First retraction for Eric Smart, who faked dozens of images, appears in PNAS

Eric J. Smart, via U Kentucky
Eric J. Smart, via U Kentucky

Eric Smart, who as we reported in November was sanctioned by the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) for faking dozens of images in ten papers and seven grants over the past decade, has had his first retraction.

Here’s the December 24 notice, from PNAS:

Retraction for “Annexin 2–caveolin 1 complex is a target of ezetimibe and regulates intestinal cholesterol transport,” by Eric J. Smart, Robert A. De Rose, and Steven A. Farber, which appeared in issue 10, March 9, 2004, of Proc Natl Acad Sci USA (101:3450–3455; first published February 25, 2004; 10.1073/pnas.0400441101).

The undersigned authors wish to note the following: “We chose to retract the paper when the Office of Research Integrity determined the lead author, Eric J. Smart, engaged in research misconduct and falsified and/or fabricated the data presented in Fig. 2B and 2D and Fig. 4 (www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2012-11-20/html/2012-28209.htm). These findings undermine our confidence in the other Western blot data performed by the lead author (Fig. 1B and 1C, Fig. 2A and 2C, and Fig. 3B and 3E) which provided the basis for many of the key conclusions reported. We regret any negative consequences that resulted from the publication of this manuscript.”

Robert A. De Rose
Steven A. Farber

The paper has been cited 98 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge.

A number of stories in the Lexington Herald-Leader since the ORI announcement have revealed more troubling information abut the case. The paper reported in late November that Smart had once been disciplined for sexual harassment, and also profiled the whistleblower in the case. And in echoes of Anil Potti, Smart’s boss wrote him a letter of recommendation after he had been suspended.

Of note, it looks as though Federal Register notices are now hooked up to Medline, which means that any paper mentioned in an ORI report — as this one is — will have a “Findings of research misconduct” link on the Medline abstract. We like this, needless to say.

16 thoughts on “First retraction for Eric Smart, who faked dozens of images, appears in PNAS”

  1. “As soon as UK received Everson’s complaint, officials began investigating. Smart was put on paid leave and was told to work at home. But at least one UK official was looking out for Smart: his then-boss, Tim Bricker, the former chair of pediatrics, wrote him a recommendation letter to the state’s teacher certification agency, calling him “an outstanding teacher.” Bricker is thought to have also removed a letter of reprimand from Smart’s personnel file that detailed his yearlong probation for sexual harassment and creating a hostile work environment in his lab.”

    “Fang also is disturbed by the idea that Everson, the whistle-blower in the Smart case, was let go by UK when at least one UK employee helped Smart find new employment.”

    A bit disturbing.

  2. It certainly appears that this is an appropriate and reasonable conclusion. However, the ORI report does not detail the process by which the conclusion was reached. Who first triggered the investigation? What process was used to check that these many images were inappropriately used?

    In the recent discussions, many have made comments about the need for rooting out fraud, and many (myself included) have indicated that a process for identifying fraud is needed. ORI is pretty much the last step. What is the process that occurred in this case? Is it one that could be used more generally?

    Or putting it more clearly, if you suspect fraud, to whom should it be referred, and how should that referral be made?

  3. This weekend would have been perfect, if only Fraudster was here!

    The skeletons are coming out of their closet lately.

    The whistleblower in this case, as many others, was ‘let go’ for telling the truth!

    And now we can all see, the glaring truth, whistleblowing HAS to be anonymous.

    We can shine the torch on the garbage, and the officials can do the rest. The officials are moving, that we can see. Well done, there are still many good people in science!

    WE NEED MORE WHISTLEBLOWERS, NOT LESS.

  4. Apparently Smart received 4 million dollars in Federal grant support.
    Assuming that over the course of these ten years he submitted some of these fake data in those grant applications, he would be guilty of fraud, a Federal crime punishable by jail or fine.

    Prosecutions can occur if ORI forwards such cases to the Justice Department.
    As I have noted in other posts, a few well publicized prosecutions might have a chilling effect on
    those contemplating similar behavior.

    DSK

  5. “Smart did his PhD at UK and was awarded an endowed chair in 2003. His research brought in $8 million in federal grants, according to the UK, mostly from National Institutes of Health agencies such as the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Smart, who resigned from his position shortly after the first round of investigations was complete in May 2011, was not available for comment but the Kentucky newspaper Lexington Herald Leader reported that he is now working as a chemistry teacher in a local school.”

    The paragraph above is from the Nov 27 issue of The Scientist. An article entitled, A Decade of Misconduct. The 4 million may have been an underestimate. Of course, we don’t know how many of the 8 million dollar grants cited in this article were based on the fraudulent data.

    DSK

    1. Google “NIH Reporter” and open the link.
      In the PI Blanks enter: Smart Eric
      In the Fiscal Year (FY) box, SELECT Check/Uncheck “ALL”
      Submit Query
      You should get a list of NIH grants that list Eric Smart as Principal Investigator.
      Sort by FY.
      Total costs includes direct costs + “overhead”
      Total costs back to FY 2000 add up to more than $8 million.
      Nice work if you can get it.

  6. I find it disturbing that he is teaching in a high school when he has already been charged with sexual harassment with adults. How much worse will he be with vulnerable adolescents?

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