Corrections in PLoS One, Nature Medicine for Zhiguo Wang, and details about Montreal Heart Institute investigation

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PLoS One and Nature Medicine have issued corrections for papers by Zhiguo Wang, the former Montreal Heart Institute researcher who resigned in September following an investigation into image manipulation in his lab. 

In September, PLoS One told us that they were investigating the paper. Here’s the text of the correction for “Transcriptional and Post-Transcriptional Mechanisms for Oncogenic Overexpression of Ether À Go-Go K+ Channel:”

It has been brought to the attention of the PLoS ONE Editors that Figure 1d in this article is a duplication of Figure 3a included in the authors’ previous publication: Xiao J, Lin H, Luo X, Luo X, Wang Z miR-605 joins p53 network to form a p53:miR-605:Mdm2 positive feedback loop in response to stress..EMBO J. 2011 Feb 2;30(3):524-32. Epub 2011 Jan 7.

The authors would like to apologize to readers and to the editors of EMBO Journal for this error. The corrected Figure 1d that should have been included in the PLoS ONE article can be viewed here:…

The PLoS ONE Editors have followed up with the Montreal Heart Institute Research Centre which, after an investigation, indicated that the duplication of the figure was caused by a mistake during the preparation of the manuscript.

Nature Medicine’s correction of “The muscle-specific microRNA miR-1 regulates cardiac arrhythmogenic potential by targeting GJA1 and KCNJ2:”

In the version of this article initially published, lanes from the original blot shown in Figure 2b (NIZ and IZ samples, blotting for 55-kDa Kir2.1 and GAPDH) were rearranged in the published figure. The two lanes at the far right of the published blot were on the far left of the original blot, so that the sequence of the lanes in the original blot was as follows (from left to right): IZ (WT miR-1 + AMO-1), IZ (MT miR-1), NIZ, IZ, IZ (AMO-1), IZ (WT miR-1). We have added white space to indicate that the blot is not continuous in the HTML and PDF versions of the article.

Editors’ note: With regard to the above article, the editors wish to notify readers of Nature Medicine that the Montreal Heart Institute announced on 2 September 2011 that an investigation had found evidence of misconduct in publications from the laboratory of Zhiguo Wang at that institution. The committee in charge of this investigation recommended that several publications from Z. Wang’s laboratory be retracted (some of which had already been retracted over the summer); in addition, his laboratory at the Montreal Heart Institute was closed. One of the papers investigated was the Nature Medicine paper listed above, for which the corresponding authors were Z. Wang (affiliated with the Harbin Medical University, China and the Montreal Heart Institute, Canada) and Baofeng Yang (affiliated with the State-Province Key Laboratories of Biomedicine-Pharmaceutics of China and the Institute of Cardiovascular Research, Harbin Medical University, China). The investigating committee’s report stated that they did not find evidence of misconduct for the data in the Nature Medicine paper that was generated at the Montreal Heart Institute; namely, Figure 1a (“CAD human” data only) and Figure 2f,g. According to the report, the remaining data in the paper were not generated at the Montreal Heart Institute and were not investigated. In correspondence with Nature Medicine, both Z. Wang and Yang stand by the data in the Nature Medicine paper. However, Z. Wang noted that, for Figure 2b, lanes from the original blot had been rearranged in the published figure, for which we are publishing a Corrigendum in this issue.

Wang has now retracted six papers.

We’ve also learned some new details about the case, from Wang’s point of view. Wang gave an interview to the Montreal-based Chinese weekly “Seven Days” on September 6. A subscription is required to read the original article, but a copy of it was posted here. A kind Retraction Watch reader has translated large parts of it for us:

At the end of May, I received a call from a friend who told me: “I heard figures in your papers had been re-used.”

The friend said that the same band appeared in two papers’ Western blots. I immediately asked everybody in my lab to stop their work and to thoroughly investigate past data and repeat the experiments reported in those two papers.

After I returned to Montreal in early June, I printed out all the material relevant to the two papers and the results shocked me: Indeed, images were re-used! On 5 June, the editorial office of the Journal of Biological Chemistry contacted me saying that somebody reported our papers to the journal, alleging figure re-use.

The difference between the figures could not be discerned by the naked-eye; a special computer technique must be used to manipulate the images to see the difference. I decided to thoroughly investigate the matter. So on 10 June, I took the initiative to retract the two papers from JBC.

Many friends, the media, and institute officials took beef with my decision to retract the papers. Because [they thought] the mistakes were not serious and [I] could explain them clearly. But I believe that a scientist should live up to the highest standards. If I myself first discovered the mistakes, I could write a letter to correct them.

But readers first discovered them, so I investigated the reasons. [I] never thought that the stringent requirement to which I subjected myself would cause me so much trouble later on.

Wang went to China in mid-June:

On June 20 and 21, I received letters from two other journals’ editorial offices, also saying my papers have been reported to have re-used figures, and asking me for an explanation.

In order to minimize the negative impact on the journals, the [Montreal Heart] institute, the University [of Montreal], my collaborators and my students, I wrote to the institute and submitted my resignation request. I also said I would take full responsibility and continue to cooperate with the inquiry by the institute.

The institute’s immediate reaction to my resignation request was negative. [It] said as long as I could explain the reasons, it would be fine; there was no need to resign.

July 11 was a date I will never forget for the rest of my life. A friend of mine in Hong Kong forwarded me an anonymous email whose address could not be traced and whose English was lame. The email had 9 attachments, all PowerPoint slides. I compared the 9 PowerPoint attachments with “reader’s letters” journal editors forwarded me, and they are exactly the same. A friend found the name of the “reader” because [he/she] had used a home computer to write the letters, who turned out to be a technician in my lab.

Knowing who had played a trick on me was very helpful, which explains why we couldn’t see the problems but this “reader” could see them. Only the perpetrator knew that when necessary, flipping the images by 180 degrees would show them to be the same. I soon found evidence on lab computers to prove that this person tampered with [the images]. My dereliction of duty was that I didn’t discover the problems in time; I placed too much trust on my technician.

I returned to Montreal on August 6. The institute told me that they had done their own inquiry: took away lab notes, talked to two students, they would send me a letter asking me to strengthen internal oversight and that would be all.

On the morning of August 9, I received 4 calls from TV and print media all of a sudden. Obviously, somebody was using the media to stir up things.

Actually, we have no evidence anyone was using the media to “stir up things.” What happened was that we covered the story on August 8, after a tip from someone unrelated to the case, and the story was picked up by PostMedia and the CBC. Wang recounts part of that experience:

That afternoon I received a call from a CBC journalist asking me a few questions, which I answered. He then requested an interview, but I declined because the inquiry was still ongoing. However, I didn’t know he had recorded the questions and answers. He immediately called the institute to request an interview; the institute also declined. Then he said professor Wang already accepted an interview which had been recorded. This made institute officials very angry at me. But at this time, they still agreed objectively with my answers that I didn’t commit any fraud, my data were all correct, and the only problem was figures being re-used.

From then on, in order to avoid the media, I had no choice but to obey the institute’s arrangement to stay at home and not to answer any phone calls.

On August 30, the lab called and said that technician had been ordered to remove [his/her] personal belongings from the institute and leave immediately.

On the morning of September 2, the HR department called and asked me to see the director. I thought it was good news. But as soon as I entered the director’s office, he told me they had made a decision, a very difficult decision. Because we only found evidence to show that the technician tampered with figures in two of the papers, because it was done on a home computer, but no evidence to show the same person tampered with the other 5 papers because that was done on lab computers.

In the 8-page inquiry report the institute gave me and in the resignation agreement I signed with the institute, there was not a single sentence saying I personally committed fraud; on the contrary, [they] said I never committed any fraud, nor did I ever suggest or lead others in my lab to commit fraud.

The details offer a good deal of insight into what Wang meant when he wrote in three retraction notices that he “takes full responsibility.” We wrote at the time that the notices suggested he “acted alone,” but our commenters pointed out that we couldn’t know that. As often is the case, our commenters were onto something.

Hat tip on PLoS correction: Uwe Vinkeiemer

43 thoughts on “Corrections in PLoS One, Nature Medicine for Zhiguo Wang, and details about Montreal Heart Institute investigation”

  1. So now it sounds certain that the technician was responsible for at least some of the image manipulation, but more than one scenario seems possible in terms of what the PI was responsible for.

    The image manipulation may have been done by the technician with the active encouragement of the PI; this can even be indirect in the form of ‘We really need these results – I don’t care how you get them…’. Then perhaps because of subsequent events, the technician turned into a whistleblower. Although it might be seen as unlikely that a PI would knowingly take a risk like this (involving fraud that can be spotted in the online paper itself), the evidence shows that people involved in research misconduct always assume they will never get caught.

    Wang’s version of events seems to be in summary that the technician acted purely alone in manipulating the images without the knowledge of the PI. Then after the papers were published the technician turned into a whistleblower, destroying many careers in the process, all as part of a premeditated ‘trick’. Put another way, was this career sabotage on a grand scale involving multiple papers in prestigious journals over the course of years?

    Fundamentally, whichever version is true, the PI is, perhaps sadly, still responsible. Even if Wang’s version is right, can you imagine being responsible for a person in your lab who over the course of years produces papers that pollute the field with multiple fraudulent publications, and despite being corresponding author you don’t realise it? Wang seems to have accepted this from early on in the proceedings given his June offer of resignation (rejected by the institution); this suggests a strong sense of responsibility with regard to research integrity.

    In the end there are no winners in such a case.

    1. “The image manipulation may have been done by the technician with the active encouragement of the PI; this can even be indirect in the form of ‘We really need these results – I don’t care how you get them…’. Then perhaps because of subsequent events, the technician turned into a whistleblower.”

      Congratulations. You are 95% correct. You made a mistake on the last part. The technician became the perpetrator, whistleblower and, ultimately, the scapegoat.

  2. It is surprising that these two papers only require corrections. In fact, there two papers shared the same Western blot images but for different proteins. In Figure 4D of Lin et al, PLoS One. 2011; 6(5):e20362, the blot bands for E2F1 are duplicates of those for Cx43 (bands 2-6) in Figure 2a of Yang et al, Nature Medicine 2007; 13(4):486-491. It is more surprising that a part of the same Western blot was also used for Nkx3.1 in Figure 5G and NF-kB in Figure 6G of Lin et al, J Cell Physiol. 2007; 212(1):137-147 (retracted).

    In addition, the Western blots for GAPDH in Figure 4D of Lin et al, PLoS One, 2011; 6(5):e20362 are duplicates of two other papers they published previously. The left three bands are duplicates of those in Figure 5B of Lu et al, Circulation 2010; 122(23):2378-2387 (the right three GAPDH bands for Cav1.2), and the right two bands are duplicates of the GAPDH bands (flip horizontally) in Figure 5A of Zhang et al, Cell Physiol Biochem. 2007;19(5-6):225-238.

    Clearly, these duplications have not been investigated by the Montreal Heart Institute.

  3. MagicEye: It has become clear now that all these duplications of data in different papers whether it is for the same protein or different protein do not make any sense. Institutions and journals are so immune to those alerts – suspected investigators keep on publishing the same thing and keep on getting grants in all parts of the world. This is the reality…Some one should put an end to these irregularities by seriously punishing the investigators….may in our dreams….

  4. Still can not imagine why the technician choose to do the misconduct and then report it to destroy his own career and others.

    A suicide bomber?

      1. Technician can always get a job somewhere else, doing something else for the same money…. The PI is destroyed…

  5. Wang’s own version of events is too elaborate to be believable. Moreover, it does not address the core issues. Sadly, pinning everything on technicians, grad students, postdocs is a standard operating procedure in such situations. Of course, these people are conveniently silenced before they are dragged through mud and the Oswald (“he acted alone”) is pulled on them.

    1. All I read into his comments above was that its probably more complicated than him “acting alone” as the bloggers here originally thought. His statements to the press likely tell one side of the story. The technician would likely tell another side. It would be nice to hear what some of the other authors have to say. Clearly things went wrong on multiple levels.

      It is worth pointing out, since chirality seems to think Wang is pinning everything on his co-workers, that the retraction notice in Journal of Cellular Physiology reads as follows: “The corresponding author, Zhiguo Wang, takes full responsibility and apologizes to the editors and readership of Journal of Cellular Physiology for any negative impact this may have on the journal.”

      Who is ultimately the originator of the inappropriate data manipulation that appears in the papers seems to still be in question. Wang fingers the technician, but I can’t say we know the whole story. Its not clear that MHI has the full story either. We have no information on anyone confirming the details of Wang’s story. There are common co-authors between Wang’s papers. I’ve read absolutely nothing to suggest these people have been “conveniently silenced” as you suggest. Have a link for that? Misconduct proceedings are typically confidential, but it sounds like this case is wrapped and Wang is talking. What’s stopping them? Regardless, at best Wang failed in his oversight duties as PI across a large number of papers, by my count 6 retractions and 2 corrections. He took responsibility for this and resigned.

      Chirality, I’m guessing you’re a chemist based on that name. Contrast Wang’s resignation with Sames lack of one – at least 8 papers were implicated in that case too.

      1. Wake up! There is no technician. This will turn out to be systematic fabrication by the PI, just like it almost always does (there are exceptions). Who do you think writes the papers in his lab? The technician? No technician in my lab is writing any papers as far as I know. Most post-docs don’t write their own papers for crying out loud. He writes the papers, assembles the figures etc etc. He knew EXACTLY what was going on and is probably the only one involved.

      2. You cannot take full responsibility for something and, with the next breath, blame somebody else for the same thing. Having said that, it is very unlikely that the PI was the only person aware of the data manipulation being perpetrated. Somebody else had produced the original data, so they must have noticed that the published stuff looked somewhat different.

      3. Dave: you’re overzealous and making assumptions based on absolutely no facts. Antidotal evidence and your ‘gut’ don’t count. Your comments here are irresponsible at best, libelous at worst. If you have evidence for your assertions, provide it. If not, STFU.

        I’ll point out that in the infamous Schon case it has been shown beyond a reasonable doubt that the post-doc was to blame. The PI (Batlogg) failed in his oversight, but Schon made up the data, graphs, etc; wrote the papers and apparently submitted them. The independent and external review in that case was clear. Large number of papers retracted. Look it up.

        Dave, you’re ignorant. You haven’t done your homework. Not all labs work like yours. You’re making unfounded, anonymous accusations. Grow up.

        Like chirality said in the second post: “it is very unlikely that the PI was the only person aware of the data manipulation being perpetrated”. These people also have responsibility. Chirality, I agree Wang should not put all the blame on the others after making the statements in the retraction notices. He can’t have it both ways.

  6. It’s hard to know what to believe. The story is elaborate, but stranger things have happened.

    What I don’t understand is why Wang submitted his resignation before it was requested, and before the whole story was in. If I were innocent, I would not immediately resign, especially if no one asked me to. It seems like falling on one’s sword, a little too heroic. But who knows? The world is a strange place.

  7. What really doesn’t wash with Wang’s version of events, is that a “special computer technique” is required to visualize the manipulations in the images. That’s why only the anonymous “reader” was able to see them, because they made them.

    What? Anyone with cataracts can see the images are manipulated! There’s no special computer trickery going on here, just good old flip/stretch/crop. If Wang didn’t spot this, it’s because he wasn’t looking hard enough. It’s a pretty lame defense IMHO.

  8. I have never read such a load of rubbish in all my life. Are we seriously supposed to believe this? It is insulting. I literally laughed out loud when I read parts of this article. It is simply unbelievable that the Montreal Institute would cover this up and, as usual, pin the blame on an unidentified tech. Pathetic.

    These papers should get retracted. Period.

    MagicEye – you need to pass on your analysis to the journals. I am sick of these “PI’s” doing this and the journals coming up with half-baked corrections when a retraction is the only option.

    1. Most PIs do not do any experiments

      Most PIs do not prepare fugures.. this is a mundane task that a postdoc or student can do.. the PI in most cases will put his expertise into writing the paper…

    2. I don’t think it matters if you believe it or not, as it’s pretty evident from your comments that your mind was already made up, and no amount of clarification would convince you. Also, Canada is a bit different in terms of how it goes about misconduct–the confidentiality laws are much stricter [than the US].

      I agree with you about the retractions, however.

  9. scienceobserver: what do you mean? it is not the responsibility of the PI here? We do have lot of examples discussed on Retraction Watch – which are the actions of PI. PIs were once a student or postdoctoral fellow once – this act he/she has done during that time, he/she can keep continuing…therefore, the above rule that PIs do not prepare figures etc does not apply to all, i guess…

    1. And there are lots of examples on this site (and elsewhere) which are not the direct actions of the PI. So what. Wang admitted to failing in oversight duty, retracted, and resigned. Did he do (or fail to do) more? I don’t know. His story is complex, but sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. I don’t understand why the reporter that took Wang’s interview didn’t also interview other key figures: track down this supposed technician or get statements from the other coauthors. Wang’s talking, why not them?

      Wang took responsibility for oversight, but fingered others for the data falsification. I’ll believe him on the oversight, but reserve judgement on the rest as more facts emerge. Magic Eye found some more suspicious figures in other papers. These papers also have other common authors with the other retracted work. I want to know what these people have to say. There are 15 authors on the Circulation paper.

  10. There are strong opinions here because we all care about the truth, but in my view this case has been dealt with in a reasonable manner. As far as we know no law has been broken by any researcher. Academic institutions are not police forces, and it just isn’t realistic to expect them to go into forensic detail on every aspect of a case like this, particularly when the PI has admitted that there is a major problem.

    The bottom line is as follows: the PI has, in statements published by journals, taken responsibility for very serious issues with multiple papers and resigned from his employment. Irrespective of employment status, the scientific reputation of this lab is in ruins so anyone working in the field will now be extremely wary of any paper originating in this lab, whether the paper was retracted, corrected or left untouched. In summary the necessary steps have now been taken to protect the community from pre-existing and future fraud by this lab.

    As I’ve said before, this is an unusual case. Did anyone notice that Wang never seems to have received advice from a lawyer? And that he didn’t appeal against the verdict that ended his career? This suggests that his major concern has been about his scientific reputation rather than how he could escape from his predicament (or simply prolong the process) in employment terms. From my understanding people who knowingly commit fraud tend to bring in lawyers very early on in the process in an effort to obstruct and stall the employment processes relating to misconduct, and appeal any verdict which criticises them in any way. Wang’s case seems to have been dealt with very rapidly (in a few months) precisely because he didn’t bring in lawyers but addressed the issues in scientific terms, and then didn’t appeal.

    So what is much more worrying to me is the cases where the fraud is less obvious to an external party (i.e. less easy to prove definitively simply by reading the papers), the PI challenges and stalls the employment procedures via the use of lawyers and appeals, and the process drags on for years by which time many institutional and journal staff have changed! The institution can simply arrange a sham investigation which never produces a clear output and the matter can be allowed to drift under the carpet.

    This almost certainly happens many times more commonly than what has transpired here.

  11. One Two: There is no need to make it personal. You are defending him. That is your right and it is also my right to criticize him. There is nothing libelous about it whatsoever. I also stated in my post that there are exceptions to my overall impression that the PI’s are at fault. It has been said on here hundreds of times now: regardless of who did what, the PI takes ultimate responsibility. That’s it. Period. Full stop. End of story.

    1. Right, and the PI in this instance did take full responsibility. So what more do you want?

      Your comments could be borderline libelous. But, since you don’t use your real name, I’d just assume your opinion is worth less than any other anonymous person on the internet.

      1. You’re right. How dare I question this whole episode. I take it all back. I have nothing but the upmost respect for this researcher.

      2. Oh, and for all those people screaming LIBEL LIBEL LIBEL. I have proof that backs up my claim that nobody else is to blame here.

        Exhibit A:

        I would like to emphasize the following sentence in each retraction:

        “The corresponding author, Zhiguo Wang, takes full responsibility and apologizes to the editors and readership of Journal of Cellular Physiology for any negative impact this may have on the journal.”

        Here is my point Mr Casali. You ask what more do I want. He earlier took “full” responsibility for the duplicated images. That is full responsibility. Then in this interview, he starts to blame others and then miraculously claims that he wasn’t even found guilty of misconduct by his employer. Again, this is despite the fact that the official press release from the MHI clearly states that he was fired for breaching their ethical standards.

        Now, I’m no lawyer but if he wanted to sue me for libel, he would have to prove:

        1) That someone else was unequivocally to blame and therefore my claim that I do not believe this story is unfounded. Seems unlikely since he is already on the record taking FULL responsibility (see exhibit A).
        2) That his reputation was tarnished further by my comments. Following this whole episode and given that he has been fired, had his lab closed and (possibly) misused federal research funding, it would be very difficult to claim my comments have further dented his reputation. As you rightly point out, my opinion is worth as much as any anonymous internet poster.
        3) That my statement was malicious in intent. My comments are not personal. I am simply saying that in my opinion this story is far fetched.
        4) That I am not simply expressing my opinion. I have stated over and over that this is my personal opinion.
        5) That I have no proof that he is 100% responsible (see exhibit A again)

  12. A direct quote from the MHI press release

    “In compliance with the recommendations of the committee and senior management of the Research Centre, the MHI’s Executive Director took the immediate action to proceed with the necessary sanctions; Mr. Wang’s research privileges and status as researcher were removed and his laboratory was closed”

    It is worth remembering here that he was fired. The language is unambiguous and his statement that he signed a resignation agreement is misleading at best. It is also interesting that in his last sentence above he claims that:

    “…there was not a single sentence saying I personally committed fraud; on the contrary, [they] said I never committed any fraud, nor did I ever suggest or lead others in my lab to commit fraud”

    That is interesting, since in the aforementioned press release it states:

    “Following a rigorous process, the expert committee concluded that Mr. Wang was found to have deviated from MHI’s ethical standards of proper scientific conduct and his responsibilities as a researcher”

    Am I just imagining the contrast in the two statements?

    1. Dave: You’re not imagining it, you’re just not reading very carefully. Deviation of ethical standards could mean that Wang failed in his oversight capacity: gross negligence. You don’t know.

      Above, you claimed that there was no technician. You’ve not backed that up. That was not stated as opinion by you, but fact.

      Do you claim to be some sort of scientist? I’ve read all the posts on Wang here and all your comments. You jump to conclusions and look for data points to support your position. You ignore statements contrary to your conclusion (declaring them lies, but offering no proof). Then you made up a data point to support your position (Wake up! There was no technician!). I see a poor excuse for a scientist in you. I hope you’re not a PI or ethics officer anywhere. Again: grow up.

      You made it personal to me way back on the first discussion thread about Wang. As I spoke in generalities about misconduct, you made personal attacks against me, and tried to call me out. One ill turn deserves another.

      1. I’m pretty sure my interpretation of the press release leaves little room for ambiguity. I don’t have to back up my opinion that there was no technician who was responsible 100%. He has already admitted (officially) full guilt. That’s all there is to it really. You can’t come back later on when all is said and done and shift the blame on unidentified and anonymous technicians. I have every right to doubt the story based on the history of it and it is perfectly reasonable to question his assertion that he did nothing wrong at this point. Let’s make it clear, he is saying above that he was not found guilty of misconduct. That does not seem at all consistent with the facts of the case (see my proof below and the press release etc).

        I have noticed that you are highly protective of Dr Wang. Even going back to the previous articles on him. I admit my position is one-sided, but your stance is also not balanced. You seem almost blinkered over his role in this case. Why is that?

        I have never personally attacked you, yet you repeatedly do it to me (grow up, STFU etc). There is no need for that. I am presenting an alternative view to you and you abuse. Is that scientific?

      2. Dave, read your comments in quotes:

        “Because the “technician” does not exist.”

        “I don’t have to back up my opinion that there was no technician who was responsible 100%”

        More like you won’t because you can’t. You didn’t state it as opinion. You stated it as fact – even used scare quotes. Tell me why your lies are better than anyone else’s. You have every right to doubt Wang’s story but you have no right to make things up.

        “I have never personally attacked you”


        “I’m assuming you’re a PI from your post…. You take the fall. I can’t even be bothered to type out why this is the case as you should know this”

        I guess in your book that’s not abuse. I found it insulting and abusive. In your own words, I can’t even be bothered to type out why this is the case as you should know this.

        “You seem almost blinkered over his role in this case. Why is that?”

        Because I am a PI. Because I’ve had to deal with people that have tried to make up data and publish it with my name to it. Because I’ve had to fire and expel students for doing so. Because those I’ve fired haven’t always gone quietly, leading to long, drawn-out, and painful proceedings. Because this happened even though I’m not one of those PI’s you complain about that tells the students to “give me the results, I don’t care how” – I tell them that I just want the truth – if its a bad result, thats what it is. Yet still they lie and cheat for no better reason than that they think it will help them and they can get away.

        You too seem almost blinkered over his role in this case. I’ve stated my beef. What’s yours?

  13. Oh dear, why do they always have to cut corners and use the same picture over and over again? It would be much safer to run 20 gels of a protein and then use them in 20 publications while making sure that no picture is used more than once. I blame poor forgery ethics for this.

    1. True. There are probably more sophisticated ways to do it, but all of these blots probably would have gone unnoticed but for the domino effect that is typical with these types of retractions.

  14. One-Two: I have no more desire to ignite the situation with you any further. I admit that perhaps I could have expressed my opinion in a tone that was more appropriate for this blog. I was not aware that the situation was so sensitive for some readers. I apologize if you feel abused by my comments, but it is just an online blog. No big deal. Let us see how this story unfolds and agree to disagree on the particulars.

    I understand that you have been burned by your own staff. There is not much you can do about that except install the right values and ethics in your team. However, it sounds as if you have caught it before it has gotten serious for you. That’s great and you are doing your job. My opinion is that the kind of systematic misconduct in this story is very unlikely without the knowledge/consent of the PI. It just does not wash with me that he was unaware of the situation. I’m sorry, that is just how I feel. Science is heading in a direction that is not good, where personal achievement and fame outweigh the value of the research we are supposed to be doing. I share your frustration here.

    I also feel that it is the lowest of the low to blame your staff. That is not leadership and is wrong on multiple levels. This is especially true AFTER he has taken full blame officially (and been fired) and AFTER the confidential report has been filed where nobody can check/repute his claim. Finally, the technician in question is not known and cannot answer for his/herself. I don’t think that is fair, whether he is a PI or not. He has been found guilty. He should just let it go.

    That is honestly my opinion.

    1. Dave: I no longer wish to push it with you any further either. When you write as you do in the post above, I have more respect for your opinion. I agree: lets see how it unfolds and agree to disagree until then.

      To move to a broader issue, installing the right values in the team is, unfortunately, not enough. Some will do the wrong thing despite whatever training or culture you try to put in as a PI. It takes constant vigilance. I use to think I could trust my students/techs, especially the older and more experienced ones. I can’t.

      In general, I feel it is true that the massive fraud cases usually have some connection to the PI. Sometimes its active fraud or sometimes its negligence. My experience shows me how a massive case could start at the tech/student stage. Its my understanding that’s what happened in the cases I’ve sited above. In my case I had several papers worth of half-real/half-fake crap I’m very glad I didn’t submit. I have no doubt it would have got through peer review somewhere. It had me fooled for a while, and peer review is a bad joke. Then I’d have been in a world of hurt and I’d probably resign. I considered resigning anyway. Why should I work so hard for the so-called opportunity to work with people like that?

      I also feel that it is low for staff caught red-handed to try and use the PI as a shield. PI’s aren’t omniscient and they can’t know what everyone is doing all the time. My experience is that the PI’s power is limited just like their time is – students and techs tend to think PI’s have more power and resources than they actually do.

      The excuse that “the PI (devil) made me do it” is BS. We all face pressure and have to choose to respond appropriately. If its normal pressure, but you can’t hack it, leave. Hell, that’s what I thought of doing. If its inappropriate pressure (i don’t care how, just give me the result or you’re fired), leave and report. If PI is faking, do the right thing like in the Poehlman case. Making stuff up or plagiarizing is not an option. If I can amend your statement, it would read that it is the lowest of the low to try and blame others for your own misdeeds. And that is my opinion.

      1. I think it cuts both ways: Unless the PI is actively doing experiments with his or her lab (aside from doing them him or herself), they can’t really know if any data manipulation has taken place, by just analyzing the data presented to them outright. They could ask for the raw data, but then again, that may circumvent any trust that’s been established.

        On the other hand, aside from blame or allegations that have been established to have occurred elsewhere (e.g. the technician, grad student, janitor, etc.), the PI, in my opinion, takes a lot of the responsibility in the fact that his or her name is on it and it occurred in his or her lab. I think this is inherent in the fact that they are a PI and it comes with the responsibility. I think that Wang did the right thing in any case, regardless of the alleged make-believe technician or janitor.

        But then again, all scientists (technicians, graduate students, post-docs, and PIs) have the same responsibilities in reporting the truth regardless of their degrees, positions, and/or pay grades.

  15. Brad Casali: Totally agree and I guess if nothing else this episode has highlighted the importance of indicating in retractions who exactly is responsible. Perhaps it is not always appropriate for the corresponding author to accept responsibility if he/she genuinely was not aware of it. But what is the solution? Surely you cannot just come out in a retraction notice and say:

    “We retract this manuscript because the corresponding author has discovered that his technician, Mr Smith, used Photoshop to manipulate the Western blot images in Fig 1a. The author simply inserted the image into the manuscript as-is and was not aware of the manipulation until an anonymous tip arrived in his mailbox”

    As correct as this may be, I just can’t see it happening although I can recall a few notices where this kind of fraud has been implied. It just doesn’t come across as terribly believable.

    1. Well, if the retraction notice supports what actually happened, then I would find it to be appropriate. Though, as you mention, there have been a few retractions which read like: “After an internal investigation of research misconduct, this paper is now retracted because author XYZ manipulated Figures 3, 4, and 5.”

      As the website has so nicely illustrated, most retractions are so scant that the ones that detail everything strike us as somewhat odd. I personally prefer this.

    2. I agree, Dave and Brad.

      One issue to consider is this: a misconduct investigation is typically confidential and time-consuming. They can take months at the least, sometimes years if there are appeals. If the PI discovered Fig 1a contains problems (tip or whatever) and starts the misconduct process, the confidentiality of the process now conflicts with the desire to retract or correct the paper in a full-disclosure way. I don’t think any ethical co-author would want to leave a paper with bad data in it sitting in the literature for months before they can retract. I think some opaque notices/misconduct-implied notices result from these competing interests. Of course, this could also be a direct attempt to obfuscate if the PI is the culprit. I don’t know what the solution is to this.

      A notice of concern from the authors would be a de facto retraction/correction. I’m not even sure how one would write it. “We write this notice of concern that Fig 1a has inconsistencies that impact the conclusions of the paper. Inappropriate behavior may be involved. We will update the readership of journal X after the external investigation is complete. The authors thank an anonymous tipster for pointing out the inconsistencies” I don’t see how to you get the author(s) implicated in Fig 1a to sign off on that. And if you don’t get them to sign off, then you’ve compromised the confidentiality of the misconduct proceeding.

  16. Dave, One-two, and Brad Casali: the different opinions from you are reasonable based on your own individual research environment. I believe you guys would agree with me that the fraud pub isn’t acceptable, right? No matter who did the fraud, PIs, techs, or posts, they just publish articles using the fabricated data for different purposes, e.g. career, job, degree, etc. The articles with fraud should be retracted, it doesn’t matter what the retraction statement is. We all don’t want to read such a ‘wonderful story’ made with fabricated data.

    To avoid (or stop) the misleading publications with fraud, journal editors should take the serious responsibility with zero tolerance for any forms of fabrication, falsification and plagiarism. The authors with fraud publication(s) should be prohibited publishing any more data in this specific journal. It is interesting to read the discussion
    “Why editors should stop ignoring anonymous whistleblowers: Our latest LabTimes column” at

    1. David: You’re getting at the point I tried to make above before I read your comment. We love full disclosure, but its not always possible due to competing ethical principles.

      Bans could be a tool in an editor’s repertoire of ways of dealing with misconduct. Funding agencies have them too. I have no problem with that. I disagree with zero tolerance at the editor’s office, however. You’ve now put up a barrier to one author outing the problem and made it harder for them to turn into a whistleblower. If a student/tech/post-doc coauthor gets evidence the PI is undertaking misconduct, its already hard to do the right thing. If the PI discovers the problem and does the right thing to retract, now you’ve provided incentive to cover up the misconduct to avoid the automatic ban and given the student/post-doc/tech blackmail ammo. There is already the stigma of retraction, we should not make it harder to do the right thing. The editors should have multiple tools for dealing with these problems.

      1. One-two: Completely agree. Both Journal editors and Funding Agencies should do something for the misconduct. Good point for the bans for authors. I meant these authors are the first and correspondence (PIs) authors, who should take full responsibility for their data. This may not be a barrier for other co-authors to turn into a whistleblower. If journal editors take the responsibility with the zero tolerance for any forms of fabrication, falsification and plagiarism, the uncovered problem from a whistleblower can be taken into consideration seriously.

        By following the instruction from the readers MagicEye and DK, you will see how important for journal Editors in dealing with the articles with the fraud. After editors of Nature Medicine and PLoS ONE allowed the authors to correct fabricated (manipulated) data at a very limited point by ignoring other evidences of the fabrication.

        The reader MagicEye stated on December 13: “It is surprising that these two papers only require corrections. In fact, there two papers shared the same Western blot images but for different proteins. In Figure 4D of Lin et al, PLoS One. 2011; 6(5):e20362, the blot bands for E2F1 are duplicates of those for Cx43 (bands 2-6) in Figure 2a of Yang et al, Nature Medicine 2007; 13(4):486-491. It is more surprising that a part of the same Western blot was also used for Nkx3.1 in Figure 5G and NF-kB in Figure 6G of Lin et al, J Cell Physiol. 2007; 212(1):137-147 (retracted).

        In addition, the Western blots for GAPDH in Figure 4D of Lin et al, PLoS One, 2011; 6(5):e20362 are duplicates of two other papers they published previously. The left three bands are duplicates of those in Figure 5B of Lu et al, Circulation 2010; 122(23):2378-2387 (the right three GAPDH bands for Cav1.2), and the right two bands are duplicates of the GAPDH bands (flip horizontally) in Figure 5A of Zhang et al, Cell Physiol Biochem. 2007;19(5-6):225-238.

        Clearly, these duplications have not been investigated by the Montreal Heart Institute.”

        The reader DK said on December 14: I do not care who did it. Just let you know that there is another possible reason for retraction of the PLoS ONE paper.

        He (she) pointed on December 15: Funny thing is that only Fig 1a, Fig 2f,g and Fig 2b in the Nature Medicine paper are mentioned by them. There are more you have to take a look in Fig 2

        If editors ignore these evidences, what you can do?

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