Following investigation, U Ottawa lab retracting four papers in the Journal of Biological Chemistry

A University of Ottawa lab has been forced to retract four papers from the Journal of Biological Chemistry (JBC) after an investigation of image manipulation.

According to an email from a university official obtained by Retraction Watch, a university investigative committee had “found substance to the allegations,” although it claimed it could not disclose details “due to their confidentiality.” The university requested that the JBC withdraw a November 2005 paper, and left it to the journal to “determine whether the other articles should also be withdrawn or if they can be corrected. ” And they took the issue to the agency that funded the work:

The University has also informed the CIHR of its recommendations and actions, in accordance with the Agency’s Ethics and Integrity Guidelines.

The four papers, from Ashok Kumar’s lab, share three two authors: Kumar, Jyoti Mishra, and Sasmita Mishra. The Mishras — Sasmita and her husband Jyoti, who is an author on three of the papers — since relocated to the University of Georgia.

A source familiar with the case told us that Sasmita Mishra, the first author on two of the papers, had manipulated gels “to make them look better — in her opinion — for publication.”

When the image-shopping came to light, Kumar’s lab provided backup data for the affected experiments, or, when such data were no available, conducted the studies again. In the end, our source said

all the data has either been substantiated by original work or by another person.

The Mishras, who are husband and wife, had left Ottawa for Georgia by the time the inquiry began. According to our source, the internal investigation produced no penalties, although it did lead to a call for more explicit training regarding the proper handling of images.

The papers are as follows:

The second paper was already the subject of a correction this past August:

Fig. 3A (upper right panel) shows an alteration of a lane (10 μm PD98059) that was not detected at the time of manuscript submission and that is contrary to the Journal of Biological Chemistry guidelines. Herein, we provide an alternative figure that shows that the ERK inhibitor PD98059 inhibited Vpr-(52–96)-induced ERK activation in a dose-dependent manner. THP-1 cells were treated with the indicated concentrations of PD98059 for 4 h, followed by stimulation with 1.5 μm Vpr-(52–96) peptide for another 2 h. The legend of this figure remains unchanged. The data support the published observations and therefore do not impact the interpretation of this figure or the central conclusion of this article.

We’ve tried to reach Kumar, the University of Ottawa, and the Mishras for comment, and will update with anything we hear back.

Update, 7 a.m. Eastern, 12/5/11: Kumar tells us by email:

The university conducted an in-depth investigation into this issue. It concluded that one of my student misrepresented some of the figures. As per the report, these misrepresentations did not impact the interpretation of the figures or the manuscript. Moreover, there was no issue of reproducibility of data as the originals/alternate originals and the reproduced data were provided to the committee. However, in accordance with the journal guidelines, we have withdrawn these papers.

Update, 5 p.m. Eastern, 12/11/11: The paragraph beginning “The four papers…” has been corrected to reflect the fact that Jyoti Mishra is only on three of the papers.

Update, 8:30 a.m. Eastern, 12/12/11: We heard back from Sasmita Mishra, who said she had been traveling for two weeks and didn’t often check her University of Georgia email because she has left that institution:

Some clarification for the withdrawal of JBC papers.

To make it clear, I am only the first author of two papers. I do not take any responsibility for misrepresented figures of other two papers (first author-Wei Ma), because I was not involved in making any figures in those papers. I conducted some experiments; however, they were not included in any of the misrepresented figures. 

I said in clarification to the university that I did a high level of contrast to some of the figures (me as first author). I would like to clarify that I did not manipulate the gel what your report says. I handed in all of my original data to Dr. Kumar before I left. He showed the data to the committee. I agree some of the figures appear to be manipulated; however, I have no idea who did it. My data were sent to many different people for reviewing and I normally get it from Dr. Kumar’s computer after correction and save in my computer. I did not pay attention that it was not my original data, because they look similar. With that much volume of figures, it is hard to check everything in 200% magnification, if anything is wrong. No one including Dr. Kumar pointed it out about those misrepresented figures which could have been fixed before submission to JBC.

My 2005 first-authored JBC paper where Katrina Gee is one of the authors did not contribute anything except giving fine tune to my figures.

I saw the updated page today, not sure what does it mean, just striking Jyoti Mishra’s name instead of deleting his name from the page. I am glad you paid attention and did it. That information was completely wrong. Jyoti Mishra is the second author of two papers and fourth author of third paper. Why his name is highlighted in the first page? He is not responsible for any of these figures. How about the first author of other two papers, nothing mentioned about her name (Wei Ma). I do not take any responsibility. I clarified to University about all of my first authored-paper  figures, but not for her (Wei Ma) papers. Based on Dr. Kumar’s statement, it looks like I misrepresented figures in all of the papers. That statement is giving wrong information.

In scientific publication, all the authors contribute and publish. I do not think it matters if Jyoti Mishra is my husband or not. In my opinion, it does not look good to mention about my relationship with Jyoti Mishra in scientific issues.

Jyoti Mishra has also left a comment.

16 thoughts on “Following investigation, U Ottawa lab retracting four papers in the Journal of Biological Chemistry”

  1. The more I read about retractions, the more I wonder where scientific and personal integrity have gone. Is the world of science so cutthroat as to advancement that such “cheating” to get ahead is becoming more widespread than it has been?

    I’m saddened by this state of affairs.

    1. All is gone with the wind.
      As long as the consequences do not rise to the level of the misconduct, many of us can join the dark side

      1. But is there no ethical standard that is akin to the canard that one cannot be a “little pregnant.” Perhaps I can see it if the “dark side” means the transgressions do not alter the experimental results. But if they bear directly that seems not “dark side”, but outright fraudulent. But maybe my sense of right and wrong is overdeveloped thanks to Sister Eugenio Marie!

    2. What I mean is very simple, if change your data is any shape or form (I agree 100% with you that there is no such thing as little pregnant), then all what you get is a little slap on the wrist, but you can keep your lab and money. Nothing else happen. Even if you are fired, you can find another job. There are no real consequences.
      It will be easy for those who struggle to secure funding, who try to keep their 2-3 tech/post doc working, to almost justify “the little pregnant” and join the crowd.
      With reduced funding and increased competition, the problem will only get worse, unless we take drastic actions

      1. How do these “little changes” compromise the data or conclusions that could be drawn? If they do not, then seems “no harm, no foul.” So what is the big deal?

        Changes to data or completely made up data is entirely different and for which there is no forgiveness.

        There is something I seem to be missing here regarding the psyche of the researcher. Or is it ego?

        What could be done to help preclude tampering?

    1. Bernard: I’m not following your thread of reasoning. What does “They always get prizes” mean?

      Thanks for helping me understand here.

  2. Hi, I am Jyoti Mishra. Since 2 weeks, I was traveling and had little access to internet. Therefore, I am little late to go through your report. For your clarification, I am not involved in any misrepresentation of figures for these four withdrawn papers.

  3. An investigation was carried out, leading to retraction of four papers, but no other penalties. One author, Dr Kumar, says his student misrepresented the figures, and an unnamed source said she had “manipulated gels”. The student, Sasmita Mishra, says that she was not responsible for the misrepresented figures, and says Dr Kumar’s “statement is giving wrong information”.

    Is the student to blame or is she being used as a scapegoat?

    Perhaps an answer can come from another paper, J Immunol 2004, 172: 318–330. Look at Fig. 10A. Compare AP-1 blot lanes 1-3 with lanes 7-9.

  4. Would you publish the same result illustrating an experimental control in four different papers ? I mean it’s just a positive control, it doesn’t add much and it works every time with every cell line… so why go through the trouble of actually doing the work, right ?

    Mishra et al., J Biol Chem 280(29): 26825, 2005. Figure 2 control ionophore treatment/EGTA wash for CD14 transfected THP-1 cells

    Mishra et am., J Biol Chem 280(45): 37536, 2005 (retracted). Figure 2A control ionophore treatment/EGTA wash for THP-1 cells

    Wa et al., J Biol Chem 282(18): 13351, 2007 (retracted). Figure 2A control ionophore treatment/EGTA wash for THP-1 cells

    Gee et al., J Immunol 178:798, 2007. Figure 2A control ionophore treatment/EGTA wash for primary human monocytes

  5. strange enough, no body has thought about involvement of Dr.Kumar when all the papers retracted belonged to his lab…..even if student did something wrong, it simply cant go unnoticed from the supervisor, certainly not for 4 times…while the authors of 4 papers are somewhat different, the lab is again of Dr.Kumar….how can a malpractice be transferred from one person to another unless its a trend of lab….and why the same authors didnt do anything wrong after coming out of that lab… could be that Dr.Kumar has favored or even provoked or may be compelled students to commit this manipulation but off course he cant be doubted as he is an ALMIGHTY supervisor…..its unfortunate that in science supervisors are vested with so much powers, that student can never think of fighting them……for anything, a reference from supervisors is considered the final word, irrespective of what the applicant is worthy of…and its not strange that supervisors use recommendation letters as a tool to blackmail students….

  6. The University said it had “found substance to the allegations,” although it claimed it could not disclose details “due to their confidentiality.”

    Dr Kumar said “The university conducted an in-depth investigation into this issue. It concluded that one of my student misrepresented some of the figures.”

    The student said “I do not take any responsibility for misrepresented figures of other two papers (first author-Wei Ma), because I was not involved in making any figures in those papers.”

    It seems that either Dr Kumar or the student (or both) is not telling the truth.

    The student was not an author on one of Dr Kumar’s publications that contains questionable images (J Immunol 2004, 172: 318–330. Look at Fig. 10A. Compare AP-1 blot lanes 1-3 with lanes 7-9).

    Whose reputation is the University protecting by not disclosing the detailed findings of its investigation?

  7. I am wondering if this is a more global problem within Canadian biomedical science? Just a simple search shows that there is number of Canadian papers retracted during last 10-12 years. Four paper retracted form the same lab (A. Kumar’s lab)!!! Do you really believe that Dr. Kumar didn’t know what was happening in his lab? Dr. E. Cohen (also Canada) paper retracted from EMBO, 2000; Dr. Cen paper retracted from Retrovirology, 2011. All papers are in HIV field! What is going on? How many papers are not retracted, but have fake or “manipulated” data? We already know that it is impossible to reproduce data published by several Asian groups (specially Chinese), but I was expecting more scientific integrity from Canadian scientists. I agree with Schmuck that situation will get worse with reduced fundings. I guess this is what is happening in Canada righ now.

    1. In my opinion, canadian scientists who hire middle eastern and asian students will turn a blind eye to this type of behavior. Theyve got lots at stake, free labour and a reputation as fostering international collaborations. These “scientists”, may also receive international funding or cross apointments to asian or middle eastern universities. Ive told my supervisor of specific incidences where an iranian PhD student falsified data for grant proposals and published figures. His response: nothing. If anyone cares enough to check, and if anyone gets caught, its not their fault, its the student. Win-win. As an honest student, there is nothing we can do. We know whats happening, who is doing it, but we remain slaves to that reference letter.

  8. “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark”, oh no, pardon me,
    Something is very rotten in Canadian Universities!

    I have personal experience with Canadian university, where the misconduct flourishes, the investigation committee is trampling on the university’s own Codes of ethics and Frameworks to deal with misconduct, and the Integrity Office is covering up everything!

    There is a proverb that “A fish starts to smell from its head”.

    No wonder that >Canada does not have an ORI or an ombudsman there are many more cases that will remain hidden<, (Michael Briggs)
    Yes, something is very rotten in Canadian Universities!

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