Another Bulfone-Paus paper under review, this one in Blood

Blood tells Retraction Watch that they are reviewing a 1999 paper co-authored by Silvia Bulfone-Paus, who has already retracted 12 papers in other journals.

The study, “Human monocytes constitutively express membrane-bound, biologically active, and interferon-gamma-upregulated interleukin-15,” has been cited 124 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge. Its corresponding author is Tiziana Musso, of the University of Turin.

Joerg Zwirner, over at the Abnormal Science blog, has a three-part series deconstructing what he says are the flaws in the paper. Zwirner points out a number of data duplications. As he notes:

What makes the Blood paper duplications particularly delicate is the fact that this article lists Prof. Bulfone-Paus as senior author but is not co-authored by the two infamous postdocs who were thought to be the main culprits of the scandal, until now.

Those two post-docs, Vadim Budagian and Elena Bulanova, were co-authors on the 12 retracted papers.

Hat tip: “Clare Francis”

12 thoughts on “Another Bulfone-Paus paper under review, this one in Blood”

  1. I love the reaction of the Editor to Joerg Zwirner’s second email. It is simply amazing how editors try and avoid any possible controversy surrounding papers published in what they perceive as their journal. They must forget that they have a responsibility to the public.

    1. This is not an issue of the editor avoiding “possible controversy”. It’s an issue of objecting to a needlessly aggressive and abrasive communication from the “whistleblower”. When you complain at an airline ticket counter you accomplish more by respectful but firm insistence than by threats and aggression. I know this to be true, because I’ve tried both and have the scars to prove it.

  2. At first, the majority of those dozen retracted papers involved those post-docs, but now I just don’t know what to think.

  3. Why did you believe the 2 postdocs were to blame in the first place?

    All the 12 retracted papers, and this one which under review, involve S. Bulfone-Paus. 6 of the retracted papers, and this one under review involve R. Paus, who is S. Bulfone-Paus’s husband.

    According to Times Higher Education the management of the institute where S. Bulfone-Paus works have written that:

    “The board also noted that, in the absence of any admissions of guilt, it “remains unresolved who carried out the manipulations”. Neither of Professor Bulfone-Paus’ former postdoctoral researchers are authors of the papers currently under investigation.

    It becomes a case of 2 against 1. One should not make an assumption of guilt on the part of the 2 postdocs.

    1. I was led to believe that, initially, those papers involved the two post-docs because that was what the majority of web sites (including Retraction Watch) was alleging.

      And, I don’t think the 2 were completely to blame. I think it’s pretty clear that since these papers don’t include them, there is something deeper going on in that lab.

  4. Thanks, Brad, for your reply.

    I didn’t want to sound pushy, but just to point out what we know so far.

    There is also the issue of the managing director of the institute who has recently resigned his position.

    This is in an earlier post, with my comment.

    I believe he worked with S. Bulfone-Paus, who was one of the 2 other fellow directors, for 5 or more years. Didn’t he ever open his eyes?

    There used to be 3 directors, now there is only one left.

    I think that this episode would make for an opera, something along the lines of Nixon in China:

    Instead of Nixon descending the stairs from Air Force One we could have the directors descending from the steps of the manor house they lived in. Oh! there is also S. Bulfone-Paus’s husband. Hoe does he fit in? R Paus could stay near the top of the stairs, just like Pat Nixon.

    In reply to “markbrent” post June 4, 2011 at 9:23 am
    I wrote to Blood on Feb 20th 2011 with my concerns about this paper. I didn’t hear anything back from Blood for 3 months. Then one day after prof Zwirner posted his “aggressive”, according to “markbrent” “three-part series” (see the article above)about this paper I got a reply confimring that the paper was under review!

    So I have to disagree with “markbrent”. Based on the data being polite does not work.

  5. Clare and Brad, totally agree with your points regarding the “delicateness” of the latest Bulfone-Paus’s paper retraction in view of the roles of her two post-docs. The facts are:

    1. The 12 earlier retracted papers were authored by Bulfone-Paus, Budagian and Bulanova (et al.), HOWEVER:

    2. No papers have been retracted or under question among those authored by Budagian and/or Bulanova, but not Bulfone-Paus.

    3. The latest retracted paper was authored by Bulfone-Paus, but not Budagian, nor Bulanova. Interestingly, the husband of Bulfone-Paus is also among the authors there, so as in the 6 out of 12 earlier retracted papers (not so clear how his dermatology practice and research into hair follicles match with molecular biology of IL-15…).

    4. The above 1999 paper appeared before Budagian and Bulanova started publishing with Bulfone-Paus.

    5. There has been another senior scientist and director of Borstel Centre, Prof. Zabel, involved in publication misconduct.

    So, the conclusion should be: look for the roots of the problem in Borstel and those who are still there, not in those who have already left after working there for a period of time.

  6. The latest from the German language magazine der Speigel.,1518,767653,00.html


    Forgery scandal spreads to the university medical center in Lübeck

    Now the science scandal in the research center Borstel (FZB) in Schleswig – Holstein also spreads to the university medical center in Lübeck. Already last year a manager of the famous Leibniz center, immunologist Silvia Bulfone-Paus, had to retract twelve publications because of manipulated data. Now a committee of the university of Lübeck, according to the information SPIEGEL, is examining additional work of hers including at least six publications of her husband Ralf Paus, who teaches dermatology at the university clinic there. ” This shakes our scientific credibility once more “, according to the Borstel expert on infection Stefan Ehlers said to the SPIEGEL.
    The scandal hits the Research Center Borstel, just to the north of Hamburg, even harder, because only three weeks ago accusation of plagiarism against Peter Zabel, managing director, appeared. ” I have taken precautionary responsibility “, said Zabel which means he has relinquished his office and refers the accusations to be dealt with ” to show the largest degree of transparency “. Thus the investigations in the north count by now as one of the biggest cases of scientific failure of the last years. In the middle of it all stands the research (married) couple Paus. The Research center Borstel management says, according to SPIEGEL, that at least four other works from Bulfone-Paus be included. ” The forgeries are so audacious that one cannot believe it at all “, said doctor Jörg Zwirner involved in the revelations to SPIEGEL. The same probably applies also to a bar charts which her husband Ralf Paus is said to have reused in six publications. Paus said to SPIEGEL that he has demonstrated to the board of inquiry “conclusively”, ” why this accusation and all the implied scientific failure linked are groundless “. His wife replied to the news magazine that her scientific results have been confirmed by independent research groups.



    Update from the German Society of Immunology.

    Scientific misconduct at the Research Center Borstel

    The German society for immunology is shocked at the scale of the accusations of the scientific misconduct towards its member Prof. Dr. Silvia Bulfone-Paus in the research center Borstel, a branch of the Leibniz community.

    As of May, 2011 12 publications from 1999 until 2009 by Prof. Bulfone-Paus have been retracted, she was in each case either first or senior author.

    An external board of inquiry employed by the Research Center Borstel in December 2010 came to conclusion that the manipulation of the scientific results came under the area of responsibility of Prof. Bulfone-Paus. Here 6 publications were retracted by Prof. Bulfone-Paus.

    After tip-offs to manipulations arose in additional publications, so that another 6 publications were retracted by Mrs. Prof. Bulfone-Paus. Additional independent committees were called up at the university for Lübeck and as well as in the university medicine Charité Berlin to clear up the magnitude of the manipulation and the responsibility of the scientists invloved.

    The correct contact with own results is the inalienable basis of each of the scientific activity. Hence, the German society for immunology condemns any scientific misconduct. On the other hand, the responsibility, possible omissions, as well as the active participation in data manipulation of all involved scientists must be checked for a final assessment carefully.

    German Society for immunology, hence, on quick end of the work of the independent boards of inquiry and reserves itself after publication of the results other steps (to take action?).

    Leadership of the German Society of Immunology.

    End of update.

    My comment is that it is odd that the German Society of Immunology is shocked by the “scale of the accusation of scientific misconduct” rather than by the reality, such as the 12 retractions that are mentioned in the next paragraph.

  8. I have just came across two more stories of relevance:

    The hyperlinks at the end of the latter site are amazing.

    I am sure, whoever did the experiments and data analysis, Prof. Bulfone-Paus, as the laboratory head, professor, and senior, corresponding or even first author, must have seen the raw data, the actual blot pictures before any manipulations and also she must have seen the data in progress, i.e. between the experiments, not only the final compillation.

    Just one question: do they have laboratory journals with every experiment recorded and all results atached to the corresponding page over there in Borstel, i.e. have they heard of GLP (Good Laboratory Practice) at all?

    1. Although the graphic below does not exhibit the gymnastics, for example rotation and stretching of original images which then pretend to show something else in later publications, which are explained in “The hyperlinks at the end of the latter site (which) are amazing” mentioned above, the graphic is about at the level that my brain can manage. One control panel from one mouse of a particular strain published in 1997 appears with exactly the same distribution of cells as a control panel for another mouse from a different strain in a 2000 publication!

      found in (and of course in Nature Medicine and Transplantation),

      In earlier ages this would have been taken as a miracle! Can anybody see the face of Jesus in the distribution of the cells?
      I think that they may really be onto something.

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