A researcher in Switzerland has retracted her 2015 paper in the Journal of Cell Biology, saying the first author — her former postdoc — admitted to fabricating multiple aspects of the paper.
After Sophie Martin of the University of Lausanne couldn’t reproduce the data from another manuscript she was preparing to submit, she contacted her former student, Pranav Ullal, who admitted he had fabricated the data, along with two figures in the JCB paper.
A spokesperson for the University of Lausanne told us that Ullal left Switzerland after his contract was over, and is now in India.
Martin told us the whole experience has been upsetting:
As you will appreciate, I have been extremely shocked and distressed by this discovery. Although the data presented in the JCB paper involved several other authors, whose work is not put in doubt, the only possible course of action was to retract the paper.
Here’s the full notice:
The editors of The Journal of Cell Biology have been notified by Dr. Sophie Martin that she and the other authors of the paper referenced above retract the paper because of data fabrication by the first author.
The authors provided the following statement:
After members of the Martin lab failed to reproduce the formation of septa from the poles in mid1∆cdc1519A as reported in Fig. 3, C (bottom right) and D (far right), the first author of this publication admitted to fabricating these data, as well as that in Fig. 6, E and F.
The integrity of the data produced by all other authors is not put in question and investigation of the validity of other results from the first author is ongoing. Although the central conclusions of the paper may be correct, given these circumstances we feel that a retraction is the only course of action.
We deeply apologize to the community for not having detected this fabrication prior to publication.
“The DYRK-family kinase Pom1 phosphorylates the F-BAR Cdc15 to prevent division at cell poles” has been cited five times since it was published in 2015, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science, formerly part of Thomson Reuters.
Martin gave us some more backstory:
After the first author Pranav Ullal left my lab at the end of October 2016, I failed to reproduce data from another manuscript we were about to submit and for which a couple of experiments were left to be finalized. This led me to investigate the data published in the JCB article and find that the formation of septa from the cell poles in mid1∆ cdc15-19A (as reported in Figure 3C, bottom right and 3D, far right) could not be reproduced. Pranav Ullal finally admitted at the end of December 2016 to fabricating the pieces of data we could not reproduce, as well as figures 6E and 6F of the published paper. Upon his admission, I immediately contacted the JCB Editors.
The Journal of Cell Biology is notoriously careful about checking images for signs of manipulation, but their screening wouldn’t have identified the problems, Martin told us:
The fabricated data is mostly presented in the form of bar graphs. The fraudulent image of the mid1∆ cdc15-19A cells shown in Figure 3C could not have been detected for manipulation by JCB, as it was taken intact from another experiment. The image was deliberately mislabeled rather than manipulated.
Martin noted that Ullal is a co-author on two other papers from her lab:
On one publication, he is a minor author for an experiment that reproduced one performed by another author on the paper. The other describes a method commonly used in my lab. These publications are not put in doubt.
We have tried to contact Ullal using an email we believe belongs to him, but haven’t heard back. He is the Chief Scientific Officer at Karmagenes, a DNA sequencing company.
Please see an update on this post.
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