“Clear signs of manipulation” in paper co-authored by prominent geneticist

David Latchman

A third paper co-authored by researchers based at a prominent lab whose work has been under investigation on and off for almost three years has been retracted.

According to the notice, the university’s investigation found that a 2008 paper in FEBS Letters contained “clear signs of manipulation” in three figures.

Research from geneticist David Latchman’s group has been dogged by misconduct allegations since late 2013 and subject to two investigations by the University College London (UCL).

The university’s first investigation, which concluded in 2015, cleared Latchman of misconduct, but determined procedural matters in his lab “required attention.” Latchman is currently the master of the college of Birkbeck in London (a role equivalent to vice-chancellor). Birkbeck and UCL are both part of the University of London, made up of 18 independent institutions.

But the matter was not closed. According to Nature News, after new allegations into the team’s work surfaced, UCL initiated a second probe in March 2015. As the Guardian wrote last year, the probe focused on research stemming from Latchman’s UCL lab:

The [new] inquiry will centre on several research papers published by Latchman’s human genetics research group based at nearby University College London. A screening panel at UCL has recommended a full investigation after it completed an initial assessment of the new allegations, according to details obtained by the Guardian under the Freedom of Information Act. 

Latchman, who is a middle author on the FEBS Letters paper, has denied creating or directly supervising the allegedly problematic images. Latchman told Nature News last year:

In all cases, I did not produce any of the figures in the papers criticized or directly supervise their production … I greatly regret that in common with the other authors and the reviewers, I did not detect the errors in these papers.

We contacted UCL, but have not heard back. We reached out to Latchman and several of his coauthors as well. A spokesperson at Birkbeck contacted us on Latchman’s behalf, and sent us a statement from Sir Harvey McGrath, chair of governors at the university:

The matter does not relate to Professor David Latchman’s leadership of Birkbeck, which has been excellent for the past 15 years.  Furthermore, there is no suggestion by UCL that Professor Latchman had any knowledge of, or involvement in, the image manipulation identified.

Four of the 14 co-authors on the now-retracted 2008 paperRichard Knight, Tiziano Scarabelli, Anastasis Stephanou, and Paul A. Townsend—were co-authors on at least one of the two other retracted papers. According to one of the retraction notices, Stephanou said the co-authors were uninvolved:

The corresponding author, A.S., regrets the inappropriate figure manipulations of which the co-authors were completely unaware.

In addition to the retractions, the team has issued five corrections, and more than three dozen articles are being discussed on PubPeer, including the FEBS Letters paper.

Here’s the notice in FEBS Letters for “Cardiac release of urocortin precedes the occurrence of irreversible myocardial damage in the rat heart exposed to ischemia/reperfusion injury:”

The above article from FEBS Letters, published online on February 22, 2008 in Wiley Online Library (http://wileyonlinelibrary.com), has been withdrawn by agreement between the authors, the Journal Managing Editor Felix Wieland, and John Wiley & Sons Ltd., on behalf of the Federation of European Biochemical Societies. The retraction has been agreed following an initial investigation from the University College London that found clear signs of manipulation in Figures 1, 3, and 5. A subsequent investigation by the journal’s Editorial Office with the assistance of an image integrity analyst corroborated these findings.

The paper has been cited 23 times, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science, including once by the notice.

It’s unclear which UCL probe the notice is referring to; the journal has not yet responded to our inquiry.

In the first investigation, UCL found evidence of misconduct in eight of the screened papers. We do not know how many or which papers have been analyzed in the university’s newer investigation.

Latchman told Nature News last March that he hopes UCL will complete its probe in a timely manner:

It is now over three years since UCL was first contacted about these allegations … In my view, the investigation should focus on those actually involved in preparing the questionable figures and those directly involved in supervising their production.

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13 thoughts on ““Clear signs of manipulation” in paper co-authored by prominent geneticist”

  1. “I greatly regret that in common with the other authors and the reviewers, I did not detect the errors in these papers.”

    The primary responsibility for detecting errors lies with the authors.

  2. Sir Harvey McGrath, chair of governors at the university:

    “Furthermore, there is no suggestion by UCL that Professor Latchman had any knowledge of, or involvement in, the image manipulation identified.”

    That is denial, but how plausible is that?

    1. This is entirely plausible. I have seen this first-hand when I conducted a misconduct investigation. Two aspects of the research enterprise, as it is now, make this likely. First, research is more collaborative and multidisciplinary than ever before. Outcomes of this are that 1) the various coauthors may have limited ability to critically evaluate all data provided by all participants and 2) participants might not be located in the same department, institution, city, country, etc.

      Second, the exceptionally competitive nature of research has created a quasi-Darwinian environment in which selection and adaptation are crucial. So, if one needs four publications per year to be a “top producer” the “winners” will find a way. On the other hand, if the key players start putting out 10 papers per year, this will become the new standard that others will strive to match or exceed. Some will do that unethically.

      Two last thoughts: 1) training about research ethics and integrity should stress what could happen to you and your field if you engage in misconduct, rather than keeping the focus on defining misconduct and the like. Who, upon reaching adulthood doesn’t already know that one shouldn’t cheat? and 2) there MUST be real jeopardy faced by those who engage in research misconduct. Otherwise, there will always be those who will take a small risk for a potentially large reward.

      1. “First, research is more collaborative and multidisciplinary than ever before.” True, but in this case most of the authors were in Latchman’s group and in the same institute.

        “Second, the exceptionally competitive nature of research has created a quasi-Darwinian environment in which selection and adaptation are crucial. ” More or less than it has ever been is difficult to know. Social Darwinism has always been used to justify bad behaviour. It can be seen as condoning bad behaviour.

          1. If the often senior had looked at the data he might have noticed problems. How hard can that be?

            “quasi-Darwinian environment in which selection and adaptation are crucial”, why not say you have to cheat to compete?

  3. 4th David Latchman retraction.

    http://www.fasebj.org/doi/pdf/10.1096/fj.02-0150fjeRET

    Bottom of page.

    Retraction
    The article“The carboxyl-terminal activation domain of theSTAT-1 transcription factor enhances ischemia/reperfusion enduced apoptosis in cardiac myocytes, ”by Anastasis Stephanou,Tiziano M.Scarabelli,Paul A.Townsend,Robert Bell, Derek Yellon, Richard A. Knight, and David S. Latchman, published in print as an FJ Express summary in FASEB J. November 2002 16:1841–1843 (https://doi.org/10.1096/fj.02-0150fje), and as a full-length article online at http:// http://www.fasebj.org/doi/pdf/10.1096/fj.02-0150fje, has been retracted due to a finding of misconduct made by the UniversityCollegeLondon.Accordingtotheinstitution,“thelowerleft-handimageinFigure5C(labelledSTAT-11/1I/R) partiallyduplicatedtheupperright-handimagelabelledSTAT-12/2 Control,withadditionalfeatures(suchasnuclei) either added or removed . . . The panel conducting the investigation found that such manipulation had occurred, concludingthatresearchmisconducthadtakenplace.”
    DOI:10.1096/fj.02-0150fjeRET

  4. 5th David Latchman retraction.

    2018 retraction notice.
    http://www.jbc.org/content/293/13/4954.short

    VOLUME 283 (2008) PAGES 16077–16083
    This article has been withdrawn by Paul A. Townsend, Richard A. Knight, Sean P. Barry, David S. Latchman, and Anastasis Stephanou. An investigation at University College London determined that a duplicated blot in Fig. 1, A and B, the GAPDH blot is the same, flipped horizontally. The withdrawing authors sincerely apologize to the scientific community for any confusion or adverse consequences resulting from the publication of the article.
    © 2018 by The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Inc.

  5. 6th David Latchman retraction.

    https://www.internationaljournalofcardiology.com/article/S0167-5273(18)35933-3/fulltext

    Retraction notice to “Enhanced IL-17 signalling following myocardial ischaemia/reperfusion injury” [Int. J. Cardiol. 163 (2013) 326–334]
    Seán P. Barry, Samir Ounzain, James McCormick, Tiziano M. Scarabelli, Carol Chen-Scarabelli, Louis I.I. Saravolatz, Giuseppe Faggian, Alessandro Mazzucco, Hisanori Suzuki, Christoph Thiemermann, Richard A. Knight, David S. Latchman, Anastasis Stephanou’Correspondence information about the author Anastasis StephanouEmail the author Anastasis Stephanou
    Open Access
    DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijcard.2018.10.031 |
    showArticle Info
    Abstract
    Full Text
    This article has been retracted: please see Elsevier Policy on Article Withdrawal (https://www.elsevier.com/about/our-business/policies/article-withdrawal).

    University College of London has undertaken an investigation into allegations received that the above publication contained images that had been deliberately manipulated. The precise details of the allegation are as follows:

    •The images in Figure 5B labelled Control, I/R and I/R+IL-17n both used a section of the same image, with additional features (yellow TUNEL labelled nuclei representing dying cells) having been either added or taken away;
    •In addition, the Control panel in Figure 5B appeared to be a horizontal flip and crop of the Control panel in Figure 4A of “Minocycline inhibits caspase activation and reactivation, increases the ratio of XIAP to smac/DIABLO, and reduces the mitochondrial leakage of cytochrome C and smac/DIABLO” Scarabelli etal, Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 43, 865-874 (2004) https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jacc.2003.09.050 (web archive link)
    The panel conducting the investigation found that it was clear that the images had been intentionally manipulated as alleged, concluding that research misconduct had occurred. Therefore the editor decided to retract this paper.

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