Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Columbia investigation reveals researcher faked data — and a degree

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InnateImmunityA researcher faked data and a masters degree, according to an investigation by Columbia University.

He’s also earned his fourth retraction. The new notice, along with one we’ve uncovered from 2014, provide some information on the extent of the deception of Robert Frumento, who left Columbia a decade ago, around the time that the now-retracted papers were published.

Here’s the new retraction notice:

At the request of the Editors and Robert C.M. Stephens, the following article has been retracted.

Robert C.M. Stephens, Catherine M.N. O’Malley, Robert J. Frumento, Michael G. Mythen, and Elliott Bennett Guerrero Low-dose endotoxin elicits variability in the inflammatory response in healthy volunteers. Journal of Endotoxin Research August 2005 11: 207–212, doi:10.1177/09680519050110040401

It has been brought to the attention of the Editor and the Publisher that a research misconduct investigation was carried out by Columbia University into allegations made against Mr Robert J. Frumento regarding the data reported in above article. The investigation concluded that Mr Frumento had fabricated data for white cell counts, platelet counts, and CRP.

Please note that Journal of Endotoxin Research was the former title of Innate Immunity.

The 2005 paper has been cited five times, according to Thomson Reuters Web of Science.

We asked Columbia’s research integrity officer, Naomi Schrag, for more information on the investigation. She was not able to tell us much:

We deeply regret that one of our former employees, who has not worked at Columbia since 2006, engaged in research misconduct, which was identified following a University investigation.

Under the University’s policy, further details of the investigation cannot be shared.

Robert C.M. Stephens, who works at University College London, told us that he was responsible for analyzing the data that Frumento collected, and did not notice that anything was amiss:

I’m not sure exactly when in the process Columbia thought some of the results [were] strange — I don’t know that level of detail. At some point they became suspicious that some of Robert Frumento’s data was suspect…it wasn’t all of it, it was some part.

He added that he didn’t know why Frumento had fabricated some of the data:

I mean it’s crazy. He could have said, ‘I don’t have a data point.’ Shit happens…it would be annoying, but that’s ok. I don’t know what his motivation was.

We reported on two other retractions of Frumento’s papers in 2013 — one bearing a notice with this vague wording:

The corresponding author, Dr. Robert N. Sladen, has requested the retraction at the direction of the Columbia University Standing Committee on the Conduct of Research, due to research misconduct by one of the coauthors.

At the time, we lamented that the journal didn’t clarify which author had committed misconduct, putting all under suspicion. That notice has since been updated with an additional explanation, specifying that Frumento was responsible for the misconduct:

The University completed an investigation into allegations of research misconduct against Mr. Robert Frumento, who was previously employed as a Research Coordinator by the Department of Anesthesiology. The University has concluded that there was evidence of falsification and fabrication by Mr. Frumento, who had primary responsibility for collecting and analyzing data for this paper. The findings include numerous discrepancies between the source material and the reported data, which provided false support for reportedly significant results. The University concluded that these findings constitute research misconduct by Mr. Frumento. In addition, the University found that some of the credentials claimed by Mr. Frumento were not accurate. In the article his degrees are listed as “Robert Frumento, MS, MPH”. The University found that Mr. Frumento had not received a Master of Science degree from any institution.

We also missed a retraction from 2014 for a paper co-authored by Frumento, “A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study Assessing the Anti-inflammatory Effects of Ketamine in Cardiac Surgical Patients,” published and pulled from the Journal of Cardiothoracic and Vascular Anesthesia. Here’s the retraction notice, which contains some similar language to the one above:

The above article is being retracted at the request of the corresponding author, Dr. Ervant Nishanian. Dr. Nishanian requested the retraction for the following reason: Columbia University has concluded that one of the co-authors of this article, Mr. Frumento, falsified and fabricated CRP data upon which the conclusions of this article were drawn. In addition, the University found that some of the credentials claimed by Mr. Frumento were not accurate. In the article his degrees are listed as “Robert Frumento, MS, MPH”. The University found that Mr. Frumento had not received a Master of Science degree from any institution.

The 2006 paper has been cited 43 times.

We have not been able to confirm Frumento’s current whereabouts, though he may have been affiliated with the Multiple Myeloma Research Consortium following his stint at Columbia.

Update, 1:15 PM EST: 

A couple of readers have pointed out that Frumento appears to work at International Research Services, Inc. in Port Chester, New York, and teaches a course called “Cosmetic Claims Support Studies” for researchers and marketers. Here’s his bio from the course page:

Robert James Frumento, Vice President of Clinical and Corporate Operations with International Research Services, Inc. (IRSI), has over 20 years of experience in clinical research execution and design and has been leading the operational and clinical teams at IRSI since 2010.  Mr. Frumento has working experience in academic , pharmaceutical and consulting fields of clinical research with an emphasis on operations and study design. He has served as the primary investigator on over 150 cosmetic claims substantiation trials. Mr. Frumento is published in many peer reviewed journals.

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Comments
  • Marco June 13, 2016 at 10:43 am

    I am not 100% sure, but I think it is this Robert James Frumento:
    http://www.cfpa.com/Instructor/InstructorPage?CourseDirectorID=48
    which suggests he currently works at IRSI.

    • Anonymous June 13, 2016 at 11:41 am

      Last sentence of that profile: “Mr. Frumento is published in many peer reviewed journals.”
      If indeed it is the same individual does the CfPA know about this background and retractions?

      • Dean June 13, 2016 at 8:30 pm

        Drop them an email.

  • Crow July 3, 2016 at 10:09 pm

    Robert Frumento is listed as co-author on the retracted paper “The Association Between Duration of Storage of Transfused Red Blood Cells and Morbidity and Mortality After Reoperative Cardiac Surgery” http://journals.lww.com/anesthesia-analgesia/Citation/2006/07000/The_Association_Between_Duration_of_Storage_of.3.aspx

    “Rothman et al.1 discovered an error in a table in our manuscript describing an association between duration of red blood cell storage and outcome.2 Unfortunately, we were never able to correct the apparent errors since we could not find the dataset upon which the manuscript’s results were based. We have since noted that there were 58 cases of acute renal dysfunction in both our 392-subject data base reported in an abstract3 and our 321-subject data base reported in the article,2 which suggests that the article’s analysis of data from patients with acute renal dysfunction is erroneous. Although our conclusions have been corroborated by Koch et al.4 because we cannot find our data, and have identified discrepant results between our published report and our previously published abstract, we believe it is most prudent that we retract the report (see Notice of Retraction on page 1953).Sukhjeewan Basran, MD Robert Frumento Allison Cohen, BS Samuel Lee, MD Yunling Du, PhD Ervant Nishanian, MD, PhDHarold S. Kaplan, MD Mark Stafford-Smith, FRCPC Elliott Bennett-Guerrero, MD
    http://journals.lww.com/anesthesia-analgesia/Fulltext/2009/06000/Request_for_Retraction.49.aspx

  • Anonymous July 11, 2016 at 9:34 pm

    I actually met Mr. Frumento recently. He handed me a business card and told me he had two doctorate degrees. Oddly, he hyphenates his name on his business card, so it reads “Robert James-Frumento MPH, PhD” and lists his phone as 203-816-1289 and email as frumentor@yahoo.com. His title is “President, Science, Knowledge and Innovation” and the company is The Consumer Science Group and the website on the card is TheConsumerScienceGroup.com. His description of his past included research at Columbia, and he specifically mentioned cardiovascular studies. He stated that he’s now an independent consultant.

    • Crow July 14, 2016 at 2:25 pm

      Did you try that website for The Consumer Science Group? It doesn’t exist. And there is no information whatsoever online about the group

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