Funding agency sanctions Bulfone-Paus and former postdoc
Retraction Watch readers may recall the case of Silvia Bulfone-Paus, a researcher at Germany’s Research Center Borstel who was a frequent subject of posts in the early days of this blog. Bulfone-Paus has had to retract 13 papers amid investigations into allegations of image manipulation.
To briefly recap: In May 2010, several months after concerns had first been raised, Borstel let the DFG (German Research Foundation) know about the allegations, because they had funded the work. A November 2010 report from Borstel said that the allegations had merit, blaming two of Bulfone-Paus’s postdocs but criticizing how she supervised them. As the DFG notes in a summary of its findings on the case, posted late last week:
…in February 2011 the DFG Committee of Inquiry on Allegations of Scientific Misconduct recommended that the researcher not appoint any new research personnel to DFG-funded projects until the DFG had concluded its inquiry and that she withdraw from her position as project leader. Bulfone-Paus had already voluntarily suggested that the DFG should not appoint her as reviewer nor as a member of any DFG committees for a period to be stipulated by the DFG.
The DFG has now closed the case, and has imposed sanctions:
The DFG Committee concluded that Bulfone-Paus had committed “gross negligence of her supervisory duty” in her function as the leader of the working group and was therefore guilty of scientific misconduct as stipulated in the DFG procedures. On the basis of this result, the Joint Committee of the DFG decided to issue Bulfone-Paus with a written reprimand, to prohibit her from submitting proposals for three years, and to exclude her from statutory bodies at the DFG and not to appoint her as a reviewer for three years. However, since Bulfone-Paus had voluntarily suggested at the start of the proceedings that she withdraw from her appointments, not be appointed as a reviewer, nor be included in statutory bodies, the Joint Committee decided that this period should count towards the measures taken, leaving only the issue of the written reprimand to continue in effect.
“These measures represent a suitable and appropriate means of reprimanding Ms. Bulfone-Paus for the sustained neglect of her supervisory responsibility towards the early career researchers. As an experienced researcher, Ms. Bulfone-Paus did not fulfil the essential function of providing a good role model for her colleagues,” said the DFG Secretary General, Dorothee Dzwonnek.
The DFG also closed its case involving Elena Bulanova, a former postdoc in Bulfone-Paus’s lab:
On this basis, the Joint Committee of the DFG decided, as recommended by the DFG Committee, to issue Dr. Bulanova with a “written reprimand” and to prohibit her from submitting proposals for five years. This outcome is intended to serve as an unmistakeable reminder that data and research results must be handled correctly and carefully. “Falsification of research results in publications is inexcusable and cannot be justified under any circumstances,” stated DFG Secretary General Dzwonnek. “A ban on submitting proposals for a significant period of time is therefore appropriate.”
Other investigations into Bulfone-Paus’s work continue, at the Borstel and at the University of Lubeck, where she and her husband have both held faculty positions. The Charite in Berlin is also looking into her research.
Read more details at Der Spiegel.