Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

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Meet the researcher with 13 retractions who’s trying to sue PubPeer commenters: Fazlul Sarkar

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Fazlul Sarkar

Fazlul Sarkar

Fazlul Sarkar has not had a good month: In the last few weeks, he has earned 13 retractions across four journals, the latest in the fallout from a string of legal cases that have pitted him against one of science publishing’s major players.

Sarkar gained attention in 2014 when he sued anonymous commenters of PubPeer for defamation, and for potentially costing him a new gig at the University of Mississippi. But before all that, he was a respected researcher with hundreds of published papers, 38 of which were cited at least 100 times each. He’d also received $12.8 million in NIH funding for his research. So how did it all fall apart?

With the involvement multiple lawsuits, multiple institutions, and multiple people — some of whom are anonymous — it can get complex trying to keep track of it all. So for your convenience, we’ve compiled a timeline of recent events in the case: Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Michael Koziol

August 12th, 2016 at 9:30 am

Details of investigative report into Sarkar released by ACLU

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Fazlul Sarkar

Fazlul Sarkar

We knew that Wayne State University had investigated allegations of misconduct against Fazlul Sarkar, the scientist who is suing PubPeer commenters over criticisms of his work. We knew The Scientist had obtained a copy of the report, which concluded he had engaged in widespread misconduct, and he should retract more than 40 papers.

And now, thanks to the American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing PubPeer in court and has filed a motion to include the report as evidence in the case, we have a copy.

It’s a long read, but here are some highlights:

Read the rest of this entry »

Sarkar vs. John Doe: What happened at this week’s hearing involving PubPeer

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Fazlul Sarkar

Fazlul Sarkar

On Tuesday, lawyers representing both sides of the ongoing suit filed by a scientist against PubPeer commenters appeared in court, alleging their criticisms of his work cost him a new job at the University of Mississippi.

In the case described as “FAZLUL SARKAR V JOHN DOE,” lawyers representing PubPeer, Sarkar, and the anonymous commenter at the heart of the case spoke before two judges (one was absent). As the case now stands, a judge has ruled that all but one of the commenters can remain anonymous, and PubPeer has filed an appeal, earning the support of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), as well as Google and Twitter.

According to one of the attorneys representing PubPeer, Alex Abdo at the ACLU, things proceeded as expected. Their main argument, he said, was: Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Alison McCook

October 6th, 2016 at 9:30 am

Lawsuit against Ole Miss for rescinded Sarkar job offer dismissed; briefs filed in PubPeer case

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court caseWe recently obtained court documents showing that, in September, a judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by cancer researcher Fazlul Sarkar against the University of Mississippi after it rescinded a job offer after reviewing concerns raised about his research on PubPeer.

Sarkar’s connection to PubPeer will be familiar to many readers — he has also taken the site to court to force them to reveal the identity of the anonymous commenters who have questioned his findings. He has accused the commenters of defamation, arguing they cost him the job offer. Today, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a brief on behalf of PubPeer’s appeal of the court’s most recent ruling, that the site must disclose the identity of an anonymous commenter. At the same time, some heavy hitters in science – Bruce Alberts and Harold Varmus — and technology — Google and Twitter — filed briefs in support of the appeal.

The lawsuit against Ole Miss has brought to light the reasoning behind the school’s decision to rescind their offer to Sarkar — and the key role played by the concerns raised on PubPeer.

In a letter dated June 19, 2014 to Sarkar from Larry Walker, the director of the National Center for Natural Products Research at the University of Mississippi, Walker chides Sarkar for not revealing the extent of the ongoing questions over his research during the interview process:

Read the rest of this entry »

PubPeer files motion to dismiss Sarkar defamation case

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sarkarAttorneys representing PubPeer in its defense against a subpoena by cancer researcher Fazlul Sarkar, of Wayne State University in Michigan, have submitted a motion to the Wayne County Circuit Court to quash the matter.

Sarkar’s work has appeared on the anonymized post-publication peer review site, and he isn’t happy about it. In October, he sued the site’s commenters, demanding that PubPeer release the names of his accusers. Sarkar, who has not been found to have committed research misconduct, claims he lost a lucrative job offer at the University of Mississippi as a result of the posts.

The motion — available here — argues that even if the claims of image irregularities levied against Sarkar by anonymous PubPeer posters are untrue, they don’t meet conventional standards of defamation: Read the rest of this entry »

Written by amarcus41

December 10th, 2014 at 12:56 pm

Lawyers call libel suit against journal and critic “lawless” but “well written”

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Mark Jacobson

A $10 million defamation suit filed by a Stanford University professor against a critic and a journal may be an assault on free speech, according to one lawyer, but at least it’s “well written.”

Kenneth White, a lawyer at Southern California firm Brown White & Osborn who frequently blogs about legal issues related to free speech at Popehat, told us:

It’s not incompetently drafted, but it’s clearly vexatious and intended to silence dissent about an alleged scientist’s peer-reviewed article.

Scientists have publicly bemoaned the suit’s existence, as reported by several outlets, including Mashable and Nature. Mark Jacobson, an engineering professor at Stanford, has alleged that he was defamed in a June article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), which was critical of a 2015 paper co-authored by Jacobson in the same journal. In a complaint filed Sept. 29 in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, Jacobson accused the journal’s publisher, the National Academy of Sciences, and the paper’s first author, Christopher Clack, an executive at a renewable energy analysis firm, of libel.

White told us that there are several pitfalls that could trip up the lawsuit, including a DC law that allows defendants an early opportunity to ask the court to dismiss cases muzzling free speech and recover attorneys’ fees. But another attorney said the complaint should at least clear the lowest hurdle in the way of getting to trial. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Andrew P. Han

November 13th, 2017 at 11:10 am

PubPeer wins appeal of court ruling to unmask commenters

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Fazlul Sarkar

PubPeer is having a good day.

In a new ruling, a trio of judges on the Michigan Court of Appeals reversed a 2015 decision mandating the site reveal the identity of anonymous commenters after a scientist sued them, claiming they cost him a job offer.

The judges stated that Fazlul Sarkar, the scientist suing the commenters, can continue pursuing a defamation case, but: Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Alison McCook

December 7th, 2016 at 1:17 pm

PubPeer dealt blow in lawsuit against anonymous commenters

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Fazlul Sarkar

Fazlul Sarkar

PubPeer has suffered a setback in an ongoing lawsuit filed by a scientist who alleges the site’s anonymous commenters cost him a job.

This week, judges in the Court of Appeals in Michigan denied the request of the American Civil Liberties Union — which is representing PubPeer — to include an investigative report as part of evidence in the case. The report, by Wayne State University, found the plaintiff — Fazlul Sarkar — had committed widespread misconduct, and should retract scores of papers.

Alexander Abdo of the ACLU told us: Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Alison McCook

December 2nd, 2016 at 8:30 am

Weekend reads: Frustrated scientists; most brutal rejection ever?; public shaming in science

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booksThe week at Retraction Watch featured 58 retractions in one fell swoop, and a look at what you should do if you find out a paper you’ve cited has been retracted. Here’s what was happening elsewhere: Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Ivan Oransky

November 5th, 2016 at 9:58 am

Posted in weekend reads

Weekend reads: Why so much research is dodgy; why scientists should shun journals; ethical grey zones

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booksThe week at Retraction Watch featured a cancer researcher retracting 19 studies at once from a single journal, and the story of how a 7-year-old came to publish a paper. Here’s what was happening elsewhere: Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Ivan Oransky

October 22nd, 2016 at 9:30 am

Posted in weekend reads