Retraction Watch

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Carlo Croce, Ohio State researcher facing misconduct allegations, suing New York Times for defamation

with 20 comments

Carlo Croce

Carlo Croce, a cancer researcher at The Ohio State University who has faced numerous allegations of research misconduct, has filed a lawsuit against the New York Times, claiming the newspaper defamed him in a March 8 story.

Croce filed the civil suit May 10, in the US District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, naming as co-defendants Times reporters James Glanz and Agustin Armendariz, publisher Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., and executive editor Dean Baquet. According to court documents, he’s seeking damages in excess of $75,000. The Times lawsuit was first reported by Courthouse News in May, but it’s actually the second defamation suit Croce filed that we know of.

In April, we’ve recently learned, Croce filed a separate defamation lawsuit against David Sanders, a professor at Purdue University and a key source for the Times story. Croce is seeking damages from Sanders in excess of $75,000.

Croce’s lawyer, Thomas Hill, of Columbus, Ohio firm Kegler Brown Hill + Ritter, told Retraction Watch his client was fighting a “David and Goliath battle” against the Times:

We believe in justice and our client believes in justice so to the courts we turn for justice.

The New York Times wasn’t fair to him… You all portray him as if he’s crooked and he’s not.

The year has been a busy one for Croce. In addition to the profile in the Times, which scrutinized Croce’s behavior both before and after he came to OSU, Croce received an award from the American Association for Cancer Research. On Aug. 25, he notched his seventh retraction.

The Times article noted that Croce has been the subject of multiple investigations throughout his career. At least five of those inquiries from Ohio State cleared him of wrongdoing. Croce has denied any wrongdoing and told the Times that any mistakes were due to “honest error.”

The Times article said Ohio State “has decided to take a new look to determine whether it handled those cases properly.” Ohio State told Retraction Watch:

The Ohio State University takes allegations of research misconduct very seriously. As a result of concerns related to Dr. Carlo Croce, the university launched an independent review of our systems for ensuring research integrity. This review is still underway.

Ohio State added that it was aware of the lawsuits but was not involved in them:

…we were not consulted, are not involved and have no comment.

Papers on which Croce was middle author weren’t “Croce’s papers,” suit claims

Croce’s complaint filed against the Times called the article “riddled with venomous and defamatory falsehoods.” The complaint said the suit:

seeks to remedy those falsehoods, to prove the truth, and to restore Dr. Croce’s good name.

In one instance, Croce claimed that the Times had inflated its count of his papers that had been retracted, corrected, or given an editorial expression of concern:

Defendants include in this tally of “Dr. Croce’s papers” manuscripts reporting research that (a) did not take place in Dr. Croce’s lab or under his supervision, (b) do not contain any figures prepared by Dr. Croce or anyone under his supervision, (c) were not written by Dr. Croce or anyone under his supervision, and (d) for which he is identified only as a middle author….

Defendants falsely stated that papers on which Dr. Croce was only a middle author were “Dr. Croce’s papers.”

In July, the Times filed a motion to dismiss Croce’s lawsuit, saying:

Croce cannot state any plausible claim for relief.

Croce has in turn filed an 80-page response to the motion to dismiss. Both the complaint and the response claim that Croce is not a public figure. Generally, the law requires a different standard for proving defamation of a private figure than a public figure.

The Times’ motion to dismiss cites multiple Retraction Watch articles about Croce’s papers and included them as appendices.

According to the complaint in the suit against Sanders:

Defendant Sanders falsely stated to Glanz … that “image fabrication, duplication and mishandling, and plagiarism in Dr. Croce’s papers is routine” and that Dr. Croce is “knowingly engaging in scientific misconduct and fraud.” These are factual statements that are verifiably false.

In a response filed to Croce’s complaint, Sanders has denied making false and defamatory statements.

The Times’ lawyer, Keith Schneider, of Columbus firm Maguire Schneider Hassay, was not available for comment. Sanders’ lawyer, Bill Nolan, of Barnes & Thornburg, has not yet responded to our request for comment. We’ll update this post if we hear anything.

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Written by Andrew P. Han

September 8th, 2017 at 6:39 pm

Comments
  • Lee Rudolph September 8, 2017 at 9:00 pm

    Defendants include in this tally of “Dr. Croce’s papers” manuscripts reporting research that (a) did not take place in Dr. Croce’s lab or under his supervision, (b) do not contain any figures prepared by Dr. Croce or anyone under his supervision, (c) were not written by Dr. Croce or anyone under his supervision, and (d) for which he is identified only as a middle author

    Evidently OSU’s working definition of the the “research misconduct” which its investigations have repeatedly found him not to have committed does not include his being “a middle author” on papers reporting research in which Dr. Croce, his lab, and all the persons under his supervision played no role whatever. What are some weaker words than “misconduct” which could be paired with “research” to fairly describe such behavior? “Research non-feasance”? “Research naughtiness”? “Non-research [but you get to be an author anyway]”?

    Or perhaps what I should be looking for is some word more general than “author”?

    • oldnuke September 9, 2017 at 7:56 am

      Maybe “spectator”?

    • ICC September 12, 2017 at 1:51 pm

      You can’t make this stuff up!

  • fernando pessoa September 8, 2017 at 11:15 pm

    Using lawyers to stifle scientific debate.

  • fernando pessoa September 8, 2017 at 11:21 pm

    Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2007 Jun 26;104(26):10980-5. Epub 2007 Jun 20.
    Oncogenic All1 fusion proteins target Drosha-mediated microRNA processing.

    Nakamura T1, Canaani E, Croce CM.
    Author information
    1
    *Department of Molecular Virology, Immunology, and Medical Genetics and Comprehensive Cancer Center, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH 43210.

    Carlo Croce senior and one of two corresponding authors.

    https://pubpeer.com/publications/0FBFD5CB77A7B2C69BFB1E30185AE5

  • Chris Pemberton September 8, 2017 at 11:41 pm

    Um….if the papers in question were incorrectly labelled as “his”, then why is his name on them? That is, good enough for authorship ( and defend at least a portion of the work) but not good enough for accountability? Not sure I understand the logic here.

  • Marco September 9, 2017 at 2:00 am

    Is it just me, or is Croce essentially arguing he was given gratitious and undeserved authorship on a few papers, and therefore they should not be count as “his” papers? Did he ever mention them on his CV?

    • Carl September 9, 2017 at 8:44 am

      He may have contributed key reagents (i.e cell lines, antibodies) made in his lab, which justifies authorship. He is not accountable for how these reagents were used by the main authors of the study.

      • Looking Closer September 9, 2017 at 9:03 am

        Sorry, but provision of materials does not justify authorship.

      • Marco September 9, 2017 at 11:35 am

        He’s listed as an author, he likely listed the papers on his CV. That makes it his papers in my book.

        He may have argued that the misconduct took place elsewhere, which may well be true, but arguing “not my paper” is just silly.

  • fernandopessoa September 9, 2017 at 9:12 am

    http://www.icmje.org/recommendations/browse/roles-and-responsibilities/defining-the-role-of-authors-and-contributors.html#two

    “The ICMJE recommends that authorship be based on the following 4 criteria:

    Substantial contributions to the conception or design of the work; or the acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data for the work; AND

    Drafting the work or revising it critically for important intellectual content; AND
    Final approval of the version to be published; AND

    Agreement to be accountable for all aspects of the work in ensuring that questions related to the accuracy or integrity of any part of the work are appropriately investigated and resolved.”

    Unwarranted authorship is scientific misconduct.

    • Carl September 9, 2017 at 10:18 am

      I think provision of key reagents is covered under:”Substantial contributions to the… acquisition…of data for the work”. You cannot “acquire” data if you dont have the appropriate reagents. Alternatively, make your own reagents.

      • fernando pessoa September 9, 2017 at 4:13 pm

        Do you not notice it says AND AND?

        • Carl September 9, 2017 at 6:29 pm

          yes I noticed the AND. Did you notice the OR? I assume he participated to some degree in the drafting/revising of the manuscript and he is, in theory and to some degree, accountable for the content although he is not a senior author. Senior authors gets most of the credit and they should get most of the blame in this case.

  • Lee Rudolph September 9, 2017 at 9:16 am

    He may have contributed key reagents (i.e cell lines, antibodies) made in his lab,

    Quite possibly; even, perhaps, likely.

    which justifies authorship.

    Why? It certainly justifies acknowledgment, perhaps as “reagent contributor” or even “fons et origo“. But calling a contribution of key reagents an authorial act stretches the definition of “author” nearly to breaking.

    I’m a mathematician. In mathematical research the best (though imperfect) analogy to “key reagents” would probably be ‘formulating key definitions and proving foundational theorems about them’, and such things are ‘contributed’ in the act of publishing them, which ‘contributes’ them to the research community in general. I understand that in the sciences (particularly the biological sciences) a lot of (financial and figurative) capital can be tied up in the production of “key reagents”, and that many (not all) scientists are chary of sharing even their informatic data, much less their physical productions (reagents, equipment, whatever). It should be the norm, therefore, to acknowledge fully and (when appropriate) thank fulsomely all such contributions. But making such contributors “authors” goes far further. In terms of my (imperfect) analogy, it’s as though every mathematician who applies the Atiyah–Singer Index Theorem must also list Atiyah and Singer as co-authors. And, to get back to science, how many co-authorships are due to Krebs? To Watson and Crick?

    • Jon Fay September 9, 2017 at 9:47 am

      If the reagents are unpublished authorship is justified. Also if there is an agreement for a collaboration between labs, where one lab supplies key reagents, authorship is justified.
      Of course there is accountability that comes with authorship but when the actual work is not done in your lab it is practically difficult to ensure that experiments on your reagents are properly done.
      We don’t know the actual circumstances here so we can only speculate.

  • rfg September 9, 2017 at 10:27 am

    Fascinating read and excellent reporting by RW. More of this please.

    I agree with David Sanders that if you are an author (last, first, middle or otherwise) you are responsible for the articles content. I strongly disagree with Croce’s pivotal argument that he is not responsible for the content of his middle-authored papers. As an experienced senior scientist he most certainly is responsible. Own it.

    i’m also a bit confused why Sanders is not protected from legal liability by his whistle-blower status. Maybe someone can explain that to me. I’m sure there are lesions to be learned for would-be or actual whistle-blowers.

    Phil Sharp sums up another point very well:

    From the March 8 NYTimes:
    “Another Nobel Prize-winning biologist, Phillip Sharp of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who said he had been previously unaware of the misconduct allegations, offered qualified support.

    “I would say Carlo has made some important contributions to the molecular causes of cancer,” Dr. Sharp said. “I can’t condone the sloppiness he has in general. But if I look historically at what Carlo has done, if I delete Carlo from the scientific community, I think the scientific community is a little less, and that isn’t true of everybody who publishes papers.”

    I think Croce made a mistake by taking this to the courts. He would do much better by vigorously defending his science (often excellent) and championing the prompt correction/retraction of ethically challenged figures/papers, including papers on which he is middle author. Put the hubris aside and do the right thing. Oh, and clean up the “sloppiness.”

  • Lee Rudolph September 9, 2017 at 12:42 pm

    Carl
    I think provision of key reagents is covered under:”Substantial contributions to the… acquisition…of data for the work”.

    Sure: but that’s only one of four recommendations conjoined by AND. Presumably the choice of “AND” (in capital letters!) implies that each of the four of the recommendations should be followed.

    You cannot “acquire” data if you dont have the appropriate reagents. Alternatively, make your own reagents.

    And you cannot—supposing the publisher takes the recommendations literally (and seriously)—gain authorial credit for another’s data, acquired with your reagents, unless in addition to supplying the reagents (i) you participate in “[d]rafting the work or revising it critically for important intellectual content” (which in this case would at the minimum require you to vouch for “the intellectual content” of the data derived from work with your reagents (which presumably involves vouching for relevant parts of the Methodology section of the paper) and, perhaps, also of the interpretation of that data (unless indeed the work in the paper merely uses your reagents but is otherwise foreign to your own expertise), AND ALSO (ii) you vouch for the work by giving your “[f]inal approval of the version to be published”, AND ALSO (iii) you agree “to be accountable for all aspects of the work in ensuring that questions related to the accuracy or integrity of any part of the work are appropriately investigated and resolved.” Here (iii), in particular, makes a mockery of Croce’s lawyers’ assertion that “Defendants falsely stated that papers on which Dr. Croce was only a middle author were ‘Dr. Croce’s papers’.” Unless, perhaps, none of the “papers on which Dr. Croce was only a middle author” were published by journals that follow ICMJE recommendations?

  • herr doktor bimler September 9, 2017 at 5:02 pm

    I think Croce made a mistake by taking this to the courts.
    In effect he has invited all of PubPeer to scrutinise his publishing career more closely.

    • hpmuller September 10, 2017 at 12:28 am

      That’s a big task. Prof. Croce ranks 19 on a list of 2258 individuals with a high h-index (>100). His is 209 according to webometrics: http://www.webometrics.info/en/node/58. For comparison, Albert Einstein ranks 1491 (h-index 109) with Sigmund Freud (h-index 272, all according to Google Scholar) the frontrunner.

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