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 Dunoyerwas 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and collaborator of Olivier Voinnert, and recently a number of their studies, three with Dunoyer as first author, have been retracted while a number more have had formal corrections published to address problems with presented data.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”.
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.
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”→
Another retraction hits the fallen star plant scientist Olivier Voinnet. This time it is a previously corrected paper in Science, which was pulled after new evidence of further data manipulations appeared on PubPeer some months after its 3rd correction.
This makes it Voinnet’s 8th retraction, but the loss of the Dunoyer et al 2010 paper is more than just another brick falling from his great publishing record edifice. It is one of the two pillars of an entire school of thought in the field of plant pathogen defence, which we now witness crumbling into dust (see my earlier report and a brief summary below).
The Dunoyer et al 2010 paper has been corrected twice before (both are behind paywall, the one from April 15th 2011 acknowledges image reuse: “The image in Fig. 3B (center panel) was previously published as Fig. 1e in P. Dunoyer et al., Nat. Genet. 39, 848 (2007)”). The third correction from January 22nd 2016 declared a shopping list of further image irregularities, with Patrice Dunoyer taking full responsibility, just like he did on many other occasions (see my earlier report here).
The case of the former star plant scientist Olivier Voinnet is being quietly concluded. After now seven paper retractions, more than twice as many controversial corrections and after his misconduct was made official by the investigative commission of the ETH Zürich, the institutions, journals and a number of scientific peers are showing all the intention for this scandal to become quietly forgotten, as some kind of damage control. Some of them may have learned this lesson in research integrity and drawn consequences. Others: quite the opposite, which sends a dangerous message to the academic community and public about their attitude to problematic science.
Some weeks ago, the journal RNA has issued a controversial corrigendum where every single figure was “corrected” due to excessive data manipulation (Moissiard et al, 2007). And now, the elite journal Science has decided NOT to retract, but instead to correct a certain Voinnet paper (Deleris et al, 2006), despite earlier retraction decision by the investigative commission and the numerous data manipulations Voinnet now admits. Thus, Science editors have placed their authority above that of the scientist peers who were thoroughly examining Voinnet’s misconduct. This is so far the crown of a series of rather controversial corrections for Voinnet. The journal also corrects two other Voinnet papers (Navarro et al, 2006 and Dunoyer et al, 2010, the latter has been already corrected twice previously). With these two Errata in Science (here and here), it is Dunoyer who takes all responsibility for manipulated data.