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Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

NUS: Melendez committed “serious scientific misconduct,” but don’t expect to get any details

with 5 comments

alirio_melendezAlirio Melendez, a former National University of Singapore immunologist whose story we’ve been following here since a retraction in September of last year, committed misconduct on an “unprecedented” scale, according to the university, involving more than 20 papers.

Nature’s Richard van Noorden has the scoop:

After a 19-month investigation, the National University of Singapore (NUS) today says that it has determined that one of its former scientists, the immunologist Alirio Melendez, has committed “serious scientific misconduct”.  The university found fabrication, falsification or plagiarism associated with 21 papers, and no evidence indicating that other co-authors were involved in the misconduct, it says.

Melendez has retracted five papers so far, as we’ve reported, but NUS wouldn’t give the whole list. They tell Nature:

“It’s standard procedure that for research-misconduct investigations such a report and the list of papers would be kept confidential,” an NUS spokesperson explained to Nature. She said that the university is now contacting journal editors and co-authors about each of the papers involved, and added that normally the university would not make a public statement at all, but in this case “the scientific misconduct uncovered was unprecedented”. When asked whether the report would remain permanently under wraps, she added: “I don’t think it will be released at a later date.”

Translation: Well, there you have it, folks, please move along, nothing to see here. It’s “standard procedure” to sweep misconduct investigations under the carpet, so we’ll just keep doing things our way, thank you very much. We released a statement this time because the misconduct was “unprecedented.” But misconduct with precedent? We’re not going to release reports about that.

Considering the scope of some cases of misconduct nowadays, that’s a pretty high bar. Maybe NUS won’t release any reports unless they find someone who has retracted 173 papers, since 172 is the current (unofficial) record. Then again, as NUS points out, this is “standard procedure” — neither of Melendez’s two other previous employers, the University of Liverpool and the University of Glasgow, have commented on their investigations, either.

Hurrah for transparency! Makes you really think you’re getting the whole story whenever these places send out press releases, doesn’t it?

By the way, as Retraction Watch readers well know, this kind of information blackout doesn’t have to be standard procedure. Just ask the University of Connecticut, Erasmus Medical Center, Tilburg University, and others who’ve been involved in high-profile misconduct cases.

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Written by Ivan Oransky

December 20, 2012 at 12:17 pm

5 Responses

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  1. nice and transparent translation. What a shame not to have the full list of papers!!
    Science-fraud put up another blog recently http://www.science-fraud.org/?p=1229 . interesting observation!

    Ressci Integrity

    December 20, 2012 at 12:28 pm

  2. Why did they wait until just before Christmas? Same with the DFG and Bulfone-Paus report.
    All forgotten by the New Year?

    fernando pessoa

    December 20, 2012 at 12:32 pm

  3. “Hurrah for transparency! Makes you really think you’re getting the whole story whenever these places send out press releases, doesn’t it?”

    Anybody who thinks that should think again, and not just because of the NUS charade. University press releases and other academic advertisements are propaganda, not unbiased information. Universities routinely fail to report negative things about themselves while spinning positive things into outrageous proportions. University carpets are lumpy from all the nasty things that have been swept under them.

    JudyH

    December 20, 2012 at 11:09 pm

  4. Those of us who follow Retraction Watch don’t have to wait for that list: to be on the safe side we can just delete all papers from this author from our databases. But what about the unsuspecting postdocs and PhD students who waste time, effort and consumables while trying to reproduce the flaky data?
    Just another “standard procedure” for NUS?

    irre

    December 21, 2012 at 10:52 am

    • What the Melendez case reveals is just the tip of the iceberg, in terms of sloppiness, mediocrity and fraud in research as well as the way the university handles them. A web search in any science publication database will reveal a number of retracted papers from NUS by “prominent researchers”, but a lot more goes undetected. Added to these is the fundamentally unprofessional and unethical practice of Heads, Deans, Directors, Vice Presidents and one of the Deputy Presidents (in charge of research) riding on the work of underlings who seek the support of the administrators for upward career mobility. How can one explain busy, Blackberry- or iPad-toting and jet-set administrators publishing 20 or 30 papers per year? By allowing this practice (indeed encouraging it), the university essentially sets the ethical standards. In the case of Melendez matter, why would the university allow Barry Halliwell (one of whose papers eventually is apparently on the suspect list) to be the spokesman for the investigation until a local blog (Gigamole Diaries) and Retraction Watch exposed or raised the conflict of interest? Then a German blogger exposed blatant self-plagiarism on the part of Halliwell, who is the chief scientific integrity officer for the university ( http://1608ab.wordpress.com/2011/11/02/singapore-self-plagiarism-by-ethics-official-prof-barry-halliwell-nus/ )! And Halliwell was also the Executive Director of an elite graduate school at NUS, which was preaching the importance of ethics in science to students!

      ZU WP

      December 30, 2012 at 3:16 pm


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