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”

Mario Saad and the return of the wandering western blot

The wandering western blot of Mario Saad (which I reported on previously) was spotted yet again, no less than three times, which makes it now 15. The duodecuplicated western blot is therefore now upgraded to a quindecuplicated one.  Also, some more of its new replication-happy friends emerged. A suspicion creeps in that Saad and his Brazilian colleagues José CarvalheiraCláudio De Souza and Lício Velloso only ever made a handful of western blots which were forced to stand in for all possible instances in their many publications in high-profile journals. Most interestingly, Saad’s State University of Campinas in São Paolo (Universidade Estadual de Campinas, UNICAMP), apparently saw this as a perfectly normal research method. Saad, and as far as we know also his 3 partners, never had to answer for their creative approach to science. This of course may change, since Saad already had to retract a number of papers (currently six, according to Retraction Watch). Several of his publications also received editorial expressions of concern, which could mean further retractions. All this may be gradually decreasing Saad’s standing and funding-pulling value at UNICAMP.

The scientist whose recent analysis of Saad blot breeding I present here exclusively, is Paul S. Brookes, his is the entire credit for the figures below. His entire analysis is available here as PPT file. Continue reading “Mario Saad and the return of the wandering western blot”

A personal tale of scientific misconduct

A personal tale of scientific misconduct

The Portuguese cancer researcher Sonia Melo was found guilty of “negligence in handling and presenting data” in her publications by the European life science society EMBO; she and her doctoral advisor Manel Esteller also had to retract a paper (Melo et al, Nature Genetics 41, 365–370, 2009). Despite further image irregularities in his other publications (where Melo was not a co-author), Esteller was tasked by his Spanish research institution IDIBELL to investigate himself.  As Principal Investigator (PI) he cannot be responsible to vouchsafe data integrity in his own papers, decreed IDIBELL leadership (of which he is actually part of).

The French plant scientist Olivier Voinnet still enjoys full institutional protection of his Swiss university ETH Zürich, despite his self-admitted misconduct. However, before he acknowledged to have been excessively manipulating data in his own papers, his subordinate researcher Patrice Dunoyer accepted sole responsibility. When the first retraction (of currently seven) hit, the retraction notice  of Dunoyer et al., Plant Cell 2004 read: “We wish to state that the first author, Patrice Dunoyer, was solely involved in generating the erroneous figure panels”. Dunoyer’s reward for such loyalty: despite a confidential CNRS investigation against him, he was also allowed to remain in his permanent position as group leader.

Most recently, Cell Press was faced with a dilemma. It was contacted by a junior author, Yao-Yun Liang, who admitted to have “manipulated the experiments to achieve predetermined results” in the papers in Cell and Molecular Cell. It is safe to assume this whistleblower also provided solid evidence, since Cell Press issued two Expressions of Concern (here and here). The last author, Xin-Hua Feng from Baylor College of Medicine in USA, denied everything “citing concerns about Liang’s motives and credibility”. Yet, this being Cell of Elsevier, the publisher simply tasked Feng with investigating himself. He was invited to reproduce the flagged experiments elsewhere, presumably followed by some “Voinnetting”, namely to use those to correct his manipulated paper. Unfortunately, I did not succeed reaching out to Liang, also his past collaborators did not know his current whereabouts. Feng, unsurprisingly, did not reply at all.

One can continue listing ad nauseam examples of retractions, corrections and expressions of concern where a junior author was assigned the exclusive blame, while the PI was presented as a hapless victim. It seems labs all over the world are truly infested by ruthless scheming PhD students and postdocs, whose only goal in life is to bite the hand that feeds them. The innocent PI is guilty of nothing more than keeping such snakes at his honest bosom, this is at least how universities and journals like to publicly present the instances of research misconduct. No-one wants reputational damage or loss of funding to hit their faculty, or to lose important contributors of exciting research papers. However, the reality is often somewhat more complicated. Continue reading “A personal tale of scientific misconduct”

The Duodecuplication of a Wandering Western Blot

This is a story of western blot, which might be holding the current record of re-use. While other papers are plagued by image duplications, this little western blot seems to have been used in a different context 12 times, in 10 papers, in 9 different journals. At least this is the current count. As the evidence suggests, the blot began its wandering adventures in 2006 and stood in for a different protein each time. It may have started as a western blot probed for glucose transporter GLUT4 or phosphotyrosine, but actually, it is now really hard to say what it may originally have been.

The wandering western blot’s owners are the Brazilian physiologists Mario José Abdalla Saad and his colleagues José Barreto Campello Carvalheira, Cláudio T. De Souza and Lício Augusto Velloso. I received the information from this, well, duodecuplication, from a concerned source whose identity I was asked to keep confidential. Therefore, I have assembled a PowerPoint file on this wandering western blot, with the corresponding editorial replies (or the lack of them) attached as presentation notes. The file is publicly accessible here. Continue reading “The Duodecuplication of a Wandering Western Blot”