Academic research is dependent on funding, and funding agencies, both public and charity ones, play a crucial gatekeeper function in deciding who will go on to continue researching or even working in science, and who will not. With great power comes great responsibility. Unfortunately, funders traditionally end up serving the interests of select elite scientists by confusing the needs of those with the greater good of science as such. Money is dumped on the biggest pile, either to established star researchers or to their privileged academic scions. In this zero-sum game of science funding, many early career researchers see their grant applications rejected and are forced out of academia. The logic seems to be that this research proletariat would have spent it on booze and candy anyway, while the high elite will be investing it wisely to produce great science. Or whatever the funders, advised by that very elite, perceive to be great science. The guest post below by Shravan Vasishth, professor for psycholinguistics and neurolinguistics at the University of Potsdam, Germany, tells of a peer reviewer experience of his when it hit against such attitude from the most prestigious EU research funder, the European Research Council (ERC).
On March 16th I stood a court trial by the trachea transplanters and University of Würzburg professors Heike and Thorsten Walles against myself. The judge (it was the same who passed the injunction against me) will announce his decision on April 6th, just as I will stand trial in Berlin against their trachea transplant colleague Philipp Jungebluth (see this report). I publish here an extended memory-based protocol which I first published on Facebook. Meanwhile, several large institutions built a protective wall of silence around Walles and their tracheal transplants. The German Medical Association refused investigation in a bizarre letter which I also publish below.
The court hearing
It was the so-called speed trial, so instead of examining evidence, everyone was free to tell the judge their views. Mostly, Walles and their lawyer spoke, occasionally, my lawyer and I were able to squeeze a word in to reject the outlandish or false claims. For example, while her lawyer insisted the tracheal transplants were full success despite dead patients, Heike Walles challenged me to compare her transplants with the first heart transplant which failed. I pointed out that this is exactly the same argument Paolo Macchiarini uses to defend his own failed trachea transplants (for example, here). Continue reading “Will words or actual evidence count in the Walles case?”
This is a new guest post from Johan Thyberg, a retired professor for cell and molecular biology from Sweden, a known activist against science fraud and author of the 2009 book “Scientific Fraud or Legal Scandal?”. Thyberg played a key role in uncovering the research misconduct and horrendous patient abuse around the trachea transplant surgeon Paolo Macchiarini, which took place at Alma Mater, the Karolinska Institutet (KI) in Stockholm, and left at KI alone 3 patients dead (his last plastic trachea recipient there, Yesim Cetir, died yesterday after years of suffering).
After a previous guest post by Thyberg, which criticised KI’s handling of the Macchiarini scandal, it is an honour for me to present his new article on my site. It deals with another international star of regenerative medicine whom KI recruited soon after Macchiarini: Kenneth Chien. The people who recruited Chien were also the same who made Macchiarini’s professorship at KI possible: the then-chancellor Harriet Wallberg and the cell biology professor Urban Lendahl. Both had to resign from their positions with the KI’s Nobel Committee in the wake of Macchiarini scandal (see my report here).
This is what Chien’s 20-head strong lab is working on at KI, according to its website:
“The central scientific interest of the Chien lab is to understand heart development at the molecular and cellular level, with the ultimate goal of applying the developmental principles, logic, pathways, technology, and model systems to unravel human heart disease”.
According to Thyberg, Chien’s engagement at KI is less about his actual scientific achievements, which seem objectively rather modest relative to his elite status there, but more about personal networks and money, which include pharma industry and a certain Chinese investor. One of these Chien-related businesses is Moderna Therapeutics, a biotech start-up which STAT News brought a critical special report on.
Below I am publishing Thyberg’s own English version article, a Swedish version appeared on March 17th on NewsVoice.
The German trachea transplanters Heike and Thorsten Walles fitted three patients with pig-intestine-based airway grafts. They responded to my inquisitive reporting about these with a court injunction, the trial takes place this week, on March 16th. A commission of their Unversity of Würzburg initially absolved Walles of all suspicions of research misconduct, only to start the investigation anew as evidence of heavy data manipulation in their papers emerged (see my previous report). Roland Jahns, specially recruited as medical expert from the same University Clinic Würzburg where both Walleses work, was dismissed after he insulted me as “pseudoscientist” to defend his colleagues’ questionable attitude to data integrity, medical ethics and patient welfare. A new expert will be recruited, but Jahns did reveal some clues to what happened to the two last Walles patients operated in Stuttgart in 2007 and 2009, just before they received their professorships in Würzburg.
It appears Thorsten Walles issued two radically opposing versions of the 2007 patient’s state. In his publications, he presented the intervention as “compassionate use” case and the patient as stable, but in need of innovative strategies to cure his condition. In the medical file however, Walles described the patient as terminally ill and dying from cancer. The intervention to replace his airways with a never-before-tested pig-intestine large patch was presented as a palliative approach, which however turns the entire concept of either palliative care or compassionate use care on its head. In any case, the graft had to be removed after only 2 weeks, the patient died four weeks later due to massive bleeding and multi-organ failure. Walles decided that this disastrous incident had nothing to do with the transplant, so when they recruited their next patient to sign an informed consent in 2009, they simply didn’t tell him what happened to his predecessor. That last patient was also post-suicidal and in psychiatric treatment (though not yet officially of unsound mind, his mental state further deteriorated later on). Continue reading “Walles tracheal transplant patients: secrets and lies”
Antonia Joussen, German professor and head of the ophthalmology clinic at the Berlin university hospital Charite, is innocent of research misconduct in any form, despite of all the evidence of data irregularities in her publications which emerged in 2015 on PubPeer (see my detailed report here). This is at least what the German Research Foundation (DFG) decided two weeks ago, despite never disputing the PubPeer evidence and even admitting that some of Joussen’s publications do contain manipulated figures. There however, DFG decided that it was Joussen’s co-authors who secretly manipulated the data without her knowing, while her authorship on these problematic papers was anyway accidental and attributed to her behind her back as well. With such argumentation, even as a senior researcher Joussen was not supposed to ensure the data integrity in her own papers. Continue reading “DFG decision: Antonia Joussen innocent victim of co-authors’ data manipulations”
The EU €1-Billion-Flagship Human Brain Project (HBP) has passed its midterm evaluation with flying colours. Noone knows exactly what the objectives of this bombastic project is, as members of the evaluation panel indicated to me, while others refused to answer this question. The HBP leadership sure keeps the exact definition of these objectives secret, or maybe they don’t know them themselves. Which is easy to understand, because given the leniency HBP keeps receiving from those supposed to evaluate it, its real objective becomes perfectly clear: to secure the public funding. There, HBP succeeded indeed, the €1 Billion seems rather safe. It is none of the public’s business where the money will go, but it can rest assured it will certainly go somewhere. The public should also not expect any deliverables or return on its research investment, this the HBP leadership already made perfectly clear. I am showing below what a farce the recent HBP evaluations were, while the positive outcome was much hailed as evidence for excellent scientific performance. Continue reading “Human Brain Project: bureaucratic success despite scientific failure”
s we learned it from the Swedish documentary „Experimenten“, the scandal trachea surgeon Paolo Macchiarini didn’t much like to operate on sick cancer patients: they died too quickly after receiving a trachea transplant. This is why Macchiarini was said to have moved on to patients outside of any life-threatening conditions, like the Russian car accident victim Yulia Tuulik. She died because of the plastic trachea which Macchiarini implanted into her. Yesim Cetir, young victim of a botched operation, was slightly luckier to survive the plastic trachea, but only because it was removed and because of constant emergency care and multiple organ transplants (she is presently in very grave state). However, it seems that even Macchiarini’s cancer patients could have led a relatively long life, had they not agreed to receive his trachea transplants. And I am not speaking about the lethal plastic ones. In fact, the “biological” grafts made of decellurised dead donor tracheas were not such a great success either, and seem to have brought suffering and have shortened lives instead of prolonging them. The British UCL and its hospital UCLH are preparing their own clinical trial with cadaveric tracheas, while busily covering up their role in the Macchiarini scandal.