ORI finds Parkinson’s-pesticides researcher guilty of faking data; two papers to be retracted
As The Scientist reported on Friday, the ORI found that Mona Thiruchelvam faked cell counts in two grant applications and a number of papers that claimed to show how the pesticides paraquat, maneb, and atrazine might affect parts of the brain involved in Parkinson’s. The Scientist notes:
A collaborator at UMDNJ first brought the matter to the attention of university research integrity officials a few years after Thiruchelvam joined the university in 2003, when he realized she was publishing cell density data without using his lab as she had done before. An initial inquiry was launched, for which Thiruchelvam provided the name of a researcher in California who she said had provided her with data. The witness, who Thiruchelvam said by that point had moved to England, was called and confirmed the story, but further investigation by UMDNJ revealed that this was a false witness. When investigators got a hold of the actual person Thiruchelvam had named, they learned she still resided in California and that she denied providing any data to Thiruchelvam.
produced 293 data files she said were the product of a confocal microscope system manufactured by the company Micro Bright Field (MBF). When UMDNJ investigators gave MBF the data to interpret, the company concluded that the files were corrupted and couldn’t be verified as real or false. However, when the case was passed to the ORI for oversight review, agents used forensic computing software to determine that many of the files, despite having different file names and dates, were identical in content.
Thiruchelvam has agreed to retract two papers:
- Rodriguez, V.M., Thiruchelvam, M., & Cory-Slechta, D.A. “Sustained Exposure to the Widely Used Herbicide, Atrazine: Altered Function and Loss of Neurons in Brain Monamine Systems.” Environ Health Perspect. 113(6):708-715, 2005, cited 36 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge
- Thiruchelvam, M., Prokopenko, O., Cory-Slechta, D.A., Richfield, E.K., Buckley, B., & Mirochnitchenko, O. “Overexpression of Superoxide Dismutase or Glutathione Peroxidase Protects against the Paraquat + Maneb-induced Parkinson Disease Phenotype.” J. Biol. Chem. 280(23):22530-22539, 2005, cited 74 times
The JBC paper had already been the subject of a correction in 2008 in which co-author Eric Richfield was removed. We asked Richfield why his name was taken off the paper, but he declined to comment. It’s not clear if Richfield is the collaborator referred to in The Scientist story.
The JBC usually prints unhelpful one-line retraction notices saying only whether the study has been retracted by the author or editor, and claims that any other information is confidential. Given that the ORI has given the reasons for this retraction in the Federal Register, we’ll see what the JBC publishes.
Thiruchelvam left UMDNJ in February 2010, according to The Scientist, and is now barred from receiving federal grants for seven years. That’s a longer ban than we typically see in ORI cases.