Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Archive for the ‘misconduct investigations’ Category

Weizmann bans grad students from researcher’s lab over “serious misconduct”

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Rony Seger

The Weizmann Institute in Israel has barred a biologist from mentoring graduate students, after an investigation uncovered ” a case of serious misconduct that included manipulation of data.”

In a letter posted on PubPeer, President Daniel Zajfman describes some of the disciplinary measures taken against an unnamed scientist, including also retracting or correcting all affected papers. Michal Neeman, vice president of The Weizmann Institute of Science, confirmed to us that the letter describes Rony Seger, a molecular biologist who has already retracted 11 papers.

Neeman told us the investigation was unable to determine who was responsible for the manipulations, but as the head of his lab, Seger was ultimately accountable:

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Written by Alison McCook

July 19th, 2017 at 11:00 am

What a report into scientific misconduct reveals: The case of Frank Sauer

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Oct. 3, 2011, was the beginning of the end for Frank Sauer’s tenure at the University of California, Riverside. On that day, an anonymous emailer contacted Sauer’s institution with accusations that the biochemist had cooked his research in at least eight papers over a 16-year period.

Sauer was found to have doctored images in studies using government money — nearly $3 million of it. He went on to lose his position at UC Riverside, several papers to retraction, and, in May, a subsequent legal battle over the severity of the federal sanctions. Along the way, he concocted a fantastic tale of sabotage against German scientists (like himself), replete with poison-pen letters and fabricated credentials. 

Retraction Watch has obtained a copy of UC Riverside’s report on the Sauer case through a public records request. The report, which is undated but which describes committee meetings and interviews from October 2011 to October 2012, lists 33 allegations of scientific misconduct against Sauer, 20 of which the committee determined to involve deception. Of the remaining 13, the committee either could not find proof of guilt or determined that the data were legitimate.

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Science journal flags cancer paper under investigation for image manipulation

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Science Signaling has issued an expression of concern for a 2016 paper, citing an institutional investigation into image manipulation.

According to a spokesperson for the journal, the corresponding author, Tanya Kalin, became concerned that two images in the paper had been manipulated. Kalin then notified the research integrity officer at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, where she is based.

On May 9 2017, Kalin alerted the journal to the investigation. A week later, the hospital’s research integrity officer followed up with the journal, flagging the figures under question.  The journal then prepared an expression of concern (EOC) to alert readers to the issues and the institution’s investigation.  

Here’s the EOC notice for “The transcription factor FOXF1 promotes prostate cancer by stimulating the mitogen-activated protein kinase ERK5:” Read the rest of this entry »

NIH neuroscientist up to 19 retractions

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Stanley Rapoport.
Source: NIH

The string of apparent bad luck continues for Stanley Rapoport.

Rapoport, a neuroscientist based at the U.S. National Institute on Aging, has lost three more papers in three journals due to the misconduct of his co-authors. By our count, these retractions bring his tally to 19 — and tie him for 21st place on our leaderboard.

The journals—Schizophrenia Research, Journal of Affective Disorders, and Biological Psychiatry— retracted the papers because the National Institutes of Health had found that one of Rapoport’s co-authors, Jagadeesh Rao, had “engaged in research misconduct by falsifying data.” Rao was corresponding author on all three papers.

According to a spokesperson for Elsevier, which publishes the journals, the Schizophrenia Research paper was retracted in July, the JAD paper in late May and the Biological Psychiatry paper in late April. The spokesperson told us that the publisher first received an email from the NIH about the misconduct findings on September 20, 2016, and that: Read the rest of this entry »

Leibniz Prize belatedly awarded to scientist cleared of misconduct

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Just before the March ceremony to bestow the coveted Leibniz Prize, the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) received some disturbing allegations. An anonymous tipster accused one of the 10 scientists slotted to receive the award, materials scientist Britta Nestler, of misconduct. So the DFG held the ceremony on March 15, but suspended Nestler’s award.

Four months later, Nestler now has her Leibniz, along with the €2.5 million in prize money. This week, the DFG — which awards the Leibniz — announced that it had given Nestler her prize on July 4, during its annual meeting, after determining the accusations were without merit.

Secretary General of the DFG and Chair of the Committee of Inquiry on Allegations of Scientific Misconduct Dorothee Dzwonnek said in a statement:

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Written by Alison McCook

July 14th, 2017 at 7:00 am

Failed whistleblower suit is a reminder that public universities are hard to sue

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The University of Louisville’s Kornhauser Library via Wikimedia

Suing the government is difficult. And because public universities often function as an arm of state governments, that makes them hard to sue, too, a fact reiterated in a whistleblower case decided earlier this year.

In January, Judge David Hale of the Western District of Kentucky dismissed a lawsuit filed by former employees of the University of Louisville alleging that the institution fraudulently secured millions in federal grants due to a biosafety program that had fallen out of compliance with federal regulations. The biosafety officers also alleged that they were wrongly terminated for pointing out the compliance issues to Louisville, the National Institutes of Health, and even the Federal Bureau of Investigation. But the judge’s order came before those issues would even be considered.

According to the suit, filed in 2015, plaintiffs Karen Brinkley and Carol Whetstone alleged that the university, seven principal investigators, and an administrator had worked to wrongly obtain as much as $165 million from the National Institutes of Health. Around 2008, according to the plaintiffs, the defendants began allowing persistent biosafety issues — improper training and biological material disposal methods, protocols with expired institutional biosafety committee approvals, performance of research tasks in labs with insufficient biosafety ratings — to taint their applications for multiple federal grants (the complaint didn’t specify how many). Brinkley and Whetstone filed suit under the False Claims Act (FCA), which allows individuals to recover money on behalf of the U.S. government; allegedly, the grants were improperly obtained because the defendants had certified that they were in compliance with NIH’s biosafety requirements, even though they knew that they were not. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Andrew P. Han

July 7th, 2017 at 11:00 am

The retraction countdown: How quickly do journals pull papers?

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After Tina Wenz was found guilty of scientific misconduct, how long did it take for journals to retract the problematic papers?  The answer: Between three and nine months.

In September 2016, the University of Cologne found that Wenz had committed scientific misconduct in six papers and requested they all be retracted. From that point on, the retraction clock was ticking.

We’ve explored how long it takes a journal to act over the years, and we’ve found that the time between identifying a problem to retracting the paper can vary — and sometimes last years.

In Wenz’s case, one of the papers—published in Cell Metabolism in 2009—had already been retracted in 2015. Three of the remaining five were retracted in December 2016—a 2008 paper in Cell Metabolism, a 2009 paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), and a 2009 paper in the Journal of Applied Physiology.

In January 2017, the journal IUBMB Life pulled a 2014 paper flagged in the investigation. And just over nine months after Wenz was found guilty of misconduct, the last paper—published in 2013 in Mitochondrion—has been retracted.

The most recent notice states that the University of Cologne requested the retractions, after determining that the data had been “inappropriately manipulated.”

Here’s the retraction notice in Mitochondrion:

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Soon-to-be-ex-rector of top Belgium university blames coverage of misconduct case for ouster

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May was quite a month for Rik Torfs, the rector of a prominent university in Belgium. On May 9, Torfs lost his re-election campaign for rector of KU Leuven by a slim margin—out of more than 2100 votes, he lost by a mere 48. And just 20 days later, on May 29, Torfs wrote his final column for the Flemish daily newspaper De Standaard  — whom he believes was at least partly to blame for his election loss.

Specifically, it was the paper’s reporting on the university hospital’s (UZ Leuven) investigation into pediatric oncologist Stefaan Van Gool, which came just months before the election, that Torfs said he believes may have led to his ouster: Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Victoria Stern

June 26th, 2017 at 10:00 am

“Searching our souls”: Authors retract paper after researcher admits to fabricating data

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Researchers at a prominent Japanese university have retracted a 2016 paper in a chemistry journal after the first author admitted to scientific misconduct.

According to the notice, Kyushu University investigated and verified that the first author had committed scientific misconduct.

We requested a copy of the misconduct report, which revealed that the researcher, Prasenjit Mahato, a postdoctoral fellow at Kyushu University who is no longer affiliated with the university, “admitted to falsifying research” in two papers on which he was first author: a highly cited 2015 paper in Nature Materials, which was retracted in 2016, as well as the 2016 paper in Journal of the American Chemical Society (JACS), retracted earlier this month. The university investigated and confirmed misconduct in both papers.

We covered the Nature Materials retraction last year, but at the time, the paper’s corresponding author, Nobuo Kimizuka, only told us that the “matter has been under investigation by the formal investigation panel of our University.”

According to the five-page misconduct report — which we translated from Japanese using One Hour Translation and is also available in Japanese on the university’s website — in July 2016, a member of the lab (“Faculty Member B”) began to suspect a problem after he reviewed the data with Mahato (“the defendant”): Read the rest of this entry »

12 years after researcher found guilty of misconduct, journal retracts paper

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In 2005, the U.S. Office of Research Integrity found an obesity researcher had engaged in scientific misconduct.

More specifically, the ORI report revealed that Eric Poehlman, then based at the University of Vermont, had “falsified and fabricated” data in 10 papers. The 2005 report asked that the journals issue retractions or corrections to the papers. By 2006, six of those papers were retracted (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6). In 2006, a judge sentenced Poehlman to one year and one day in prison for falsifying research data.

In 2015, we explored how long it takes a journal to retract a paper. We found that four of the 10 papers had still not been retracted — one appeared to be missing from Medline, another had received a correction (as the ORI report requested), and two had not been retracted or corrected (1, 2).

Until now. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Victoria Stern

June 21st, 2017 at 11:45 am