When Alexander Harms arrived at the University of Copenhagen in August 2016, as a postdoc planning to study a type of antibiotic resistance in bacteria, he carried with him a warning from another lab who had recruited him:
People said, “If you go there, you have to deal with these weird articles that nobody believes.”
The papers in question had been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2011 and Cell in 2013. Led by Kenn Gerdes, Harms’s new lab director, the work laid out a complex chain of events that mapped out how an E. coli bacterium can go into a dormant state, called persistence, that allows it to survive while the rest of its colony is wiped out.
Despite some experts’ skepticism, each paper had been cited hundreds of times. And Harms told us:
I personally did believe in the published work. There had been papers from others that kind of attacked [the Gerdes lab’s theory], but that was not high-quality work.
What Caught Our Attention: When authors decide they want to make their articles freely available after they’ve already been published, how should publishers indicate the change, if at all? Recently, Ross Mounce (@rmounce) thought it was odd a Springer journal issued a formal correction notice when the authors wanted to make their paper freely available, and we can’t say we disagree. As he posted on Twitter:
In six weeks, new policies for handling misconduct in Denmark will go into effect, which alter the definition of misconduct and establish clear policies for who handles such allegations.
Starting July 1, research misconduct will be limited to how it’s typically defined elsewhere — fabrication, falsification, and plagiarism (the previous definition included serious breaches of good scientific practices). All such allegations will be investigated by a central body, The Board for the Prevention of Scientific Misconduct — not at the institutions where the allegations are focused, as it has been in the past. Institutions, however, will remain responsible for investigating allegations of so-called Questionable Research Practices (QRPs) — such as only reporting data that support your hypothesis — and must publicize their policies for handling (QRPs).
Anti-terrorism researcher Nasrullah Memon has lost his PhD after a committee in Denmark found he had plagiarized his doctoral thesis.
He’s also recently been let go by his latest employer, the University of Southern Denmark in Odense; a spokesperson for the university told us the decision stemmed from budgetary cutbacks, and was unrelated to the loss of his PhD.
A Danish court has determined that psychologist Helmuth Nyborg did not commit misconduct in a controversial 2011 paper which predicted an influx of immigrants into Denmark would lower the population’s average IQ by the latter part of this century.
The ruling, reported by the Danish newspaper Politiken, overturns a previous finding of misconduct by the the Danish Committees for Scientific Dishonesty (DCSD). It’s yet another example of scientists bringing academic disputes to the courthouse — just last year, a Danish court overturned another misconduct ruling by the DCSD against physiologist Bente Klarlund Pedersen.
The investigation, by the Istituto Nazionale per la Ricerca sul Cancro, found that there were multiple “figure anomalies.” According to the note:
An explanation of inadvertent error was given for some of the issues identified, while for two issues, a satisfactory explanation could not be provided.
First author Roberto Gherzi says none of his co-authors helped prepare the figures. The authors maintain that the conclusions are unaffected, but that assurance wasn’t enough for the journal. Here’s more from the lengthy retraction note, which provides some backstory on the “serious concerns” regarding the data: