Last December, we reported on a Journal of Immunology paper that was retracted after a Cardiff University investigation found the senior author had inappropriately manipulated images. The inquiry found that there had been “no intention to mislead and subsequent repeats of the original experiments have shown that the paper’s conclusions remain sound,” the university told us at that time.
The senior author of the paper, Rossen Donev, had since moved on to the University of Swansea, and Cardiff had notified the Medical Research Council, which funded the work. The case seemed to end there.
But other work by Donev’s former lab group, which is led by BP Morgan, the dean of Cardiff’s medical school, has been the subject of scrutiny by at least one anonymous whistleblower. That whistleblower’s allegations — which also center on image manipulation — have been reported on the relatively new site Science Fraud, which posts allegations anonymously. They involve papers published in Cancer Research, Molecular Immunology, and the American Journal of Physiology.
We’ve now learned that Cardiff has “initiated its Procedure for Dealing with Allegations of Academic Misconduct in Research” after Clare Francis, another anonymous whistleblower whose name will probably be familiar to Retraction Watch readers, forwarded the concerns to university officials. Now, according to an email from Carole A Evans, Cardiff’s Director of Governance and Compliance Division:
Following an initial consideration of the allegations it has been agreed that a Screening Panel be established to undertake a preliminary evaluation of the available evidence.
The university seems to be taking their responsibilities seriously. This inquiry seems to be at the very earliest of stages, and we should make it very clear that allegations don’t necessarily mean any misconduct has taken place. We’ll have to wait for the results of the investigation to say anything definitive.
Francis has also sent his concerns to the editors of journals where Morgan published. One of them, Julio Lucino, editor of the Pharmacogenomics Journal, examined images from “Upregulating CD59: a new strategy for protection of neurons from complement-mediated degeneration” and wrote to Francis:
To my dismay I found that on close examination, two images from what is reported as two separate and distinct experiments turn out to be one and the same.
Lucino also sent Morgan these annotated pdfs, marked with the alleged duplications.
We’ve asked Morgan — who has at least 30 papers which have been cited more than 100 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge — and Cardiff for comment. In the meantime, Morgan did respond to one of Francis’s emails:
I am dealing with specific allegations made in the mail and in the blog you quote. I will not address those specific here but will do so with the appropriate journal editors. I do need, however, to address a few statements made in your mail.
1. You state that “BP Morgan has 380 publictions which have the stench of sameness about them. Clever salami slices of what are in fact the salami slices of complement. I suspect that many of the papers are compilations of previous work, and mindless additional data which does not add to the understanding. More data does not always mean more sense.” Indeed, I have over the course of my 30+ year career published many papers and reviews; I completely refute the suggestion that this output represents repetition or “salami-slicing” work that does not add to understanding. I doubt whether you could find any individuals in the field of complement biology who would agree with this interpretation. I have made major contributions over the years and am, for good reason, held in high esteem in the field – I am current President of the International Complement Society. I am copying this mail to the immediate past President (Prof. Mo Daha) and President Elect (Zvi Fishelson) of the Society in the spirit of openness and to provide you with contacts should you wish to further explore my credentials.
2. You state that “Initially they tried to blame a lone rogue Russian for data manipulation, but there is more to it. There was no attempt to blame. There was a proper University enquiry into the subsequently retracted JI paper. Dr. Donev (who is Bulgarian by the way) freely admitted that the figures in question were composites generated to show the data in the best light and that he had not made this clear in the figure legend and not informed co-authors of this change.
Dr. Francis, I share your passion for good science and have been devastated to be accused of bringing science into disrepute. I have always done my best to ensure the quality of work done in my lab and am proud to see reagents and methods we have developed used widely in the community. I have nothing to hide and nothing to apologise for. I would be happy to discuss these matters in person or on the phone at your convenience.
Update, 9:15 a.m. Eastern, 8/6/12: A Cardiff spokesperson confirmed that the screening panel would be formed, but had no additional comment except
…to reiterate that Cardiff University takes a serious approach when such allegations are made and, in line with its standard policy, is now assessing them.