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Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Update: Data fabricator had masters’ degree revoked

with 9 comments

On Friday, we reported on the case of a retraction in the American Journal of Physiology — Cell Physiology by kinesiology researchers at Canada’s University of Waterloo for data fabrication by a graduate student, Sara Michelle Norris. We heard back from Waterloo yesterday, and have more details.

In our Friday post, we wondered whether Norris’s 2009 masters’ thesis,“Contribution of Sarcoplasmic Reticulum Calcium Pumping to Resting Mouse Muscle Metabolism,” might have been compromised. Waterloo tells us Norris is no longer at the university:

The data published as part of an article in 2010 was also published in her master’s thesis. The university has revoked her master’s degree.

Norris and her supervisor, Russell Tupling, published another paper together, in 2010 but it seems unlikely any other studies will be retracted:

After the researchers discovered evidence of possible misconduct and informed their department, the university investigated further, as per the rigorous process in place for dealing with such allegations. Acting proactively, the researchers informed the journal that the article contained false data and requested its retraction. The university is unaware of any other papers affected by fabrication of this data.

The university has also referred te case to the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), which funded Norris.

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Written by Ivan Oransky

November 4, 2012 at 8:35 am

9 Responses

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  1. Ah-ha – the evil graduate student ponces again, treacherously betraying the noble supervisor. How many times has this sad scenario repeated itself. This time – a novel twist – it is the sultry temptress masters student who manages to deceive both the PhD student and the supervisor.

    So if her Masters degree is withdrawn, shouldn’t this paper (first auther Tupling) also be retracted?

    http://ajpcell.physiology.org/content/301/4/C841.long

    As the one finding very much implies the other?
    And shouldn’t Eric Bombardier’s PhD be revoked also?
    “S. M. Norris and E. Bombardier contributed equally to this work. ”

    She should get a lawyer and sue the university for failure in their duty of care. The student association there should assist her

    littlegreyrabbit

    November 4, 2012 at 11:09 am

  2. LGR > While you do have a point, I think people are definitely very creative when it comes to fabricating data, especially if all that they are showing to the world is but a chart with the final result, not a gel, blot or microscopy image (although we know all too well that these can be fabricated quite easily too).

    JK

    November 4, 2012 at 2:02 pm

    • You will have to forgive my strange aussie sense of humour – but I may have written with a little sarcasm.

      Suffice to say her results were highly convenient for the paper of Bombardier and Tupling, without which their mouse model data is a little hard to intepret.

      littlegreyrabbit

      November 4, 2012 at 3:28 pm

  3. What a waste! The problem is that people who enter science often believe that it is an easy endeavor as papers they read do not usually contain any martyrdom bits about how difficult it was to get the publishable results. When the reality hits the newbies may feel inadequate and either quit or resort to fraud out of desperation. That is why the dire consequences of fraud should be hammered into their heads even before they run their first experiment.

    chirality

    November 5, 2012 at 3:55 am

    • Are you referring to Norris or Tupling here?

      Equally Masters students are entitled to a project not based on a supervisor’s theory that is completely wrong – or at least have their negative results accepted.

      littlegreyrabbit

      November 5, 2012 at 5:26 am

      • I am referring to Norris because she appears to have committed the fraud. Of course, there are supervisors who cannot accept failure and may, either directly or indirectly, push their students to commit fraud. A supervisor might also feel under pressure (tenure, funding, recognition, etc.) and it is very easy under such circumstance to act like a complete d*ck and pass the pressure onto his students.

        chirality

        November 5, 2012 at 7:43 am

      • Well as I said elsewhere, the motivating factor seems to have been the publication of a paper looking at SLN null and overexpressing mouse models by a group in Ohio

        http://www.nature.com/nm/journal/v18/n10/full/nm.2897.html#/affil-auth

        They seemed to find things that Professor Tupling missed – namely a role for SLN in thermogenesis.

        http://ajpcell.physiology.org/content/301/4/C841.long

        Tupling found that SERCA activity increased in some muscle types with SLN deletion, whereas the Ohio group don’t specifically comment on SERCA activity but say SLN activity caused a reduction in heat generation in muscles. That is perhaps not surprising as SLN is supposed to work by allowing ATPase activity of SERCAs to continue, but blocking Ca pumping – thermodynamically that has to generate heat, if ATP is being consumed but no work is being performed (the built a gradient of Ca2+ differential would be a repository of energy).
        Norris would have been asked to perform in experiments with only one outcome acceptable for her professor – and she would have done so under close supervision of the PhD student in the lab, indeed he demanded equal credit when the paper was published (success has many fathers, while failure is an orphan). Norris’s finding that a specific inhibitor of SERCAs reduces oxygen demand by up to 50% seems to me to be highly consistent with the findings of the Ohio group, ironically it is less critical to Tupling’s paradigm.

        Hence perhaps Tupling’s throwing his masters student under the bus is a direct outcome of the Ohio group publishing work that either contradicts his own, or suggests he was not observant.

        Anyway, he hasn’t removed Norris’s work from his website yet:

        http://www.ahs.uwaterloo.ca/kin/people/RussTupling.html

        “The SR Ca2+ pump requires energy in the form of ATP to pump Ca2+ from the cytosol into the SR. We estimate that the SR Ca2+ pump could account for as much as 10 – 30% of total daily energy expenditure.”

        littlegreyrabbit

        November 11, 2012 at 8:00 pm

      • “Norris would have been asked to perform in experiments with only one outcome acceptable for her professor – and she would have done so under close supervision of the PhD student in the lab, indeed he demanded equal credit when the paper was published (success has many fathers, while failure is an orphan).”

        Agreed that she was supposed to find a particular result, but not agreed that she would have been closely supervised by a Ph.D. student and that the Ph.D. candidate’s name in the author list proves that he kept a close eye on her. Some Ph.D. students have no higher expectations of themselves than some professors, so I would not be surprised to learn that he gave her encouragement to work hard and came back a year later to check on her progress. And authorship credit is sometimes given for reasons divorced from authorship or any meritorious involvement.

        JudyH

        November 12, 2012 at 9:45 am

  4. “And authorship credit is sometimes given for reasons divorced from authorship or any meritorious involvement.”

    JudyH, it always helps if you read the paper concerned. Or in this case you merely needed to read my first comment: ““S. M. Norris and E. Bombardier contributed equally to this work. ”

    It was clearly stated that the Norris and Bombardier contributed equally to the work – ie Norris was the not sole first auther, there were two joint authors.
    I would be interested if Norris actually singed the retraction notice – presumably she would have had to before the journal would accept the retraction.
    It the Tupling website is still saying “We estimate that the SR Ca2+ pump could account for as much as 10 – 30% of total daily energy expenditure.”
    Presumably that should be amended to we estimate that the SR Ca2+ accounts for an insignificant proportion of total daily energy expenditure.
    How long do we need to wait for this correction?

    littlegreyrabbit

    November 16, 2012 at 10:28 am


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