipulations here).

Continue reading “Voinnet’s CNRS investigator Catherine Jessus with own data integrity issues”

Voinnet’s sidekick Dunoyer welcomed at Nature Plants, despite retractions and admitted misconduct

Voinnet’s sidekick Dunoyer welcomed at Nature Plants, despite retractions and admitted misconduct

The Olivier Voinnet scandal of almost two decades-long research misconduct and data manipulations has reached its logical conclusion. The French plant pathogen researcher, and everyone who helped him manipulating and publishing dishonest (and occasionally retracted) papers was either forgiven or declared as fully reformed. The siRNA-co-discoverer Voinnet who, cynically put, was too big to fail, remained professor at ETH Zürich and kept his ERC funding. He is meanwhile back to publishing in exactly the same elite journals where he had to retract and correct papers for manipulations. Of all his “partners-in-crime”, only his dependent right-hand man (or sidekick) Patrice Dunoyer was ever investigated, and as punishment suspended for an entire month by his French employer CNRS. His lab was about to be dissolved, but the Nature Publishing Group came to rescue and accepted his paper (Incarbone et al 2017) just in the nick of time (it’s not even Dunoyer’s only recent publishing success, another one is Montavon et al 2017 in Nucleic Acids Research). The accompanying editorial in Nature Plants, written by the chief editor Chris Surridge can only be described as bizarre, and is titled: “Giving research a sporting chance“. Surridge, who apparently sees data manipulation as a professional sports in race with doping detectives, wrote:

“Dunoyer has been a long-time colleague and collaborator of Olivier Voinnert, and recently a number of their studies, three with Dunoyer as first author, have been retracted while a number more have had formal corrections published to address problems with presented data. However, these instances were investigated by the CNRS and Dunoyer served a temporary suspension as a result. We therefore treated the study we received as we would any other. It was accepted following two rounds of review, during which it was seen by four reviewers. The published paper contains substantial supplementary information (SI). Along with 10 additional figures, there are a further 12 pages presenting the raw data from which the presented figures have been assembled”.

Continue reading “Voinnet’s sidekick Dunoyer welcomed at Nature Plants, despite retractions and admitted misconduct”

CNRS lab of Voinnet’s right hand Patrice Dunoyer dissolved by director’s decree

CNRS lab of Voinnet’s right hand Patrice Dunoyer dissolved by director’s decree

The hammer has fallen. The lab of misconduct-tainted plant scientist Patrice Dunoyer at the CNRS Institut de Biologie Moléculaire des Plantes (IBMP) in Strasbourg, France, has been closed with a 48 hour notice, following the decision of the institute’s director Laurence Maréchal-Drouard. The (now former) lab members were informed by general mailing list announcement; the reasons for closure were officially “not related to integrity concerns”. The only good news for Dunoyer is that he is tenured, and cannot be sacked for his previous research misconduct, because CNRS already punished him for it with a whole one-month suspension.

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Susana Rivas: a new research integrity scandal in French plant sciences

Susana Rivas: a new research integrity scandal in French plant sciences

Susana Rivas, a CNRS research group leader from the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA) in Toulouse is now at the epicenter of a new research integrity scandal in plant sciences. In the last two years, France was shaken by the Olivier Voinnet scandal, when their former star researcher was found guilty of data manipulation throughout his entire career, from his PhD at The Sainsbury Laboratory in Norwich, UK, over his position of many years as research director at CNRS plant science institute in Strasbourg up to his current professorship at the ETH Zürich in Switzerland. Before she became CNRS group leader in 2003, the Spanish plant scientist Rivas worked as postdoc at The Sainsbury Laboratory, in the lab of Jonathan Jones, at around the same time when Voinnet was finishing his PhD there under David Baulcombe. Now, Jones retracted a paper authored by Rivas from the journal The Plant Cell, he also requested the retraction of another paper from his lab with Rivas as first author, in The Plant Journal. Meanwhile, I share here new evidence of suspected data manipulations from Rivas’ own lab in Toulouse, in her 5 publications which include PNAS, PLOS One, The Plant Cell and Nature Communications. Continue reading “Susana Rivas: a new research integrity scandal in French plant sciences”

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 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”