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”

Voinnet retraction brings entire school of thought crashing down

Voinnet retraction brings entire school of thought crashing down

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).

Evidence posted on PubPeer in July 2016 which caused retraction of Dunoyer et al 2010

Continue reading “Voinnet retraction brings entire school of thought crashing down”

Professors: innocent victims of snakes at their bosoms? A guest post from Sweden

Professors: innocent victims of snakes at their bosoms? A guest post from Sweden

The following guest post by a Swedish professor under the assumed name of ”Frank Nilsson” (his real identity is known  to me) is an open letter response to a recent article in Svenska Dagbladet by  Sven Stafström, Director General of the Swedish Research Council (Vetenskapsrådet, VR). There Straftröm wrote, in the wake of the Paolo Macchiarini scandal:

“Research misconduct is rare, but when it occurs it is usually individuals or small research teams working under the strong influence of a dishonest research leader. Such a closed environment makes it more difficult to quickly detect cheating. […]

The main responsibility for combating scientific fraud through preventive measures and for investigating suspected fraud and taking action is the responsibility of the country’s universities and colleges – the research organizations. […]

Of course it is also crucial to handle the matter properly, when suspicions of scientific misconduct occur. The Swedish Research Council has repeatedly argued that this should be done in a manner that guarantees independence from the influence of personal connections and other conflicts of interest, research misconduct should be investigated by an independent body”.

Continue reading “Professors: innocent victims of snakes at their bosoms? A guest post from Sweden”

Is Guillaume Moissiard that Voinnet co-author now under investigation by CNRS and ETH?

The research misconduct scandal around the former star plant scientist, CNRS research director and currently ETH Zürich professor Oliver Voinnet is not over, and finally also some of his close collaborators and possible “partners in crime” start to feel the heat. One of Voinnet’s former co-authors is now being investigated by the French research society CNRS and the Swiss university ETH Zürich, according to the available information. It is likely to be Guillaume Moissiard.

A reader notified me about this September 8th 2016 news release on the site AlphaGalileo:

“Scientific misconduct: CNRS and ETH Zurich are setting up a commission of inquiry

Over the past few weeks, serious doubt has emerged regarding the figures featuring in several Molecular Biology publications. The CNRS and ETH Zurich have decided to set up a scientific commission of inquiry, with CNRS in the lead and contribution from ETH Zurich, which will be composed of experts. Their role will be to establish the facts.

In this context, institutions have a duty to act in strict compliance with ethical standards, which do not allow any public statement to be issued prior to completion of the process in order to ensure that an in-depth analysis is carried out, in which all parties can freely express their views. In the same logic and to guarantee that the inquiry is conducted serenely, the name of the experts forming part of the commission cannot be disclosed at this stage.

When the process is completed, the two institutions will decide if disciplinary measures have to be taken. The results and the consequences of the inquiry will then be made public”.

Continue reading “Is Guillaume Moissiard that Voinnet co-author now under investigation by CNRS and ETH?”

The mysterious public career execution of Robert Ryan

The mysterious public career execution of Robert Ryan

On August 24th I received an anonymous email over my website from a „Concerned Microbiologist”:

“I would like to bring the following to your attention on Robert P Ryan at the University of Dundee.
He holds several high profile research grants and has won several awards. He is under investigation at the University of Dundee.
He has also featured in articles signing his praises in terms of his research achievements.

Only days after, on August 28th, big news broke out in Scottish and Irish media. The Scotsman brought the headline: “Leading scientist suspended amid ‘research misconduct’ investigation”.  The newspaper then indicated that Ryan has to answer for suspected image manipulations in his papers:

“It is alleged he used identical images across multiple papers, claiming they were different strains. In some cases, it is alleged the evidence was flipped or rotated, which could indicate an “intent to deceive”, according to one source. The extent of the alleged misconduct is unclear, but the source indicated it is alleged to have spanned “a number of years” and involved numerous prestigious journals”.

Similar reports appeared on the same day in The Irish Times, The Courier and Herald Scotland, the latter also wrote:

“It is understood his research group at the university has been dissolved, with PhD students and staff scientists reallocated elsewhere while a formal investigation takes place”.

Continue reading “The mysterious public career execution of Robert Ryan”

Does ERC help cheaters pay protection money?

Does ERC help cheaters pay protection money?

Did you ever wonder why certain zombie scientists were still in academic jobs? Despite having been caught on data manipulation or biomedical ethics breach?

It seems the answer is simpler than you thought. They are paying for their protection, by giving pizzo to their crooked research institutions, just as in some unoriginal mafia film. Well, actually YOU are paying their pizzo, through your taxes, which in turn are awarded to these zombie scientists as public research funding, from the national, international and European funding agencies. In fact, the most prestigious and self-important European funding agency ERC is completely unprepared or maybe just unwilling to respond to evidence of research misconduct by their elite grant recipients.  

My understanding is provocative, and I may be utterly wrong. But absent of any reasonable alternative explanations, let us for a moment go with this one. I will provide you with examples where questionable European scientists surprisingly retained their European funding unquestioned (or even received fresh millions of Euros), and coincidently or not,  many institutions did not at all mind to keep them in their jobs. Continue reading “Does ERC help cheaters pay protection money?”