Scientist found to have falsified data in thesis sues to keep her PhD
In August 2012, the authors of “Novel Approach to the Lundurine Alkaloids: Synthesis of the Tetracyclic Core,” a paper in Organic Letters, retracted it:
The authors retract this Organic Letters communication on the basis that the RCM of 24 to give 25 (Scheme 6) is not reproducible; thus, the reduction of 25 to give 26 (Scheme 7) is also not reproducible.
The case was covered in some detail by The Heterocyclist blog, and also by Derek Lowe at In The Pipeline, who called it “an odd retraction.” Lowe recently picked up the story with an update: The first author, Suvi Orr, is suing the University of Texas-Austin, where she earned her PhD and did the work, to stop them from taking away her degree.
The Austin American-Statesman reported last month:
Nearly six years after Suvi Orr received a Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Texas, the university told her it has decided to do something that institutions of higher learning almost never do: revoke the degree.
Orr, in turn, has sued UT in an effort to hold onto the doctorate that launched her career in the pharmaceutical industry.
Her lawsuit in state district court in Travis County contends that revocation is unwarranted and that the university violated her rights by not letting her defend herself before the dissertation committee that condemned her research long after she graduated. In addition, she says, the committee relied heavily on her former professor, who, she claims, was motivated to “cast the blame elsewhere.”
A letter included in the filing explains why the university wanted to take back her degree:
In Orr’s case, UT administrators moved to revoke her degree after finding that “scientific misconduct occurred in the production of your dissertation,” according to a letter to Orr from Judith Langlois, senior vice provost and dean of graduate studies.
The dissertation committee concluded that work related to “falsified and misreported data cannot be included in a dissertation and that the remaining work described in the dissertation is insufficient to support the award” of a Ph.D.,” Langlois wrote. Orr was invited to submit a new thesis summarizing other work to earn a master’s degree.
Orr’s thesis is available here.
The case is a stark contrast to one we reported on earlier this week, in which a scientist acknowledged errors on PubPeer and told us she’d be losing her PhD and faculty position.
We’ve tried to reach Orr, who now works at Pfizer, for comment, and will update with anything we learn.