ORI finds Harvard stem cell lab post-doc Mayack manipulated images

courtesy Nature

Shane Mayack, a former post-doc in Harvard lab of Amy Wagers, a rising star in the stem cell field, has been sanctioned by the Office of Research Integrity for misconduct.

Mayack, who has defended her actions on this blog as honest error — albeit sloppiness — and has not admitted to wrongdoing, must undergo supervision if she receives any federal grant funding over the next three years, under the voluntary agreement.

Here’s the notice, which appeared in the Federal Register this week (and which the Boston Globe was first to report):

Based on the report of an investigation conducted by the Joslin Diabetes Center (Joslin) and additional analysis conducted by ORI in its oversight review, ORI found that Dr. Shane Mayack, former postdoctoral fellow, Department of Developmental and Stem Cell Biology, Joslin, engaged in research misconduct in research supported by National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), National Institutes of Health (NIH), grants T32 DK07260–29 and P30 DK036836 and the 2008 NIH Director’s New Innovator Award Program grant DP2 OD004345–01.

ORI found that Respondent engaged in research misconduct involving two (2) published papers:

• Mayack, S.R., Shadrach, J.L., Kim, F.S., & Wagers, A.J. ‘‘Systemic signals regulate ageing and rejuventation of blood stem cell niches.’’ Nature 463:495–500, 2010.

• Mayack, S.R., & Wagers, A.J. ‘‘Osteolineage niche cells initiate hemotopoietic stem cell mobilization.’’ Blood 112:519–531, 2008.

As a result of Joslin’s investigation, both Nature 463:495–500, 2010 (hereafter referred to as the ‘‘Nature paper’’) and Blood 112:519–531, 2008 (hereafter referred to as the ‘‘Blood paper’’) have been retracted by the corresponding author.

Specifically, ORI found that:

• Respondent falsely represented von Kossa-stained bone nodule images in two (2) published papers:

  1. Figure 2B in the Blood paper was copied from an unrelated published experiment in Figure 3, J Orth Surg Res 1:7, 2006, and was used to falsely represent Respondent’s own experiment for bone nodules formed in cultured osteoblastic niche cells.
  2. b. Figure S2c in the Nature paper was copied from an online image for an unrelated experiment (at http://skeletalbiology.uchc.edu/30_ResearchProgram/304_gap/3042_Lineage%20in%20Vitro/3042_01_aCellCult.htm#mCOB) and was used to falsely represent Respondent’s own experiment for bone nodules formed in osteoblastic niche cells from young and aged mice.

• Respondent falsely represented eight (8) flow cytometry contour plots as different experimental results by using identical plots but with different labels and different numerical percentages.

Specifically, the following contour plots in the Blood paper, the Nature paper, an earlier version of the Nature paper submitted to Science (hereafter referred to as the ‘‘Science manuscript’’), and a July 2008 PowerPoint presentation were identical but were labeled differently:

a.   Panels 4 and 2 in Figure 6C, Blood paper, and panels 1 and 2, respectively, in  supplementary Figure 3b, Nature paper

b.      Panel 3 in Figure 6C, Blood paper, and panel 1 in Figure 2, July 2008 PowerPoint presentation

  1. Panels 1 and 2, Figure 2b, Science manuscript, and panels 2 and 3, respectively, in Figure 2, July 2008 PowerPoint presentation
  2.  Panels 2, 3, and 4, supplemental Figure 4A, Blood paper, and panels 3, 1, and 2, respectively, in Figure 4B, Science manuscript

Both the Respondent and HHS want to conclude this matter without further expenditure of time or other resources and have entered into a Voluntary Settlement Agreement to resolve this matter. Respondent neither admits nor denies ORI’s finding of research misconduct. This settlement does not constitute an admission of liability on the part of the Respondent.

Nearly two years have passed since we first wrote about Mayack. At the time, Wagers’ group had just retracted a 2010 Nature paper — with a notable exception: Mayack refused to sign the notice, nor did she sign the notice for the retraction of the Blood paper, which appeared in late 2011.

As she wrote on this blog:

… the readers of Retraction Watch are no doubt aware that in October 2010, a paper that I co-authored was retracted fromNature and a notice of concern was posted regarding a second paper published in Blood.

So, what went wrong?

The answer to that question begins with the fact that errors, not fabrications, were made in assembling figures for these manuscripts.  I am likely the one who made these errors.

Mayack reiterated that position in a comment, through her attorney, to us today:

I remain deeply sorry to the scientific community for mistakes made during the preparation of figures corresponding to some of the work I performed as a postdoc at Harvard Medical School.  These were mistakes in representation and presentation of the data, as corroborated by ORI’s findings of ‘falsely presented’, and were not due to fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism of scientific results.  I am deeply committed to moving forward and strive to contribute positively to the advancement of science, which has always been my utmost interest.

Wagers recently received tenure.

0 thoughts on “ORI finds Harvard stem cell lab post-doc Mayack manipulated images”

  1. When people speak through their attorneys, it always comes across so sincere and spontaneous…
    It is good to know that lifting figures from other people’s publications is not considered plagiarism anymore.

  2. This should not create the false impression that ORI or Harvard acts in the public interest to expose
    misconduct. Both organizations continue to ignore the OHRP findings in the Harvard hip protector study where OHRP issued there final determination last month. OHRP’s final determination was the “investigators” failed to disclose important data about the hazards of their study design. The institutions
    have sent the “investigators” out for retraining—-how does one retrain honesty.

  3. How does one copy the image on this webpage by mistake?
    Unless you were drunk or otherwise intoxicated, it seems to be a fairly difficult thing to do no matter how sloppy you were.

    If you did the experiments why would you copy from such a basic source, if you didn’t do the experiments how is the head of the lab getting away without consequences.

    Faking FACS results is the easiest thing in the world, no one can know what antibody you use, no one can know what cell line or what treatment. To be caught using the same profile 8 times! suggests possibily that pyschologically she wanted to be caught.

    It is difficult to see how anyone that hopeless at faking could make it through a Harvard Graduate Program>. Perhaps she said she spoke Classical Armenian?

    1. As regards the Classical Armenian non-sequiter read here

      There must be more to this story than we are being told. The post-doc involved must have no idea of the techniques that she was supposed to have been using – otherwise she would have faked them more effectively.

      There has to also have been a failure in regards the head of the group – how could she be aiming for a Nature publication on the results of a postdoc that didn’t even know how to run a FACs analyser? How could she be so out of touch with what was happening – or rather wasn’t happening – in her lab?

      As usual the boss walks away smiling

    2. It wasn’t just a copy paste of the image from that website either, it was cropped to remove the original labels plus some additional samples and then rotated and given new labels. The intent is pretty clear in my opinion. This was no mistake. It’s faking data plain and simple.

      Also the way the flow cytometry data is faked is quite sneaky. It’s not the same plot 8 times it’s 8 different plots duplicated in two publications. Also they are spread out across 4 different sources (Nature paper supplemental data, Blood paper, Science submission and a powerpoint file). It would be pretty hard to pick up unless you went through all the documents side-by-side figure-by-figure. Again the fact they were done in such a way suggests that this was all malicious and intended to escape detection. So Kudos to the eagle-eyes at ORI that picked it up.

      You have to wonder if any of the data in these papers is actually real. Alot of these papers are bar graphs so the “raw data” might be stored as numbers excel sheets, which could of course be fabricated. I would be curious to know if the ORI started digging into the raw data (i.e. qRT-PCR amplification plots etc) or if they found the data duplications and the images ripped off from the internet and figured that was enough to rule that Mayack had engaged in misconduct.

      Bottom line: These were no mistakes, Mayack fabricated (and stole) the data.

  4. The story behind the very last link says that Wagers recently became full professor. According to the Bio on her website, she became associate professor in 2009. Harvard might be doing things differently from almost everybody else and grant tenure only at full professor, but my guess is that Wagers received tenure back in 2009.

    1. Harvard does indeed only grant tenure at full professor: http://matt-welsh.blogspot.com/2010/06/how-to-get-tenure-at-harvard.html

      From the story we linked to:

      Department co-chairs Douglas Melton, Xander University Professor, and David Scadden, Jordan Professor of Medicine, presided over the festivities, congratulating the trio on their achievements and welcoming them to the tenured ranks.


      A dripping Eggan said that the tenure decisions of all three coming close together was particularly gratifying, because they all arrived at Harvard at roughly the same time and have come to know each other well.


      Wagers, who gave birth to her son, Henry, two weeks ago, claimed to have a doctor’s note excusing her from the dunk tank. She found out about the tenure decision while in Japan at a stem cell conference. Melton broke the news during a Skype call one morning, and, later that day, Wagers chased the sun home through multiple time zones.

      “I flew back, so the day I got tenure was the longest day of my life,” Wagers said. “I’ve wanted to be a scientist since I was 10.”

        1. Thanks for the question. We think it’s relevant what happens to the career paths of researchers who have retracted papers, no matter what the reason. Is coming forward helpful in getting tenure? Do retractions hurt your risk of promotion? Etc.

  5. Looks like this Shane Mayak also don’t read too good – ORI found that the images in question were used to “falsely REpresent” her own experiments. It is then a question not of sloppy presentation but of false representation. I could see an ooops moment if somebody pastes a LOLcat instead of an experimental figure, but these manipulations have all the trappings of a fraudulent intent.

  6. How this could happen from a Harvard Post doc? She need better punishment for the misconduct. Society are looking towards your original results not to falsified/plagiarized data. Shame of you!!

    1. Hmmm, i wonder what has been done to improve things here……the publications keep on coming….



      Does anyone see a potential problem with the images – any explanations as to why the black boxes may be appropriate for covering up scale bars, but not others?

      An erratum: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24678452

      Is this the end of it?

      1. There has been a reply over in pubpeer from one of the co-authors:

        The image was simply edited to remove the annoying scale bars, we were told. They can get in the way.

        But……..it would be interesting to know why the distance between to distinct points of interest differ in figure S2 (compare Young 2: Pax7 and Merged). On first impression the images are identical, which the authors claim are from the same sample and represent different markers. Points of interest i the different boxes should be the exact same distance from each other, and exact same angle, as they are from the same microscope dataset.

        Here is the interesting bit……

        Copy the image (Young 2: Pax7 and Merged) into software, say, powerpoint, blow it up and take a line to the edge of the merged object (bottom right) up to the edge of the round merged object (upper left). Copy the line you have drawn and place it in the same place in the Pax 7 box.

        You will note the line now does not fit edge to edge but rather goes into each object. Therefore there may have been further image manipulation the authors may wish to explain. There may be an innocent explanation.

  7. I think it is too easy to beleive a PI always can control every little step a postdoc is doing. To some extend the supervisor has to rely on the data provided by the students and postdocs. Since Harvard is a private university it is up to Harvard to look into the details and keep any excellent professors. On the other hand, I once initiated a collaborative project with a former and very successful postdoc from Harvard and invested years into the project. After several years he published without me as last author, or even asked me for co-authorship, nor did he acknowledge me in any way. I then tried to get to the editor, but he refused to retract the paper.

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