Earlier this month, we posted an item about the retraction of a 2004 Nature paper, “The large-conductance Ca2+-activated K+ channel is essential for innate immunity.” (That post was followed up with provocative comments from a researcher not affiliated with the authors, about what should happen to papers whose results can’t be replicated.)
One of the paper’s authors, Jatinder Ahluwalia, hadn’t signed the retraction, and the notice referred to “Supplementary Information” that hadn’t yet been made available. Today, University College London (UCL) posted that supplementary information, which was the report of a panel that investigated charges of research misconduct against Ahluwalia. That report fills in a lot of details about what preceded the retraction.
Here’s the story: UCL’s Anthony Segal, the lead author of the retracted paper, first took the allegations to the university in September 2008, according to the statement. After a screening panel decided there was enough to look into, the university set up a research misconduct panel that met in February of this year. Ahluwalia was invited to attend that hearing and present evidence, but didn’t.
Segal’s alleged that Ahluwalia:
- falsified the results of experiments conducted by him, on UCL premises, thereby committing research fraud, as defined by paragraph 1.1.iv of the UCL Procedure for Investigating and Resolving Allegations of Misconduct in Academic Research. It was alleged that Dr Ahluwalia altered the numbering of files of research results so as to misrepresent the results of experiments conducted by him;
- further falsified and misrepresented the results of experiments conducted by him, on UCL premises, by the use of materials other than those specified in the reports of the results of those experiments, thereby committing research fraud, as defined by paragraph 1.1.iv of the UCL Procedure for Investigating and Resolving Allegations of Misconduct in Academic Research;
- interfered with the experiments of others so as to distort their results, thus falsifying the results of research experiments conducted by others employed by UCL on UCL premises, thereby committing research fraud, as defined in paragraph 1.1.iv of the UCL Procedure for Investigating and Resolving Allegations of Misconduct in Academic Research. It was alleged that Dr Ahluwalia deliberately contaminated chemicals used by other researchers in their experiments so as to falsify the results of those experiments, in order to conceal the falsification by him of the results of his own experiments.
In other words, according to the allegations, Ahluwalia “renumbered the files to deceive [another coauthor,] Professor [Lucie] Clapp as to the results of his patch clamping experiments,” adulterated his reagents so his results would look better, and sabotaged his colleagues’ work.
The panel said that the file renumbering charge was proven “beyond reasonable doubt,” and “that on the balance of probabilities it was highly confident” that the other two charges had been proven. It also concluded unanimously that Ahluwalia had acted alone.
Ahluwalia, now working at the University of East London, submitted an appeal, which UCL denied. The university also notified him on November 9 — several days after the retraction ran in Nature — that the report would be posted online. They haven’t heard back, and we never did either after our request for comment.