So how peripheral was Dipak Das’ resveratrol work, really?
In the wake of the massive allegations of fraud by resveratrol researcher Dipak Das, other researchers in the field are clearly trying to distance themselves from the University of Connecticut scientist. Nir Barzilai told us yesterday, for example, that despite Das seemingly’ impressive publication record, “Rome was not built on Dr. Das.”
Harvard’s David Sinclair went further, telling The New York Times that he didn’t know who Das was:
“Today I had to look up who he is. His papers are mostly in specialty journals,” said David Sinclair, a leading resveratrol expert at the Harvard Medical School.
His comments to The Chronicle of Higher Education were similar:
David Sinclair, a professor of pathology at Harvard University who is known for his discovery that resveratrol appears to extend the life of mice and fruit flies, said he had not heard of Das. “I’ve not worked with him,” Sinclair wrote in an e-mail. “Looking through it, the work is generally not published in leading molecular-biology journals.”
But knowing something about how the often close-knit world of science works, we were a bit skeptical of that claim. So was Derek Lowe, of the In the Pipeline blog:
Das appears to have had a business relationship with Longevinex, a well-known supplier of resveratrol supplements. I note that Bill Sardi, the managing partner of the firm that runs Longevinex, has showed up on this site in the comments section before, as have many fans of the product itself. (I know that David Sinclair has heard of those guys, because they were throwing around his name for a while, which seems to have led to talk of possible legal action).
So when we uncovered a link showing that Das and Sinclair served together on the scientific committee of the “first international scientific conference of Resveratrol and Health” in Denmark in 2010, we figured we’d ask Sinclair whether he had misspoken. He responded:
I apologize. I did not expect my off-the-cuff comments to be printed. I will be more careful.
We appreciate Sinclair’s candor, although we feel obligated to note that he is hardly media-naive, having been quoted in countless articles about resveratrol over the years. He co-founded Sirtris, later sold to GlaxoSmithKline for $720 million, based on his early work on resveratrol.
None of this means anyone but Das is implicated in his potential misconduct. And Das’ work may in fact be peripheral. We trust Lowe, whose track record is excellent. He writes:
Now for the last big issue: what does this do to the whole resveratrol/sirtuin field? Not as much as you might think. As mentioned above, Das really doesn’t seem to have been that big a figure in it, despite cranking out the publications, and a lot of interesting (although often confusing) work has come from a variety of other labs.
Still, when researchers with vested interests — be they intellectual or financial — in a controversial and lucrative field characterize another scientist’s work that way, it’s worth fact-checking their claims. So we’ll be following the upcoming retractions closely to see what kind of impact the withdrawal of the original papers will have on the field. He has, as we’ve noted, been cited frequently.
Update, 9 a.m. Eastern, 1/13/12: It turns out that at least two of those citations were by Sinclair. Eagle-eyed commenter LNV points out that a 2006 Nature Reviews paper by Sinclair and a colleague cited two of the Das group’s articles.
Update, 4 p.m. Eastern, 1/16/12: More good coverage from Tom Bartlett at the Chronicle of Higher Education about what effect these allegations are likely to have on the field, and from Derek Lowe of In The Pipeline, taking apart a Bill Sardi statement that we also received this morning but didn’t post.