Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

RW cited in scientist’s $8 million suit against university

with 18 comments

Rakesh Kumar, via George Washington University

Rakesh Kumar, via George Washington University

Maybe the polar vortex is to blame (chilling effect, and all), but it must be lawsuit season!

First it was Mario Saad, who sued the American Diabetes Association to prevent them from retracting his papers in flagship journal Diabetes. Now Rakesh Kumar is getting in on the action. According to George Washington University student paper the GW Hatchet, Kumar was put on administrative leave from his position as chair of the department of biochemistry and molecular medicine in May 2014, though he was still allowed to run his lab until July 25. In response, he’s suing the university for breach of contract and emotional distress. You can read the whole thing here.

Kumar is asking for $8 million, claiming that GW failed to go through the firing procedure outlined in his tenure contract and owes him because he can’t get a new job.

The exact nature of the accusations against Kumar, who has had five papers corrected and two retracted for problematic images, is unclear. According to the suit, a copy of which RW has obtained:

None of the allegations set forth in the misconduct proceedings asserted that Dr. Kumar conducted the underlying research or personally ever fabricated or falsified research data or prepared the figures in question for any of the manuscripts at issue in the proceedings. Rather, all but one allegation centered on Dr. Kumar’s supervision of the junior scientists in his laboratory and the existence of an allegedly stressful laboratory environment. The one remaining allegation had woefully inadequate evidentiary support.

In addition to the accusations of poor lab management, the researcher also claims he found it especially galling to be escorted from a July 25, 2014, meeting by campus police:

Dr. Kumar’s removal by GW Security was very public and humiliating and has irreparably damaged Dr. Kumar’s reputation.

We haven’t been left out of the matter, either. The lawsuit mentions comments posted in March 2013 on unrelated articles — although, like many people unversed with the terminology of the internet, whoever wrote the document mixed up bloggers and commenters (click for a full-sized version):

Screen Shot 2015-02-11 at 9.56.38 AM

Here’s the comment in question, which a “Mr. chromatin” posted a few times on the site:

JBC should retract the following two papers. May be it is waiting for a correction, just like the recent correction in PNAS ( ORI knows it all.

Sankaran et al., February 17, 2012, Vol.287, No.8,

Marzook et al., February 17, 2012 Vol 287, No.8,

Fig no. 7C from Marzook matches with Fig. no. 8b and 8d of Sankaran.

Fig no. 7A from Marzook matches with Fig. no. 8c of Sankaran.

Hat tip the American Bazaar


Written by Cat Ferguson

February 11th, 2015 at 12:02 pm

Posted in rakesh kumar

  • Leonid Schneider February 11, 2015 at 12:47 pm

    Here on PubPeer is a possible background for GW University decision:
    Of note: those are papers in high-level journals like Nature, Nat Cell Biol, PNAS etc
    Apparently the whole thing started by Paul Brookes on his now shut-down

    • Paul Brookes February 11, 2015 at 2:03 pm

      Correct Leonid, although of course I was acting on behalf of a tipster who remains anonymous. In fall 2012 we documented 20 separate papers with problems. They are listed below, by PubMed ID # (C = corrected, R = retracted):
      22203674 R
      22184113 C
      11208715 C
      12611881 C
      15193260 C
      15983119 C
      15831477 C
      16617102 C
      17505058 C then R
      There’s also 14530270 which was a Clare Francis hit that came in after the fact.

      It should also be noted that Kumar threatened legal action against me in the fall of 2012. He seems to have changed lawyers for this particular attempt – the stakes are certainly higher. The issue was resolved when some wording on the pages was edited.

      The following statement from the lawsuit is telling… “The committee (draft report) concluded that Dr. Kumar committed misconduct in ten of the allegations”. 10 out of 21 doesn’t quite equal a “preponderance of the evidence”, so there might be something to be made on that basis, but nevertheless 10 is still a number bigger than zero, and that’s probably why GW did what they did.

      I have no idea who “Mr. Chromatin” is, but I like his style.

      • Leonid Schneider February 11, 2015 at 2:29 pm

        Paul, I was actually wondering why he didn’t set his lawyers on you. In fact, how is it with libel laws in regard to science publications and the data therein? Is it a grey area, where people like Kumar, Sarkar, Anversa etc have a chance to win in court?

  • CR February 11, 2015 at 1:36 pm

    Well, at least somewhere the university will not side with and cover facts concerning some ongoing investigation and/or claims on published material. Oh if every place were like such!… So many young, competent, scientists giving up for lack of open positions and opportunity!.. Maybe things will improve in the future? Let us see.

  • fernando pessoa February 11, 2015 at 1:45 pm

    “because he can’t get a new job.”

    That applies to millions of people

  • Danger for whistle-blowers February 11, 2015 at 1:47 pm

    This law-suit also shows the great dangers for whistle-blowers and the risks associated even with anonymity. At the end of the day, everything comes back to bite where it hurts most. An increase in law-suits may also have a chilling effect on PPPR. As more and more scientists find errors and want to report them, when they see these cases, they start to think twice about sharing their opinions. Things are just getting messier and messier.

    • Lady Prof February 11, 2015 at 6:55 pm

      In the end, these people just draw more attention to themselves (the formerly Streisand, now Fernandez, effect). However, if someone leaked confidential information, they are in a bit of trouble. Not so much with Kumar, unless GW guaranteed him confidentiality, but with ORI. Anyone who has dealt with these things at the institutional level knows better than to reveal an investigation. You can insinuate as much, but you cannot come out and say that someone is being investigated by them.

  • Donald S Kornfeld, MFD February 11, 2015 at 2:34 pm

    ” Rather, all but one allegation centered on Dr. Kumar’s supervision of the junior scientists in his laboratory and the existence of an allegedly stressful laboratory environment.”

    Were those inadequatelty supervised,”junior scientists”, NIH funded trainees ?
    They’re fortunate that they were not the ones held accountable for the fraud, which has happened in the past.

    It’s long past the time when NIH Training grant applications should establish criteria based on the quality of the training to be provided . For example, what was the ratio of “trainees” to mentor ? What does the University require of mentors?
    A recently reported survey of trainees in Mass. found complaints best summarized by the complaint that they were not trainees, they were “cheap labor”.


  • Scrutineer February 11, 2015 at 5:13 pm

    Marvellous! It is always a pleasure to study anew one of the most stunning figures in the biological sciences, as created by Badlamudi and Kumar and published in Nature Cell Biology (impact factor 42)

    The entire 2002 article is just awesome with many more hidden treasures to be enjoyed by following the discussion at PubPeer

    In 2002, Kumar was not yet at GW. That paper was produced at the place which once upon a time liked to rate itself as the top cancer hospital in the world

    One wonders what was in the GW job description and whether past performance is of any value to the defence?

  • Scrutineer February 13, 2015 at 4:52 pm

    Of course everybody now knows not to publish in NPG journals and that PNAS is so much better.

    Indeed, while the above 2002 NCB article is still in its pristine state, a 2006 PNAS paper of MD Anderson vintage is believed to have received some corrections. For whatever reason, PubMed still points to the original figures in all their splendour

    Fig. 1

    Key features of Fig. 1 marked

    Fig. 2

    Key features of Fig. 2 marked


  • herr doktor bimler February 13, 2015 at 5:12 pm

    John Heartfield himself would be proud of those collages, Scrutineer.

      • Scrutineer February 14, 2015 at 4:56 pm

        I sought to make a joke by deliberately confusing finger duplication with figure duplication but, on second thoughts, it isn’t going to work. John Heartfield was a very brave person.

        Anyway, here are a couple of interesting figures from a 2004 JBC paper marked up in the usual way.

        • herr doktor bimler February 15, 2015 at 3:05 am

          I hope those are ironic typefaces. I am trying to console myself with the thought that “at least they aren’t Papyrus”.

          • Scrutineer February 15, 2015 at 3:30 pm

            Regarding the fonts, it is obvious that the Marker-Upper should use a font (and colours) that can’t be confused with the original figure. Inevitably, this requirement tends to result in rather lurid schemes, predominantly using italicised and/or hand-writing scripts. With, of course, as many different colours as needed to avoid confusion. In this particular case, I used two fonts: “Stencil” and “Brush Script” and, if I remember correctly, six different colours.

            The “Papyrus” font, lacking gravitas, is unlikely to feature in the original figure. Even so, it is not ideal for Mark-Up as it is a regular font and hence might not be obviously different enough, especially if the marked-up image is saved at low resolution.

            Finally, it should be acknowledged that “Marker Felt” is, for obvious reasons, a perennial favourite in the figure sleuthing community.

  • scotus May 1, 2015 at 4:31 pm

    GW appears to have filed a motion to dismiss the Kumar lawsuit with supporting documents but the documents are paywalled (see below). Can anyone provide access to these documents?,_PHD_v_GEORGE_WASHINGTON_UNIVERSITY

  • scotus June 14, 2015 at 9:21 am

    More filings in this case. Could anyone make them available?,_PHD_v_GEORGE_WASHINGTON_UNIVERSITY

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