University of Sao Paulo fires professor after a retraction for plagiarism

February has turned out to be a bad month for people found guilty of plagiarism. On Friday, we covered the case of the German foreign defense minister who lost his PhD after his university became aware he had copied passages from newspaper stories into his thesis.

And now we’ve learned that the University of Sao Paolo Paulo (USP) dismissed a full professor earlier this month after an investigation into a study he retracted last year because parts of it had been plagiarized. It has also stripped one of the professor’s former students of her PhD.

Andreimar Martins Soares, a pharmacologist, was forced to retract a 2008 study in Biochemical Pharmacology purporting to show how a particular snake’s venom might fight dengue virus and the leishmania parasite. That paper, it turned out, included images and text from a 2003 paper in Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy by a group of researchers at the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ).

The UFRJ group notified the two journals in 2009, and two USP committees began investigating the matter sometime after that. A 2009 story in Globo describes the plagiarized images and text.

According to the retraction notice:

This article has been retracted at the request of the editor as the authors have plagiarized transmission electron microscopy figures published by others in Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, vol. 47 (2003), pp. 1895–1901; doi:10.1128/AAC.47.6.18951901.2003). As such this article represents a severe abuse of the scientific publishing system. The scientific community takesa very strong view on this matter and we apologize to readers of the journal for this incident.

Carolina Dalaqua Sant’Ana, a researcher whose thesis was based on the work, lost her PhD. The school’s former dean, Suely Vilela, was also a co-author, but a committee did not find her guilty of plagiarism.

In 2009, Soares told, which was also first to report the dismissal (translated from Portuguese):

There was no plagiarism, but an unfortunate mistake of substituting pictures by my former doctoral student. There was no bad faith, and all measures are being taken to retract this serious error by the publisher and the scientific community.

The original 2003 paper has been cited 40 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge. The plagiarized 2008 paper has been cited seven.

The dismissal, carried out by USP rector John Joao Grandino Rodas, was the first such firing for plagiarism at the university in 15 years. Rodas told Folha:

The punishment of faculty, students, or technical and administrative staff, is always painful. However, it must be borne in mind that in very serious cases such as these, the lack of due punishment undermines the university, whose greatest treasure is credibility.

According to the newspaper, Soares has appealed the decision, and said it was unfair.

Hat tip: Marcelo Hermes, via “All.” Thanks to Christine Soares — no relation — for translations.

Updated 2/28/11, 12:10 p.m. Eastern, to correct first sentence. Thanks to Karin Wiebauer for spotting the error. And also at 1:50 p.m. Eastern, 2/28/11, to correct “John” with “Joao” in “Joao Grandino Rodas.” Apologies for the mistakes.

7 thoughts on “University of Sao Paulo fires professor after a retraction for plagiarism”

  1. Professor Andreimar said to Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper that he was fired for “political reasons”. But he was unable to fully explain to the newspaper his statement.

    The true thing is that the are no “politics” involved in this case. The university dean did the right thing.

    Brazil is not venezuela, where university professores are fired for not being a follower of Chavez’s “revolutionary” ideals. Brazil is still a full democracy – we are much different from sad Venezuela! (thanks the good Lord for that !!)

  2. I think this may seem a little harsh, but ultimately a right decision… if the student who changed the images (for whatever reason) is his PhD student, he bears responsibility for her actions (sometimes all supervisors just want the benefits of having PhD students and no responsibility) and if he were unable to detect or prevent this (supervisors should ALWAYS want to see the raw data, ask where and how she obtained them, which microscope she used…), he does not deserve the post. If all rectors and deans approached such fraud in this manner, there would be much less misconduct by PhD students – because the supervisors would pay much more attention to their actual job. Take Ahluwalia – he is a complete fraudster and should be eternally dismissed from academia, but how come none of his supervisors is affected by this scandal?!? He was ultimately their apprentice, they should bear responsibility for his action. Cambridge dismissed him for fraud, how come nobody ever noticed anything suspicious while he was at UCL (or wherever he got his PhD)? I think that if your PhD student manages to get such fraud outside of lab walls (=published), it is a sign that you completely failed as a supervisor, and there should be consequences as well. Just my two cents 🙂

    1. Done. We only started categorizing in August 2011, and have only been working through posts before that very slowly.

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