Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

German university calls whistleblower’s emails “dangerous”

with 88 comments

In an unusual move, a German university has issued a statement calling into question “the scientific honesty” of a whistleblower, and suggesting that his emails were “dangerous.”

Some background: Off and on here at Retraction Watch, we have been following a complicated case involving Robert Nitsch, a scientist at the Johannes-Gutenberg-University. In August of last year, we reported on the retraction in the FASEB Journal of a paper on which Nitsch was a co-author. What made that retraction unusual was that it came after Charite – Universitatsmedizin Berlin, where Nitsch and some of his co-authors worked at the time, recommended a retraction even though the journal had originally agreed to a correction at the authors’ request. And a month later, we noted that Nitsch was a co-author on a Cell paper that was corrected for figure errors.

We became aware of the FASEB Journal retraction through Markus Kühbacher, who has been emailing us regularly about the case for about a year and a half. We knew from the cc: list that Kühbacher was emailing a number of people, and now Nitsch’s university has had enough, according to a letter they sent today to a number of scientists and journalists. Here it is in full:

In the recent past, a certain Dr. Markus Kühbacher, has repeatedly raised  allegations of scientific misconduct against a colleague of our University, Professor Robert Nitsch. These allegations concerned falsification and fabrication of data. Via e-mail, Dr. Kühbacher brought this to the attention of numerous scientists, scientific journals, government offices, funding organizations, and the press.

We address this letter to you, because – according to our records – you have been a recipient of Dr. Kühbacher’s widespread e-mails on this topic.

The committee of the Johannes Gutenberg University in charge of the investigation of scientific misconduct performed several investigations into publications by Professor Nitsch in high­-ranking scientific journals. In addition, we are aware of inquiries performed by several of these journals themselves. In all cases that came to our attention, the investigations produced no evidence for any involvement of Professor Nitsch in any kind of scientific misconduct. Also in the future, the Johannes Gutenberg University will take any allegation of scientific dishonesty very seriously and its designated committee will thoroughly investigate any such accusation. We are indeed convinced that scientific misconduct poses a significant threat to science and society.

We would like to inform you, however, that we received hundreds of e-mails form Dr. Kühbacher in the meantime. Many of those e-mails lack scientific standards and contain personal insults to Professor Nitsch and his family. A few examples of statements by Dr. Kühbacher in mails addressed to Professor Nitsch are quoted below (in italics):

e-mail from January 9, 2012:

Dear Mr. Nitsch,

The story with the “academic freedom” was obviously also true for the “social relations” between your colleagues and your first wife? lf that does not leave you cold, you wil/ understand that any attempt to use your academic freedom to falsify data will also provoke reactions. What do you think of a joint flVlR/ study “Neural correlates of nausea after real experimental scientific fraud “?

Sincerely yours,

Markus K ühbacher

PS: “Neural correlates of jealousy after experiencing actual infidelity” is already under investigation.

(translated from German to English)

e-mail from March 24, 2012:

Dear Robert,

Did you know that a “shit storm” in science has never been initiated as yet?

e-mail from June 14, 2012:

Dear Professor Nitsch,
In case you forgot: Checkmate!
(translated from German to English)

e-mail from June 16, 2012:

Dear Professor Nitsch,
Now repercussions will begin!
(translated from German to English)

This list of examples could be continued. Such mails not only call the scientific honesty of their author into question, their frequency and the large number of recipients suggest that their primary purpose is to destroy the reputation of a scientist. While clearly disapproving of any kind of scientific misconduct and doing our utmost to uncover any such incident, we feel that unjustified allegations of this sort are equally dangerous.

We considered it important to provide you with this background information, which may be helpful in assessing further e-mails you may be receiving from Dr. Kühbacher.

The letter is signed by university president Georg Krausch, vice-president for research Ulrich Förstermann, and ombudsman Jürgen Knop.

As we noted, this is a complicated case. We understand, for example, that Nitsch took Charite – Universitatsmedizin Berlin to court over the forced FASEB Journal retraction, and lost.

We have mixed feelings about the unusual letter from Johannes Gutenberg. On the one hand, we don’t see any reason to bring personal issues into allegations of scientific misconduct, or use insults. That approach, as we’ve told whistleblowers who contact us, gives institutions a reason to dismiss a whistleblower’s concerns, legitimate or not. And that seems to have happened here.

But we are also on the record insisting that institutions and journals take whistleblower allegations seriously, even if they are anonymous. So while we take the university at its word that it will “take any allegation of scientific dishonesty very seriously and its designated committee will thoroughly investigate any such accusation,” we really hope this letter isn’t an attempt to discourage future whistleblowing, or a precedent for why universities should ignore such allegations.

Written by Ivan Oransky

August 31st, 2012 at 10:00 am

Comments
  • sirole August 31, 2012 at 10:08 am

    There are always extremists. Once they depart from the path of reason, they place their voice in question. Without the reader’s eye as a reviewer, and an ultimate voice, the scientific record would not be complete… The public eye provides a perspective that is vital to detecting patterns which otherwise might be overlooked…

    • David Hardman September 2, 2012 at 2:00 am

      In reply to sirole August 31, 2012 at 10:08

      “There are always extremists. Once they depart from the path of reason, they place their voice in question.”

      Who are the extremists? Sounds like reactionary-speak to me.

  • vhedwig August 31, 2012 at 11:59 am

    Well here are a couple more…

    FASEB J 2007;21; 415-26.
    Fig. 2E contains a splicing seam. So do Fig. 3B right panel, Fig. 4C right panel, Fig. 4E.

    Nature Neurosci 2003;6;572-8.
    Fig. 3a & 3b have splicing seams.

    Also, I don’t see it mentioned here, but in addition to the retracted 2003 FASEB J paper (on which Kuhbacher was not an author, but did call for its retraction) Kuhbacher co-authored another paper with Nitsche in FASEB J in 2003. Is that one in question too?

    • Markus Kuehbacher August 31, 2012 at 4:46 pm

      From: “Markus Kuehbacher”
      Date: 11. Dezember 2011 08:04:41 MEZ
      To:
      Cc: , , “Prof. Dr. Karl Sperling” ,  Prof. Dr. Jorg Zwirner  , ,
      Subject: Quantitative morphological image analysis

      Dear Dr. Nitsch,

      Working in the field of neurochemical imaging, I would like to ask you
      whether you could provide some information about the quantitative
      morphological image analysis of microglial cells mentioned in your
      publication “Modification of microglia function protects from
      lesion-induced neuronal alterations and promotes sprouting in the
      hippocampus. FASEB J. 2003 Jun;17(9):1110-1.”

      1. What kind of software was used for the measurement of the total cell
      area and convex area for the calculation of the index of ramification in
      figure 3?

      2. Please could you provide the data for the performed statistical test
      (Mann-Whitney U Test) shown in figure 3?

      3. How many cells per section were analysed?

      Many thanks in advance.

      Best regards,
      Markus Kuehbacher

    • Markus Kuehbacher August 31, 2012 at 4:52 pm

      From: “Markus Kuehbacher”
      Date: 11. Dezember 2011 14:14:11 MEZ
      To:
      Cc: , , , , , “Prof. Dr. Karl Sperling” ,  Prof. Dr. Jorg Zwirner  , , , ,
      Subject: Systematic Scientific Fraud

      Dear Dr. Nitsch,

      Working in the field of neurobiology, I would like to ask you whether you
      could provide some information about the statistical analysis presented in
      your publication “A new phospholipid phosphatase, PRG-1, is involved in
      axon growth and regenerative sprouting. Nature Neuroscience 2003
      Jun;6(6):572-8″.

      1. Please could you provide the data for the mentioned statistical test
      (Mann-Whitney U Test) if it was performed?

      2. Please could you explain the image manipulations?

      3. Please could you provide the EXCEL-files with the original data of the
      mentioned densitometric analysis if they exist?

      Many thanks in advance.

      Best regards,
      Markus Kuehbacher

      PS: Is the following link related to your “research”?

      http://www.retractionwatch.com/2011/08/12/following-investigation-fa
      seb-journal-retracts-paper-after-agreeing-to-run-a-correction/

    • Markus Kuehbacher August 31, 2012 at 4:58 pm

      From: “Markus Kuehbacher”
      Date: 15. Dezember 2011 23:42:13 MEZ
      To:
      Cc: , , “Prof. Dr. Karl Sperling” ,  Prof. Dr. Jörg Zwirner  , , , , , , , , , , ,
      Subject: Systematic Scientific Fraud – FASEB Paper Number 3 – Impossible Mann-Whitney U Tests

      Dear Dr. Nitsch,

      Working now in the field of scientific fraud detection, I would like to ask you whether you could provide some information about the quantification of the autoradiography mentioned in your publication “Molecular and functional analysis of hyperpolarization-activated pacemaker channels in the hippocampus after entorhinal cortex lesion. FASEB Journal 2001 Dec;15(14):2689-701.”

      1. Please could you provide the data for the performed statistical test (Mann-Whitney U Test) shown in figure 3 if it was really done?

      2. Please could you provide the EXCEL-files with the original data of the mentioned densitometric analysis if they exist?

      Many thanks in advance.

      Best regards,
      Markus Kuehbacher

    • Markus Kuehbacher August 31, 2012 at 5:03 pm

      From:
      Date: 18. Dezember 2011 18:30:40 MEZ
      To:
      Cc: , , , , , , ,
      Subject: Fw: “Homeostatic regulation of NCAM polysialylation is critical for correct synaptic targeting.”
      Reply-To:

      Dear Dr. Nitsch,

      As you might know, we in Berlin are really interested in your “new research
      methods” you have established in Mainz. Please let the corresponding author
      of your latest paper answer my questions without any delay.

      Best regards,
      Markus Kuehbacher

      —–Original-Nachricht—–
      Von: “Kuehbacher@t-online.de”
      An: johannes.vogt@unimedizin-mainz.de
      Betreff: “Homeostatic regulation of NCAM polysialylation is critical for
      correct synaptic targeting.”
      Datum: Sun, 18 Dec 2011 18:08:43 +0100

      Dear Dr. Vogt,

      Working in the field of neurochemical imaging, I would like to ask you
      whether you could provide some information about the quantitative
      morphological image analysis in your publication “Homeostatic regulation of
      NCAM polysialylation is critical for correct synaptic targeting. Cell Mol
      Life Sci. 2011 Nov 9.”?

      Figure 2:

      1. Is there really no difference between the areas of the suprapyramidal and
      infrapyramidal hippocampal mossy fiber axon bundles in the 15 control slices?

      2. Do the scale bar in figure 2b and the shown numbers of the areas of MF
      really match?

      3. How can you explain the artifacts in the figure 2c (see attachment)?

      Please could you provide the original data of the results presented in
      figure 2?

      Figure 6:

      4. How many spines were analysed for the measurement of the spine lenght?

      5. How precise (limit of detection and limit of quantitation) is the
      morphometric analysis of the spine head area and the spine lenght?

      6. Was the morphometric analysis done by three dimensional reconstruction?

      Please could you provide the original data of the results presented in
      figure 6?

      Many thanks in advance.

      Best regards,
      Markus Kuehbacher

  • Toby White August 31, 2012 at 12:15 pm

    Ivan, please reconsider. You state “we really hope this letter isn’t an attempt to discourage future whistleblowing, or a precedent for why universities should ignore such allegations.” Which allegations? The one about Prof. Nitsch’s ex-wife? Or the one threatening a “shit storm” and unspecified “repercussions”? Do you really think JGU has a duty to perform a thorough investigation of Frau Nitsch’s sex life or evaluate the merits of Dr. Kühbacher’s fecal meteorology?

    The fact that someone has once made an accusation of scientific misconduct, whether accurate or otherwise, does not excuse unprofessional, and quite possibly tortious behavior. JGU should no more tolerate the latter than the former. If whistle-blowing procedures are to be taken seriously, potential whistleblowers must have the security of knowing that they will not be subjected to abuse and intimidation. However, if these same procedures are to be taken seriously by the organization and its stakeholders, those others need a similar assurance, i.e. that the process will also not be used by the claimant as license to abuse and intimidate others.

    In case it isn’t clear, note that the responding organization may have to pursue three different, not entirely consistent, objectives at the same time, while doing its best to keep them compartmentalized: investigate the claim, protect the claimant, and protect everyone else from the claimant. It’s never easy. Don’t make it harder.

    • ivanoransky August 31, 2012 at 12:22 pm

      Thanks for the feedback, Toby. I think it’s quite clear that by allegations we mean the scientific ones, not the personal ones. Here’s what we wrote:

      We have mixed feelings about the unusual letter from Johannes Gutenberg. On the one hand, we don’t see any reason to bring personal issues into allegations of scientific misconduct, or use insults. That approach, as we’ve told whistleblowers who contact us, gives institutions a reason to dismiss a whistleblower’s concerns, legitimate or not. And that seems to have happened here.

      But we are also on the record insisting that institutions and journals take whistleblower allegations seriously, even if they are anonymous. So while we take the university at its word that it will “take any allegation of scientific dishonesty very seriously and its designated committee will thoroughly investigate any such accusation,” we really hope this letter isn’t an attempt to discourage future whistleblowing, or a precedent for why universities should ignore such allegations.

      • Toby White August 31, 2012 at 2:07 pm

        The JGU notice was about the personal attacks, not the allegations of scientific misconduct. You attempted to connect the two, which was the very point of my (perhaps belabored) attempt at sarcasm. Specifically, you state that the attacks “seem to” have given the “institution[ ] a reason to dismiss a whistleblower’s concerns, legitimate or not.” In fact, there’s no evidence connecting JGU’s reaction to the misconduct claims (which JGU plainly didn’t ignore) and its reaction to the name-calling (which JGU should not ignore, either). The lack of causal relationship is particularly clear in this case. All of the quoted emails were sent after the various 2011 investigations had already concluded. These particular emails, at least, could not have influenced the results of the investigations, because they were written after the investigative findings had been announced. One investigation may still be going on (one previous blog posting suggests this), but it would be a tad early to claim that anything influenced a result we have not seen.

        I apologize for beating on this thoroughly dead horse, but I spent too many years involved with (non-scientific) whistle-blower and retaliation claims. In half the cases, either the claimant or the accused can prove their case immediately. For the rest, it’s damned hard work figuring out who’s right, much less what to do about it. A little cynicism is perhaps inevitable, if only because the proper objectivity towards multiple interests, all of which must be compartmentalized, is almost impossible to achieve. Yet, while a little cynicism is excusable, it’s also a cheap shot — and cheapens the whole process. If you don’t take whistleblower investigations seriously, and won’t stand up for institutions which do, you reduce the incentive to do things right. Much worse, I’ll have to continue wasting your time and my electrons on clumsy attempts at sarcastic riposte.

        • ivanoransky August 31, 2012 at 2:25 pm

          Toby, really appreciate your continued feedback, which we’ll certainly take into consideration moving forward. No need to apologize.

          To respond: The university connected the dots, we didn’t: The emails, they wrote in the letter, “call the scientific honesty of their author into question.” As journalists, we’ll always push back against anything that might intimidate whistleblowers, and that’s what this felt like. This letter went to a lot of people, and while we agree, as we wrote, that personal attacks have no place in scientific questioning, we also had problems with Gutenberg’s approach here. We do in fact praise institutions that take such investigations seriously — just look at our coverage of Dipak Das, Joachim Boldt, and Michael Miller, to name three examples.

  • stefan August 31, 2012 at 12:15 pm
  • Pymoladdict August 31, 2012 at 12:42 pm

    I don’t see anything “dangerous” in these emails. Inappropriate and lacking decorum, true. On the other hand, apart from the medium – signed emails – do those sentiments really constitute a departure from the way my fellow academic scientists often express their opinions about their colleagues? Alas, no. One goes to a conference and if not careful gets a gloating account of who sleeps with whom, who got what pile of shit into Cell and how, etc. Sometimes one learns something new about oneself… It’s just that usually people are more careful not to put into emails with their name on them.

    • Markus Kuehbacher August 31, 2012 at 5:15 pm

      From: “Kuehbacher@t-online.de”
      Date: 28. Juni 2012 17:16:58 MESZ
      To: k.narasimhan@us.nature.com
      Cc: robert.nitsch@unimedizin-mainz.de
      Subject: Scientific Misconduct – “A new phospholipid phosphatase, PRG-1…”
      Reply-To: “Kuehbacher@t-online.de”

      Dear Dr. Narasimhan,

      Thank you for informing me about the current status of your journal’s investigation of the Braeuer et al. 2003 article “A new phospholipid phosphatase, PRG-1…” with a short statement of reviewer #1 and Prof. Dr. Robert Nitsch’s response to my allegations of scientific misconduct.

      I am indeed very pleased to learn of Prof. Nitsch’s willingness to cooperate by granting you access to parts of his original data – something I was constantly denied despite several emails written to this effect from my side.

      Less pleasing, however, I find that there evidently exists more than one version of “original data” for the densitometric analysis of three separate Western blot experiments, the results of which are said to underlie the bar diagram in the bottom part of figure 2d. How else could one explain that the values (of which I received a copy) presented to the investigation commission at the Charité by the first author of the paper, Prof. Anja Braeuer, differ from the ones that Prof. Nitsch provided now (see attachments).

      As it happens, differences between the “original data” presented by two members of a laboratory for the same experiment is not without precedence in Prof. Nitsch’s research group. In the course of an investigation by the Charité of the now retracted FASEB article that I mentioned, Prof. Anja Braeuer’s numbers differed from those numbers offered by Dr. Nicolai Savaskan, although both gave rise to one and the same figure in the article and presented EXCEL files with the same “created” date. The common method of “probing” data is the missing link between the papers reviewer #1 asked for. At court Prof. Braeuer confirmed her explanation “We have just played with the numbers!”

      Prof. Nitsch wrote: “The notion by Dr. Kuehbacher that ‘the p-value P < 0.05 of the statistical significance test shown in figure 2 is mathematical not possible for n = 3’ is evidently not correct for the Mann-Whitney U algorithm which is used by the Statview software as utilized in our work.” Perhaps Prof. Nitsch has read the book “How to read a paper”* but he should know that his asymptotic p-value calculated as a result of an approximation is incorrect and that his inappropriate use of the statistic software for n1 = n2 = 3 is no excuse for faked data. The correct exact p-value P is 0.1 (two-tailed) and not < 0.05. If the total sample size is seven or less, the Mann-Whitney test will always give a p-value greater than 0.05. But if Prof. Nitsch really thinks that “=” is nearly the same as “<” he should read “How to lie with statistics”**. The reviewer #1 instead might be interested in reading the attached paper about incorrect p-values.

      Not surprisingly, I just found another discrepancy that I shall leave to your journal’s reviewer to solve. It concerns the densitometric analysis of in situ hybridizations as shown in Fig. 1e. According to Prof. Nitsch’s “example of the original data assessment” (see point 3 in the attached response), 9 measurements apparently sufficed for the calculation of the mean values that were used to produce the bar diagram entitled “contralateral hippocampus” of Fig. 1e. Yet, in the supplemental methods accompanying the Braeuer et al. 2003 article it reads: “A mean value of the 15 measurements was calculated for each region” (see “Quantification of autoradiography”***). Moreover, as stated in the latter source, these 15 measurements were performed not only in one but six animals, whereby for each animal and transcript analyzed, at least two hybridization autoradiographs were used for the quantification of signal strength. If I calculated rightly, there should therefore exist minimally 6 x 2, that is 12, separate “15 measurements” that have gone into the generation of each and every column in the three bar diagrams depicted in Fig. 1e. So what is Prof. Nitsch’s “9 measurement” example of the original data assessment supposed to tell us?

      Where is the data documentation? It is fully missing: no dates, no labels, no sample numbers, no units, and no imported data column from Metamorph. But most important: Why was this original data not available for the investigation commission at the Charité which is investigating already several of Prof. Nitsch’s papers? The commission might also want to see now the original EXCEL files with the original data for those four identical bars and error bars for four regions in the ipsilateral hippocampus.

      Last not least I would like to point out that following the guidelines of the German Research Foundation for securing “Good scientific practice”, the ombudsman of the university in Mainz is not the person to be alerted, as investigations into alleged scientific misconduct is to be conducted in the institute where the data in question were generated, i.e., the Charité in Berlin. Therefore I hope that Prof. Nitsch will send the mentioned 60 MB of his “original data” back to his old “place of activity”.

      * http://books.google.de/books?id=q-92iFMFJGwC&lpg=PA60&dq=how%20to%20read%20a%20paper&hl=de&pg=PA62#v=snippet&q=ten%20ways&f=false

      ** http://www.amazon.com/How-Lie-Statistics-Darrell-Huff/dp/0393310728/ref=pd_sim_b_5

      *** “Quantification of autoradiography
      Six animals were analyzed by in situ hybridization (…). For each animal and each transcript analyzed, at least two in situ hybridization autoradiographs of adjacent brain slices were used for the quantification of signal strength. The autoradiographs were digitalized using a scanner (…). To quantify the intensity on an pixel level, we used the computerized videodensometry system (Metamorph (…) A visually established pixel intensity threshold was set to remove the unlabeled portion of the image. The standard rectangle (1.5 mm2) was defined and placed in 15 different positions over the pyramidal cell layers of the CA1 and CA2/3, the granule cell layer of the dentate gyrus (DG), the hilus and the cortex. A mean value of the 15 measurements was calculated for each region and set in reference to the unlesioned controls (100%).”

      Sincerely yours,
      Markus Kuehbacher

  • Schlupp August 31, 2012 at 12:43 pm

    As for taking allegations seriously (the ones concerning scientific misconduct, I mean), committees and commissions have been/are investigating Dr. Kühbacher’s allegations against several people. Most found minor mistakes within the range usual in science, but not scientific misconduct.

    • Jacoba Smith August 31, 2012 at 2:24 pm

      Not quite. This paper got retracted: FASEB J. 2011 Aug;25(8):2853.
      Retraction. Molecular analysis of Nogo expression in the hippocampus during development and following lesion and seizure.
      Retraction of:
      Meier S, Bräuer AU, Heimrich B, Schwab ME, Nitsch R, Savaskan NE. FASEB J. 2003 Jun;17(9):1153-5.

      This whole affair started of with a collaboration between Dr. Kühbacher and Dr. Savaskan that went wrong. At the beginning there was a conflict concerning ownership of data, which was followed by accusations of falsification, where the raw data (suspiciously) was lost, and one rat suddenly became 8 animals… This work never was published, and Savaskan left Berlin.

      The complete story has been covered extensively by the German “Laborjournal”.

      The last act I knew of was an attempt from Savaskan to get a court order to stop Kühbacher from “diffamation of him” in public, which Savaskan lost.

      Really, adding personal insults will have the result that the whistleblower who does have a serious scientific issue will not be taken seriously anymore by anyone. Please do stick to the facts.

  • Noah August 31, 2012 at 2:20 pm

    It sounds like there is something else going on here… a personal vendetta, perhaps? Especially because these two have published together previously, I think it is quite possible that there are facts and background information that hasn’t been disclosed. But I must say, whenever someone quotes from emails but doesn’t include the full email (or the previous emails it was responding to, if they exist), I am suspicious. I prefer to read quotes in context. I say that knowing that it is equally likely that these emails were sent without context, or that the entirety of the text contains the same drivel.

    • David Hardman September 2, 2012 at 1:52 am

      Say it were a vendetta, you should still examine the scientific claims.

      • Noah September 2, 2012 at 3:40 pm

        I absolutely agree!

  • Jon Beckmann August 31, 2012 at 3:03 pm

    They are right. Accusations of this king can be used as a weapon against people you simply don’t like.

  • chirality August 31, 2012 at 4:00 pm

    If these emails are indeed libelous, the court is the proper venue to deal with the matter. If Nitsch feels that Kühbacher has defamed his character, he could literally bankrupt him. I do not know on whom the burden of proof rests in the German libel law, but even if the plaintiff has to do all the work, it is worth it. Providing, of course, that what Kühbacher alleges is not true. Conversely, Kühbacher could also sue the university for libel.

    “In all cases that came to our attention, the investigations produced no evidence for any involvement of Professor Nitsch in any kind of scientific misconduct.” – it may just as well mean that there was scientific misconduct in Nitsch’s papers but it was not possible to prove that Nitsch himself had perpetrated it.

  • Rafa August 31, 2012 at 5:29 pm

    I am a whistleblower myself. I would not use the tone and approach of this guy, neither in the examples in the post, or as he posted directly as comments. Basically because they demonstrate a twisted mind behind the accusations, which in no way helps them to be taken seriously. Well, the result you all can see. Yet I really think the only way science can get over misconduct is by making it evident. Blogs like the Abnormal Science Blog, or Science-fraud.org do a great service for science. And whistleblowers. I do not though, think his tone was any more dangerous than that of a phone prank, unless to himself, who has now lost the point and is liable for legitimate legal action. This kind of whistleblower does a DISERVICE to science. It is hard to look into papers over and over again; “here, now it is serious”… Congrats, @Markus, you have saved your target and made the lives of fraudsters a bit easier here — many editors will now use you as an example of why they should never take accusations seriously…

  • Chip_MoMo (@Chip_Molly) August 31, 2012 at 5:57 pm

    Surely the sentiments of many of your readers are disingenuous. I work in healthcare and have seen a number of whistleblowers come out against doctors who malpractise. Some are tainted by the association, others are not. We live in a world where ideals don’t always translate into practice, and for the German University to use this forum as a place to discredit a whistleblower (and by implication, scientific whistleblowing in general) should be outright rejected and thrown out with the bathwater.

    • Marco September 1, 2012 at 12:51 am

      Hmmm…I don’t think the University used this forum as a place to discredit a whistleblower: Ivan decided to report the letter they received. If he hadn’t, we would never have known. Moreover, it looks to me the University kindly asks whistleblowers to not go over into an area best described as harassment.
      I therefore outright reject the idea that the University is trying to discredit whistleblowing in general.

      • ivanoransky September 1, 2012 at 6:21 am

        Thanks for the comment, Marco. Just to clarify: This letter went to more than 90 people, including reporters at Nature and daily newspapers. It was an official statement from the university, signed by the president. It was clearly intended for wide distribution.

      • Marco September 1, 2012 at 7:21 am

        Ivan, please note that I was not suggesting you did anything wrong. However, it would be unfair to claim the university tried to use this forum to discredit a whistleblower, when they have absolutely no power whatsoever to make you publish it (or any of the other organizations and people they contacted).

        • ivanoransky September 1, 2012 at 7:56 am

          Thanks Marco. I didn’t think you were suggesting we did anything wrong. I know you were responding to another commenter who used the phrase “this forum,” but I was only referring to the act of writing and widely disseminating the letter. I worry about the latter as a precedent given the obstacles, and attempts at discrediting, that many whistleblowers already face — while acknowledging, as we did in the post, that personal attacks and issues have no place in scientific critiques.

      • placemat September 6, 2012 at 10:01 pm

        I think its a bit of stretch to even consider this letter (and its wide distribution) as a “an attempt to discourage whistle-blowers” or as a precedent to do so.

        One of the main criticisms (very often false) leveled at whistle-blowers is that they are simply pursuing a personal vendetta. By including the personal insults, it is Kuehbacher who completely undermines and damages the position of whistle-blowers – that is the real story here.

    • David Hardman September 1, 2012 at 9:12 am

      Clarification: Hibby August 31, 2012 at 8:44 pm

      “You do realise, Markus K., that the Abnormal Science Blog has been dead for several months, now?”

      The particular link that Markus Kuehbacher August 31, 2012 at 6:03 shows still works. I do not think Abnormal Science Blog is dead, but sleeping, as in no new articles have appeared.

      http://abnormalscienceblog.wordpress.com/2011/06/14/scientific-misconduct-syndrome-sms-emergence-of-a-new-disorder/

      I am not sure what you meant by saying that Abnormal Science Blog been dead for several months. What were you tring to prove?

      You might try:

      http://www.science-fraud.org/

      • Hibby September 1, 2012 at 1:09 pm

        not trying to prove anything, other than the fact that for some reason is not going anymore, and I do not think there is anyone behind it anymore. The last one you posted is a quite good one. We need more of those…

      • David Hardman September 1, 2012 at 1:30 pm

        reply to Hibby September 1, 2012 at 1:09 pm

        Sorry, I didn’t mean to sound so agressive.

      • Hibby September 1, 2012 at 4:17 pm

        :) never mind, didnt take you wrong.

        Oh, forgive me but nothing to do with the topic yet amazing — has anyone imagined there could be a paper with over 1,000 authors?

        http://www.landesbioscience.com/journals/3/article/19496/

      • Marco September 2, 2012 at 12:57 am

        I think that’s the first one with so many authors outside high-particle physics!

  • Kelly (@rocza) September 1, 2012 at 3:34 am

    Well, at least the Germans aren’t any better than the Americans when it comes to personal vendettas bleeding over in to academic life (and likely vice versa).

    Thing is, I’m inclined to agree with your interpretation of the events, Ivan. The only reason the university would issue something like this is in an attempt to sling mud back at Kühbacher. Otherwise, they’d just say something vague and supporting like “We realize that Kühbacher has made a list of both personal and professional allegations against Professor Nitsch. Our internal investigation supports Nitsch’s account, and we will assist any journal that wishes additional clarification to verify data.”

    For better or worse, being pissed off and rage-y makes someone human, it doesn’t make someone a bad scientist or call their scientific integrity in to question. …the email, on the other hand, certainly seems to call the university’s integrity in to question.

    • David Hardman September 1, 2012 at 9:02 am

      In response to Kelly (@rocza) September 1, 2012 at 3:34

      “call the university’s integrity in to question.”

      It is not the best of all possible worlds. Why are people panglossian?

    • Seb September 3, 2012 at 5:40 am

      “being pissed off and rage-y makes someone human”

      This Dr. Kühbacher is clearly very “pissed off and rage-y” – his postings in the comments are prove of that (if it truly is him, but how else would the person get hold of all the personal email correspondence aired here). One has to wonder how clearly someone thinks who is seeking a public forum for his rage at all costs.

      It is one thing to be “pissed off and rage-y” in a private environment, it’s another thing to vent this anger at a wider public. In my eyes the later behaviour makes someone a person I would rather keep my distance from.

  • Frenando Pessoa September 2, 2012 at 2:04 am

    I have some concerns about work done by T Skutella who has 10 publications with R Nitsch.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?term=skutella%20nitsch

    The corrigendum:

    http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v460/n7258/full/nature08353.html

    Nature 456, 344–349 (2008)
    In this Letter, we omitted to disclose that the original patient consent forms to collect the material used to derive the pluripotent stem cells precluded distribution to third parties, as ruled on 8 December 2008, by the Ethics Commission of the School of Medicine and University Hospital Tübingen. Moreover, the Commission also ruled that the materials used to generate the lines were obtained from individuals who had signed consent forms that did not allow retention of the cells in culture for more than 3 years. We have now received broader consent of a few individuals permitting distribution of cells. These cells will be cultivated, and after quality tests they will be distributed to other scientists. The other individuals whose tissues were used in the study have opted for the terms of the initial consent, and thus their cell lines will be destroyed when the 3-year period runs out. We are now using the described protocols to generate new cell lines from individuals who have given explicit consent for distribution of lines to scientists.

    This is a useful result.
    “We have now received broader consent of a few individuals permitting distribution of cells. ”

    What Nature had to say.

    http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v460/n7258/full/460933a.html

    • Marco September 2, 2012 at 5:24 am

      What exactly is your concern, Fernando?

      • Fernando Pessoa September 2, 2012 at 6:28 am

        In reply to Marco September 2, 2012 at 5:24

        I think I must have been too cryptic for you.

        I did write:

        This is a useful result.
        “We have now received broader consent of a few individuals permitting distribution of cells. ”

        It can allow one to be highly selective at any future time. “Sorry,you can’t have any of most of the cells we described, the computer says no”.

        It is like something out of Little Britain.

      • Marco September 2, 2012 at 6:32 am

        I think we should already be happy that some people are willing to have their cells, their own property, be used by others for scientific research. Not everyone feels comfortable with that idea, and they may well have not allowed the research Skutella and his group did if they had put that possibility in the consent forms.

        Aren’t you being a bit too cynical here?

    • John September 2, 2012 at 4:38 pm

      Ahh, the Skutella Nature paper. Something both Heidelberg and Tübingen are hoping go away. I wasnt aware that Nitsch ever worked with Skutella. Most German researchers believe the work to be a complete fraud. No one, not even Skutella himself can repeat the data. But hey, Nature refuses to retract it because they are Nature and don’t have to.

      • Markus Kuehbacher September 2, 2012 at 5:55 pm

        Subject: Re: Request for Original Data – “Generation of pluripotent stem cells …”
        Date: 11.08.2012, 11:23

        Dear Dr. Thomas Skutella,

        The fact that you refuse to send me the original data I have asked for and the fact that you try to stop the scientific discussion about the image manipulations in your publications at a German court are good reasons to write now an article about your “research methods”. Your former scholar Dr. Nicolai E. Savaskan lost recently his court case against me (he plagiarized, falsified, fabricated, and manipulated data), even Dr. Robert Nitsch, your former supervisor at the Charité, lost his court case against the Charité. The scientific discussion about scientific fraud must not be stopped by lawyers.

        Best regards,
        Markus Kuehbacher

        PS: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quackery
        http://www.nature.com/news/2010/100629/full/466017a.html
        http://www.3sat.de/page/?source=/nano/medizin/150464/index.html

        http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2012/apr/19/british-doctor-research-fraud-us

        Dear Dr. Skutella,

        Please could you send me the original data including the statistical results for all the figures of your Nature article and the supplement “Conrad et al. Generation of pluripotent stem cells from adult human testis. (2008) Nature 456, 344-349” following the editorial policies of Nature about the availability of data and materials:

        “An inherent principle of publication is that others should be able to replicate and build upon the authors’ published claims. Therefore, a condition of publication in a Nature journal is that authors are required to make materials, data and associated protocols promptly available to readers without undue qualifications. Any restrictions on the availability of materials or information must be disclosed to the editors at the time of submission. Any restrictions must also be disclosed in the submitted manuscript, including details of how readers can obtain materials and information. If materials are to be distributed by a for-profit company, this must be stated in the paper.”

        Best regards,
        Markus Kuehbacher

      • Markus Kuehbacher September 2, 2012 at 6:24 pm

        Subject: The Repulsive Guidance Molecule RGMa Is Involved in the Formation of Afferent Connections in the Dentate Gyrus
        Date: 03.04.2012, 17:33

        Dear Dr. Skutella,

        Please could you send me the original data for figure 5 (inclusive the statistical data) of your paper “The repulsive guidance molecule RGMa is involved in the formation of afferent connections in the dentate gyrus. The Journal of Neuroscience, 14 April 2004, 24(15): 3862-3869; doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.5296-03.2004″. And could you please explain the error bars in the graph?

        Many thanks in advance!

        Best regards,
        Markus Kuehbacher

        PS: The attached analysis might also be of interest.

  • nohope September 2, 2012 at 5:30 am

    Let those without sin cast the first stone? How many whistle-blowers are TRULY innocent themselves?

    • Rafa September 2, 2012 at 8:17 am

      Innocent in what? I have cheated on a love partner, if this is what you ask, however I never faked data or copied contents in my paper. Actually it is quite easy to avoid that, unless you want to maximize gains from small work.

    • Jon Beckmann September 4, 2012 at 10:20 am

      Good question there. After all, the best liars are those who accuse others of lying.

      • JKR September 5, 2012 at 12:23 am

        As a scientist, your instinct should be to investigate first and weigh the findings before rather irresponsibly condemning either the accuser or the accused with such blanket statement.

  • UMClimber September 2, 2012 at 8:46 am

    “The story with the “academic freedom” was obviously also true for the “social relations” between your colleagues and your first wife? lf that does not leave you cold, you wil/ understand that any attempt to use your academic freedom to falsify data will also provoke reactions. What do you think of a joint flVlR/ study “Neural correlates of nausea after real experimental scientific fraud “?”

    That is not whistle-blowing, that is harassment. I support and appreciate Ivan and Adams efforts here on this site to but if the personal attacks contained in this email are genuine, they have no place in any professional discourse. If they had crossed my desk in anything approaching the quantities hinted at in the communication from the University of Nitsh, the police would be involved.

    • Markus Kuehbacher September 2, 2012 at 6:50 pm

      The police will be involved soon.

      Subject: Scientific Fraud – “A new phospholipid phosphatase, PRG-1, is involved in …”, Nature
      NeuroscienceDate: 13. März 2012 16:40:11 MEZ

      Dear Editor,

      In addition to my last e-mail I would like to inform you about more evidence. I was told by one of the authors of the incriminated PRG-1 paper that the first author of the incriminated paper, Prof. Dr. Anja Braeuer worked 2003 – 2004 as a research fellow at the Institute of Biochemistry, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada and that it seemed that she could not reproduce the published findings of Dr. Nicolai Savaskan that PRG-1 has phosphatase activity. In a previous telephone conversation the author Prof. Dr. Hartmut Kuehn claimed not to know that “one of the co authors of the paper spent a significant amount of time in the laboratory of another expert in the lipid phosphatase field trying to reproduce the data contained in the paper but was unable to do so” and he told me that none of his coauthors told him about this fact although it was him who performed the HPLC analysis for the reply to your correspondence “Is PRG-1 a new lipid phosphatase?”.

      Now I would like to ask why Prof. Dr. Anja Braeuer should not communicate this important outcome of her work with their colleague nor with the scientific community by writing a corrigendum. The fact that the paper contains other faked data that is also part of a US patent might be an explanation (please see attachment).

      But the issue is a bigger one. The “school” of Dr. Nitsch is very productive and is connected to other “schools” at the Charité:

      – Prof. Dr. Thomas Skutella (http://www.3sat.de/page/?source=/nano/medizin/150464/index.html, http://www.nature.com/news/2010/100629/full/466017a.html)
      – Prof. Dr. Sven Hendrix (coming soon)
      – Prof. Dr. Silvia Bulfone-Paus (http://www.retractionwatch.com/category/by-author/silvia-bulfone-paus-retractions/)
      – Prof. Dr. Ralf Paus (coming soon)
      – PD. Dr. Nicolai E. Savaskan (http://www.berliner-zeitung.de/archiv/an-der-berliner-charit–sollen-wissenschaftler-fragwuerdige-arbeiten-veroeffentlicht-haben–untersuchung-wegen-fehlverhaltens-eingeleitet-von-forschern-und-fehlern,10810590,10718078.html)
      – even the GENNSA Tech. Inc. mentioned in several acknowledgements did never exist.

      Due to the fact that this issue might get a legal issue the scientific community and the investigation commission at the Charité should know about these facts. Therefore I forward this email to the CEO of the Charité Prof. Dr. Karl Einhaeupl who is interested in a full clearing up of the situation.

      Best regards,
      Markus

      Subject: Scientific Fraud – “A new phospholipid phosphatase, PRG-1, is involved in …”, Nature Neuroscience
      Date: Fri, 09 Mar 2012 21:48:24 +0100

      Dear Editor,

      The publication “A new phospholipid phosphatase, PRG-1, is involved in axon growth and regenerative sprouting” published in your journal Nature Neuroscience in 2003 contains faked data. The p-value P < 0.05 of the statistical significance test shown in figure 2 is mathematical not possible for n = 3 ("Immunoblots from total protein extracts of adult control and deafferented hippocampus demonstrating an increase five days after lesion. Data represents three separate experiments in each group. Statistical difference is marked with an asterisk (mean s.d.), * P < 0.05; Mann-Whitney U-test."). The shown graphs in figure 1 e might be also faked (explanation will be published in the abnormal science blog soon). The figure 4 c contains image manipulations.

      Due to the fact that some of the authors of this paper faked data also in other publications in the same manner it is not necessary to ask whether the presented results are true or not because faked data has no scientific meaning.

      But perhaps you should ask the Charité for the original data and the statistical analyses for all the figures? It seems that most of them do not exist!

      Best regards,
      Markus Kuehbacher

      PS: http://www.retractionwatch.com/2011/08/12/following-investigation-faseb-journal-retracts-paper-after-agreeing-to-run-a-correction/

    • littlegreyrabbit September 2, 2012 at 9:10 pm

      Well that is the point.
      The University has every opportunity to use the police and the courts to end this behavour. This would have the effect that their own behaviour would be open to scrutiny and their own behind-the-scenes correspondence would need to be handed over.

      And maybe, just maybe, that might not look so pretty, so I think the University Ombudsmanis well advised to resort to smear tactics instead – with selective leaks of correspondence.

  • littlegreyrabbit September 2, 2012 at 9:07 pm

    I thought this was Retractionwatch.wordpress.com, not Smear-Whistleblowers.wordpress.com. What do I care if Dr Kuehbacher has written inappropriate emails or not? How am I suppose to judge from an unethical, out of context, one-sided leaking of correspondence? What were the emails he was responding to? What should I even bother wading through such detritus?

    Institutions don’t NEED an excuse to ignore whistleblowers – if they want to ignore whistleblowers they would do it even if the Angel Gabriel descended to inform them personally. If someone has falsified work it is not a dispute between the culprit and the whistleblower; it is a dispute between the culprit and everybody – the character of the whistleblower is simply beside the point.

    “The committee of the Johannes Gutenberg University in charge of the investigation of scientific misconduct performed several investigations into publications by Professor Nitsch in high­-ranking scientific journals. ”
    The questions to be asked here are:
    1. What were the specifics of the complaints laid
    2. What were the formal processes the committee took and what expertise or conflicts of interest they brought to the issue
    3. What determinations allowed them to reject the complaints
    4. What reports were compiled detailing this process.

  • YouKnowBestOfAll September 2, 2012 at 9:39 pm

    The whole story shows that people take ALTERNATIVE ACTIONS when either editors, publishers or institutions refuse to Do-the-Right-Thing.

    Markus, may be you should write to EU Commission on Justice here
    http://ec.europa.eu/justice/contact/index_en.htm

    and to UN Human Rights Council here
    http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/Pages/Complaint.aspx

    My appeal to everybody: editors, publishers, institutions and COPE.
    Please, ALWAYS Do-the-Right-Thing!
    This will safe a lot of everybody’s time and is beneficial for EVERYONE: the academia, the public, and mainly for The Science!

    • Rafa September 3, 2012 at 6:56 am

      I thunk the best action for now is creating more scientific blogs on published problems. These guys will not move unless the scientific community compels them to. Show all frauds.

  • J. Bauer September 3, 2012 at 5:52 am

    It remains a mystery as to why this person (Mr. Kühbacher) is repeatedly defended. He is considered to be a “whistle-blower”, although he is anyone but that. Per definition, a whistle-blower seeks and requires anonymity due to obvious security concerns. Mr. Kühbacher, however, seems to epitomise just the opposite by seeking cheap publicity at any cost. His baseless allegations have been officially refuted, and he is now busy dragging the banners of the scientific community through mud. Due to his adamant attempts to malign and hamper the work of scientists engaged in serious research, his behaviour can only be equated to scientific misdemeanour. All taken into account, this person can by no stretch of imagination qualify as a “whistle-blower”, and his statements correspondingly merit neither attention nor deserve any defence.

    • Markus Kuehbacher September 3, 2012 at 8:33 am

      Subject: Retraction of the paper “The role of selenite on microglial migration”
      Date: 25.04.2012, 19:38

      Dear Dr. Nicolai Savaskan,

      The Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin demands the retraction of your paper “The role of selenite on microglial migration”. The paper is the result of scientific misconduct. The CEO of the Helmholtz-Zentrum will be asked soon to clarify the outcome of an investigation performed at the Helmholtz-Zentrum. Please let me know if there are new “original data” and whether you have sent them already to the different investigation
      commissions dealing with your scientific misconduct.

      Best regards
      Markus Kuehbacher

    • Markus Kuehbacher September 3, 2012 at 8:47 am

      Subject: Fwd: Strong evidence for systematic research misconduct
      Date: 09.08.2012

      Dear Dr. Robert Nitsch,

      The fact that you hide the “original data” of several of your papers might be caused by the fact that these “original data” did not exist when those papers were submitted. Now I am ready to publish several emails which are very interesting.

      Best regards,
      Markus Kuehbacher

      Subject: Re: Strong evidence for systematic research misconduct
      Dear Dr. Volker Baehr,

      The authors of the incriminated Nature Neuroscience articles employed at the Charité are labor law-related and legally bound to follow the rules of the Nature editorial policies. The fact that the Charité refuses now officially the access to the original data of the Nature Neuroscience articles might be also a case for the supervisory council of the Charité and all editors of Nature. The fact that in more than two cases the original data were fabricated (see also court case at the Landgericht Berlin) confirms my suspicion about the “independent investigation” at the Charité that lasts now for more than three years performed by two official and two secret investigation commissions. The fact that Prof. Dr. Robert Nitsch fabricated “new” original data more than once is a clear evidence for scientific misconduct. The fact that the “stem cell inventor” Prof. Dr. Thomas Skutella “supervised” Nicolai E Savaskan PhD thesis and was “supervised” by Prof. Dr. Robert Nitsch at the Charité should be also emphasized (http://www.nature.com/news/2010/100629/full/466017a.html).

      Yours sincerely
      Markus Kuehbacher

      PS: “Mala malus mala mala dat.”

      Subject: AW: Strong evidence for systematic research misconduct
      Date: Wed, 08 Aug 2012 16:27:20 +0200

      Dear Dr. Kühbacher,

      the investigations that are carried out to evaluate allegations of research misconduct are confidential. The authors have to decide if they want to give you the primary data of a publication.

      Yours, sincerely

      Volker Bähr

      Subject: Strong evidence for systematic research misconduct

      Dear Dr. Volker Baehr,

      Please could you explain why the Charité refuses the access to the original data of the Nature Neuroscience article which I have incriminated more than three years ago:

      Anja U Braeuer, Nicolai E Savaskan et al. A new phospholipid phosphatase, PRG-1, is involved in axon growth and regenerative sprouting. Nature Neuroscience 6, 572 – 578 (2003)

      Please could you explain why the dean of the Charité delays an investigation related to the fabricated data in this paper also the first author of this paper has already stated “We have just played with the numbers!” in another case of scientific fraud and a German court judges that the author sharing the first authorship Nicolai E Savaskan has plagiarized, falsified, and manipulated data in another case of scientific misconduct?

      Please could you explain why the Charité refuses the access to the original data of the Nature Neuroscience article which I have incriminated more than four weeks ago:

      An unconventional role for miRNA: let-7 activates Toll-like receptor 7 and causes neurodegeneration. Nature Neuroscience 15, 827–835 (2012)

      Yours sincerely
      Markus Kuehbacher

    • Guido September 6, 2012 at 8:34 am

      “Per definition, a whistle-blower seeks and requires anonymity due to obvious security concerns.” Per what definition? Merriam-Webster defines a whistle-blower as “one who reveals something covert or who informs against another”. Whether this is done anonymously (or politely) is irrelevant.

  • Seb September 3, 2012 at 9:55 am

    http://www.laborjournal.de has covered parts of this case in an extensive series of editorials, which include comments by the author of the editorials and externals experts, who reviewed some of the original data questioned by Dr. Kuehbacher, and it includes in my opinion some very well balanced perspectives on the whole saga. Unfortunately this is only available in German, and the Google translation will certainly lead to some loss of the finer nuances, which indeed seem to be important in this case. I would nonetheless recommend everyone interested in this case to take a look at it

    http://www.laborjournal.de/editorials/424_18.html

    My very brief summary of the editorials:

    A difference in opinion between prospective coauthors (Dr. Kuehbacher & Dr. Savaskan) led to some probably not unfounded concerns by Dr. Kuehbacher about the validity of some of Dr. Savaskan findings. The apparent inability of all persons concerned to resolve these problems (the threshold was probably crossed when accusations of scientific fraud were levelled) in a productive and amicable manner have led to a total out of control situation in which one person (Dr. Kuehbacher) has started to investigate the work of every person who he saw involved in the whole process, including but not exclusively, the head of the responsible ORI (“Ombudsmann”) and some of her collaborators and students.

  • Due Process September 3, 2012 at 10:35 am

    The case appears to be quite complicated, and bringing in personal attacks is rather unhelpful in any event.
    However, it is wholly irrelevant for an investigation of misconduct whether the complainant adheres to proper conduct himself. The sole relevant question is whether there is sufficient prima facie evidence for wrongdoing on the part of the person complaint about. If this is the case it needs to be investigated. However, if at any stage the complaint is revealed to be without substance and defamatory or malicious, the respective University procedures usually prescribe ways to deal with the situation, namely disciplinary procedures for members of staff, libel laws for everyone else. The latter procedures are probably long-winded and rather expensive, but they are thorough and authoritative. According to University sources their case is airtight and there is nothing to the allegations against Dr. Nitsch. Yet the University prefers to not follow due course, but rather engages in mudslinging itself and gratuitously reveals personal innuendos that confuse and belittle the issue further without having a sanitizing effect. The University’s approach constitutes an unhelpful deviation from accepted and customary procedures in investigating allegations of scientific misconduct. As lack of funds for a legal confrontation is hardly the explanation for this odd behaviour, we are left to assume that there is more than currently meets the eye. Very likely the University’s case is far less convincing than stated. It reeks suspiciously of the old days when closing ranks was paramount, not getting fraudsters out of science.

  • Uli S. September 3, 2012 at 4:55 pm

    Whistleblower or just stalker?
    Well, judge yourself. Or Markus Kuhbacher could give an answer why he uses this ‘tone and approach’ totally uncommon to whistleblowers.
    I go with Rafa: This kind of whistleblower does a DISERVICE to science.

  • Jon Beckmann September 4, 2012 at 10:22 am

    Most of this thread sounds like harassment to me!

    • Markus Kuehbacher September 5, 2012 at 2:00 pm

      http://www.nature.com/authors/policies/availability.html

      Dear Dr. Frauke Zipp,

      Working in the field of neuroforensics, I would like to ask you whether you
      could provide some information about the Mann-Whitney U Tests mentioned in
      your publication “Activation of kinin receptor B1 limits encephalitogenic T
      lymphocyte recruitment to the central nervous system. Nature Medicine 2009
      Jul;15(7):788-93. Epub 2009 Jun 28.”

      1. Please could you provide the data for the performed Mann-Whitney U Tests
      if they were really done?

      2. Please could you provide the EXCEL-files with the original data of the
      mentioned EAE analysis because there are some unexplainable differences
      between the data shown in the supplement and the original paper?

      Many thanks in advance.

      Best regards,
      Markus Kuehbacher

  • Ressci Integrity September 4, 2012 at 8:50 pm

    Does any one know what happened to the case from Germany which was higlighted in Nature 2002 415: Page 3 on Prof Lothar Kanz and others. This was discussed in high profile journals those days.
    annonc.oxfordjournals.org/content/11/8/903.3.full.pdf
    http://www.scribd.com/doc/36109310/NPG-nature-vol-415-Issue-6867-Jan
    He had a brilliant student by name Tim Brummendorf who seems to be doing extremely well and now an authority in haematology/oncology research in Germany.

  • Ulrich Schweizer September 5, 2012 at 11:41 am

    @ Uli S.
    I do not know you, but since I am based in Berlin where all the trouble started, I know the characters in the game: Savaskan, Kühbacher, Nitsch, Bräuer, Skutella, all once working (except Kühbacher) in one institute.
    Regarding the allegations, I can’t see why a look at the actual primary data has not been possible during a period of several years. But I am extremely sensitive if somebody uses an alias corresponding to my name. To make this clear to everybody: I am PD Dr Ulrich Schweizer of Charité-Universitätsmedizin Berlin and I have NOT used the alias Uli S.

    • Rafa September 5, 2012 at 12:54 pm

      did anyone think it was you?

  • YouKnowBestOfAll September 5, 2012 at 9:28 pm

    In reply to Uli S., September 3, 2012 at 4:55 pm and Jon Beckmann, September 4, 2012 at10:22 am

    Since when asking for the truth (primary data) is considered to be “stalking” and/or “harassment” ?!?
    See Ulrich Schweizer, September 5, 2012 at11:41 am, who notes that
    “I can’t see why a look at the actual primary data has not been possible during a period of several years.”

    And I can not see anything like stalking and/or harassment here: Markus Kuehbacher, September 5, 2012 at 2:00 pm

    Then, one should ask:
    Are such allegations for “stalking” and/or “harassment” used to shield-off the perpetrator?

  • Jon Beckmann September 6, 2012 at 1:18 pm

    Judging by this thread, Markus Kuehbacher comes across as an unhinged nutcase. It had to be said openly.

      • Lost in translation September 7, 2012 at 6:20 am

        Unfortunately, the translation of the Laborjournal article is useless. For those of you who still don’t speak or read German it may be helpful to briefly summarize the state of legal affairs, namely two resounding victories for the accusers of Nitsch and Savaskaan in the two court rulings thus far:

        Nitsch (alleged fraudster) vs. Charite University (former employer of Nitsch) 0:1
        Savaskaan (alleged fraudster) vs. Kuehbacher (whistleblower) 0:1

        Given this state of affairs it is probably not surprising that Nitsch’s current employer (U of Mainz) won’t counter the allegations against him in an open and accountable manner, that is in a court of law, but rather tries to smear the reputation of the person who brought the whole mess to light. This is nothing but despicable and tells me that this University is not up to scratch. I do hope that this filth is cleared up and fraudsters are stripped of their undeserved positions, privileges and pensions.

    • placemat September 6, 2012 at 10:06 pm

      Thanks for saying it Jon – Kuebacher does absolutely nothing for future whistleblowers. RW on the whole does a great job – but their concern that the letter from the University was some precedent for discouraging whistle-blowers was a little paranoid

    • Markus Kuehbacher September 7, 2012 at 2:44 am

      Subject: Systematic Scientific Fraud
      Date: 11.12.2011, 23:06

      Dear Dr. Nitsch,

      If there does not exist any original data, statistical analysis, numbers, and the causal nexus is just a fake like the video footage that never existed and last but not least one of the authors repeats at court “We have just played with the numbers!”, we should not call it science!

      Best regards,
      Markus Kuehbacher

      PS: “Every truth passes through three stages before it is recognized. In the first, it is ridiculed, in the second it is opposed, in the third it is regarded as self-evident.”, Arthur Schopenhauer

    • Markus Kuehbacher September 7, 2012 at 2:52 am

      Subject: “Aut regem aut fatuum nasci oportet.”, Seneca
      Date: 24.08.2011, 00:29

      Sehr geehrter Herr Professor Nitsch,

      “Donec eris felix, multos numerabis amicos. Tempora si fuerint nubila, solus
      eris.”, Ovid

      Mit allerbesten Grüßen
      Ihr Markus Kühbacher

      PS: Bitte denken Sie an die Übersendung der “neuen” Originaldaten.

  • Rafa September 11, 2012 at 7:46 am

    In fact this Markus fella doesnt seem to me quite good in the head…

    • Prof. Dr. Alexander Lerchl September 11, 2012 at 9:48 am

      What a strange comment, Rafa. I have followed this story for quite a while now, and the statement issued by the University of Mainz is a very unusual move indeed. For me it looks like a document of panic.

      • Rafa September 11, 2012 at 5:46 pm

        Sorry, maybe I was a bit short. I truly value efforts to bring down sci fraud in as much as they help elucidate good science/results. However several emails posted by Markus demonstrate he wants something else… and it gets really really weird…

  • antistokes September 11, 2012 at 10:39 am

    Prof. Dr. Lerchl: I understand why you think Rafa’s comment is strange. I am an American chemist doing postdoctoral work in Germany (in Dresden). The “science culture” is very, very different in Germany– in particular in East Germany– than what I saw growing up in Seattle, or at college in Portland, OR, or even what I saw in New York when I was doing my PhD in Chemistry. From the German point of view, Markus is a young scientist who is going against older scientists, and it looks like the young scientist is correct. This causes embarrassment for the older scientist, and can lead to what administrative German types call “personality conflicts”. To us, Markus looks like he’s being a bit …. overzealous, but he must be to dare to correct the older German professor/researcher types.

    In the middle of the States, and on the West Coast, the science culture is more informal and focused on getting the right answer, rather than producing the results that support a given hypothesis. (My professor of analytical chemistry once said: “It’s a little bit scary when you become wedded to your hypothesis rather than to your data!”).

    We in basic science want to ask the right question, not memorize a correct answer. Right now in Germany it feels as though the Engineers have taken over all the funding (building good German machines to sell to the Chinese and pay of Greece), and if you can’t get results in 3 months, you can get into trouble with the DFG. It also feels like the Fraunhofer Institute has taken over the entire country. The focus seems to be on short term profiteering (ie, patents) rather than long term cultivation of various fields, it’s one of the reasons I’m moving back home.

    • John December 17, 2012 at 7:29 am

      Dear Antistokes,
      Please be careful when making your generalizations. I don’t know what happens in your lab, but there is a lot of great basic science happening in Dresden. A considerable amount of funding has gone Dresden’s direction and they have managed to build a critical mass of scientific talent in the city.
      Also, I have never heard of the DFG asking for 3 month updates. Most grants require a yearly update and possibly a grant review by committee… 3 months?? never heard of it.
      And, Fraunhofer makes up a very small percentage of the German research landscape. Most of their funding comes from their own patents or industry partners. They play an application role in Germany, not a basic science role.
      Germany is a very conservative country. It is a difficult country for young scientists because the senior people have a strong stranglehold on funding. But I warn you, funding is very very tough in the US right now, particularly in California. You may be wise to stay in Germany while you can and considering moving back to the states in 5 years or so.

  • Uli S. September 14, 2012 at 9:18 am

    Kuhbachel the wanna be Assange??

    don’t you think (@YouKnowBestOfAll) that primary data haven’t be checked? The case is clear that Kuhbachel has his view on science and how to be conducted and this view is out of the question of scientific truth and misconduct. This guy just jams his nervous quotes out but leaving the exact point of allegiations out.
    Listen, if there is something wrong than speak it out loudly, what is the point and where are suspicous and rotten data hidden. Science deserves to be open to whistle blowers but also needs to shield-off and to get rid off borderline perpetrators.
    Who does this guy think he is, he definitely does not deserve himself a role as Julian Assange. As Rafa said, ..’several emails posted by Markus demonstrate he wants something else… and it gets really really weird…’ People driven by conspiracy theories do not belong to the whistle blower community.
    There is actually quite some interesting stuff going on in Glasgow.

    • littlegreyrabbit September 14, 2012 at 12:14 pm

      What is this “whistleblower community” of which you speak, Dr “Not Ulrich Schweizer”?

    • Rafa September 14, 2012 at 6:29 pm

      Good point and idea, Uli S. It is about time that a whistleblower community be founded. In fact, if I blow someone else’s whistle (don’t get me wrong here) I am considerably more protected than directly pointing out fraud in my colleague’s reports. There should be a pool of evidence and people resourcing to those to contact editors and authors to demand explanations. What others think?
      If there is such a thing, please tell.

  • Tory Blackwhite November 4, 2012 at 6:50 pm

    The investigations on possible scientific misconduct at the Charite Universitätsmedizin in Berlin are now lasting for three years. The main scientists involved in this case in different roles are Markus Kühbacher, who brought several gross flaws in the papers in question to the attention of several investigation commissions and to the public, Nicolai Savaskan and Robert Nitsch, former reseachers at the Charite. In some of their publications are contents which are not meet, at least in part, scientific standards. As a consequence the DFG, the german organisation responsible for investigations on scientific misconduct, issued a reproval, the softest possibility of sanction(s), to Nicolai Savaskan, because less animals were investigated as he stated in his paper. Furthermore, the call to be a professor at the Charite was canceled for Savaskan and the so called Nogo study published by Savaskan and Nitsch was retracted by the FASEB Journal, processes driven by the authorities at the Charite.

    The kind of handling this suspect of scientific fraud is an example of terminating the scientific credibilaty of the researchers involved and make the legitimation of the commissions responsible questionary. The disaster began when the possible misconduct was brought to the public before all final possibilities were used to clarify the case behind closed doors and then bringing final, objektive and solid conclusions to the public. Moreover, the discussion at several Blogs show personal allegations and insults which is the second catastrophy.

    As the result the persons possibly guilty of scientific fraud can describe themselves as victims and will never be removed from the scientific community.

    It should absolutely essential in the future that the handling of scientific misconduct or fraud is not only investigated by persons of highest scientific credibility and competence but also conducted under juristic secured professional secrecy before final results are given.

    The suspect of scientific fraud can be, if you look in the history of science, a result of an error, bad assist work, over or misinterpretation of data, insufficient communication with coworkers or coauthors, wrong use of software and in the time of „publish or perish“ providing „overspeed“ publications.

    In the case mentioned above the so called whistelblower has not done a favour to himself whether now in the past or future when he ridicules other researchers in several Blogs whatever role their play.

    Whistleblowing itself is not a moral term and Markus Kühbacher harms himself and the case to clarify even when high ranking scientists share his conclusions that the case is a massive scientific fraud. Nicolai Savaskan, however, try to threaten with possible juristic consequences in order to muzzle the whistleblower and attacks other people with more personal integrity.

    For the commissions in question is it the time to investigate orginal data sets as soon as possible and making final conclusions in the near future. Otherwise their legitimation get lost even when the core of the case is nothing else than moeny.

  • Still wondering November 4, 2012 at 11:41 pm

    After all the super-lengthy above discussion, the only question I have is: apart from that scientific whistleblowing, or before it, what had really happened between Markus Kühbacher and Robert Nitsch… or his wife…

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