A second investigation into work co-authored by Paul Morgan, a dean at Cardiff University, has cleared him of research misconduct, but has found that Rossen Donev, a former researcher at the university — who has already retracted one study — falsified images in four papers.
As we reported last August, Cardiff “initiated its Procedure for Dealing with Allegations of Academic Misconduct in Research” after Science-Fraud.org and pseudonymous whistleblower Clare Francis brought concerns about several studies to the university’s attention. That followed an earlier investigation into work by some of the same authors. Cardiff has now completed its report, whose findings were first reported by the BBC and Times Higher Education.
According to a university release, the panel, led by a former Cardiff circuit judge, found that (quoting here):
- All allegations of misconduct against Professor Paul Morgan were rejected;
- All allegations of misconduct against co-authors, with the exception of four charges against one former University employee, were rejected;
- Allegations of misconduct – namely falsification – against a former University employee were substantiated in respect of images contained in four articles;
- The Panel found that Professor Paul Morgan – as co-author on these four articles – was unaware that this individual had included manipulated images in articles. The Panel also noted that no-one, including other co-authors, peer reviewers or journal editors, had spotted these discrepancies prior to publication;
- The Panel concludes the former University employee should take sole responsibility;
- The Panel recommends that Cardiff University establishes and promotes standards for the publication of images of gels and blots. Alongside this, training of staff on these standards should be provided.
However, as the Times Higher Education points out, Cardiff cleared Donev
of the more serious charge of fabrication. This is because it did not find any reason to doubt the validity of the articles’ underlying science.
The THE reports that the panel
…says Professor Morgan should have “taken more resolute steps” to ensure Dr Donev left his source material with the department “for safe-keeping, as is understood to be the normal practice” and should have checked the original image files before the papers were submitted to the journals. Professor Morgan told the panel he now does this routinely.
In the university statement, Morgan said:
In order to ensure the highest academic standards are maintained it is necessary and right that allegations of research misconduct are assessed and investigated thoroughly.
The University has examined more than forty published articles in relation to my research group and no additional findings of academic misconduct were made.
However it is a matter of deep regret that the actions of one individual has had such a profound effect on the academic reputations of my colleagues and myself.
We’re not sure which four papers the report refers to. Science-Fraud.org and Francis had raised concerns about five papers, in Cancer Research, Pharmacogenomics, Arthritis & Rheumatism, Clinical & Experimental Immunology, and the Journal of Biological Chemistry. The original retraction was in the Journal of Immunology. Cardiff tells us that the editors of the journals that published the four papers were sent the final report earlier this week, so the decisions to retract will be up to them.
We’ve also tried to contact Donev, now at Swansea University, for comment. In December 2011, he told us that the first Cardiff investigation “came to a conclusion that there had been no intent to deceive or perpetrate fraud.”