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Regrettable, but not scientifically dishonest: Klarlund Pedersen responds to Danish committee

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Klarlund Pedersen

Klarlund Pedersen

A Danish researcher has responded to a draft report of the Danish Committees on Scientific Dishonesty (DCSD) that found she had acted in a “scientifically dishonest” and “grossly negligent” manner.

Bente Klarlund Pedersen, a University of Copenhagen researcher, has published with Milena Penkowa, four of whose papers have been retracted following investigations. In the press, she argued that while she had made mistakes, she had not committed misconduct.

The 57-page letter from Klarlund Pedersen’s attorney to the DCSD responds in detail to the critique of her work, including twelve papers. This passage from the summary gathers the arguments together:

The content of the draft is characterised by an entirely unreasonably strict evaluation of errors or omissions in the information about test subjects provided in two (possibly three) articles. Such evaluation is completely inconsistent with the caution that otherwise characterises and should characterise the evluation of whether certain circumstances constitute scientific dishonesty.

In order to reach the conclusion of gross negligence, the Committee allows itself to become tangled in wholly untenable patterns of argumentation, beginning with the introduction of the new concept of “leading senior author,” from which it shifts from overall project responsibility to overall responsibility for the scientific product and then to a particular responsibility for it, and from there to a more vigorous responsibility which makes any kind of negligence gross negligence, so that a person suddenly becomes dishonest simply because of his or her position as last author and because of negligence in respect of a certain matter that could possibly have been discovered. Such argumentation should not only be characterised as unacceptable conceptual jurisprudence with no empirical foundation; it also implies serious disregard of the clear provisions of the Order stipulating the circumstances in which scientific dishonesty can be established.

The remarks made in the preceding paragraph apply to both the failure to discover the Image Manipulation and the failure to discover the Alleged Errors.

It is a mistake that the Committee fails to fully realise that there is a difference between making a mistake in relation to information about the construction of data and the failure to discover and correct an error made by someone else. The errors, contrary to the manipulations, found in some of the articles are regrettable, but they do not make Bente Klarlund Pedersen guilty of scientific dishonesty. That would require a personally committed serious violation of good scientific practice that was willful or grossly negligent.

Read the entire letter here.

Written by Ivan Oransky

September 2nd, 2013 at 9:30 am

  • ferniglab September 2, 2013 at 9:46 am

    So no one is responsible and the Captain can leave the ship first in the only lifeboat? How convenient, the PI has no supervisory responsibilities, other than garner as many papers as possible from their research team.

  • amw September 2, 2013 at 12:09 pm

    Astonishing this is being played out in public – I can’t imagine this could happen in the UK or US where these matters are almost always hidden away behind closed doors, and frequently obvious fraud is downgraded to ‘sloppy work’ (countless RW articles).

    Reading a bit of background this sounds like a complex case involving another researcher (Penkowa). Is there an up-to-date account of what the fraud actually was?

  • Bill September 3, 2013 at 8:19 am

    Nobody is going to bother to wade through 57 pages of pompous obfuscating drivel from Bente’s lawyers, so case closed 😉

    Like Kaspar says, the Penkowa case was not just about scientific fraud and embezzlement and Milena’s red sports car with its’ personal number plates (Google it for pictures…). At one stage, as the net was closing in, Milena blamed one of her students (sounds familiar?), which held things up for a year or two. Perhaps the most shocking aspect was the revealing of the nepotism and corruption in publically funded Danish science all the way up to the science minister. But take heart, Milena has recently confessed(?) her sins with the comment “nobody’s perfect, not even me.”

    It is a quote on her own website (in Danish), but translated here:

  • The Iron Chemist September 4, 2013 at 1:20 pm

    “I haven’t behaved unethically, I’m just massively incompetent.”

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