*Grad student’s misdeeds may cost prof Carsten Carlberg a job
In November, we reported on two retractions in Cell and the Journal of Molecular Biology involving misconduct in the lab of biochemist Carsten Carlberg, of the University of Eastern Finland, in Kuopio.
Carlberg also holds an appointment in computational biology at the University of Luxembourg, which last year launched an investigation — at his behest, he says — into the case. Well, the officials in Luxembourg finally have spoken, and Carlberg, it seems, may soon be out of his job there, the Tageblatt newspaper reports.
Carlberg, to our knowledge, has never been accused of ethical violations in the case, and the inquiry didn’t change that. Rather, the bad actor appears to be his former
post-doc graduate student in Finland, Tatjana Degenhardt. But the University of Luxembourg may seek to dismiss Carlberg after concluding that, as the senior author of the two retracted articles, he bore responsibility for the validity of the results and, by implication, the deception.
Ironically, Carlberg says he asked the school to undertake the investigation even though none of Degenhardt’s research had been conducted using that school’s resources. In an email today to Retraction Watch, he writes:
Although the University of Luxembourg was not directly involved in none of the two retracted papers by Tatjana Degenhardt (neither by funding nor did Tatjana ever worked in Luxembourg), on my request they finally asked a committee to investigate the question of my involvement (since I am employed there). The University of Luxembourg is very young (8 years) and has not yet established procedures for such cases (but will have soon), therefore, it took far longer than probably for other universities.
Carlberg followed that message with this:
taking my responsibility at the moment of the retraction, which the external scientific committee now confirmed, may mean that in worst case I loose my affiliation in Luxembourg. As said before, the University of Luxembourg has not yet any experience with such cases, so they act as formal as they can, i.e. after the scientific committee they will ask now an internal committee (the same that has selected me for the position same years ago), whether my failure as supervisor in spotting the misconduct before publication is severe enough to end my contract. I was asked, whether I prefer to resign before, but I as I am not guilty for fraud, I see this as the wrong sign. Scientifically I am “cool” about the case, but unfortunately somebody gave the internal info to the yello[w] press, who does not understand the details of the case. Since not much happens in a small country as Luxembourg, the newspapers have spotted on the case. Apparently there is some local politics behind it, since the university reported yesterday its annual report (i.e. its success story), which some opponents of the university seem to have chosen to sabotage.
When we first reported on this case, Carlberg had posted on his website a letter accepting responsibility for Degenhardt’s actions. Some readers of this site found that notice refreshingly candid, and even righteous. It has since disappeared from the university’s website, but that seems to be because of lost pages following a merger between Kuopio and the University of Eastern Finland. Today, Carlberg reiterated the sentiment in the letter:
To be honest, I will feel bad about that it happened in my lab until the end of my life, so yes, I feel responsible. Many colleagues told me that it may have happened to them in the same way, since the type of major manipulations that Tatjana did are difficult to spot (minor punctual changes of long Excel tables from PCR runs). As a PI you do not have the time to check all this, you would need 48 h every day with a 10 people lab with 5 qPCR machines running all day. So, I hope that the case of Tatjana is a warning for all other members of my team and others that know the details of the story. She was very talented but finally too ambitious. It gave me a big learning experience and I reduced the number of team members as a consequence.
Correction, 5 p.m. Eastern, 5/21/11: “Post-doc” changed to “grad student” in headline and third paragraph. Thanks to commenter thetati for pointing out the error.
Please see an update with a few more details.