McGill committee says Nature figures were “intentionally contrived and falsified”
An associate professor at Montreal’s McGill University is correcting two papers, one of them in Nature, after a university committee found evidence of falsification, Retraction Watch has learned.
Concerns had been raised about four papers by Maya Saleh and colleagues:
- Caspase-12 modulates NOD signaling and regulates antimicrobial peptide production and mucosal immunity, published in Cell Host & Microbe in 2008 and cited 49 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge
- Cellular inhibitors of apoptosis cIAP1 and cIAP2 are required for innate immunity signaling by the pattern recognition receptors NOD1 and NOD2, published in Immunity in 2009 and cited 87 times
- “Confinement of caspase-12 proteolytic activity to autoprocessing,” published in PNAS in 2008 and cited 23 times
- “Enhanced bacterial clearance and sepsis resistance in caspase-12-deficient mice,” published in Nature in 2006 and cited 147 times
According to a report by the McGill committee, highlights of which were obtained by Retraction Watch, two figures in the Nature paper had been “intentionally contrived and falsified.” One of those figures was duplicated in a PNAS paper, which also contained an image that had incorrectly labeled some proteins.
The committee said they could not determine who had falsified the figures, but said that there was no evidence it was Saleh, who was the only common author among the four papers.
The committee also said that figures in the Cell Host and Microbe paper contained “touchup of blemishes,” which they said was “not an acceptable procedure.” They said the original films could not be found, and noted that this was “not in compliance with the McGill Regulation on the Conduct of Research.” Irregularities in the Immunity paper, they said, were “due to artifacts created during the preparation of the scans for publication.”
The Immunity and Cell Host and Microbe papers could stand, said the committee, which recommended corrections for the Nature and PNAS papers. Saleh tells Retraction Watch that Donald Nicholson, the senior author on the papers and Merck’s vice-president and worldwide head of basic research in immunology and infectious diseases, would be handling the corrections. Saleh did a postdoc at Merck from 2001 to 2004, but her affiliation on the Nature paper is the La Jolla Institute, and on the PNAS paper is McGill.
Some of the published work was funded by grants to Saleh from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.
Saleh and colleagues have an unrelated Corrigendum in Nature.
We’ve contacted McGill provost Anthony Masi and research integrity officer Abe Fuks, and will update with anything we learn.
Update, 10:30 p.m. Eastern, 1/29/13: McGill associate provost Lydia White responded:
The University received allegations of research misconduct and conducted a thorough investigation following the procedures set out in the University’s Regulations Concerning Investigation of Research Misconduct (available from the following link: http://www.mcgill.ca/secretariat/policies/research/). The relevant findings were transmitted to the editors of Nature and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and the authors are in the process of correcting the record.
We are not at liberty to answer your question concerning sanctions as we are bound by the Act Regarding Documents held by Public Bodies and the Protection of Personal Information. We have not reported this case to Canadian funding agencies, given that the research reported in these two journals was not supported by grants from Canadian agencies.
The University would like to assure the community of its commitment to the highest standards of scientific integrity. We believe that we have taken appropriate measures to correct the scientific record and, at the same time, show respect for the privacy and integrity of the members of our faculty.
We responded that we were “a bit puzzled that you are not reporting this case to Canadian funding agencies.”:
As you note, neither the Nature nor PNAS papers were funded by those agencies. However, the Cell Host & Microbe paper was:
“This work was supported by grants from the Canadian Institutes for Health Research and The Canada Foundation for Innovation. M.S. is a Canadian Institutes for Health Research New Investigator, and S.G. is a holder of a Canada Research Chair.”
Your committee’s report on this case said, as we noted in our post, that the figures in the Cell Host and Microbe paper contained “touchup of blemishes,” which were “not an acceptable procedure.” They also said the original films could not be found, and noted that this was “not in compliance with the McGill Regulation on the Conduct of Research.”
Wouldn’t that therefore be grounds to report this case to CIHR?