Last month, we reported on two retractions by the former neuroscience and physiology department chair at the State University of New York (SUNY) Upstate Medical University in Syracuse. Both of the retractions were requested by the university after an investigation found that Michael W. Miller had committed misconduct.
Now, the Office of Research Integrity (ORI), which reviews misconduct investigations by NIH grantee institutions, has weighed in. As detailed in the Federal Register, ORI found that Miller falsified or fabricated data in four NIH grant applications, the two published (and now retracted) papers, and one manuscript submitted to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). For example, he
Falsified Figure 5 in NIH grant application R01 AA07568-18A1 by altering the bar graphs to make the experimental results appear valid and consistent with his hypothesis that ethanol exposure in-utero alters the transition of cells from Pax 6 expression to Tbr2 expression, which is critical to normal brain development. Specifically:
a. In the VZ/SZ panel (upper row, right), Dr. Miller decreased the values by 50% for the bar graphs representing control and treated mice for “Tbr2,” “both,” and “both/Ki-67,” to falsely report an equivalent frequency of Tbr2 expressing cells in the right and left panels; this result was required for the experiment to appear valid;
b. In the MGE panel (lower row, right), Dr. Miller altered the bar graphs representing control and treated mice for “Ki-67,” “Pax6,” and “both” to falsely report that ethanol increased the frequency of K-67+ cells and to report an equivalent frequency of Pax expressing cells in the right and left panels.
The ORI report goes on in that vein for a while. The upshot is that in a number of situations, Miller manipulated images to make it appear that exposure to alcohol during fetal development had a greater effect than it actually did.
The report refers only to the two already-retracted papers, Developmental Neuroscience′s “Lability of Neuronal Lineage Decisions Is Revealed by Acute Exposures to Ethanol” and the Journal of Neurochemistry‘s “Functional nerve growth factor and trkA autocrine/paracrine circuits in adult rat cortex are revealed by episodic ethanol exposure and withdrawal.”
Miller, who “neither admits nor denies committing research misconduct but accepts ORI has found evidence of research misconduct,” agreed to exclude himself from “contracting or subcontracting with any agency of the United States Government and from eligibility or involvement in nonprocurement programs of the United States Government” for a year, beginning on February 6, 2012. He will also need supervision for his research for two years after that, and won’t be eligible to serve on any Public Health advisory or peer review committees for three years.
Although the two papers were only cited a handful of times, Miller’s original appointment to the Upstate faculty was greeted with a great deal of fanfare. He is no longer employed there.
Hat tip: Commenter elledr1ver