Piero Anversa, a stem cell researcher at the Brigham & Women’s Hospital, and a colleague, Annarosa Leri, have sued Harvard over an investigation into their work that they claim has cost them millions in a forfeited sale of their company, and job offers.
professional reputations and careers have been shattered by an inquiry and investigation process that has been conducted contrary to federal regulation and institutional policies, and has been publicly disclosed by Defendants.
157. Drs. Anversa and Leri had a multimillion dollar offer to purchase their company, Autologous/Progenital, which was withdrawn when the investigation was publicly disclosed.
In echoes of the Fazlul Sarkar case, in which a scientist is suing PubPeer commenters because of an allegedly rescinded job offer:
158. Mt. Sinai was actively pursuing Drs. Anversa and Leri for prestigious and lucrative positions, but has put them on hold during the pendency of the investigation.
159. The University of Miami was also pursuing Drs. Anversa and Leri prior to the investigation, and put that offer on hold when the investigation was publicly disclosed.
160. Harvard had promised Dr. Leri an appointment as full professor, a position that is consistent with her achievements and receives a higher salary, but that appointment has been delayed.
But the lawsuit is not about money, of course:
161. Most distressingly, Defendants have interfered with Plaintiffs’ ability to focus on their potentially life-saving work.
There’s a section of the lawsuit that we thought would be worth annotating, because it involves retraction policies. So here goes:
120. In letters dated March 25, 2014, Dean Brodnicki (on behalf of Harvard and Brigham) notified both Circulation and The Lancet of the existence of the investigation and recommended that the journals retract the 2012 Circulation paper and the 2011 Lancet SCIPIO paper, before the investigation was even completed.
And for alerting the journals to the investigation we applaud Dean Brodnicki and Harvard — whom, we should note, we have found less than forthcoming in other cases. The point is to alert scientists reading the papers that there’s a problem, and to do it as quickly as possible. With the way some of these investigations drag on — and then come to mealy conclusions — waiting for them to be over just wastes money others are spending on trying to replicate or advance the work.
The fact that Anversa is now suing makes Harvard’s approach to transparency in the past a bit more sympathetic, although we don’t condone it. It also reminds us that we were recently forced to ask whether lawyers are ruining science.
121. Dean Brodnicki’s letter (on behalf of Harvard and Brigham) did not acknowledge that there is no evidence any individual other than Dr. Kajstura ever fabricated or falsified data or images reported in the 2012 Circulation paper and the 2011 Lancet SCIPIO paper.
We haven’t seen the letter, and if there was a way for the retraction notice to be more specific, fine, but we have to remind the plaintiffs that their names are on the papers, quite prominently, in fact.
122. Dean Brodnicki’s retraction request was contrary to established practices; papers are rarely or never retracted without first exploring the possibility of issuing a less serious correction and without the consent of the authors.
That last bit isn’t true at all; Retraction Watch readers will be familiar with lots of cases in which editors retract without authors’ consent, and we think that’s a good thing, since otherwise a scientist could just block a mark on his or her record.
123. Dean Brodnicki did not obtain the consent of Drs. Anversa and Leri prior to issuing her retraction request.
Why did she need to? Perhaps so they would have time to file a lawsuit to block it?
124. There was no need to disclose the investigation to Circulation or The Lancet before the panel completed its work.
See comments on #120.
127. Drs. Anversa and Leri are willing to correct the 2011 Lancet SCIPIO paper, but because that paper relates to a clinical study, Plaintiffs cannot do so without the approval of the Partners Institutional Review Board (“IRB”).
We’re not sure why that would be the case. They are, after all, the authors.
128. The IRB has not approved to date any corrections to the 2011 Lancet SCIPIO paper.
The suit claims that
Drs. Anversa and Leri had stellar reputations in the scientific community before these allegations were brought against them.
But the Anversa lab, according to an account supplied to us by a former research fellow there, was not an environment that encouraged the kind of skeptical thinking that should be the hallmark of science. Writing of one of Anversa’s hypotheses regarding cardiac stem cells, the former fellow wrote:
Beyond the science, ironically, a certain braggadocio also existed surrounding this hypothesis. Anyone who attended the pertinent sessions at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions could attest to this. In essence, to Dr. Anversa all investigators who questioned the hypothesis were“morons,” a word he used frequently at lab meetings. For one within the group to dare question the central hypothesis, or the methods used to support it, was a quick ticket to dismissal from your position.
We do get a brief mention in the suit. The researcher Anversa and Leri blame for the misconduct
was not even named in any of the Boston Globe stories, and was only identified as a co-author in the blog Retraction Watch.