Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

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It’s not just whistleblowers who deserve protection during misconduct investigations, say researchers

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Sven Hendrix

Lex Bouter

In 2010, the former PhD supervisor of Sven Hendrix, a neuroanatomist at Hasselt University in Belgium, was accused of misconduct. Although the allegations were eventually dropped, the experience was emotionally and professionally draining – and Hendrix wanted the research community to know about it. In 2015, he shared his story at a conference in Rotterdam; in the audience was Lex Bouter at Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam, who works on research integrity (and is co-chair of this year’s World Conference on Research Integrity [WCRI], happening now). Bouter invited Hendrix to write a paper with him. This month, Accountability in Research published “Both Whistle Blowers and the Scientists They Accuse are Vulnerable and Deserve Protection,” an abstract of which is being presented today at the WCRI. We spoke with Hendrix and Bouter about their paper.

Retraction Watch: The title of your paper kind of says it all. Can you say more about what prompted you to write it?

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Written by Alison McCook

May 29th, 2017 at 8:00 am

Would-be Johns Hopkins whistleblower loses appeal in case involving Nature retraction

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A former researcher at Johns Hopkins who voiced concerns about a now-retracted paper in Nature has lost another bid for whistleblower protection.

Daniel Yuan, a longtime statistician for former Hopkins yeast geneticist Jef Boeke, was dismissed in 2011, after he’d spent years raising concerns about research coming out of the lab. Yuan’s criticisms, which continued after he stopped working for Boeke, peaked in 2012 after Boeke and former labmate Yu-li Lin published paper in Nature. Later that year, Lin was found dead in his lab, a suspected suicide. In 2013, the paper was retracted, citing an inability to reproduce the main conclusions. 

Since 2013, Yuan has pursued a wrongful termination lawsuit, claiming that federal regulations surrounding scientific misconduct afforded him protection from retaliation.

In late March, Maryland’s highest court ruled against Yuan, saying that those misconduct regulations are “too vague” to offer cover to employees claiming whistleblower protection. According to lawyers we consulted, the decision could make it harder for would-be whistleblowers to fight retaliation, while also giving institutions more leeway to handle these issues on their own.

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Written by Andrew P. Han

May 25th, 2017 at 11:50 am

Ecologist loses appeal for whistleblower protection

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A top federal U.S. court has confirmed a decision by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to deny federal whistleblower protection to an ecologist who was fired after accusing a colleague of fraud.

After initially forcing NSF to more clearly explain its decision, the Denver-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit has agreed with the conclusions of NSF’s updated investigation, denying former Kansas State University researcher Joseph Craine’s appeal.

Attorney Paul Thaler, who has handled cases involving scientific misconduct (but was not involved with this one), told Retraction Watch that the latest decision appears to be the end of a cautionary tale of how not to report misconduct.

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Written by Andrew P. Han

May 5th, 2017 at 11:00 am

“Existence and motive to retaliate:” Judge hands victory to whistleblower scientist

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A Michigan researcher whose accusations of misconduct against his former employers led to years of legal battles has won a judge’s ruling that could earn him one of his jobs back.

Over the past few years, Christian Kreipke has been embroiled in legal battles with the Detroit VA Medical Center and Wayne State University, where he held a dual appointment. In 2010, Kreipke accused Wayne State of misusing federal funds — then was fired in 2012 when the university brought its own case of research misconduct against him. In 2013, the VA followed suit. In 2014, Kreipke lost a whistleblower lawsuit against the university. As a result of the Wayne State investigation, journals have retracted five of his papers, some as recently as last month.

In March, a judge ordered the Department of Veterans Affairs to reinstate Kreipke’s position, among other requests.  Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Victoria Stern

April 24th, 2017 at 3:01 pm

“It’s been three tough years:” Macchiarini whistleblower cleared of previous charges

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Karl-Henrik Grinnemo

Karl-Henrik Grinnemo was worried. The doctor and clinical researcher at the Karolinska Institute was working with a high-profile surgeon who was performing a potentially life-saving procedure on patients, but Grinnemo saw that the patients weren’t doing very well. So in 2013, Grinnemo and three other doctors raised concerns about the work of Paolo Macchiarini. The surgeon initially fought back, and accused Grinnemo of misconduct. KI sided with the star surgeon, and found Grinnemo guilty of “carelessness” in a grant application to the Swedish Research Council, including plagiarism. Readers should by now know how the story ends – Macchiarini’s work has since been largely discredited. Recently, to clear his name, Grinnemo asked authorities to take a second look at his case – and he has been exonerated. We talked to him about the last few tumultuous years. 

Retraction Watch: How does the story begin?

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Written by Alison McCook

March 24th, 2017 at 11:30 am

Researcher who lost whistleblower lawsuit logs 4 more retractions

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A brain journal has retracted four papers by a researcher due to image duplications that the university uncovered during an investigation into his work.

According to the retraction notice, Wayne State University found that Christian Kreipke had used several images in these articles “to represent different results in grant proposals and/or poster presentations,” and that the data were unreliable. Kreipke now has a total of five retractions, by our count.

As we’ve reported before, Wayne State and Kreipke have been engaged in conflict for several years. In 2012, Kreipke was dismissed from his assistant professor post at Wayne State after the university said it found evidence of research misconduct, according to Courthouse News. Kreipke fired back against the university, filing a whistleblower lawsuit. In it, Kreipke claimed that the institution was “involved in a conspiracy,” according to unsealed court documents, in which it had swindled the U.S. government out of millions in research funding.

A judge dismissed the case in 2014, but the conflict between Kreipke and Wayne State was not over. Read the rest of this entry »

Whistleblower gets court backing in defamation case — but at a cost

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It’s been a long and winding road for a whistleblower at Indiana University, South Bend.

After Mark Fox, a professor of management and entrepreneurship accused two business professors of plagiarism in 2012, a university investigation found one of the two men — Douglas Agbetsiafa, the former chair of the economics department — guilty of plagiarism, and terminated him in January 2014. The other professor was cleared of any wrongdoing — then sued Fox for defamation in June, 2014.

Fox won the case, but it dragged on. More than two years later, in December 2016, the Indiana Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal.

Fox told us:

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A Harvard whistleblower was subjected to a forced mental exam. Here’s why.

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Last March, a PhD student at Harvard filed a misconduct allegation against his mentor, a prominent stem cell researcher. Three months later, he was taken from his home by police in the middle of the night for a forced psychiatric evaluation.

How did this happen? Read the rest of this entry »

1st retraction for researcher who lost whistleblower lawsuit

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microvascular-research

A researcher who was dismissed from Wayne State University — then lost a whistleblower lawsuit against it — has logged his first retraction.

In 2012, after Christian Kreipke was dismissed from Wayne State, he filed a lawsuit, alleging that the institution had defrauded the U.S. government of $169 million in research funding. A judge dismissed the case in 2014, noting Kreipke cited “no specific facts,” and as a public university, Wayne State had immunity as an “arm of the state.”

The university’s president has said Kreipke was fired due to misconduct — not his whistleblowing, according to Courthouse News Service

Now, a retraction has appeared for Kreipke in Microvascular Research, citing discrepancies between the original data and what was reported in the paper. 

Here’s the retraction notice: Read the rest of this entry »

Embezzlement, 15 retractions, and a whistleblower could add up to trouble for Duke

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scienceRetraction Watch readers may recall the case of Erin Potts-Kant, who pled guilty to embezzling funds from a lab, and now has 15 retractions, and Michael Foster, both formerly of Duke. You may also remember that we’ve featured discussions of the False Claims Act, which some attorneys are trying to use to expose wrongdoing — and earn large settlements for whistleblowers in the process.

It turns out those two threads are intertwined, as we learned only last month when a federal court case against Potts-Kant, Foster, and Duke was unsealed last month. (False Claims Act cases are frequently sealed when initially filed, with big penalties for anyone — including the attorneys — who talk about them, which is why we didn’t know of this link before.) In today’s Science, as part of our new partnership, we tell the story in a lot more detail, and describe the potential ramifications for Duke and other universities.

The whistleblower in the Duke case is named Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Ivan Oransky

September 1st, 2016 at 2:00 pm