Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Scientist threatening to sue PubPeer claims he lost a job offer because of comments

with 73 comments

sarkar

Fazlul Sarkar, via Wayne State

Last month, PubPeer announced that a scientist had threatened to sue the site for defamation. At the time, all PubPeer would say was that the “prospective plaintiff” is a US researcher” who was “aggrieved at the treatment his papers are getting on our site.”

Today, PubPeer revealed the that the prospective plaintiff was Fazlul Sarkar, a distinguished professor of pathology at Wayne State University in Detroit. Sarkar’s attorney, Nicholas Roumel, tells us that Sarkar had a job offer from the University of Mississippi, which rescinded it after seeing comments about his work on PubPeer.

We asked to see the letter rescinding the offer, but Roumel said he couldn’t send it because he and Sarkar are “in the process of making a claim against them.”

We also asked if there was an investigation into Sarkar’s work. Roumel told us:

As for any investigation, federal regulations make such things strictly confidential, so I can’t comment either way.

According to a post on PubPeer:

PubPeer commenters can evaluate for themselves any legal risks to which they might be exposed in commenting on Dr. Sarkar’s research. We cannot give any legal advice, but we have been promised support to oppose lifting of your anonymity should a case be brought. Please note that the litigation hold is still in place – refer to the top post of this thread for background information.

A search on PubPeer suggests that there may be little need to discuss further the work of Dr. Sarkar. However, if any users do wish to make additional comments, we would remind you to continue to respect our commenting guidelines (https://pubpeer.com/howto , https://pubpeer.com/misconduct) and remain scrupulously factual, always basing your posts on publicly verifiable information.

We understand that some comments have been removed from PubPeer.

Sarkar is a highly cited researcher, 38 of whose papers have been cited at least 100 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge. He has corrected some papers including:

  • one in Brain
  • one in Cancer Research
  • one in the American Journal of Translational Research
  • and one in the Journal of Cellular Physiology.

Update, 5:30 p.m. Eastern: We’ve come across a June 9, 2014, press release about Sarkar joining the University of Mississippi:

Wayne State professor to join pharmacy faculty

Dr. David D. Allen, dean and professor and executive director of the Research Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the School of Pharmacy, has announced that Dr. Fazlul H. Sarkar, Distinguished Professor at Wayne State University and professor at Wayne State’s Karmanos Cancer Institute, Detroit, will join the School of Pharmacy faculty this summer.

Sarkar will serve as Triplett/Behrakis Distinguished Professor in the Department of Biomolecular Sciences, research professor and associate director for translational research at the National Center for Natural Products Research, associate director for translational research at the UMMC Cancer Institute, and professor of radiation oncology at UMMC.

Sarkar has published more than 525 scholarly articles and nearly 300 abstracts. His research interests include understanding the role of NF-kB and its upstream and downstream signaling molecules in solid tumors, including the role of miRNAs and cancer stem cells, and in elucidating the molecular mechanisms of action of “natural agents” for cancer prevention and therapy.

Sarkar’s laboratory pioneered the development of Isoflavones and DIM (B-DIM) for clinical use, and his basic science research findings led to the initiation of a multiple Phase I and Phase II Clinical Trial at the Karmanos Cancer Institute.

Written by Ivan Oransky

September 22nd, 2014 at 5:00 pm

Comments
  • JATdS September 22, 2014 at 5:16 pm

    An interesting adjective is part of Sarkar’s title at Wayne State. I am curious, what makes Prof. Sarkar “distinguished”? And this characterization is by whom or based on what criteria (the citations?)? Furthermore, “federal regulations make such things strictly confidential” is precisely what strangles open discussion and transparency in science. Open, but respectful discussion, and critical analysis should form the basis of PubPeer. So, Prof. Sarkar, rather than trying to silence his critics through legal threats, should address them openly and publically. He should PubPeer, the same medium that criticized his work, to address his critics. We are all victims of our own words (trust me!), but there is nothing more important than sharing openly in order to advance the discussion. There are risks, but what in life does not carry a risk? Legal threats stifle discussion, spread fear and hamper transparency. If indeed, there were comments that were overboard or unsubstantiated, surely a frank discussion with the PubPeer moderators could have clarified the issue, while still protecting the “whistle-blower”, without the need to call on lawyers to take action?

  • AI September 22, 2014 at 5:37 pm
  • ferniglab September 22, 2014 at 5:56 pm

    In my limited experience, by simply engaging in discussion, the matter is swiftly resolved – there are some great discussions on PubPeer where people ‘agree to disagree’ or technical queries relating to data are cleared up. In any event, the reader is left reassured.

    Sadly many authors choose not to engage and they only have themselves to blame. After all, if the same question was raised at a conference, they would be expected to reply. In the cases of non-response the reader is left hanging in the air. Since Q&A is part of the normal process of science, it is then reasonable for the reader to assume that something is amiss, even if this is not the case, particularly when there are ~20 papers queried. After all, how difficult is it to respond to a query electronically? Not long when the questions relate to images, since the originals will be to hand, at least for papers published in the last half dozen years. Of course, if it is a data analysis question, then it could take a lot longer, since there may be code to check and calculations to re-run, which could take days. weeks or longer, though a quick reply ‘We’re on the case’ will reassure. Silence in science is definitely not golden.

    Regardless of the outcome and the rights and wrongs of this case (personally, I see no wrong, b ut am happy to be corrected), it is nice to see that at least one university hiring committee and associated administration read papers and PubPeer. It would be great if more panels followed David Colquhoun’s advice, read papers and asked questions relating to these papers at interview (David Colquhoun’s posts are always a good read: http://www.dcscience.net/‎).

  • Frank September 22, 2014 at 8:29 pm

    “As for any investigation, federal regulations make such things strictly confidential, so I can’t comment either way.”

    I’m fairly sure that no federal law would prevent somebody from saying “there is no investigation” if there isn’t one.

    • Brad Casali September 24, 2014 at 7:46 am

      I think what he meant was that he has no way of knowing. If he didn’t ask his client, and if he were to just ask the federal government (ORI), ORI cannot comment if there is or isn’t an investigation.

      But in all likelihood, he does know as he would confer with his client.

    • Alan Price September 27, 2014 at 11:42 pm

      Federal law does prohibit the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) from commenting on questions about whether they have a case, until ORI makes a formal finding of research misconduct in the case. So ORI and OGC at HHS will “glomerize” any such request, stating that they can neither confirm nor deny that there is such a matter.

  • Dario September 23, 2014 at 6:31 am

    It would be interesting to know whether University of Mississippi just saw the comments or concluded that those comments were justified as well.
    Whatever the conclusion of this story, the move to send legal threats makes me feel this is a kind of researcher I wouldn’t want to see in any University.

  • herr doktor bimler September 23, 2014 at 8:08 am

    Surely Sarkar’s first beef is with the School of Pharmacy at the University of Mississippi, if they extended a job offer to him and then reneged.

    • Maria September 23, 2014 at 12:37 pm

      From the lawyer’s message, i get the sense they’re suing them as well :).

  • A September 23, 2014 at 8:35 am

    Because the university of Mississippi withdrew a job offer, do comments of Fazlul Sarkar’s paper in PubPeer have credibility ?

  • Klaas van Dijk September 23, 2014 at 8:45 am

    Is anyone aware if Fazlul Sarkar and / or any of his co-authors ever has responded to any of the comments on Pubpeer?

    • ferniglab September 23, 2014 at 11:31 am

      Not that I can see. So a long trail of papers with image problems, highlighted on PubPeer, but not one response from the author. Says a lot.

      • Brad Casali September 24, 2014 at 7:52 am

        How many authors know about Pubpeer? Look at the vast majority of comments on all the papers there, and you will see that only a handful have registered submissions from the authors of said papers. I don’t think it says anything when only a small percentage of actual authors respond considering there are about 10 more that don’t.

        • ferniglab September 24, 2014 at 9:26 am

          All authors know about PubPeer, because when one of your papers is commented on, an automatic e-mail is generated to the corresponding author(s). This may work less well the older the paper, but for the last 5-10 years will have a very high hit rate.

          • blatnoi September 25, 2014 at 6:13 am

            Right, the email gets sent to that address I had from two universities ago. That’s why I much prefer using gmail, even if some think I’m some disgraced loon working from a basement. I assume this wouldn’t be a problem with corresponding authors as much… but these days people do move around a lot, such as this Sarkar fellow intended with Mississippi. Eventually his Wayne State University address would have been cancelled and in my experience forwarding from expired addresses doesn’t work that well.

            Thanks to retraction watch, I know about PubPeer and recently took a look under my name. No problems or questions so far, but I did have a few email questions about a tricky procedure that I answered, so I’ll keep a look out in the future.

            Really, the universities should make their emails permanent as some sort of an alumni address. My PhD institution was always asking me for money, until my email expired. This would be in their best interests to keep badgering alumni for cash. Of course, as a true grad student, I would never, ever give any money to my PhD institution as I did have one of those apparently very common fantasies of firing a grenade launcher out of the back window at my lab building as I was driving away.

          • Brad Casali September 25, 2014 at 7:16 am

            That doesn’t necessarily mean that the corresponding author will even pay attention to an email from an unknown site or even that they will receive one. The name Pubpeer has a spam ring to it, and I wouldn’t be surprised if emails were sent into that region instead.

          • ferniglab September 25, 2014 at 4:04 pm

            Well, as PubPeer has been cited in journals, awareness is growing – I put up a PubPeer slide at every talk I give. The issue raised by @blatnoi is clearly more of a problem than I had realised. People move a fair amount. I think universities really should maintain e-mail addresses of alumni (students, postdocs and staff) – storage cost is near nil, but until PubPeer gets firmly engrained into science, this will remain an issue. However, in many cases, the corresponding author has not moved institution, so there does not seem to be any reason for silence.

  • Vivek September 23, 2014 at 9:25 am

    Pubpeer is the best thing were happenned to Science Community in generations. Researchers are free to make/share comments without any fear. I do not see anything wrong there. If the questions were raised about data, authors can explain on Pubpeer. Pubpeer never refrained anyone to explain their side of story. It is open forum. I do not understand the need of attorneys here. Pubpeer should be nominated for NOBEL PRIZE in science.

    • ferniglab September 23, 2014 at 11:29 am

      Absolutely, PubPeer has brought discussion back into science, when science got so big that discussion proved to be impossible. I have a lot of faith in the legal side. @Popehat has blogged about some of these issues in the past (and was one of the “early stage” legal advisors for PubPeer). Reaching for an attorney has been done before, for example, as experienced by Retraction Watch, but has yet to silence critics. So in one sense the ball is firmly in the complainant’s court, but of course the threat to remove anonymity in itself discourages debate.

      • Vivek September 25, 2014 at 9:55 am

        Think about the scenario. Great paper from a group through peer review process. Doubts are there, you write to authors, no comment or works in my hand. You write to Editor, you get the answer the day before you retire. No Ro1 grants and you quit science forever. At least pubpeer has provided an opportunity to discuss science in public and you are not afraid that you will be in trouble if your paper goes for review to the person, you discussed the work on pubpeer. I feel this is best thing for science, all the scientists are judge to each other. That is what science is all about. You comment/criticise my work, I will explain to best of my knowledge. I do not see anything wrong here.

    • Maria September 23, 2014 at 12:24 pm

      “I do not understand the need of attorneys here”. There is science as it “should be” (free discussion, healthy exchange of ideas, etc.) and science as it is. The moment people lose jobs or money, lawyers will become involved. Would say maybe that’s more likely in the US as there is a strong culture of litigation here but i can’t speak for other countries.

      • ferniglab September 25, 2014 at 4:05 pm

        I have experience in the UK – happens here too. Also in Germany I gather. Probably everywhere in one form or another.

    • bill October 4, 2014 at 8:05 am

      The best thing that can happen to science is that peer-review ceases to be anonymous. Many problems that have arisen are due to poor/incorrect/biased peer-review.

  • Scrutineer September 23, 2014 at 9:50 am

    Hopefully the blog will prove to be mightier than the blot.

    PubPeer regarding future commenting on Sarkar papers: “we would remind you to continue to respect our commenting guidelines and remain scrupulously factual, always basing your posts on publicly verifiable information.”

    Hmm, this isn’t going to be easy and may need some practice. So regarding these illustrations originally posted on PubPeer, highlighting key features of the Sarkar oeuvre,

    http://i.imgur.com/poxpa7b.png

    http://i.imgur.com/Kn1TV70.png

    surely, if a story is worth telling once, it is worth telling twice in two different journals. That way even more people will get to enjoy it. And if there are two stories worth telling twice, so much the better.

    Scrupulously factual commenting 🙂

    • ferniglab September 23, 2014 at 11:24 am

      Beautifully illustrated 🙂

      • Scrutineer September 23, 2014 at 7:40 pm

        Indeed beautifully illustrated. Though a scientist of your rigorousness would expect me to acknowledge that I did not post the originals to PubPeer.

        But I felt that these two illustrations might be indicating a trend. Slightly misquoting the redoubtable Lady Augusta Bracknell, to have gel slices used over two papers may be regarded as a misfortune. To have pairs of papers reusing gel slices, with added band flips, looks like carelessness.

        • ferniglab September 25, 2014 at 4:07 pm

          I always considered her to be “formidable”, not redoubtable! Perhaps I should enroll in an Eng Lit PhD 🙂

          • Scrutineer September 26, 2014 at 5:07 pm

            Regarding Lady Augusta’s persona, I submitted two queries to google.com

            The query “redoubtable lady bracknell” yielded 7,150 results

            The query “formidable lady bracknell” yielded 17,300 results

            On this evidence she is even more formidable than redoubtable – you win!

            And yet, formidable though she has proved when confronted by duplication, I am at a loss as to how she would react to what look like multiplexed iterations such as those that seem to abound in Fig. 6 of PMID:16510599*

            http://i.imgur.com/STWlmIH.png

            Now it is well known that there are some seasoned and sharp-eyed commentators at RW but surely none has ever seen something like what seem to be the flipped two and two halves in Fig. 6A? Scrutineer certainly hasn’t.

            Other potential actin control slice issues have already been noted in this paper (also, as it happens, matching actin slices in figures in other papers) by the original – and one can only assume rather overloaded – figure sleuth

            https://pubpeer.com/publications/CA4EB6722CD5134CAE3BE1913F3D1A

            Might there be more in this paper? Truly it’s hard to keep up!

            Finally, may I beg your forgiveness for highlighting these issues in the world’s worst font

            http://mashable.com/2012/10/03/comic-sans-history/

            I know, I know, it’s totally cringeworthy 🙁

            *For reference, the article title:

            Down-regulation of notch-1 inhibits invasion by inactivation of nuclear factor-kappaB, vascular endothelial growth factor, and matrix metalloproteinase-9 in pancreatic cancer cells.
            Wang Z, Banerjee S, Li Y, Rahman KM, Zhang Y, Sarkar FH.
            Cancer Res. 2006 Mar 1;66(5):2778-84.

            Remarkable though it may seem, Google Scholar is adamant that there have been 273 citations

          • Narad September 28, 2014 at 4:57 am

            Perhaps I’ve spent too much time with a loupe over the years, but I’d prefer to see a calculation of the stepwise slope between lanes and an “unflipped” subtractive superposition.

          • Scrutineer September 28, 2014 at 4:33 pm

            Might you show us the way Narad? You may know how to do this better than I at least. A subtractive superposition could be a very clearcut way of showing relationships.
            One reason that I and others focus a lot on features and artefacts in the same relative positions, is that duplications may have been treated differently. Stretching, rotating, grey scale adjustment, change in resolution can confound attempts at exact matching. In the apparently flipped lanes 1 and 3, it is the single grey dot that got me excited. I then saw the edge fracture at the top. I then looked at the shape of the rest of the matter in the lanes, which is very similar everywhere (but flipped). Usually I mark the key features but in this case, I thought the similarity so obvious that I didn’t bother.

          • Scrutineer October 1, 2014 at 1:24 am

            @Narad,

            The 2006 Notch-1 period is the gift that keeps on giving. Gels seems to be proliferating across multiple figures in multiple papers from multiple publishers. For anyone who might be interested in taking up this line of work, be aware that it can take rather longer to prepare an image to upload than it does to find these apparent multiplications in the first place. Scrutineer might have more to show from Notch-1/06, as work and sleep permit.

            And surely the images below do not need to be superposed and subtracted to see that they seem to be from the same NF-kB experiment? That said, the results of such potential image manipulations would likely be of some interest, if only as a kind of benchmark?

            http://i.imgur.com/w9levGN.png

          • Scrutineer October 1, 2014 at 4:50 pm

            Well I have run out of literary quotes for this one. Six lanes, all apparently seen in at least one other figure in a different publication from the Notch-1/06 period. All apparently reorganised and flipped in this new and stretchily improved figure. To highlight this, the newly noted gel has been added to the image in the comment replied to. My apologies for the complexity of the illustration.

            http://i.imgur.com/GLkLm8n.png

            The latest marked paper is

            Wang Z, Sengupta R, Banerjee S, Li Y, Zhang Y, Rahman KM, Aboukameel A, Mohammad R, Majumdar AP, Abbruzzese JL, Sarkar FH. Epidermal growth factor receptor-related protein inhibits cell growth and invasion in pancreatic cancer. Cancer Res. 2006 Aug 1;66(15):7653-60.
            PMID: 16885366

            Some other potential issues in the figures of this paper were identified earlier and are listed in the PubPeer entry

            https://pubpeer.com/publications/7EF6F12D84A3BC8F98FC8809FD4FD1

            It is often said that the truth hurts. Truth hurting is surely not sufficient grounds for taking legal action against PubPeer?

        • ferniglab September 26, 2014 at 7:08 pm

          I didn’t Google, just a gut reaction – formidable does not imply an adversary, whereas redoubtable has a smell of adversary in it. Recall that losing both parents, though careless, did not lose Earnest the hand of Gwendolen. He had a number of attributes, not least of which was an occupation…
          I would very much doubt that Lady Bracknell would have had any time for hoi poloi, who wile working for a living did a poor job of it to boot. Consider that an attribute of a formidable individual is attention to detail. So a single speck of dust on the underside of a doorknob would doubtless be a sacking offence. Repetitive carelessness? Dreadful, what is the world coming to? Doubtless she would have considered to the Tower far too easy an outcome.

          • Scrutineer September 27, 2014 at 8:56 am

            Now this is making me want to go back and read The Importance of Being Earnest again. Maybe at Xmas though. For at the moment there is quite enough enjoyment to be had exploring papers from the prolific 2006 Notch-1 period. The aforementioned Trivial Comedy for Serious People has had to wait: A new image already needed to be prepared.

            The apparently flipped two and two halves gel in Fig. 6A commented above seems to reappear in horizontally stretched form in Fig. 2A of another 2006 Notch-1 paper. And two of the Rb lanes of Fig. 2A seem to be then reused in Fig. 2B.

            http://i.imgur.com/vJS6ale.png

            Fig. 2 comes from

            Down-regulation of notch-1 inhibits invasion by inactivation of nuclear factor-kappaB, vascular endothelial growth factor, and matrix metalloproteinase-9 in pancreatic cancer cells.
            Wang Z1, Banerjee S, Li Y, Rahman KM, Zhang Y, Sarkar FH.
            Cancer Res. 2006 Mar 1;66(5):2778-84.
            PMID: 16510599

            Potential actin control reuse in five (yes that’s five!!) different papers was already reported here

            https://pubpeer.com/publications/CA4EB6722CD5134CAE3BE1913F3D1A

          • ferniglab September 27, 2014 at 9:47 am

            Such art, such symmetry, how magnificent! Great art is always economical, why use 5 words when one suffices? One perfect brushstroke does more than ten poor ones.
            I am still waiting for that fateful moment when all the atoms that compose my desk vibrate in unison and my desk flies through the roof. A calculable probability, though rather small.

        • herr doktor bimler September 28, 2014 at 6:14 pm

          But I felt that these two illustrations might be indicating a trend.
          “Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time…”

          • michaelhbriggs September 28, 2014 at 9:01 pm

            While we are getting all literary, a quote from Sir Walter Scott seems apt-
            “Oh what a tangled web we weave…

          • Scrutineer October 5, 2014 at 8:33 am

            Since we are North of the border: “Out, damned spot! Out, I say!”

            http://i.imgur.com/09VDdFe.png

          • Scrutineer October 5, 2014 at 12:20 pm

            According to my researches, it is rarely a good idea to make the journey from Motor City to Mississippi
            “Drove my chevy to the levee
But the levee was dry
And them good old boys were drinkin’ whiskey and rye
Singin’ this’ll be the day that I die
This’ll be the day that I die”

            Meanwhile, the linked image seems to illustrate a kind of square dance of the blots where the lanes rearrange themselves in a swirling melange before forming a new order so that no lane pair remains adjacent and all seem to be flipped.

            “Change your partner dosey doe!”

            http://i.imgur.com/SIuH2TX.png

  • FooBar September 23, 2014 at 1:44 pm

    “Sarkar, an author on more than 500 papers”

    FIVE HUNDRED PAPERS! That’s astounding, never thought anybody can be so productive. An average of one paper a month for 13 years! How common is this level of productivity in the life sciences?

    • Maria September 23, 2014 at 2:05 pm

      if one has a big lab w/ many postdocs and one’s name gets on every paper because well, one is the head of the lab and the people working there are pursuing one’s research ideas/directions.. how common is this situation in life sciences ? Does the main PI/lab head/etc. really do lab work or mostly discussions and paper reading/editing ?

      • JATdS September 23, 2014 at 2:44 pm

        In the plant sciences, these two scientists exceed 1000 papers (and there are likely to be more):
        Johannes van Staden (University of Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa) [1]
        Narendra K. Tuteja (International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, New Delhi, India) [2]
        [1] http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0254629909002865
        [2] http://www.icgeb.org/group-leader-narendra-tuteja.html
        The Van Staden case and the South African Journal of Botany were recently show-cased at RW:
        http://retractionwatch.com/2014/07/04/botany-journal-retracts-paper-for-at-least-one-error/

      • Leonid Schneider September 23, 2014 at 4:23 pm

        Hi Maria,
        in my experience, and I am exaggerating here to make my point, in far too many labs, big or small, there is only one single scientist: the boss. The task of the employees is to put boss’s visions into figures for the paper the boss would like to see. Later independence and careers are gained by basically following orders or making sure they are followed, so the set goal of a results is achieved. The boss has a total and absolute control of what is published. Sure, there are always some fringe PhDs/postdocs in a lab doing their own thinking, but it is at best just about tolerated and usually sanctioned.
        Again, I have been exaggerating, there are plenty of positive exceptions, but they are rarely as successful in high-impact publishing.

        • Maria September 23, 2014 at 5:25 pm

          Interesting (i realize you’re generalizing here, etc.). So you’d say it’s fair to hold this PI responsible even for non-first-author paper issues .. in my old group (totally different field), first authors would be primarily responsible (though of course if 50 papers have problems that says something about the supervision). I do find it surprising this prof. has 300 out of 500 papers as first author (according to another RW commenter below) – that sounds surprising to me, but again, different field w/ different allocation of responsibility.

          • Leonid Schneider September 24, 2014 at 3:45 am

            In life sciences, first authors is basically the person who did most of the lab work. Or whose PhD/postdoc project it originally was, even if others did most experiments. Or sometimes a person who needed a first author paper, hence shared first-authorships. In any case, the first author is very rarely the scientist in charge. The last and corresponding author is the primarily responsible for the entire paper. Even in cases where first author admitted deliberate data manipulations, it is still also the PI’s responsibility: creating the climate of fierce competition in the lab, failing to supervise, pressing for certain results etc…

          • johnalanpascoe September 24, 2014 at 3:48 am

            The mores surrounding authorship order tends to differ between fields. In my field the first author is the one who did the bulk of the work and the last author is the senior author. My understanding is that in some fields that order tends to get flipped.

          • JATdS September 24, 2014 at 3:54 am

            All of these discussions about authorship are actually meaningless. In the current publishing system, all authors are basically expected to have shared in all aspects of research and paper development, from alpha to omega, including shared responsibilities. So, discussions about differences in different fields are now basically totally irrelevant. To see my concerns about the rising storm, caused by the ICMJE, and the adoption of its “guidelines” – worse, their imposition – by leading publishers, read my comments posted elsewhere at RW:
            http://retractionwatch.com/2014/08/27/this-retraction-has-teeth-journal-changes-publication-policy-after-discovering-misconduct/#comments

          • Leonid Schneider September 24, 2014 at 3:54 am

            No, it is usually same in life science. The first author does the bulk of work, but what work is to be done, and how it is to be interpreted, is decided by the senior author.

          • Andrew September 24, 2014 at 11:10 am

            In astronomy, last author means “did the least work”, or sometimes “contributed to the project but not the paper, and has a last name starting with a letter near z”. It’s generally impossible to discern the senior author (except perhaps in the rare cases where the first author is not the corresponding author, which generally only happens if the first author is a graduate student who has left academia.)

      • BB September 23, 2014 at 4:35 pm

        Unfortunately the labs of some of the most prolific researchers of our time work differently. By establishing a corporation-like structure they increase efficiency and output, but such an environment is a hell for creative grad students or aspiring postdocs (well for almost anyone having original ideas).

        Some of the typical features of these labs:

        – The apparent presence of the “selected few”: The stable part of the staff, the devoted, long-term followers of the head honcho. Most of the things the PI should do are actually carried out by them.

        – disproportionally large number of grad students, foreign postdocs, and other guest researchers who are willing to be exploited at least temporarily in exchange for a possible career boost (somewhere else obviously). The PI is usually only vaguely aware of their presence, and does not directly communicate with them.

        – Research is extremely subsidiarized as in an old fashioned factory, projects are carried out by several members of the group, each responsible for only a small part of it. Only the senior staff members and the top dog see the big picture. Horizontal flow of project-related informations is often disfavored. Suggestions are turned down.

        • michaelhbriggs September 23, 2014 at 5:10 pm

          Yes BB. In these labs the head comes up with an model, and the post-docs and students compete to show that it is true. The first to do so gets a first author paper in Cell/Science/Nature and an offer of a tenure track position in another institution. Those who didn’t get there fast enough (because they were more thorough or – God forbid – found the model was untrue) are sent back home when time is up. The lab head gets another high profile publication that attracts more students and post-docs. Only 11% of landmark cancer papers are reproducible. QED.

          • Leonid Schneider September 24, 2014 at 3:51 am

            Michael, I fully agree. Funding and positions are awarded for publishing in top-tier journals. No-one cares how this was achieved, whether the data is reliable, reproducible or actually exists (like in STAP case). High-Impact-Publishing is a goal in itself. One can only hope that this card-house of lies will eventually collapse,

          • Vivek September 25, 2014 at 10:01 am

            Very ture Michael. This is where science is failing. Nobody question about the reproducibility even among the lab memebrs. The guy with magic golden hand, gets promotion, stability and grants. The true researcher, who questions about data and its reliability, kicked out of the lab with commenst like not a good team player or unproductive.

    • FooBar September 23, 2014 at 3:59 pm

      Correction: 42 years, not 13. And out 500 papers, 300 as first author. That makes one paper a month for 25 years. Still extremely impressive.

  • Klaas van Dijk September 24, 2014 at 4:36 am

    Anyone would like to comment on the decision of PubPeer / ‘peer 0’ to disclose the full name of ‘the researcher who has attempted to chill discussion of his public work by threatening to sue PubPeer.com for defamation’?

    • blatnoi September 25, 2014 at 6:41 am

      If legal to do so then it was a good decision. After all, the researcher is not a participant in PubPeer comment threads and the site does not owe them any commitment of anonymity (that they made to commenters). In fact, it could be argued that the decision to disclose his name is a proactive act to preserver the anonymity of commenters as it means more resources would be available to fight the lawsuit from sympathetic freelancers and the wider research community might try to squash it. Also, this decision removes the chill factor from commenting on PubPeer where you wouldn’t know if you were commenting on one of the papers involved in ‘The Case’ and thus defends the site against dying out.

      All in all, mostly an excellent decision for Peer 0, but time will tell whether it has the desired effect.

      • JATdS September 25, 2014 at 8:41 am

        There are a few dozen comments here at RW, mostly critical of Fazlul Sarkar. At least, I haven’t seen any downright supportive comments (yet). Does that mean that Prof. Sarkar will try to sue any person that criticizes him, or more importantly, his work, in public? There is no need for lawyers, in my opinion. Let two academics or intellectuals battle it out in the digital public arena, i.e., a blog. And, as in ancient Roman times, let the observers decide who is right and who is wrong in this public “court”.

        • Leonid Schneider September 25, 2014 at 9:13 am

          Sarkar can present his version to any prospective employer. Instead, he wants the evidence removed! The problem starts where the lawyers get in, since there is a huge difference between being right objectively and winning a legal case. One can only hope that the judges will have enough common sense to dismiss this ridiculous claim of Sarkar vs PubPeer.

          • FooBar September 25, 2014 at 4:03 pm

            Involving lawyers and courts may silence some of the original critics for a while but in the end it is going to backfire against the enemies of free thought and speech. It greatly increases the public’s awareness of the case and it provides a lot of motivation for computer savvy people to join in and deepen the investigation. All the lawyers in the world can not stop the truth from coming out on the internet.

          • JATdS September 25, 2014 at 5:15 pm

            Exactly, FooBar, that is why we (i.e., the broader scientific community, critics, whistle-blowers and others) must not fear any longer. The voices of discontent will ring out louder than ever before. I should note that nothing is perfect, and no-one is perfect, and that is precisely why open and frank discussion is necessary. And there has to be free and fair moderation, too. That means that errors can, and should, be pointed out on PubPeer, RW and elsewhere, but a fair opportunity for the “accused” to respond, and defend their position, should also be given. Of course, it is always a very stressful situation when one is accused first, almost as if the guilty verdict has been passed before the person has had a chance to offer a rebuttal. Nevertheless, the channels for open and free discussion exist, and should be used by both sides of the fence. What would really help is if Prof. Sarkar would drop his legal charges, and come to PubPeer and to RW to offer a point-by-point explanation for the errors that have been detected in his papers. He may even be surprised that some of the critics may accept his explanations and apologies, and even be understanding. We are clearly in a “war” and the age of the scientific “indignados” is upon us.

      • BB September 25, 2014 at 12:07 pm

        It was certainly a good decision. The amount of comments pointing out critical problems dropped sharply after the reception of the legal threat was announced. PubPeer put a legal hold on them, and of course no one wanted to get dragged into a lawsuit especially as the pubpeer comments were already extremely factual due to the strict moderation policies.
        Now at least we know whose pubpeer entries should be avoided. Additionally everyone has the opportunity to carefully review the articles in question.

  • ferniglab September 25, 2014 at 4:12 pm

    I have added my thoughts on this matter on a post at my blog, should anyone still need convincing that this case is a major threat to science.

    http://ferniglab.wordpress.com/2014/09/25/why-doesnt-the-sun-go-around-the-earth/

  • C J September 26, 2014 at 2:17 am

    After looking at the pubpeer posts showing his images I am surprised he still has his current job. He should really have offered a reply instead of taking legal action.

    • herr doktor bimler September 28, 2014 at 3:24 am

      It sounds as if he resigned his old job in preparation for shifting to Mississippi, before the new university reneged on their promised job. WSU have allowed him to return to work, but have *not* returned his tenure there.

  • Klaas van Dijk September 26, 2014 at 3:16 am

    I would like to invite Dr Fazlul Sarkar (and / or his co-authors) to start a debate over here on the comment of Scrutineer posted over here on September 23, 2014 at 9:50 am.

    • ferniglab September 26, 2014 at 7:11 pm

      En attendant Godot… …we can always read Oscar Wilde 🙂

  • Louis Pasteur November 24, 2014 at 11:57 pm

    Dr. Sarkar is Distinguished Professor because of his record stated here with the number of publications he has had as well as the fact that he has held more concurrent R01 grants than anyone else in Wayne State history.

    I have read the comments on PubPeer and also went back to some of the actual articles and it seems to me that many of the things pointed out appear as described. Furthermore, these things have been going on in publications spanning 10+ years with many different co-authors so I do not think it is a wayward student or postdoc. The only common author is Dr. Sarkar. So one has to ask oneself, is it simply carelessness, or is it purposeful misrepresentation? Even assuming the best, that it is carelessness, the magnitude is such that it is hard to give it a pass. I would also expect if errors have been made in his publications, then similar errors can probably be found in his NIH grants. This calls into question the scientific rationale for being awarded so many grants. It also calls into question the scientific rationale for the clinical trials. If the data is wrong, then the grants are based on nothing and the clinical trials are based on nothing.

    An investigation was done at Wayne State. Totally in secret, including the result. This is a big problem in science. No transparency. When it is apparently covered up, all scientists lose with the public.

    Shame on Dr. Sarkar for trying to sue anonymous posters on a website. God help us if everyone did that to everything commented to on the internet. I think the takeaway is that there probably wouldn’t be negative comments if there was nothing to comment about. So I don’t know how he could win a defamation lawsuit after looking at the data.

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