Utrecht University finds “violation of academic integrity” by former researcher
We have an update on the case of Pankaj Dhonukshe, a scientist about whom we reported in November. Utrecht University has found that Dhonukshe, a former researcher at the Dutch university, committed “a violation of academic integrity” in work that led to a number of papers, including one published in Nature and once since retracted from Cell.
Here’s the university’s statement:
Based on advice issued by the Committee for Academic Integrity, the National Board for Research Integrity and a supplementary investigation by a technical committee, Utrecht University has decided that a violation of academic integrity has been committed by cell biologist Dr P. Dhonukshe. This finding does not apply to the co-authors of the articles that were the subject of this investigation.
In the figures of four articles of which Dr Dhonukshe was the first or last author manipulation in some form was discovered. The irregularities include the fabrication of data that were presented as actually obtained research findings. Already during the course of the investigation the researchers were requested to withdraw two articles from publication, as the articles obviously do not satisfy the university’s academic standard. One of the articles has already been withdrawn. The university published an announcement (in Dutch only) on this matter in November 2013.
Dr Dhonukshe worked at Utrecht University until January 2013. In April 2013, the university received a complaint from two Canadian scientists concerning possible irregularities in an article on cell biology research published in the journal Nature. Following this, the complaint was investigated by the university’s the Committee for Academic Integrity. In response to this, the Executive Board formed its initial judgement in September 2013. This in turn prompted some of the parties involved to ask LOWI for a second opinion. At the same time as the initial judgement was reached, a technical committee was tasked by the university to investigate other articles by Dr Dhonukshe, in order to assess the extent to which these too could be found to contain irregularities. In February 2014, at the request of the Executive Board, the Committee for Academic Integrity issued supplementary advice based on the report of the technical committee. LOWI also issued its advice in February 2014. Based on all these data, the Executive Board was able to reach its final judgement.
DUB has more details (in Dutch).
I strongly oppose to the final decision of Utrecht University.
I strongly urge you to remove the word ‘fabrication’ in the publication documents and reconsider the decision.
This decision is referring to ‘fabrication’.
As per the rules of Utrecht University ‘Klachtenregeling WI 1 september 2012_EN def” on page 6 fabrication is refereed as:
- fabrication: introducing fabricated data
The fabrication or invention of data which are presented as the actual findings of research. This goes to the heart of science: the process of establishing truth.
Further, you are referring to the principle of reliability ‘The Netherlands Code of Conduct for Scientific Practice’ (principle II). As the word fabrication does not exist in the Code, the decision is groundless.
Erroneous duplication of image is no fabrication by any means. I did not draw (fabricate or invent) the images as one drawing a painting. They are factual data.
The statement of ‘fabrication of data that were presented as actually obtained research findings’ is baseless. This does not exist in any of the documents generated during the whole investigation process.
As UU says ‘Based on its investigation, the committee formed the opinion that due to the nature and frequency of the identified manipulations and to the fact that these occurred throughout a number of successive years – manipulations which for that matter were not discovered in the articles of which Dr Dhonukshe was not the first or last author – these must have been at least in part deliberate.’ This shows that UU decision is speculative without a direct proof of fabrication.
Therefore, I ask the Utrecht University not to publish the decision and take the facts that I describe in the letter from 3th February sent to Utrecht (Mr de Bok), see attachment, into a reconsideration of the decision.
New key facts not considered
It is a specific failure that this letter has not been considered in the decision of Utrecht University. These new facts are key in the fundament of the decision and therefore require a reconsideration of the decision.
This letter addresses all the points raised by the Technical committee while I did not get any feedback on this. This letter has been completely neglected by the Utrecht University. My letter addresses all three points raised by the technical commitee:
1. gel band issues
2. microscopy image issue
3. duplication issue.
Further, Nature 2013 and Cell 2012 have confirmed irregularities but not the other papers. The conclusion of the Technical Committee that “the identified manipulations and to the fact that these occurred throughout a number of successive years, these must have been at least in part deliberate.” is wrong. My letter shows that many of the irregularities are not from my data and have been made by other researchers.
Further, there has been number of procedural mistakes made during UU procedures without an apparent transparency that I questioned all along.
The complaints refer to mistakes in two papers. This may never be a ground for accusations of manipulation when mistakes are at stake.
Research and presentation
My vision of science was that truthful findings (content) that bring us to a next step of our knowledge are the most important. I did not perceive the details of presentation of the findings to be as critical as that of the actual findings. This resulted into the presentation mistakes that no one brought to my attention before the mistakes were brought up. Based on the last one year’s process I have learned that presentation is also important in addition to content. I shall incorporate that from now on in my perception of science and presentation of my findings.