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Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Alirio Melendez categorically denies data falsification, alleges cover-up

with 31 comments

alirio_melendezAlirio Melendez, who was found guilty of scientific misconduct by the National University of Singapore and has had 13 papers retracted, says none of what he’s being accused of is true.

In a statement posted yesterday at ajmelendez.co.uk and this morning at Retraction Watch, Melendez acknowledges that fraud occurred in his laboratory, but “categorically” denies having taken part in it. Here’s the full statement:

“The National University of Singapore (NUS) has blamed me for scientific fraud and misconduct for finding irregularities in several publications without showing any proof whatsoever that I am the guilty party for scientific fraud”
There is no proof of this, and, since I did not take part in any scientific fraud at any time, there will be none. If there was any scientific misconduct being practised in a laboratory where I was the supervisor, it was completely without my knowledge.
Moreover, of the papers in which NUS blamed me for fraud, I categorically deny having been party to any fraudulent or scientific misconduct. However, after being shown the evidence, I can see that somebody(s) working in a laboratory I supervised did commit scientific fraud. At the time of publication I did not see anything wrong with the papers, I have to stress that every paper is reviewed by peers of the highest calibre, three to five specialists, who also did not find any fraud in these papers. Of course, I do accept the “corresponding author” responsibility for overseeing the project, but I never knowingly, or otherwise, did anything wrong. I also trusted my co-workers absolutely, which may have been a mistake in hindsight, but one has to trust all team members.
I must also stress that, for at least seven of the papers in which the NUS report found irregularities, I cannot be given any responsibility whatsoever because they were carried out in other investigators’ laboratories. I did not contribute with anything other than providing advice and/or specialised reagents. These papers are:

1. Int. J Biochem Cell Biol 2010 Feb; 42(2):230-40. Jayapal M, Bhattacharjee RN, Melendez AJ, Hande MP.
2. World J Biol Chem 2010 Nov 26; 1 (11): 321-6. Lai WQ, Melendez AJ, Leung BP.
3. J Immunol 2009 Jul 15;183(2):1413-8. Lai WQ, Irwan AW, Goh HH, Melendez AJ, McInnes IB, Leung BP.
4. Blood 2009 Jul 9;114(2):318-27. (NUS repport concern of plagiarism) Dai X, Jayapal M, Tay HK, Reghunathan R, Lin G, Too CT, Lim YT, Chan SH, Kemeny DM, Floto RA, Smith KG, Melendez AJ, MacAry PA.
5. J Cell Physiol 2008 Mar; 214(3); 796-809. Newman JP, Banerjee B, Fang W, Poonepalli A, Balakrishnan L, Low GK, Bhattacharjee RN, Akira S, Jayapal M, Melendez AJ, Baskar R, Lee HW, Hande MP.
6. Nitric Oxide 2008 Mar; 18(2), 136-45. Peng ZF, Chen MJ, Yap YW, Manikandan J, Melendez AJ, Choy MS, Moore PK, Cheung NS.
7. Neuropharmacology 2007, 53, 687-98. Peng ZF, Koh CH, Li QT, Manikandan J, Melendez AJ, Tang SY, Halliwell B, Cheung NS.
I had nothing to do with the data generation or analysis, nor with any part of the manuscript writing. This should be of common knowledge at NUS, so it brings out the question: “how can I be blamed for the above-mentioned papers ?….
It does, however, raise a serious issue, which is that there appears to be a cover-up going on: firstly; for the truth of what has actually happened, and secondly; for the scale of what is going on at NUS.
Although, without my knowledge, scientific misconduct has obviously been carried out in my laboratory, for which I apologise, however the real perpetrators of the misconduct are not being uncovered. In fact, very strangely, everybody else involved in these projects have been
cleared by NUS. Thus, it can only be said that I have been, and am, the victim of an orchestrated campaign for discrediting me and being made a “scape goat”.
One of my questions; several times I have requested for NUS to interview me (after I had sent written responses answering all the accusations in their reports), in an effort to help with their enquiries and in order to establish the full truth (with the confidence that I would then clear my name). I waited for answers to my letters to NUS for over a year, answers that never came. NUS then published their “conclusions” without my prior knowledge or acceptance, and was made public without informing me of any publication date.
I categorically deny, and always will deny, the falsification of data and plagiarism of which I have been accused.

We should note that while we are reasonably sure this statement came from Melendez or someone he designated to act on his behalf, we have attempted to verify that it’s from him and will update with anything we learn.

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Written by Ivan Oransky

October 17, 2013 at 1:00 pm

Posted in alirio melendez

31 Responses

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  1. There is an urgent need to criminalize research fraud and investigate it by legal experts. One could not forget the principle of “….innocent until proven guilty in a COURT OF LAW!”

    aceil

    October 17, 2013 at 1:09 pm

  2. It seems that Melendez is the only uniquely recurring name above all these papers. So what is he stating? That multiple people from both inside and outside his lab (seemingly independently) contributed faux data and he is the sole victim? Theoretically possible, but implausible to say the least. At least from his own lab he should know who generated the data, which subsequently shouldn’t be hard to proof in the digital era…

    Platypus

    October 17, 2013 at 1:50 pm

    • incorrect, look at the papers closely, one uses person uses two names (inverted). I’m guessing there are names that also appear in all the papers that have been retracted? has anyone investigated this?

      Not knowing how NUS works myself, I’m guessing the lab had a shared computer, so proving digital data could be difficult. has NUS or anybody actually proven he did anything wrong?

      cecila

      October 18, 2013 at 7:48 am

  3. “I did not contribute with anything other than providing advice and/or specialised reagents.”

    So meanwhile he is admitting the commission of further misconduct by allowing himself to take authorship when he did not contribute significantly to the paper.

    Dan Zabetakis

    October 17, 2013 at 2:20 pm

    • maybe I don’t know where to look… but elsivier (who publishes the first journal in that list) states only: “Authorship should be limited to those who have made a significant contribution to the conception, design, execution, or interpretation of the reported study.” He maybe contributed to the execution by providing reagents? They then link to an ethics toolkit which they host and cites: ICMJE guidelines for authorship… methinks they need to do some serious work making their policy unambiguous!

      As an aside, if he only contributed reagents, and there are problems with these studies… lots of followup investigation must be done!

      qqq

      October 17, 2013 at 3:20 pm

      • qqq. Could you please provide the EXACT web link to the definition of authorship as defined by Elsevier that you indicate above. I have been challenging the Elsevier definition for almost 2 years now, rather aggressively, to show that their definition involved a rather simple, but extremely important paradox related to only a single 2-3 letter word. I can’t elaborate much more than this because my paper is now in review in a publishing ethics journal. However, I noticed quite recetnly that Elsevier silently changed the definition to match that defined by ICMJE without in fact making a public delcaration that their definition had changed and that all authors of ALL Elsevier journals were under one definition (the one you define above) until about (my estimate) June, 2013. Therefore, PLEASE provide the exact link where you obtained this definition because the CURRENT definition renders many scientists in papers published until June, 2013 as being INVALID authors. This issue scientists should be paying attention to. How can publishers like Elsevier just change their definition and claim to be “ethical” publishers that belong to COPE? It’s time tro expose this farse… (note the massive PR job by Elsevier to show that they are “ethical”, especially with the new special issue).

        JATdS

        October 20, 2013 at 7:43 pm

        • I can point to hundreds of studies coauthored by guest foreign honorary authors who contributed nothing but their names to those manuscripts . The deals were sealed when they were invited to third world countries as external examiners ( or speakers………)

          A feeling of deep and bitter anger is overwhelming when nothing is being successfully done to change the status quo!

          aceil

          October 21, 2013 at 10:51 am

          • I rejected d the “presence” of an author in a manuscript just yesterday. Just for the sake of…well, maybe nothing but to push him. Altough semi-independent, I still can’t be totally free in this matter (will come soon anyway), and this feeling is just disgusting… But the correct thing was done. No “reference” author anymore. Shame on you, Professor X. Next time just invite the guy for a beer, or a jacuzzi. Not necessarily an article.

            DEUS ex MACHINA

            October 21, 2013 at 1:22 pm

          • Aceil, can you provide a list so that someone can investigate?

            JATdS

            October 21, 2013 at 3:19 pm

          • Thank you , I might anonymously by e-mail but am nevertheless reluctant to stir collegiality and peace especially that nothing will ever change unless there is a genuine desire to rethink promotion and tenure requirements. The publish and perish mantra is the root cause of ghost authors, medical writers and honorary authors who are so rampant and we all know how to detect them.

            aceil

            October 22, 2013 at 1:19 pm

        • http://www.elsevier.com/journal-authors/ethics#authorship

          is the page that i quoted from.

          however… that page also links to an “ethics toolkit” found here:

          http://ethics.elsevier.com/ethicsToolkit.asp

          which, if you go to the “authorship fact sheet:”

          http://ethics.elsevier.com/pdf/ETHICS_AUTH01a.pdf

          provides a different definition…

          see also:

          http://www.nature.com/embor/journal/v12/n9/fig_tab/embor2011161a_T2.html

          QAQ

          October 21, 2013 at 5:57 pm

          • QAQ. I needed your confirmation that there are two definitions BUT the exact same publisher. I estimate that almost every bio-mdeical scientist would have published in an Elsevier journal during their career. So, what does the double defintion of authorship say about the ethics of Elsevier (and its journals), especially when the definitions are not compatible? A scientist may be a valid author according to definition 1 (i.e., by only fulfilling 1 of 3 conditions) but may be a guest or invalid author according to definition 2 (i.e., by fulfilling all 3 conditions). Thus, a scientist being accused of not being a valid author, and the paper subsequently being retracted could pose some enormous and serious consequences for scientists, both for future papers and for papers already published. Ethics do not evolve, only written rules, so millions of scientists could be potentially be affected by this ambiguity in Elsevier’s dual-definition of authorship.

            JATdS

            October 22, 2013 at 10:04 am

  4. Prof Melendez says <>

    Did he ever ask himself …how can I be congratulated for the above-mentioned papers?
    (if the papers had turned out to be good)
    ???

    RichardH

    October 17, 2013 at 2:31 pm

  5. If Melendez wants to clear his name I think he should start by publishing the investigation report from NUS and then rebutting the evidence paper by paper.

    As it stands, all we have is vague accusations of plagiarism and similar types of fraud, and then a similarly vague rebuttal, so it is impossible to form a conclusion on who is in the right.

    lar

    October 17, 2013 at 6:05 pm

    • my guess is he can’t, must have been confidential but would be a good idea.. wonder why NUS havent published the full report rather than a statement?

      cecila

      October 18, 2013 at 7:52 am

  6. “I had nothing to do with the data generation or analysis, nor with any part of the manuscript writing. ”

    Then why were you an author on the paper, shall we ask.

    Michal

    October 17, 2013 at 6:37 pm

  7. “Although, without my knowledge, scientific misconduct has obviously been carried out in my laboratory, for which I apologise, however the real perpetrators of the misconduct are not being uncovered”

    I know the culprit. It is: PIXIES. Just like what causes unemployment in Britain.

    See also:

    (starts at 0:30)

    Michal

    October 17, 2013 at 6:39 pm

    • Sitting in west, it seems that there are some people with vested interests in NUS who framed Melendez to save their necks.

      Melendez should make report public and highlight the big shots who contributed very little but still got their names on those papers.

      amy

      October 17, 2013 at 8:15 pm

  8. Looking at this and similar cases, it seems obvious to me that likely more than one person carried our misconduct. The ulitmate responsibility may rest with the PI, obviously, but indeed a thorough investigation would be required. Especially if there should be concerns about endemic misconduct that goes beyond a single department or research group (at an institution that may be under very high competitive pressure ).

    Ruth Booth

    October 18, 2013 at 3:45 am

    • it is quite often impossible to get all responsible parties but punishing the big fish is certainly a good example to set. This Melendez guy really doesnt know when to zip: now more people do not approve of him since his excuses are so kiddy

      CR

      October 18, 2013 at 5:44 am

    • I really don’t see a problem here.

      He said it was not him who did it, it was someone else.

      Why shouldn’t we believe him. Live and let live I say.

      I am sure any irregularities will not affect the conclusions of the papers and there was no intent to decieve.

      Stewart

      October 18, 2013 at 12:38 pm

  9. @Michal asks a good question in response to “I had nothing to do with the data generation or analysis, nor with any part of the manuscript writing”
    Guest authorship is not allowed and ALL authors should read the paper.
    OK, it is quite possible that Melendez read the paper, but took the data as a given, so it is very reasonable to give benefit of the doubt here. Nonetheless the idea that this statement is a defence is entirely wrong.
    There are, of course, other PIs on these papers and they have been exonerated. Note that the relevant information on the Abnormal Science blog (now gone) highlighted clear image manipulation form some papers from the same department where Melendez was not an author. So that part of his argument stands. You can scroll down at http://ktwop.wordpress.com/tag/abnormal-science/ and see some examples. Thus, while there may well be others that should have lost their jobs, but they have not due to scapegoating to save institutional face, the circumstances of the individual found guilty have not altered.
    If he has a copy of the report, then putting it into the public domain is not impossible. However, I doubt very much that he has seen it. As a senior academic at the University of Liverpool, I have tried to see a copy of our report and failed. Indeed, it was only some time after the event that I discovered that Melendez had left the University (see posting http://ferniglab.wordpress.com/2012/02/29/research-integrity-ii/). So a simple conclusion from this and comparable events is that universities, companies and journals really need to be a lot more open when data produced by their staff are challenged.
    Finally, the tone of his comments highlights a major issue regarding how at least some scientists view themselves and their work. There is far too much “Who me!?”, “I do not answer anonymous charges”, “I was far too important and busy to know what was going on in the lab” and “Everyone was doing it, why are you picking on me”. Indeed you can see this mindset expressed on PubPeer: substantial numbers of non-responding authors to reasonable technical queries; a degree of defensiveness when authors do respond; a complete absence of engagement by journals editors.

    ferniglab

    October 18, 2013 at 11:00 am

    • I agree with@ferniglab.

      Prof Melendez listed 7 papers and mentioned “I had nothing to do with the data generation or analysis, nor with any part of the manuscript writing. I did not contribute with anything other than providing advice and/or specialised reagents.”

      His pubmed shows 25 papers with neither first nor corresponding author. 2or 3 papers (from the 7 he has listed) appeared to be either retracted or corrected. So what about the remaining over 20 papers? Does his statement apply to all of these over 20 co-author papers or only to the papers with concerns? Is it fair to argue that I am not involved in bad papers?

      Did he not used these papers, including the 7 he has listed, for funding, switching three universities in three years and promoted from assistant professor to Professor Chair in three years’ time (according to RW earlier posts)?

      It sounds so kiddy as @CR mentioned.

      Rüdiger

      October 19, 2013 at 5:03 am

    • Melendez does have a copy of the report but says (at the moment) that he cannot release it. (I am not sure that this makes sense, but there you go). See http://blogs.nature.com/news/2013/10/immunologist-calls-on-university-to-disclose-details-of-misconduct-claims.html

      Richard Van Noorden

      October 22, 2013 at 12:12 pm

  10. Bureaucracy does fantastic things with people’s minds. There is a paper, with several authors. The authors say: Yes, we are the authors. May I ask: Who has the right to say that some are not the authors because the definition of authorship… etc.? If there is no disagreement between the authors, nobody has that right. Or are we at the point when journals know better who WAS the author and who WAS not?

    And this case again illustrates another point where bureaucracy badly brainwashed people; that is about confidentiality. If you have nothing to hide, your interest is in absolute transparency. It’s beyond my understanding why Melendez did not put all his case with all documents on a web.

    pyshnov

    October 22, 2013 at 3:00 am

  11. Has anyone had a read of his web site, I get the impression there’s a lot more to this than we know

    http://www.ajmelendez.co.uk/?page_id=21

    cecila

    November 8, 2013 at 2:32 am

  12. providing specialized reagents and advice is sufficient for an authorship on a paper.. in any case the other authors have agreed that his contribution warrants c0-authorship….

    Fair go

    November 10, 2013 at 8:29 pm


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