Transparency in action as genetics paper falls to fraud — and lots of it
Talk about a career-killer. The following retraction, from Genetics and Molecular Research, an online journal, spares nothing in its evisceration of an unfortunate graduate student who compiled an impressive list of transgressions in a single manuscript.
The 2010 article, titled “Genetics and biochemical analyses of sensor kinase A in Bacillus subtilis sporulation,” came from the lab of Masaya Fujita at the University of Houston. The first author was a now-former graduate student named Jean-Calvin Nguele. Whether the title is accurate, we can’t say, but apparently not much else was.
Here’s the notice:
This paper has been retracted (without the consent of the submitting author, Jean-Calvin Nguele) because of serious fraud and plagiary issues. The submission letter, sent by Jean-Calvin Nguele, included forged signatures of Prahathees Eswaramoorthy, Mou Bhattacharya, and Masaya Fujita. Additionally, the paper contains information that was plagiarized from other publications, as well as unpublished data from research done in the laboratory of M. Fujita; these data and information were included without the authorization of the researchers that produced it. The journal editorial staff has decided to take this extreme measure after reviewing the evidence provided by M. Fujita (former professor of Jean-Calvin Nguele) and after receiving letters from Prahathees Eswaramoorthy, Mou Bhattacharya, and Masaya Fujita, indicating that they did not participate in the research that was published and did not authorize Jean-Calvin Nguele to include them as co-authors in this paper. Attempts were made to contact a fifth author, Edouard Ngou Milama, who is unknown to M. Fujita and co-workers in the Fujita lab, but no response was obtained. Jean-Calvin Nguele also did not respond to our efforts to contact him about this matter.
If the sense of betrayal comes through in this notice, it’s not an accident. Fujita seems to take great pride in his students, listing them prominently on his website. There’s even a charming photo essay devoted to Prahathees Eswaramoorthy, now at the NIH, who was the first graduate student to receive his PhD under Fujita’s mentorship.
Fujita told us that Nguele, a native of Gabon, left his lab in 2007 after an academic career in Houston that can best be described as unillustrious. He terminated his studies at the masters level, unable to get recommended for pursuit of a doctorate there.
Fujita said the fraudulent paper came to his attention when Eswaramoorthy noticed it during a literature search in early 2010 and brought it to his attention. He hadn’t published such a paper, hadn’t even heard of Genetics and Molecular Research, for that matter.
He quickly marshaled a pile of evidence showing that virtually everything about the article was fabricated — with the exception of the data Nguele stole from his mentor’s grant applications and other publications — but could not get the journal to react:
They tried to ignore our arguments.
Finally, after nearly a year and a half, the journal issued the retraction.
It was very frustrating, Fujita said.
We asked the journal why it took so long:
Some processes are slow. Our technical editor were responsible for this publication and he had some problems also caused the a little delay.
The authors did not quickly to send the comments in accordance with the retraction. Conclusion the sum of several factors.
However, the retraction was published and I believe correctly without openness to new questions. I ask for understanding and thank you for your cooperation.
Fujita, who called the whole situation “terrible,” said it has affected his vetting of potential graduate students, particular those from countries where documentation of academic records is difficult.
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