If you wish to report data irregularities, especially a recurrent pattern thereof, one is well adviced not to write to the scientist behind those published papers, but to the institutional Ombudsman. This is also what is recommended by the US Office for Research Integrity (ORI, here) and by two real-life whistleblowers from Sweden:
“Collect evidence, but don’t contact the accused with questions if you are certain that they fabricated data, because they may then hide their tracks. Identify the appropriate authority where misconduct should be reported; this could be at your own or the accused’s institution”.
My own experience with reporting evidence to institutional Ombudspersons is mixed. Some do not reply at all (one of those has actually shady data in his own papers), some eventually write something non-saying back, some do take the issue seriously. A German university Ombudsman quickly put right a professor and dean of her department, and issued an apology on her behalf, after she attacked me for disagreeing with her on the academic merits of predatory conferences and medals issued by the false Linköping University professor Ashutosh Tiwari.
The Ombudsman of the University of Osnabrück in northern Germany, when alerted to PubPeer evidence of some strange image duplications in papers by an Osnabrück plant scientist, acted differently. The Ombudsman, a law professor, indirectly threatened me with a libel lawsuit, and refused to process the notification. The next day, the plant scientist admitted duplications on PubPeer, one paper has been already extensively corrected. Continue reading “Princess Sabine, her Ombudsman chaperone and a frog”→
The French scientific society CNRS, a huge country-wide network of research institutes and one of the most influential science institutions in Europe, had enough of me and my reporting. They now blocked me on Twitter, so I don’t spoil their celebration of a book by their senior director and chief of research integrity, Catherine Jessus. The book is titled “Étonnant vivant”, which translated roughly means “Amazing ways to improve your Life science publications with just a little bit of photoshop”. I previously reported about some examples of this art in Jessus publications, which CNRS did not really appreciate.
And of course CNRS did not take it lightly when my past reporting forced them to deal with the Olivier Voinnet affair, whose investigator was Jessus. Neither did they like my writings about another misconduct scandal she had very successfully kept under wraps, that around the former Voinnet postdoc Charles-Henri Lecellier, now CNRS group leader in Montpellier. What finally took the biscuit was my constant leaking of misconduct evidence and of internal information from the former Voinnet institute in Strasbourg, Institut de Biologie Moléculaire des Plantes (IBMP), or as I keep proposing to rebrand it, The Olivier Voinnet Institute for Research Integrity in Plant Sciences. CNRS initially tried it nicely, by sending the IBMP deputy director Jean-Luc Evrard to call me “baby”, then “idiot”, while instructing all other institute employees never to communicate with me, and eventually CNRS simply blocked me on Twitter.
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:
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.
There is a popular saying: “A fish stinks from the head down”. This is what the situation starts to look like for French CNRS Institut de Biologie Moléculaire des Plantes (IBMP) in Strasbourg, also unofficially known as “The Olivier Voinnet Institute for Research Integrity in Plant Sciences”, after its most famous former research director. A publication from the lab of the institute’s head, Laurence Maréchal-Drouard, seems to contain evidence of inappropriate data manipulation. The gel shown in Figure 1A of Salinas et al 2014, seems to have “no less than 4 copies of a background patch”, according to a concerned reader who contacted me with this evidence. Drouard herself did not reply to my email, possibly because she and her entire CNRS institute are banned from communicating with me.
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”→