A third Milena Penkowa paper, in FASEB Journal, now subject to Notice of Concern

As we reported earlier this week, two journals have issued Expressions of Concern about papers by Milena Penkowa, who is under investigation for scientific misconduct and misuse of grants. Now we learn that the FASEB Journal has published a Notice of Concern about a third paper:

The editors of The FASEB Journal have been informed by Bente Klarlund Pedersen, MD, DMSc, Professor of Integrative Medicine, Director of Centre of Inflammation and Metabolism, Department of Infectious Diseases and CMRC Rigshospitalet at the University of Copenhagen Faculty of Health Sciences, Copenhagen, Denmark, of an ongoing investigation into the validity of the data contained in an article published in The FASEB Journal in 2003, which is part of a larger investigation involving other articles appearing in other journals. We await a final report from the investigating institution to learn the outcome of this investigation. The article is: Penkowa, M., Keller, C., Keller, P., Jauffred, S., and Pedersen, B. K. (2003) Immunohistochemical detection of interleukin-6 in human skeletal muscle fibers following exercise.

As with the other Expressions of Concern, neither the paper’s abstract nor PubMed entry links to the Notice of Concern, which we find unfortunate given how many readers are likely to find those instead of the notice.

The paper has been cited 69 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge.

Hat tip: Pablo Garcia de Frutas

29 thoughts on “A third Milena Penkowa paper, in FASEB Journal, now subject to Notice of Concern”

  1. Given that the 2003 and 2005 images are not only re-cycled but also quite clearly blank images altered by contrast, one wonders why Prof Pedersen suddenly found the insight (or eye-sight) to consider these images suspicious only as of now, 8 years later? Does she not check all of her data, as a senior author?

    1. As a senior scientist, collaborating with another senior scientist, you generally accept that the figure provided by latter senior scientist is the correct figure, unless it looks decidely odd. Trust is an important issue in science.

      She found them suspicious now, because of the evidence of wide-spread questionable activity by Penkowa. That is, the trust had disappeared.

      1. Pedersen largely dumped Penkowa as a collaborator on her website in 2008. The bigger question is that without valid protein data pedersen’s entire research program is based on rather dubious qpcr data. I understand that one of her students, soren Nielsen, gave data to timons showing that il8 was not even expressed, yet penkowa produced magic blots. Why has Nielsen not released a fraud report himself? It’s really fraud to protect fraud…..

  2. Re Marco

    As senior author you check everything, if you are not doing that then you too should change your approach!!
    What you will need to know is that prof Pedersen dissociated herself from Penkowa in 2008 and only now retracts to create a false sense of honesty. Prior to 2008 Penkowa was listed as a major collaborator, then she vanished from the website.

    1. Sorry, but I work with trust. I cannot check each and every paper from my collaborators to make sure they did not publish something before, or, as in this case, republished a picture they deliberately altered. Remember again that Penkowa ALSO was a senior author.

      And you are wrong to claim Pedersen dissociated herself from Penkowa in 2008. They submitted an article together in February 2009! I think you are mixing people up, Elisabeth Bock, another former collaboration partner, went after Penkowa in 2008 because her students simply could not reproduce her results.

      1. re Marco

        I think you have a very good view on human behaviour, unfortunately its not a safe one for science.

        You will find that Pedersen has made a statement in the Danish press that the recent publications that named Penkowa, did not infact involve Penkowa but rather just used her lab equipment. Of course that is false publication, but nevertheless Pedersen’s group were aware in 2007 and 2008 that Penkowa could be relied on to produce positive data all the time, and became suspicious. Why did it take until 2011, and public critism from Timons to result in Pedersen declaring concerns? Why not do it in 2007 (the answer is her CIM centre was under review and needed new funding…)

      2. I have to trust, by necessity, my collaboration partners. This does not mean I am not skeptical in the scientific sense, but I most definately will never ever assume that the partners I choose are willfully altering data. When I have to distrust everyone I work with, I will stop working as a scientist. I have no intention to live a paranoid life, always thinking “what data might he have faked this time?”.

      3. Marco, you are talking about exactly the kind of frustration many of us experience. The majority of my friends from the old undergrad times quit university research because of this. It’s not only that published results are often wrong, it’s also that opposing those who published them is mostly unrewarding and can have grave consequences for your career.

      4. Sorry, tk, but I do not have that experience. The frustration I aired was about people telling me not to trust any of my collaboration partners.

      5. I am sorry for not expressing my point clearly. You stated that “When I have to distrust everyone I work with, I will stop working as a scientist. I have no intention to live a paranoid life, always thinking “what data might he have faked this time?”.” Stopping work as a scientist is exactly what many of my friends did because they disliked the paranoia about published results, among other things.

      1. Marco, you appear to have much insight into the issue, so much so that I guess you are one of the accused. we can not take into account such information…. as we do not know the facts.

        however, as a former journal editor, i am aware that several scientists complained about these articles and this includes dr timons

        it seems like his complaints some time ago, are appearing to be true.

        My understanding of the Danish funding system is that the centres are reviewed frequently, a scandal would have stopped the next 5yrs…. and nobody can argue with that, can they?

      2. C-A-M, I am not anonymous. People know who I am, and I am most certainly not one of the accused. Ivan can also vouch for that. However, I do work at the University of Copenhagen, talk to people working here, and can read Danish. The insight I provided is mostly from the reports I have read, but I also have other direct sources (journalists can be nice to talk to, sometimes).

        And please, why are you anonymous? You make rather large claims, some of which I asked you to substantiate, but none has been forthcoming. A true man stands by his accusations.

  3. If you *could* “check every figure”…..what is the point of collaborating? The whole point is deploying expertise you do not have. No?

    1. Yes, of course, that’s part of it. But I’ve witnessed things that make you think twice. Collaboration partners send several plasmid vectors, every vector contains the identical mutant cDNA. Collaboration partners send plasmid, there clearly is no insert (which made us wonder where their effects originated from). Collaboration partners analyzed samples — this was a case of expertise we did not have — results were very promising and fit the model, they reproduced nicely, then we scrambled the sample labeling, suddenly everything became very unreproducible. I concluded that I should never label any samples with suggestive names if other people might use them.

    2. I don’t think it takes much time or intellect to look at an immunohistochemistry picture and decide if there is any staining! This is the precise situation with Pedersen, her entire lab is run using methods that she does not understand.

      Come on, if you only collaborate so you don’t have to learn the basics of a method, then you are kidding yourself!

    1. So, now you claim that two different journals had an incompetent review process for these two papers.

      1. Yes, any reasonable experienced senior scientist would know that the peer review process can be quite flawed.
        Given the Pedersen – Penkowa articles are characterised by rather unusal immuno blots that appear to be more contrast-modulated than actually containing any staining (an experts words, not mine) then it has to be considered incompetent peer review at J Physiol, Exp Physiol, FASEB J etc.

        Of course, as a native danish speaker, marco, you can also tell the world about the statements made by Prof Hoiby and also the interview by Pedersen where she admits she was “essentially fired”. People do not get fired from an editorial board because they were unlucky enough to work with a fraudulent scientist. Or does your naivety extend so far that you can only rationalise in a positive manner for your fellow Danish colleague?

      2. CAM, yes I know the peer review process can be flawed (I have a paper in press that shows that quite well). I am just trying to get you to be clear in your statements (and provide evidence). You were rather scatching about Klarlund Pedersen and her lab, so I wondered whether you extend that disdain to the wider community who reviewed the papers.

        Regarding the statements from Høiby: what should I tell the world? That he asked her to withdraw from certain positions at the university while she is under investigation by DCSD? I would expect that to happen to anyone who is under investigation, regardless of whether the allegations are proven to be true (clearly frivolous complaints excluded). It happens all around in society.

        Regarding the “People do not get fired from an editorial board because they were unlucky enough to work with a fraudulent scientist” – could you please provide me evidence of that? Remember, these are the same journals that published the articles Klarlund Pedersen retracted, so you’ll have to come with a similar situation. As I understood the situation, Klarlund Pedersen noted that retracting the papers meant that none of the authors could publish in that journal for a year. It would then be decidedly odd to have someone on the Editorial Board who has been banned from publishing in that journal.

        Finally, I have learned to be skeptical. So, when I see claims, I’d like to see evidence. I asked you repeatedly for evidence, but none was forthcoming on this blog. In such instances I follow the adagio “innocent unless proven guilty”. I will do so with anyone. You may consider that naive, but as I noted previously, I have no intention of becoming paranoid. I also have seen several rebuttals from Klarlund Pedersen and others that strongly indicate at least several large charges against her and members of her group are false or overinflated, which in turn makes me skeptical about the other claims. Are you perhaps not only rationalising in a negative way about Klarlund Pedersen and her group (she’s not the only one being accused here) ?

  4. Of course many people are not carrying out peer review in a robust manner. Some are even reviewing their friends articles, rather than declaring a conflict of interest. But this is not the issue – we both agree that the peer review process is flawed in some ways. Your comments about the editorial board are unfounded. Prove that its Journal policy to do this?

    Anyway lets focus on the larger issues. Firstly, you know that Hoiby has made a number of public statements and yet you purposely chose to refer to just one which is not so relevant for the fraud case. Why the misdirection?

    Secondly, you keep stating that the allegations are false or now proven to be false. But it is you that provide no evidence for such statements. Which allegations and where are the refutations?

    You even state that some of the fraud allegations are not so serious, and should be down-graded as they are “over inflated”.

    That is a very interesting and inciteful statement about you as a scientist. It also confirms that there is some real truth to the fraud allegations and in my world fraud is fraud.

    We have already had Pedersen admit in the newspapers (which in itself is a strange place to do it) that Penkowa did not do the BDNF immuno blots and had not part in the BDNF article published in 2010, yet is listed as an author. So she admits giving Penkowa a false authorship? Now, as one major charge against is that she gave numerous PhD students false authorships to inflate their careers (which is scientific fraud according to the UVVU) then it seems that this fraud allegation is already partially substantiated.

    How many more will be substantiated once all the public misdirection dissapears? The situation has moved to be “partially guilty and how guilty is she”

    1. CAM

      Re Editorial Board: I don’t know what claim I made that would require any substantiation about the Editorial Board. Rather, I asked YOU to provide evidence. None has been forthcoming on this blog.
      Regarding the not being allowed to publish, this information came from an interview with Klarlund Pedersen, here:
      http://nyhederne.tv2.dk/article.php/id-40306017:penkowa-tr%C3%A6kker-forsker-med-ned.html (and elsewhere)
      I see no reason why she’d be lying about that. I also noted that this came from her before.

      I don’t know what other prominent comment Høiby has made that I should have told people here. I know of his request that Klarlund Pedersen withdraws from certain positions, and he apparently also asked her to provide a good explanation. Since you claim there are more important statements from him, please be so kind to refer me to them.

      Then you switch to a 2010 paper, of which there is none. I guess you mean the 2009 Diabetologia paper, of which Klarlund Pedersen states that the supposed false data from Penkowa was not even made by Penkowa. So far, so good. But then you claim she stated Penkowa had no part in that article. Well, here I am going to ask for substantiation. I cannot find anywhere that Klarlund Pedersen states Penkowa had no part in that article.

      Then your comments about me. You state: “you keep stating that the allegations are false or now proven to be false. But it is you that provide no evidence for such statements. Which allegations and where are the refutations?”
      I never claimed THE allegations are false, I state that I have seen rebuttals about some allegations, and this makes me suspicious about the whole case. Some rebuttals can be found here:
      Specifically: Mathew Laye is accused by Timmons of a false authorship, but he has provided documentation to DCSD that he DID contribute. The PhD student that did “a biopsy” (according to Timmons) apparently did two HUNDRED biopsies.
      I have no reason to assume this information is false. At this point, with that information, I can at best see a lengthy discussion on what constitutes a substantial contribution to an article, on which we will likely get 100 different opinions if we ask 100 different people (even when taking the Vancouver guidelines as a starting point).

      1. Commenter “campaign against myopia” is apparently referring to this story when noting that Pedersen says she was “essentially fired” from an editorial board post:


        Google Translate to English:


        The story claims that Pedersen was asked to leave two editorial boards: Experimental Physiology and the Journal of Physiology. Her quote refers to “journals.”

        However, we have contacted both journals, to learn that she was never on the Experimental Physiology editorial board. For that reason, we are unclear on the details. The Journal of Physiology has not responded to our request for confirmation.

      2. Ivan, my question on the Editorial Board was not about the evidence that she was “essentially fired”. I know that story. However, CAM claims “People do not get fired from an editorial board because they were unlucky enough to work with a fraudulent scientist”. I asked for evidence on that part, with emphasis on somebody who was allowed to stay on the Editorial Board of the same journal that suffered the retraction from said board member’s paper.

        Of course, I actually know of a situation where an Editorial Board member was asked to resign and banned 1 year from publishing in the journal, even though the Editor-in-Chief believes that author/editorial board member was not the one who directly committed the offence (see here: http://www.nature.com/jcbfm/journal/v25/n3/full/9600089a.html). This example does not prove that there were no other reasons J. Phys. asked Klarlund Pedersen to resign, but it does show that others have been asked to resign for a similar situation that CAM claims does not happen.

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