Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

ORI sanctions former University of Kentucky nutrition researcher for faking dozens of images in 10 papers

with 77 comments

Eric J. Smart, via U Kentucky

The U.S. Office of Research Integrity has come down hard on a Eric J. Smart, an NIH-funded former University of Kentucky nutrition researcher who faked data in ten published papers and seven grant applications over the past decade.

Smart studies cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure. According to the notice in the Federal Register:

Based on the report of an investigation conducted by the University of Kentucky (UK) and additional analysis conducted by ORI in its oversight review, ORI found that Dr. Eric J. Smart, former Professor of Pediatrics and Physiology, Department of Pediatrics and Physiology, UK, engaged in research misconduct in research supported by National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), National Institutes of Health (NIH), grants R01 HL062844, R01 HL058475, R01 HL064056, R01 HL068059, and R01 HL073693, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), NIH, grant R56 DK063025, and National Center for Research Resources (NCRR), NIH, grant P20 RR105592.

ORI found that the Respondent engaged in research misconduct by falsifying and/or fabricating data that were included in ten (10) published papers, one (1) submitted manuscript, seven (7) grant applications, and three (3) progress reports over a period of ten (10) years. Respondent reported experimental data for knockout mice that did not exist in five (5) grant applications and three (3) progress reports and also falsified and/or fabricated images in 45 figures included in the following:

  •  J. Biol. Chem. 277(7):4925-31, 2002
  •  Am J. Physiol. Cell Physiol. 291(6):C1271-8, 2006
  •  Am J. Physiol. Cell Physiol. 294(1):C295-305, 2008
  •  J. Lipid Res. 42:1444-1449, 2001
  •  J. Biol. Chem. 275:25595, 2000
  •  J. Biol. Chem. 277(26):23525-33, 2002
  •  Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 101(10):3450-5, 2004
  •  J. Biol. Chem. 280(33):29543-50, 2005
  •  J. Biol. Chem. 273:6525-6532, 1998
  •  Am J. Physiol. Cell Physiol. 282:C935-46, 2002
  •  “Effects of HIV protease and nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors on macrophage cholesterol accumulation in humans,” submitted August 6, 2008
  •  R01 HL078976-01
  •  R01 HL078979-01A1
  •  R01 DK063025-01A2
  •  R01 HL088150-01
  •  U54 CA116853-01
  •  R01 HL093155-01
  •  R01 HL068509-01A1
  •  Progress reports HL078976-02, -03, and -04.

As a result of its investigation, UK recommended that the publication(s) listed above be retracted or corrected.

Specifically, ORI finds that Respondent:

  • Falsely reported in Figure 14 and associated text in NIH grant applications R01 HL07897601 and -01A1 that experiments were performed to determine if endothelial-specific caveolin-1 null mice were protected from saturated fatty acid-induced atherosclerosis, when these mutant mice did not exist in the laboratory at the time; Dr. Smart also falsely reported the use of these mice in related progress reports R01 HL078976-02, -03, and -04 and in three (3) additional NIH grant applications: Figure 11 in R01 HL088150-01, Figure 11 in U54 CA116853, and Figure 9 in DK063025-01A2
  • Falsified and/or fabricated images in NIH grant application R01 HL078976-01A1 by duplicating and altering bands in 14 Western blot images and one (1) RT-PCR image included in Figures 3, 6, 11, 12, 13, 14, and 15; false Western blots were also included in the earlier version of the grant application R01 HL078976-01, Figures 3, 6, 11, 13, and 14
  • Falsified and/or fabricated Western blots and one (1) RNase protection assay by duplicating and altering bands in thirty-three (33) figures included in ten (10) published papers, one (1) submitted manuscript, and two (2) NIH grant applications.

Specifically, false or fabricated images were included in:

  •   Figures 5 and 7, J. Biol. Chem. 277(7):4925-31, 2002
  •   Figure 4B, Am J. Physiol. Cell Physiol. 291(6):C1271-8, 2006
  •   Figures 2A, 3A, 6A, and 7A, Am J. Physiol. Cell Physiol. 294(1):C295-305, 2008
  •   Figures 3, 5, and 6, J. Lipid Res. 45:1444-1449, 2001
  •   Figure 2A, J. Biol. Chem. 275(33):25595-99, 2000
  •   Figures 2A/B/C and 4A/B, J. Biol. Chem. 277(26):23525-33, 2002
  •   Figures 2B/D and 4, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 101(10):3450-5, 2004
  •   Figures 1A and 5B, J. Biol. Chem. 280(33):29543-50, 2005
  •   Figures 1A, 2A/B, and 4A, J. Biol. Chem. 273:6525-6532, 1998
  •   Figure 1B, Am J. Physiol. Cell Physiol. 282:C935-46, 2002
  •   Figures 2A, 4, 6B, 7, and 8 in a submitted manuscript
  •   Figures 7A, 8A, 9A, and 10B in grant application HL093155-01
  •   Figures 4, 7, and 13 in grant application HL068509-01A1.

Dr. Smart has entered into a Voluntary Exclusion Agreement and has voluntarily agreed for a period of seven (7) years, beginning on October 23, 2012:

(1) To exclude himself from any contracting or subcontracting with any agency of the United States Government and from eligibility or involvement in nonprocurement programs of the United States Government referred to as “covered transactions” pursuant to HHS Implementation (2 CFR part 376 et seq.) of OMB Guidelines to Agencies on Govermentwide Debarment and Suspension, 2 CFR part 180 (collectively the “Debarment Regulations”);

(2) To exclude himself voluntarily from serving in any advisory capacity to PHS including, but not limited to, service on any PHS advisory committee, board, and/or peer review committee, or as a consultant; and

(3) To request that the following publications be retracted or corrected: J. Biol. Chem. 277(7):4925-31, 2002; Am J. Physiol. Cell Physiol. 291(6):C1271-8, 2006; Am J. Physiol. Cell Physiol. 294(1):C295-305, 2008; J. Lipid Res. 42:1444-1449, 2001; J. Biol. Chem. 275:25595, 2000; J. Biol. Chem. 277(26):23525-33, 2002; Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 101(10):3450-5, 2004; J. Biol. Chem. 280(33):29543-50, 2005; J. Biol. Chem. 273:6525-6532, 1998; Am J. Physiol. Cell Physiol. 282:C935-46, 2002.

Smart appears to be a relatively well-cited researcher, with some of his papers on caveolin from the 1990s cited hundreds of times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge.

We’ve tried reaching him for comment, and will update with anything we learn. We’ve also contacted the university, who said they would respond shortly.

Update, 3:30 p.m. Eastern, 11/20/12:  The university sent us this statement from Jay Blanton, Executive Director, University of Kentucky Public Relations and Marketing:

Dr. Eric Smart is no longer employed by the University of Kentucky.  The university conducted a rigorous and comprehensive examination of the research misconduct case under faculty oversight as required by university administrative regulations, which are consistent with federal regulations.  Recommendations made to the administration were followed to the letter.  The process was also reviewed by the offices of the Provost, Vice President for Research, and General Counsel.

(We’ve updated the title of this post, and first sentence, to reflect that Smart is no longer at Kentucky.)

Comments
  • Scotus November 20, 2012 at 3:25 pm

    This is verging into Poehlman territory…I’m wondering if a personal prosecution could be in the works.

    • YouKnowBestOfAll November 23, 2012 at 11:08 am

      This case is a perfect illustration for obtaining public money by deception.
      Here is the scheme:
      Data_Fabrication –> Publication –> Grant_Application –> Public_Money_in_the_pocket

      At present, if a reader points out something fishy with a publication, then, in many cases the editor/publisher/institution vigorously try to cover it up, which makes them associates in the conspiracy.
      With increasing austerity measures effectively penalizing the tax payers, the time to outlaw publication fraud is well overdue! As I already have mentioned few times: FBI should set up a new department – Academic fraud. This will be good not only for the tax payers, but for the academics as well, since this will free more money for the honest academics!

      • Brad Casali November 25, 2012 at 9:43 pm

        There sort of already is a department that investigates academic fraud, and that’s the ORI. The FBI doesn’t have jurisdiction over NIH because it’s not the FBI’s money, but the NIH.

        And you really can’t prevent fraud. You can only deal with it by making sure those who committed it no longer have the opportunity to reapply for grants (at least, for a certain amount of time), and that is what the ORI does. Whenever there’s money involved (and jobs that continue to rely so heavily on procuring grants), then the incentive for fraud will always be present, in my opinion.

    • scotus November 25, 2012 at 8:08 am

      http://news.sciencemag.org/scienceinsider/2010/09/probation-for-biologist-who-admitted.html

      Very similar to the Elizabeth Goodwin case which led to a federal prosecution, probation, a substantial fine and restitution.

      http://my.americanheart.org/professional/Councils/AwardsandLectures/EarlyCareer/Irvine-H-Page-Young-Investigator-Research-Award_UCM_322534_Article.jsp

      This ought to be rescinded as well.

      In the Goodwin case, the University had to repay grant funds to the NIH. I wonder if the same thing will happen here?

      • Ressci Integrity November 25, 2012 at 8:40 am

        did you inform this to American Heart Association?

  • Dave November 20, 2012 at 3:41 pm

    Woooah. This is big news and that is quite the laundry list of papers and grants involved. Very good journals too. He is lucky to avoid federal punishment with the amount of grant funding we are talking about.

  • Neuroskeptic (@Neuro_Skeptic) November 20, 2012 at 3:46 pm

    Not so ‘Smart’ after all.

    But seriously though. How could he have published a paper about knockout mice which “did not exist in the university at that time” without anyone noticing? Presumably he wasn’t the only author on that grant application?

    • Neuroskeptic (@Neuro_Skeptic) November 20, 2012 at 3:46 pm

      Sorry, I mean “submitted a grant application” not “published a paper”.

    • Pinky November 20, 2012 at 10:43 pm

      To play devil’s advocate, if you submit figures for mouse work, how many times has someone asked to see the mouse in person? Never. If you know how something is predicted to work and show convincing data, what’s not to believe? Makes me wonder how many more liars and cheats work in science.

      • littlegreyrabbit November 21, 2012 at 1:24 am

        “how many times has someone asked to see the mouse in person?”
        Is it possible to see a mouse in person? I have this vision of a harassed secretary saying “no you can’t see him, he is in a meeting.”
        Actually, I agree with you – at least I don’t think people would often or ever(?) claim to have made a knock-out mouse when they hadn’t, but there is probably extreme pressure to find the phenotype that you thought you would find when you submitted the grant proposal 2 years ago. Or if not that phenotype, a strong and meaningful phenotype.
        There was a case on RW a year ago about the sphingosine-1-phosphate receptor knock-out mouse. An American group and a Japanese group each individually constructed a S1PR knock-out mouse. Actually the Japanese constructed their mouse first, but their first publication was knocked back and they were told to submit more data. In the meantime the American group came down the inside track and got their paper published first (no comment). It then turned out the resubmitted paper by the Japanese group was full of rather obvious fabrications – very clumsy image manipulations. Both groups found exactly the same result, one was faked, the other was not.
        The actual results were not unexpected, it showed ApoE/S1PR double knockouts less likely to develop atherosclerosis due to fact macrophages not invading the artery walls so aggressively – highly consistent with the known role of S1PR. In order to do these types of experiments, you need to do it against a background of a genetic mutant known to be develop atherosclerosis – such as the ApoE mouse. Nonetheless, it does seem possible to me that a situation could arise where S1PR might have the pro-atherosclerotic role we believe and yet not show up in a knock-out mouse on an ApoE background. For example, macrophage infiltration might not be the rate limiting step in disease development in the ApoE model or that it might be multiple receptors promote macrophage infiltration so that simply knocking out one would not show up in such susceptible model.

        But it would be act of extreme unrewarded scientific courage in the event of such a plausible scenario, to publish these negative findings, especially when the expected results would be so plausible and so readily accepted.

      • Ressci Integrity November 23, 2012 at 10:19 am

        wow, this is really an interesting episode. Did the american group reviewed the article submitted by the Japanese group? This makes it more serious. I would presume that both are fake. If the American group knew about the data obtained by the Japanese group – then the research by the American group is questionable. Hope you understand this!

  • Dave November 20, 2012 at 3:50 pm

    From briefly looking at his pub record I would be amazed if all this was not done during his push for tenure. He has published (oddly) VERY little senior author pubs in the last 5 or 6 years, but he was fairly prolific during the time in question. I don’t know for sure that he was TT during that time but, again, I would be surprised if he wasn’t.

    None of these grant applications were funded, at least according to Reporter.

  • vhedwig November 20, 2012 at 4:01 pm

    I guess the real interesting (and frustrating) news here, is why it took so long for this to be finished? We’re talking papers from 1998-2008, grants from the mid 2000s, and it’s now almost 2013. What the hell were UK doing in the interim? When did they fire him? Why did it take so long for ORI to issue its report? Why are paper retractions only now being requested?

    It’s really no surprise that people continue to perpetrate this kind of BS in science, when they know even if they get caught, it’ll take years for the system to catch up.

  • chirality November 21, 2012 at 4:51 am

    Smart was engaged in fraud for almost a decade. I just wonder how he was able to coerce his numerous co-authors to, at least, turn a blind eye to all the misconduct. People who did the actual experiments must have been aware that the boss was falsifying data. Had somebody stood up to Smart in, say, 1998, everybody would have been better off today.

    • scotus November 21, 2012 at 8:05 am

      http://www.retractionwatch.com/2011/10/27/cancer-journal-retracts-herbal-medicine-paper-citing-misconduct-probe/

      This clown clearly published fraudulent research while at the University of Kentucky and there are additional papers that are also under suspicion but he managed to leave and set up shop at Texas Tech while the very slow moving shit continues to make its way towards the fan.

      http://www.ttuhsc.edu/research/ResearchFaculty.aspx

      Whats more disturbing is that as best as I can determine, Smart was being paid by the University of Kentucky at ~$160,000/year for almost three years while this whole debacle played out.

      • Ressci Integrity November 21, 2012 at 10:49 am

        are you sure he is in texas tech? if so, we have another person there moved from UKy whose episode was discussed earlier on RW

    • S November 21, 2012 at 10:48 am

      The people that do the work don’t always get to see the final product…. Unfortunately with those kinds of PI’s that are very self righteous.

      • scotus November 21, 2012 at 10:53 am

        Chendil Damodaran is at Texas Tech. Eric Smart is at home making ceramic figures.
        Sorry for the confusion.

      • Lurker November 28, 2012 at 4:32 pm

        Actually, Smart is now teaching high school chemistry just north of Lexington.

  • Ressci Integrity November 21, 2012 at 8:00 am

    Sometimes smart people get caught….i feel that it is too late…

  • scotus November 21, 2012 at 9:04 am

    http://smartcraftyart.com/index.html

    He’s now a self employed internet nick nack peddler and craft blogger.

    I’ve got my eye on this one:
    http://smartcraftyart.com/christmas-ceramics.html

    • chirality November 21, 2012 at 12:06 pm

      An excerpt from his blog reads: “I love making messes but not on my kitchen table.”
      How true. But I am sure he loves what he is doing right now. Science is overrated anyway.

  • lurker November 21, 2012 at 11:44 am

    Wow! I worked with him briefly as a graduate student when he was a post-doc with Dick Anderson. He was extremely controversial and literally drove people who disagreed with him out of the lab.

    • chirality November 21, 2012 at 12:56 pm

      It would explain why his co-authors never batted an eyelid when a forged piece of data was included in their manuscripts.

      • littlegreyrabbit November 21, 2012 at 5:39 pm

        Not really,
        The head of an institute I was at encouraged his students to falsify data. When felt under challenge he could be pretty aggressive, but on a day to day basis he was perfectly socially adept.

        The reason that none of his students or co-authors said anything is if they had they probably would have been the end of their careers. And sure, Professor Smart should take the responsibility – but does anyone really think it was Professor Smart sitting at the computer doing the alterations?

        Seriously?

        Look, the only reason he has come unstuck is the primary method in his group was photoshop. I have said it before and I say it again, if you are using photoshop to falsify science, you are doing falsification wrong.
        It is almost never necessary, it shows a distinct lack of imagination and it is just down right unprofessional.

      • lurker November 21, 2012 at 7:01 pm

        There were serious questions about his work as a post-doc, especially his PNAS paper claiming to have developed a method for caveolae purification. Therefore, I would not be surprised at all if he directly carried out the manipulations. There certainly are other precedents for this (Parij etc). Further, the time span and scope of the proven fraud is certainly greater than a single person. So, either he corrupted many scientists or he as the common element in all papers was personally committing the fraud. I know this former scenario apparently happens eg. Aggraval. However, I would think it is actually harder to corrupt people to commit fraud and get away with it than to modify data. Further, the most egregious examples appear to have been in grants in which the people in the lab would not have seen (eg fabricating fictitious mice) that almost certainly had to have been perpetrated by Eric.

      • littlegreyrabbit November 21, 2012 at 8:48 pm

        lurker – I don’t doubt that a large number of students and post-docs who went through his lab would be very keen for us to think that.

        However, in my experience it is very easy to induce PhD students to fabricate data if the head of the group OKs it. Further, in my experience it is unusual for professors in such situations to do much benchwork or any data handling.

        Did he also falsify all the figures in the PhD theses that I assume came out of his lab? Come on, time to tune into Reality FM.

        Don’t know the gent myself, but he is probably a really nice guy – his ceramics look kind of cool, he hasn’t tried (as far as I can tell) to scapegoat anybody. I can see why it might be in the career interests of some people or their friends to pretend retrospectively that he was some kind of egotistical lab tyrant, but there is no need for anyone else to take that seriously.

        And if there are any former PhD students reading this who feel they may have something to worry about. Cheer up, trust me 9 out of 10 students would have done exactly what you did in this situation. You have to think about your own careers first and no one would have thanked you or lifted a finger for you if you had spoken up

      • alexander October 28, 2013 at 6:28 pm

        Here is a problem, Kentucky people are in several high profile journals, they review one another. This is a guess, only. I sent my paper to JBC, it was accepted after 9 months of additional experiments, guess what- Kentucky originated paper on similar topic was accepted in three weeks, without any corrections to JBC- how can it be possible??

        • Marco October 29, 2013 at 2:40 am

          The peer review process is not a homogeneous and objective process. I’ve had a paper rejected for a journal where I am on the Scientific Advisory Board, because there were still some things too uncertain in the reviewer’s opinion, whereas a clearly erroneous paper, with a basic textbook error, from some unknown group in China got through in the same journal. It happens.

          It’s also unlikely that anyone from the U Kentucky has reviewed papers from someone else at U Kentucky. This would likely be flagged in the system quite quickly.

  • PatchesMagee November 21, 2012 at 9:12 pm

    Look Luker and littlegreyrabbit , I was a co-author on one of these papers that had falsified data. Eric presented himself as an expert in the field, he is the guy who has the highly sited papers on Caveolae from his post doctoral work in the Anderson lab. He speaks at the key meetings where I too get a chance to explain our work. He offers to collaborate to test the idea. We thought we were collaborating with the worlds expert. Then we sent him samples, his technicians do the work and then he sends us the blots. We are really excited – it all makes sense. It would take years to determine we were wrong. The way he pulled this off is by using technical staff that he fired frequently (not postdocs or graduate students). In retrospect, I should have known better but I really had no idea what he was up to. If I could go back in time and redo this episode I would – his falsifications wasted years of reagents and graduate student hours that we could have been pursuing more exciting projects. This is a debacle and his collaborators suffered. When I finally came around to suspecting he was a fraud he was already under investigation.

    • littlegreyrabbit November 21, 2012 at 9:31 pm

      Generally – and this is also direct personal experience – technicians don’t do fraud. And it is very risky to try and induce a technician to do fraud and then fire them. It is pretty difficult to fire people from universities these days anyway.

      The reason why technicians don’t do fraud is that usually have job security and are not particularly ambitious. Graduate students don’t and are. That is why my advice to all academics looking to falsify data is to concentrate on the grad students and leave the techs alone.

      I think it is wonderful that all these anonymous people are coming forward and telling us what a terrible bloke Eric Smart was and how he and his evil crew of technicians fooled all his PhD students and postdocs. You will forgive me if I permit myself a wry smile – although I understand for the people involved it isn’t a funny situation.

      My advice is just sit tight and shut up and no one will take this any further. As the saying goes, when you are in a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging.

      • PatchesMagee November 21, 2012 at 9:54 pm

        The simplest hypothesis is that the technicians gave the correct data to Smart and he manipulated the data. There is no evidence that anyone else in the lab manipulated the data. The point about using technicians is they are less likely to follow the trail of the data or be involved in the publication. And yes he had high turnover of his technical staff.

    • littlegreyrabbit November 21, 2012 at 9:36 pm

      And just remember in the unlikely event the University does investigate individual theses, they also had a legal obligation to provide its students with a safe and ethical environment – which clearly they didn’t meet.

      For that reason alone, I don’t think the University would be keen to delve any deeper.

    • Neuroskeptic (@Neuro_Skeptic) November 22, 2012 at 3:49 am

      Interesting, thanks for the comment

    • alexander October 28, 2013 at 6:38 pm

      Do you see that no one besides Smart (I always was amused by his last name) got into troubles? Twenty (+) scientists from KE university were on his retracted papers and no one???

  • scotus November 22, 2012 at 7:25 am

    I’m sure Smart’s behavior meant that his lab wasn’t a popular place for students and post docs and I suppose its feasible that this deception could have been perpetrated by Smart acting alone with a rotating cast of short term technicians but whats most disturbing to me is that many of these fraudulent papers involve multiple university of Kentucky faculty. As an example, Am J. Physiol. Cell Physiol. 294(1):C295-305, 2008- Swanson, Post (left UK), Zhu, Gong, Liu (left UK), Li, Graf, Ballard, Ross (Deceased) are/were all tenured faculty. Many of Smart’s other publications including those that are identified as containing fraudulent data involve additional UK faculty and some of his other papers published during the time of the fraudulent activity include several people who now have high level administrative positions in the College of Medicine (for example the current Dean of the College of Medicine, the Senior Associate Dean for Research and the Vice Dean for Biomedical Sciences). I don’t have time to scrutinize all of these but just looking at one of them at random identified obvious image manipulation. For example, in the figure linked to below actin loading control blots have been re used for western blots for different proteins that would have to come from separate gels. In several cases the “control” and experimental bands are “smiling” in opposite directions.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2754564/figure/F4/

    Proteomic characterization of lipid raft proteins in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis mouse spinal cord. Zhai J, Ström AL, Kilty R, Venkatakrishnan P, White J, Everson WV, Smart EJ, Zhu H. FEBS J. 2009 Jun;276(12):3308-23. Epub 2009 May 5.

    What sort of place is this?

    • Scientist November 22, 2012 at 2:50 pm

      To be fair, the actin blot in Fig4 looks fine for me. Let me show you how Fig4 might be generated. After transfer, the same membrane can be cut into several sections based on MW. Each of these cut membranes can be blotted separately and re-blotted… A “smarter” way to prepare Fig4 would be moving actin blot to the bottom of the fig and removing A, B, C. In this way, you will not think the actin blot being “re used”.

      • scotus November 22, 2012 at 3:56 pm

        Since all of these proteins (aside from Cofilin) have molecular weights in the ~40-50 KDa range it seems unlikely that the blot was cut and probed separately. I suppose it could have been stripped and re-probed multiple times…From reading the paper it appears that these fractions were prepared using Dr Smart’s infamous detergent free approach so perhaps the validity of the loading controls is not the main concern with these data.

        Whatever the case, I’d hate to see the main point of my post overlooked because I suggested that something is wrong with these blots in what is clearly a pretty trivial paper.

      • Chris Bindman November 23, 2012 at 7:46 am

        You seem to have given a lot of thought about this… :)

    • Hibby November 22, 2012 at 7:02 pm

      Send it to Science-Fraud.org, they will love it and publish it.

  • whistleblower November 24, 2012 at 9:19 am

    Eric Smart got caught but how many other major researchers are out there that are not. My guess is many more than you might think precisely because the top journals only want “complete” stories and so if one experiment gives you the result you want, you ignore the rest that didn’t. No one asks you to show how many times you got that result. There was even an article on how pharmaceutical companies could only reproduce about 10% of what was published in the major journals. These top labs understand that a) they must do this to get enough money to run their labs, b) the likelihood of being caught is tiny because the lowly whistle blower is going to be destroyed by raising questions and so is unwilling to do that and c) the university itself has no interest in following up because they get money from this guys grants and it is bad for them if any one finds out.

    An ethisist once asked me who does it harm if someone publishes wrong data about some obscure protein and at first I was flumoxed that he would ask the question because I was naive enough to believe that the integrity of science is important. But then I realized that when that person gets ahead by fraud he takes grants away from worthy, honest researchers and more important he teaches his students and post docs that fabricating data or picking and choosing the experiments whose result you like is the way science is done and both of those have devastating long term consequences.

    So I am glad that Eric Smart was finally caught- the only problem is that he managed to take grants from good researchers, take a position that might have gone to an honest scientist and taught a generation of trainees that fraud is the way to succeed. And worse – the only place you are reading about this is in this fairly obscure blog.

    • Ressci Integrity November 24, 2012 at 9:56 am

      a nice reminder again on collateral damage on others….

    • GadgetInspector November 26, 2012 at 11:06 pm

      News is spreading. Was picked up by UK (Lexington, KY) local newspaper. It’s a start for improved visibility. Post and re-post. Make your science communities aware and more observant. Should a researcher who defrauded the government of millions be teaching/mentoring high school students?
      http://m.kentucky.com/Lexington/db_295586/contentdetail.htm?contentguid=skKc69lr

      • littlegreyrabbit November 27, 2012 at 2:29 am

        I am uncomfortable about chasing people beyond their research positions.

        The head of the lab has shouldered the blame (how willingly I can’t say) and left research. Since it is so rare for the head of the lab to take any responsibility whatsoever rather to throw blame on everyone but him or herself. If I can quote Shane Mayack on this very blog:
        “Why does it so often seem to happen that 100% of the responsibility falls onto the underling(s) involved and none attaches to the leadership? From a purely practical point of view, can that be possible? Moreover, is holding no accountability to the leadership really the best strategy to reducing the number of errors published in science?”
        Well, it appeared that Harvard medical school begged to differ, as they rushed to give tenure to the leadership in this particular instance.

        Compare Professor Smart with a certain Professor T*ny S*g*l who, when it was found that a former PhD had falsified the results in a thesis – a thesis whose research strategy had been wholly determined by his supervisor and was necessary to confirm the supervisor’s previous Nature publication, his response was to get his mates in a neighbouring university to release a bunch of unsigned letters that appear to be totally spurious, purporting to show his graduate student was some kind of deranged serial fabricator.

        Professor Smart, rather uniquely, agreed the buck stopped with him and that should be the end of the matter in my opinion.

      • scotus November 27, 2012 at 6:11 am

        This doesn’t sound like “shouldering the blame” to me.

        Smart did not respond to calls from the Herald-Leader seeking comment but he told Fryman Monday that the allegations were “absolutely untrue,” she said.

        “He said there is no evidence to base their allegations on,” Fryman

        Read more here: http://www.kentucky.com/2012/11/26/2422095/university-of-kentucky-researcher.html#storylink=cpy

      • GadgetInspector November 29, 2012 at 7:17 pm

        LGR, may the chase continue! Now I am wholeheartedly against Smart teaching high school students. I couldn’t and wouldn’t let my minor child be under the authority of an instructor who has exhibited poor/no ethics AND sexually harassed his previous charges. This is now beyond research integrity and diving into personal integrity issues.

      • littlegreyrabbit November 29, 2012 at 8:05 pm

        You could either say a lot or very little about this.
        I come to this blog because I am interested in science and when and how sciences fails and how institutions respond. So once someone leaves research that is where my interest in them ends. Vindictive pursuits sponsored by a blog risks giving scientific whistle-blowing a bad name [although I am not suggesting the comments here are either encouraged or discouraged by the bloggers]. I have also that felt if there aren’t paths for disgraced researchers either to rehabilitate themselves or find other productive careers then this will make fraudsters fight even harder to protect themselves and for their friends and colleagues to work even harder to cover it up. And in the end the people who suffer from this are the whistle-blowers.

        Obviously some very bad blood has been created in his lab, however that exact nature of this bad blood and what lead up to it, I can’t judge from a single letter and in anyway it isn’t of interest of me. I am sure there is a blog devoted to the subject of harassment and academia.
        In general, I would recommend the old proverb: “The best revenge is living well.”

  • Silvermaven November 27, 2012 at 7:48 pm

    We can always hope they will now tell the truth 35yrs. too late….

    Borrelia cell wall deficient forms in fungal/viral/prion synergy are the cause of all cholesterol and calcium plagues formed from biofilms made of mostly calcium.

    Esp. since we know that at least 80% of the pops are infected with the stealth and at least 1/3 of the pop.s have a “latent” form of TB and 90% have EBV and other herpes similars.

    Russia has no problems telling the truth. Germany concurs with est. of 80% infected.
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23163048


    In fact if they do NOT stop adding to the mix—the next antigen introduced into the masses that are infected with gene shareing stealth could very well be man’s last.

  • Quidestveritas November 27, 2012 at 10:10 pm
  • Quidestveritas November 28, 2012 at 9:19 am

    @LGR said “I am uncomfortable about chasing people beyond their research positions.”

    Dr. R, please tell that to one of the many Ph.D. Scientists who, after 4-7 years as post-docs, were unable to secure positions on the faculty of R1 institututions. Many of them are teaching High School or trying to pay the rent with a patchwork of part-time Community College teaching jobs.

    http://chronicle.com/article/From-Graduate-School-to/131795/

    “Some adjuncts make less money than custodians and campus support staff who may not have college degrees. An adjunct’s salary can range from $600 to $10,000 per course, according to the Adjunct Project, a crowdsourced database about adjuncts’ salaries and working conditions. The national average earnings of adjunct instructors are just under $2,500 per course, according to the American Association of University Professors.”

    Eric J. “Cheater” Smart no doubt has stashed away a tidy nest egg from his 16 year faculty career. I was 46 when I paid off my student loans. IMO, this scumbag remains in play until he is stone broke or moves out of science altogether.

    • Ressci Integrity November 28, 2012 at 10:10 am

      Absolutely right. You are hitting the real problem Quidestveritas. Because of such people, honest ones are not getting jobs, funds and opportunities to do good science. This is true for publications as well…

    • whistleblower November 29, 2012 at 7:29 am

      that is rich Phillippe Frank commenting on fraud when he comes from Lisanti’s lab

      • Quidestveritas November 29, 2012 at 8:54 am

        what is it about caveolin research?

  • Theresa Defino November 28, 2012 at 4:17 pm

    His page has been removed from UK, but this is still up—from 2003–

    http://www.uky.edu/PR/News/Archives/2003/May2003/03-05_smart_appts.htm

  • scotus November 29, 2012 at 6:14 pm

    http://www.kentucky.com/2012/11/29/2425656/former-university-of-kentucky.html

    Former University of Kentucky researcher disciplined for sexual harassment

    Could be worth an update to the main post perhaps…

  • scotus November 29, 2012 at 6:25 pm

    http://www.research.uky.edu/odyssey/fall04/obesity_basic_science.html

    Here’s a link to the source of the picture in the Herald Leader- interesting choice.

    I think the take home message here is that its probably not a good idea to harass the people in your lab if there is a possibility that they might turn you in for research misconduct.

  • scotus November 30, 2012 at 6:32 am

    http://media.kentucky.com/smedia/2012/11/29/12/48/ROVx7.So.79.pdf#storylink=relast

    The Lexington Herald Leader has obtained the sexual harassment complaint report and posted it here.

    • littlegreyrabbit November 30, 2012 at 11:04 pm

      Although I wanted to leave this alone, I was amused by this
      “The investigation has been very difficult for the lab personnel. At the same time they have
      described the unwelcome behaviors, witnesses describe the lab as a family and they are very
      excited about the science going on there.”

      Ice down the shirt obviously caused some discomfort but producing fraudulent science did not!

      Maybe there should be an investigation if any of those manipulated images turned up in PhD theses?

  • Scotus December 1, 2012 at 10:19 am

    Smart didn’t operate with students and post docs. He used a series of mostly female lab techs who might have been excited about the work but for the most part didn’t understand the science sufficiently to identify misconduct. Having said that, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the first misconduct allegation came after then harassment complaint was resolved with basically a slap on the wrist. My guess is that one or more of the harassment complainants wasn’t satisfied with the outcome and decided to go nuclear.

    • littlegreyrabbit December 2, 2012 at 5:36 am

      Worked for many years as a technician myself and my opinion is that they generally know what is going on and they generally understand both the science and the corners that may have cut to create it. Indeed, if you really want to know what is happening in a lab the best thing to do is to take the techs out to the pub for a quiet beer – in fact you would be well advised to take your techs out to the pub anyway, I am sure they deserve it. But I take your point [comment edited to remove insulting phrase].

      Look, scotus, I believe you when you say it was all Smart altering the works of his female technicians, but there are some very nasty, suspicious minds who frequent the comments on this blog, who might think that plenty of people have something to hide and what better way to do it than commenting anonymously on a blog? Anyway, the best way to answer these questions is open transparent investigations which go through the theses, see if they match to any of the dodgy publications and then see if they claim ownership of any tampered figures.

      As it is, it appears that the PhD students in the Smart lab were so hopeless they never published anything at all. Although what with all the slap and tickle going on perhaps that is not so surprising.

  • scotus December 2, 2012 at 9:31 am

    http://uknowledge.uky.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1002&context=physiology_etds

    Here is the dissertation from one of the students who was moved out of Smart’s lab and completed her studies under the direction of other faculty. She has no published work other than a review co-authored with Smart.

    You could always go here:

    http://uknowledge.uky.edu/

    And search for dissertation research that Smart supervised if you are really interested.

    • VR December 3, 2012 at 5:14 pm

      Some commenters here are happily pointing fingers at the technicians and graduate students for Smart’s faults, but the University of Kentucky and ORI found that Smart, and Smart alone, is at fault for falsifying data. The misconduct investigation was a very long and detailed process. Since most of you are surprised by the amount of time the investigation lasted, it is obvious that you have no idea how this type of investigation works. Please do yourself a favor and review how your institution handles research misconduct, how/when it is sent to ORI, and how ORI handles the investigation. Your flippant assumptions and accusations are doing more harm than good to people who don’t deserve it. To make acccusations that graduate students and/or technicians should be investigated for misconduct is showing again how little knowledge you have on the subject. Do you think that the university and the ORI completely skipped over the graduate students in the lab? No, the university reviewed, copied, and analyzed all laboratory notebooks, protocol sheets, and computers in the lab and any that were used by the lab. To say that the graduate students and technicians are to blame for Smart’s deeds is inappropriate and destructive. All of the former members of the lab have moved on with their careers and are doing their best to distance themselves from Smart.

      • whistleblower December 4, 2012 at 8:18 am

        I do not know whether the co authors on the papers that were retracted were post docs students or technicians but your statements imply that graduate students and post docs either had no publications or never read or looked at the figures in the papers on which they were authors.

  • scotus December 3, 2012 at 7:42 pm

    I don’t think anybody is suggesting the technicians or student were responsible for misconduct but do you think Smart collected every single piece of data that was used in the 45 figures identified in the finding of research misconduct himself? “Patches McGee” above notes that she (or he) was a co author of one of the retracted papers and thinks the techs gave Smart data and he then manipulated it. I guess Smart was just lucky that none of the techs who generated the data wondered why the data in the papers looked different from the data they collected. Or perhaps they were too busy fending off his unwanted sexual advances…

    As a separate issue, the concerns about questionable research conducted by Chendil Damodaran and Mansoor Ahmed while at the Institution doesn’t give me confidence that the University of Kentucky is particularly on the ball when it comes to these investigations.

    Fortunately for Smart and co the ongoing circus surrounding his new career as a high school teacher is distracting people from the research misconduct issues. Check out the latest revelations:

    http://www.kentucky.com/2012/12/03/2430217/after-uk-researcher-was-suspended.html

    • VR December 3, 2012 at 9:31 pm

      Scotus, I beg to differ. LittleGreyRabbit has continually stated that the graduate students are to blame or played a role in falsifying data (11/21/12 @ 8:48pm, 9:31pm, 9:36pm; 11/30/12 @11:04pm). You posted a link to my dissertation, but obviously did not read it. A simple perusal of the figures in my dissertation, or at the very least, reading the title, should have been enough to see that my research is not connected to any data that was falsified by Smart. My dissertation research was repeated under the direction of a new mentor in my third year and took me until early 2012, two additional years, to complete. I respectfully request that the link to my dissertation be removed from the comments.

      • chirality December 4, 2012 at 10:02 am

        So how does this work in Kentucky? A scientist in Smart’s group runs western blots, he or she gives the data to Smart who doctors them and then includes them in a manuscript. Smart makes sure that the scientist who produced the original westerns does not see the manuscript, the galleys, and the published paper – otherwise his cunning plot would have been instantly revealed. The scientist him- or herself is also not at all curious as to what is in the paper they co-authored with Smart. This goes on for a decade until the sh*t really hits the fan. Afterwards, Smart takes all the blame as the sole perpetrator. A cynic would say that Smart has nothing to lose anyway – he cannot be more fired from his job than he already is. Of course, it is not at all possible that the research culture was such that it was a standard operating procedure to fake data in order to get published. It is not at all possible that young scientists who joined Smart’s group were fully aware what was going on and went along with this because, firstly, they did not know any better and, secondly, it was beneficial to them (in a short run, at least).

      • Scotus December 4, 2012 at 10:43 am

        Chirality- its actually worse than you think because as I noted in one of my earlier posts in addition to duping whoever actually generated the data many of Smart’s more egregious retractions involve multiple University of Kentucky faculty co authors who also didn’t spot anything wrong. And several of his grants and grant applications also involved (or likely involved) these same faculty “collaborators”.

        Having said that, VR makes some good points and I can understand why she is upset. The misconduct happened before she was in the lab, when it came to light she moved to a new lab with a new mentor and produced a very solid dissertation. She’s right to stand up for herself.

  • Scotus December 4, 2012 at 7:11 am

    I did read the dissertation, but only in enough detail to determine that it does’t appear to contain a single western blot which appeared to be Smart’s preferred mode of misconduct. The University put the dissertation online (as they do for all of these). I think you should be proud of it but if you want the link removed and the administrators can do it, go ahead.

    Can you tell us something about how the initial misconduct allegation against Smart was made? Did it come from someone inside the lab? Was the same person or persons who complained about his harassing behavior involved? Was it a coincidence that the misconduct allegation came when the harassment complaint was resolved without any significant consequences for Smart?

    • VR December 4, 2012 at 9:00 pm

      Scotus, to answer your questions bluntly and honestly:
      No
      I don’t know
      Probably not
      I don’t know
      I know I may be expected to be a wealth of juicy information, but, alas, I’m happy that I have nothing more I can add to this saga.

      • Scotus December 5, 2012 at 8:00 am

        Thats a bit boring. Best of luck in the future. I’m sorry you had a bad experience with Smart but it sounds as though you came out stronger and wiser in the end (and with a Ph.D.)!

    • littlegreyrabbit December 6, 2012 at 9:41 am

      Scotus,
      I am not sure if Smart had a favoured preferred mode of misconduct – just if you use photoshop it is very easy to definitively prove. Since there are only graphs in that dissertation, unless someone tries to replicate this work, any hypothetical fraud would be immune from detection.

      As it turns out, the theoretical approach of the thesis is very much belonging to Smart (although I imagine his name won’t be on any of the publications) – which is basically a diet of stearic acid will overcome diabetes – something i can’t find much support in the literature outside his lab
      http://www.labome.org/grant/r01/dk/protective/effects/protective-effects-of-stearic-acid-on-gestational-and-acquired-diabetes-mellitus-7289736.html
      Anyway, if the data is reliable the student has managed to prove Smart’s proposal in spades, although she did steer away from the molecular approach that Smart was suggesting (and which would have involved westerns) and just concentrate on standard parameters like weight, glucose, insulin etc.

      I haven’t had time to read the dissertation in depth yet, but there does seem some data that rather leaps out at you. For example there appears to have been a mammoth drop in food consumption by mice fed diets high in stearic acid (a drop so enormous it may in fact explain all the findings), moreover some of the enormous drops in fasting glucose as a result of stearic acid consumption don’t seem to have been replicated in another group who did an experiment with some similarities. But I will need to wait until I have more time to read and consider before I can be sure I am not comparing apples and oranges.

      Anyway, whatever Smart’s weakness with westerns, he seems to have the knack of coming up with excellent research proposals, as this dissertation seems to have unambigiously proven something that on the face of it I would have thought was rather improbable. Since his ideas were so on the money in this instance, it something of a tragedy that previously he resorted to fraud.

  • TurnedandBurned December 4, 2012 at 9:28 pm

    Good for you VR. I hope this experience hasn’t discouraged you from pursuing a career in science, as a fabrication scandal did to some of my classmates 20 years ago. One upside, a Google search for the bastardly, lying PI now turns up the ORI page as the first hit, and he is listed as a “consultant” on LinkedIn. The postdoc who turned him in is, unfortunately, nowhere to be found in the scientific literature.

    P.S., Congrats on having someone outside your thesis committe and immediate family actually read your thesis. That’s a rare accomplishment, indeed. :-)

  • Scotus December 10, 2012 at 9:54 am
  • whistleblower December 10, 2012 at 11:54 am

    The icing on the cake in that article about the poor whistleblower is that Eric Smart blames the him. This fraud did not just happen at U of Kentucky and Eric Smart has been manufacturing data at least since he was a post doc with Dick Anderson. No one has been able to reproduce the papers on movement of caveolin he published in 1994 and 1996 using cholesterol oxidase. It turns out that cholesterol oxidase is supplied in ammonium sulfate as are many enzymes and must be washed out of this and reconstituted in buffer before use, but Eric Smart never did this. When this concentration of ammonium sulfate alone is added to cells the ER looks shredded by immunofluorescence. Was this fraud or just bad science? In light of the recent revelations I think it must be considered that he used multiple methods to get results he needed.

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