Yoshinori Watanabe data manipulations: much worse than officially presented

Yoshinori Watanabe data manipulations: much worse than officially presented

Earlier this months, a research misconduct scandal in molecular cell biology broke out in the big news. Yoshinori Watanabe, Japanese researcher of cell division and how cells separate their replicated DNA during mitosis and meiosis, was found guilty of scientific misconduct by his University of Tokyo (read the news here and here). This followed an investigation initiated in the fall of 2016, after anonymous whistleblowers submitted to the university a report accusing 6 Tokyo research groups of data manipulation, first and foremost, Watanabe (I managed to obtain this dossier, and publish it below).

As the outcome of the University of Tokyo investigations, which concluded on May 31st 2017, misconduct was determined in 5 publications from Watanabe’s lab, which appeared between 2008 and 2015 in the elite journals like Science, Nature and Nature Cell Biology. However, the whistleblower dossier lists 7 papers, one of them a paper in Cell from 2015 with duplicated gel images, and a 2011 EMBO Reports paper which contains a western blot which was obviously digitally retouched to remove unwanted bands. Watanabe’s assistant professor Yuji Tanno was also found guilty of misconduct, and indeed his 2015 Science paper with Watanabe looks like a total train wreck of data manipulations.  Yet it seems there is a tendency to present Watanabe’s deeds as mere mistakes (though grossly inappropriate ones) by a great genius scientist, who was confused by the complexity of rules on data acquisition and incidentally broke some while producing outstanding and absolutely reliable top-level research. Some of his peers seem to be calling for leniency or at least some understanding for Watanabe. The selected evidence from the whistleblower dossier which I post below suggests that Watanabe knew perfectly well what he was doing, and he did so in order to produce desirable results which his lab experiments failed to deliver, and which he needed in order to impress the choosy elite journals.

Continue reading “Yoshinori Watanabe data manipulations: much worse than officially presented”

Anil Sood and other questionable stars of MD Anderson

Anil Sood and other questionable stars of MD Anderson

The MD Anderson Cancer Center, part of the University of Texas and located in Houston, is a giant hub of huge cancer research money, even for US standards. They also do a lot of science there, which only purpose seems to be publishing in big journals in order to generate even more money. If there is any genuine interest to help cancer patients with actual research: this stands in a stark contrast with MD Anderson’s evident attitude to research reproducibility and data integrity. A number of their star researchers who published in most respectable journals papers, had their data flagged on the whistleblowing platform PubPeer as highly problematic. Yet MD Anderson apparently cannot care less. Their star cancer researcher and businessman Raghu Kalluri was never investigated for many problems in his publications, either in those with or those without his misconduct-tainted Portuguese co-author and ex-MD Anderson employee Sonia Melo. When nobody ever investigates your research practices (e.g., because your research institution is blinded by the investor money you brought in), you will per definition never be found guilty of any misconduct. This is probably exactly why the elite journal Nature recently accepted a new paper from the Kalluri lab (Kamerkar et al 2017), on the same topic of exosomes as cancer biomarkers as his irreproducible earlier masterpiece with Melo (Melo et al, Nature 2015). The new Nature paper even again features the same disgraced co-author, who lost a Nature Genetics paper (Melo et al, 2009) and her EMBO Young Investigator funding due to data manipulation.

There is more evidence for research misconduct at MD Anderson. Continue reading “Anil Sood and other questionable stars of MD Anderson”

Three retractions and lost court case for zombie Susana Gonzalez

Three retractions and lost court case for zombie Susana Gonzalez

The Spanish zombie scientist Susana González, former star of regenerative medicine and ageing research, now retracts two papers in Nature Communications, after she only recently retracted a paper in Cell Cycle. The responsibility for the absence of original data and data manipulations is with her. She also recently lost her court case against her sacking with the Centro Nacional de Investigaciones Cardiovasculares (CNIC) in Madrid, though this may go into the next court instance.  Her ERC research grant of €2 Million remains suspended. I previously reported about this and Gonzalez’s data integrity issues as well as her sacking from CNIC, and later on about her new job with Centro de Biología Molecular Severo Ochoa (CBMSO), also in Madrid. It seems at the present stage, Gonzalez is out on her ear of doing research, but certainly not out of being employed in academic research in Spain.  Continue reading “Three retractions and lost court case for zombie Susana Gonzalez”

Open Letter in support of my investigation of trachea transplants in Germany, by Rafael Cantera

Open Letter in support of my investigation of trachea transplants in Germany, by Rafael Cantera

Below a support letter by Rafael Cantera, professor of zoology at the University of Stockholm in Sweden, addressed to the leadership of the University Clinic Würzburg. This is because two professors of this German university, Thorsten Walles and Heike Mertsching (now Walles) chose to respond to my inquiries about their earlier trachea transplants made from pig intestine (see my detailed report here) with lawyers’ financial blackmail and right after, with court actions, which had me sentenced guilty with a  threat of a prison term of 6 months, without my prior knowledge (see case description here). Such are the peculiarities of German law: internet bloggers are basically  legally defined here by default as criminals, and professors as infallible and divine beings (in fact, even Walleses’ former boss and collaborator Paolo Macchiarini is still a protected adjunct professor at their former common place of work, the Medical University Hannover). I received lots of support from my readers, and was also invited to give an interview with the French magazine Mediapart (German version here). Now, I am deeply grateful to Prof. Cantera for his support, and hope other international and maybe even German academics join in and sign below.  Continue reading “Open Letter in support of my investigation of trachea transplants in Germany, by Rafael Cantera”

The western blot doctors of Silesia

The western blot doctors of Silesia

Protein expression analysis by western blots appears to be the weak spot of life science, because these blots are so often reported to be manipulated. However, this is only because anybody, even without any background in biology can spot re-used western blot bands, just using a good eye or some computer skills. Unlike with other analytical tools, like real-time PCR or microscopy imaging, you don’t need specialist knowledge or access to raw data to spot digital manipulations of western blots. One of the most famous western blot breeders is the Brazilian diabetes researcher Mario Saad (see whistleblower reports on my site here and here). Below is the case of his two colleagues from Poland.

Some time ago, I was contacted by a Polish scientist with a dossier of suspected western blot duplications in the publication of the pharmacologist Bożena Gabryel from the Department of Pharmacology at the Medical University of Silesia in Katowice, Poland. Gabryel specializes in oxidative stress research, four of her publications on this topic were accused to feature duplicated western blots, in different context. Sometimes suspicions were raised that selected individual bands in different western blots look too similar, which might suggest manipulative band duplications.

Soon after, another whistleblower independently contacted me with another dossier about yet another set of Gabryel’s papers, all featuring as lead or even corresponding author Krzysztof Łabuzek, who is an adjunct professor at this same Medical University  of Silesia with interest in immune system and who also has a clinical practice for internal medicine in a small town near Katowice. Labuzek’s papers seem to feature a whole gallery of re-used western blots, as the dossier suggests. Additionally, that second whistleblower expressed concerns about  western blot splicing and suspected band re-used in papers featuring the first author Joanna Ślusarczyk, PhD student in the lab of Agnieszka Basta-Kaim at the Polish Academy of Sciences in Krakow. Basta-Kaim is also co-author on one Gabryel paper now suspected of data manipulations.

Continue reading “The western blot doctors of Silesia”

“Notification of Suspected Research Misconduct”, by 4 Macchiarini-whistleblowers

Below I am publishing a recent letter to the Vice-Chancellor of Karolinska Institutet (KI) Karin Dahlman-Wright, authored by the four KI medical researchers, Matthias Corbascio, Oscar SimonsonKarl-Henrik Grinnemo and Thomas Fux. They have been for some time attempting to alert KI to the irregularities in patient records and published data by Paolo Macchiarini, but were instead harassed and persecuted under the former Vice-Chancellor of KI, Anders Hamsten. The four whistle-blowers previously made their evidence public in an open letter to KI directorate. In April 2016 they received a prize from Transparency International for their courage.

The KI had much of its leadership as well as of its Ethics Council removed in the wake of Macchiarini-scandal (see updates to this article). Most likely, there will be more resignations among senior scientists and managers, as the investigations progress and conclude. At the same time, the associated Karolinska University Hospital seems to have sneaked out of responsibility, no investigations are being performed there, as Bosse Lindquist, author of seminal Macchiarini documentary, has criticised. The hospital was Macchiarini’s employer and approved all his controversial trachea transplant operations on patients, some performed inside the hospital. Correction: according to Swedish media, the hospital director, Melvin Samsom, initiated an investigation which results are to be expected in August 2016. The external examiner is Kjell Asplund, professor emeritus of medicine and chairman of Smer, the Swedish council on medical ethics.

The evidence presented by the four KI whistle-blowers deals with data irregularities in Macchiarini’s paper in The Lancet (Jungebluth et al, 2011). This first recipient of a plastic “regenerated” trachea transplant was Andemariam Beyene, who died two years later (details see here). The scaffold was produced by the nanotechnology lab of the UCL professor Alexander Seifalian (details in my report here). Unfortunately, The Lancet has ceased replying and even acknowledging receiving my emails (in particular in regard to another misconduct case in regenerative medicine in Sweden, that of Sumitran-Holgersson). The Lancet previously declared to me not to be addressing  themselves any available evidence of ethics breach and data manipulation, but instead wait for the results of institutional investigations.

The entire document is available here, below is the abbreviated version.

Continue reading ““Notification of Suspected Research Misconduct”, by 4 Macchiarini-whistleblowers”

Blatt is back: “open debate cornerstone of scientific process”

Blatt is back: “open debate cornerstone of scientific process”

Michael Blatt, Regius Professor of Botany at the University of Glasgow and Editor-in-Chief of the journal Plant Physiology, is back into the arena, fighting against the anonymity in post-publication peer review (PPPR). I have been in regular email exchange with Blatt, as indicated in my earlier blog post about the advantages of signed PPPR.

Now the British scientist has published another editorial in his journal, titled: “When Is Science ‘Ultimately Unreliable’?”, where he addresses the arguments usually brought up in support of anonymity in PPPR. In his earlier editorial in October 2015, named “Vigilante Science”, Blatt has exposed himself to plenty of criticism, including from my side, and it seems most of it happened due to a misunderstanding.

Because for Blatt (and also for myself), it is important to separate between whistleblowing of potential misconduct on the one hand and “scientific critique” on the other hand, when talking about PPPR. Blatt specifically sets aside “the issues of policing for fraud and whistleblowing “, and declares his assent “on the need to protect the whistleblower”. But also here, he distinguishes in his new editorial between identity protection and anonymous evidence:

“Anonymity is not the answer, however, not if due process is to ensure civil society and protect the innocent from denouncement or worse”.

As journalist, I agree. Though I always take care to protect my sources when they do not wish to be named, I certainly prefer knowing who these sources are, for a number of good reasons. Yet I also occasionally take hints from those whose identity or association I do not know at all, it really depends on the nature of information they share. Continue reading “Blatt is back: “open debate cornerstone of scientific process””