The Perennial Northern Blot of Lopez-Otin

The Perennial Northern Blot of Lopez-Otin

On the Iberian peninsula, there seems to be a tradition to give well-connected scientists suspected (or even convinced) of data fudging an award. In Spain, Carlos López-Otín, Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Oviedo, was given a Mentoring Award from the elite journal Nature, on recommendation from Spanish academia and despite evidence of data irregularities in his papers. This prompted my readers, in particular the famous pseudonymous data integrity sleuth Clare Francis, to comment on on PubPeer and on my site (as “Zebedee”) with additional evidence, which made Lopez-Otin’s scientific credibility look progressively worse and worse, with each new post.

Eventually, an image of a Northern blot (showing expression of mRNAs which code for proteins) was found to appear recurrently across several papers from that Oviedo lab, where the authors pretended it was a newly produced analysis. In reality, it was a “library” loading control reused so the authors could re-run same RNA gel of human tissue lysates over the years and never check ever again what they have actually loaded on their gels. Eventually Lopez-Otin et al even stopped caring what order of samples that original loading control had.

Clare Francis was soon joined on his quest for the Perennial Northern Blot of Oviedo by Elisabeth Bik, famous microbiology blogger and image duplication detective, and my regular contributor (also pseudonymous) Smut Clyde, who now presents you the findings of no less than 23 appearances of that same northern blot in 23 publications from Lopez-Otin’s lab in the guest post below. It is just as convincing as if the Spanish actor Antonio Banderas appeared in 23 different films still dressed in same costume from his 1995 hit Desperado, carrying same guitar case. Incidentally, also Lopez-Otin’s Perennial Northern Blot made its first appearance at around that year.
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Michael Persinger’s crank magnetism

Michael Persinger’s crank magnetism

“What about you? Do you find it risible when I say the name…”

Michael Persinger?

Either you are laughing already, or you wonder what this is all about. Both audiences will sure be entertained by the following guest post of my regular contributor, Smut Clyde. For this is about Professor Michael Persinger, born 1945, psychologist and “natural philosopher” at Laurentian University in Canada, smart dresser and undervalued science fiction writer. Undervalued, because the scientific community seems to take his Kilgore-Trout-esque output at face value, his academic peers really seem to think that was Persinger publishes on neuroscience, cancer, particle physics and virtually any topic which springs to his mind, is actual research. Scientific journals like PLOS One publish his science fiction short stories as peer reviewed works of science, while the revered PNAS and possibly also the less revered Scientific Reports invite him as guest editor to host fan fiction of his admirers. When Professor Persinger does get in trouble, it is never for impersonating a scientist, but for things like using rude words in the classroom.

No spoilers now, just read Smut Clyde’s guest post.

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Fried Divine Comedy, featuring anti-cancer cockroach and phallic fungus

Fried Divine Comedy, featuring anti-cancer cockroach and phallic fungus

This is a follow-up to the previous article, about a misconduct investigation at the Cardiff University in UK into the published works of cancer researcher Wen Jiang, professor of Surgery and Tumour Biology, Fellow of Royal Society of Medicine and chair of Cardiff China Medical Research Collaborative. The following guest post by my regular contributor Smut Clyde now delves deep into the peculiar approach with which Professor Jiang intends to cure cancer: namely by peddling herbal (and not so herbal) medicinal powders, manufactured by a Chinese company Yiling Pharmaceuticals. Jiang sees there no conflict of interest, even in presenting the patented concoctions of Yiling as his own research in Cardiff. It is not exactly the case that Jiang was hiding his connections to Yiling, outside of his conflict of interest declarations, that is. His own Cardiff University initiated the collaboration with the Chinese company in 2013 and proudly announced the engagement to the British Parliament in 2014. In 2015, Yiling helped Jiang and Cardiff University to organise The China–United Kingdom International Cancer Conference, attended by the First Minister of Wales and the Vice-Chancellor of the Cardiff University.

Jiang’s cancer-fighting magic ingredients are ginseng and other herbs, plus a cockroach, a parasitic fungus and bits of chicken gizzard, all sold by Yiling. Sometimes it includes Divine Comedy (don’t ask). Yiling’s potion named “Yangzheng Xiaoji” was certified by Cardiff University in an Impact statement as a metastasis inhibitor, which “has been shown to be beneficial to patients with certain solid tumours when used alone…“. The sole basis for this bold claim from respected British university was a 2009 paper by Yiling in an obscure Chinese journal, which incidentally is edited and published by Yiling.

Update: scroll down for relevant Cardiff University press release.

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Sharma’s bad karma, or is anyone peer reviewing nanotechnology?

Sharma’s bad karma, or is anyone peer reviewing nanotechnology?

Nanotechnology is the way to cure cancer and to save humanity of all its problems in general, often using all possible plants and their parts to create nanoparticles. This is what one learns from certain publications which often appear in chemistry journals, where one can be quite sure no biologist was ever invited to peer review those. In fact, one wonders if anyone at all ever peer reviewed them. That is certainly the impression one gets from the evidence gathered by my now regular pseudonymous guest contributor, “Smut Clyde. Below, he will tell us a tale of the photoshopping team around the physicist Prashant Sharma at the Indian School of Mines in Dhanbad, India. There are currently two dozens of Sharma papers flagged on PubPeer, several feature a regular coauthor Rashmi Madhuri, who was apparently threatening hers and Sharma’s critics with “an International cyber complaint and formal police complaint” and “a case of defamation of worth 50,000 $ (per author)”.

Besides already available PubPeer evidence of what looks like the most lazy approach to data photoshopping, Smut Clyde lists a case of a single cell culture microscopy image which found its way in no less but (currently) 8 papers by Sharma et al, in different context. There are also examples of some apparently very insolent cloning of nanoparticles and other stuff inside same image, that bad that one feels ashamed for everyone involved. Certainly for the respected journals.

In those cases, the expert nanotechnology editors and reviewers do not have an excuse to have missed the evidence of gross data manipulation due to being dazzled by heavy biology they are not really experts in. Here, it was obviously duplicated electron microscopy, spectra analyses and chemical reaction kinetics which did not at all look like they represented original experimental data. Maybe they are supposed to stand in as illustration, and the authors promised to send their real research data afterwards, and then forgot.

Except that in one case, Sharma et al did have to fix a publication with a Corrigendum, which apparently shows the same photoshopped collage, but slightly zoomed out. For the esteemed editor-in-chief of ACS Biomaterials and professor at Tufts University School of Engineering, David Kaplan, this was apparently good enough. The irony: this was only caught because the original manuscript version is available on the “pirate” site Sci-Hub, which hosts almost all paywalled scholarly publications. The same site, which ACS (American Chemical Society) just now successfully sued in US court and had several of its internet domains removed, to prevent nosy people from accessing ACS property without paying. All, as ACS declares: “for the benefit of Earth and its people”.

After the evidence against Sharma et al papers began to pop up on PubPeer, a strange thing happened. Massive wave of comments targeting many papers from Sharma’s institutional colleague at Indian School of Mines, Sagar Pal, appeared on PubPeer, which were basically randomly picked figures from Pal’s papers combined with a comment declaring those to be fake. The tone occasionally tried to emulate the jovial descriptions of irregularities found in Sharma et al papers. Yet those accusations were all without exception ridiculously empty and utterly unfounded, and indeed PubPeer removed them soon (possibly after my tweets).  Continue reading “Sharma’s bad karma, or is anyone peer reviewing nanotechnology?”

How Irun Cohen and Weizmann Institute almost cured diabetes

How Irun Cohen and Weizmann Institute almost cured diabetes

This is a new episode of the data manipulation affair around Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel (and another guest post by “Smut Clyde“), with the hope that Israeli researchers and their state officials finally step in and investigate what goes on in this institute, supported by external experts from the academic community. There are many good and honest researchers working at Weizmann, the dishonest deeds which used to happen (and maybe still happen at Weizmann) should never throw a shadow upon their work. This can only be achieved by an open debate in the scientific community worldwide and a large, independent investigation inside Weizmann.

My earlier article about Weizmann’s “stars” of research integrity, and the follow-up guest post by Smut Clyde, prompted a wider scrutiny by internet sleuths on PubPeer. One of them was the well-known pseudonymous Claire Francis. In this case presented below, while Ofer Lider, associate professor of Immunology at Weizmann, was dying from leukaemia, his dedicated colleagues were apparently secretly stuffing manipulated data into his publications. They continued to do so even after his death in 2004, and now Lider papers are being plucked apart on PubPeer. There are many co-authors, and the scientific narrative mostly circles around a “visionary” diabetes cure, the substance DiaPep277, a peptide fragment of the ubiquitous heatshock protein Hsp60.

What was done to the scientific and human legacy of the immunologist Ofer Lider, is the basically academic equivalent of urinating of someone’s literal grave. If this won’t make Weizmann leadership feel shame, I do not know what would. It was a travesty of two retracted papers and a meeting abstract of a DiaPep277 clinical trial by the trainwreck company Andromeda Biotech, and it made world news in 2014. What came out only now, thanks to the sleuths of PubPeer, is that this scandal of clinical trial statistics was supported by a preclinical cornucopia of rigged western blots made at Weizmann, which all served the purpose of delivering a promise of a diabetes “vaccine”.

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Yehiel Zick, Weizmann’s resident Western blot artist; by Smut Clyde

Yehiel Zick, Weizmann’s resident Western blot artist; by Smut Clyde

The  Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, is not just a renowned biomedical research centre of world calibre. It is also home to many Israeli artists, who take mundane scientific tools like western blot and microscopy images and transform those into modern, or in fact postmodern art. I listed some of these artists in my previous article, after which one of these researchers wrote to me comparing me to “a “judge” in some totalitarian countries”, waving “a ready death sentence”. Now, I am presenting a guest post from the pseudonymous “Smut Clyde” (who honoured my site before), which extolls the artistic achievements of yet another Weizmann artist, an actual Wunderkind of postmodern Western blot collage, Yehiel Zick.

In his day job, the near-pensioner Zick is a humble diabetes researcher, still studying insulin resistance, but also mechanisms of cancer and bone remodelling. He also heads the Department of Molecular Cell Biology at Weizmann. Less known is Zick for his published Western blot collages, which are being honoured in the guest post below. No less than seven Zick publications are currently being admired on PubPeer, all appeared in the Journal Of Biological Chemistry (JBC). Which is likely soon to become a major problem, because this journal destroyed the career of Zick’s colleague and another famous Western blot artist at Weizmann, Rony Seger, after the editors retracted 9 of his papers in one go. Both Seger and Zick earned their PhD degrees in the same lab of the late biochemist Shmuel Shaltiel at Weizmann, both worked on a related project, the former in 1975-1980, the latter in 1983-1988. The two published also some papers together. Did their mentor Shaltiel fail to spot his two students’ artistic inclinations? And if he did, how did he react? We will never know.

I did learn however from one Weizmann professor that this institute has a strange approach to investigating suspected research misconduct. Seger was apparently under investigation for some time, yet not much happened until JBC pulled the plug on his nine papers. Then things happened pretty quickly, though Seger still keeps his tenured job. Is Zick facing some retractions, followed by an involuntary retirement? And are all others safe, because they mostly had the wise foresight to avoid publishing in JBC?

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The rise and fall of an antivax paper, by Smut Clyde

The rise and fall of an antivax paper, by Smut Clyde

For the publisher Elsevier, antivax papers are apparently only a problem when they are too heavily manipulated. It took their journal 12 years to retract the notorious paper by Andrew Wakefield, because of data irregularities (details here and here). But the damage was done, an worldwide antivax movement was born, which keeps spreading bizarre and irrational paranoia that vaccines would cause autism in children (most recently supported by the disastrous US president Donald Trump, in tweets and in actual governmental policy). Vaccination rates dropped worldwide, and consequently deadly diseases considered long eradicated are making a comeback. But scholarly publishers and their journals bear here a heavy responsibility, by repeatedly publishing antivax papers and providing the anti-vax movement with the scientific legitimacy.

This was exactly what Elsevier did just now, again. Their Journal of Inorganic Chemistry published a paper by notorious antivax researchers Christopher Shaw, ophthalmology professor in the University of British Columbia, and his postdoc Lucija Tomljenovic. Both scientists enjoy full support of their Canadian university, despite that, together with another antivaxer, Yehuda Schoenfeld, they once had to retract a paper on the alleged neurotoxicity of aluminium adjuvant in vaccines, from the Elsevier journal Vaccine. The authors then simply republished the retracted masterpiece again in another journal, Immunologic Research, published by Springer.

The newly published Shaw paper in Journal of Inorganic Chemistry is again about alleged neurotoxicity of aluminium (or as authors prefer to call it, “aluminum”) , with a bold claim that it would cause autism in mice, as detected by some biomarkers authors saw as appropriate:

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