Regrettable, but not scientifically dishonest: Klarlund Pedersen responds to Danish committee

Klarlund Pedersen
Klarlund Pedersen

A Danish researcher has responded to a draft report of the Danish Committees on Scientific Dishonesty (DCSD) that found she had acted in a “scientifically dishonest” and “grossly negligent” manner.

Bente Klarlund Pedersen, a University of Copenhagen researcher, has published with Milena Penkowa, four of whose papers have been retracted following investigations. In the press, she argued that while she had made mistakes, she had not committed misconduct.

The 57-page letter from Klarlund Pedersen’s attorney to the DCSD responds in detail to the critique of her work, including twelve papers. This passage from the summary gathers the arguments together:

The content of the draft is characterised by an entirely unreasonably strict evaluation of errors or omissions in the information about test subjects provided in two (possibly three) articles. Such evaluation is completely inconsistent with the caution that otherwise characterises and should characterise the evluation of whether certain circumstances constitute scientific dishonesty.

In order to reach the conclusion of gross negligence, the Committee allows itself to become tangled in wholly untenable patterns of argumentation, beginning with the introduction of the new concept of “leading senior author,” from which it shifts from overall project responsibility to overall responsibility for the scientific product and then to a particular responsibility for it, and from there to a more vigorous responsibility which makes any kind of negligence gross negligence, so that a person suddenly becomes dishonest simply because of his or her position as last author and because of negligence in respect of a certain matter that could possibly have been discovered. Such argumentation should not only be characterised as unacceptable conceptual jurisprudence with no empirical foundation; it also implies serious disregard of the clear provisions of the Order stipulating the circumstances in which scientific dishonesty can be established.

The remarks made in the preceding paragraph apply to both the failure to discover the Image Manipulation and the failure to discover the Alleged Errors.

It is a mistake that the Committee fails to fully realise that there is a difference between making a mistake in relation to information about the construction of data and the failure to discover and correct an error made by someone else. The errors, contrary to the manipulations, found in some of the articles are regrettable, but they do not make Bente Klarlund Pedersen guilty of scientific dishonesty. That would require a personally committed serious violation of good scientific practice that was willful or grossly negligent.

Read the entire letter here.

7 thoughts on “Regrettable, but not scientifically dishonest: Klarlund Pedersen responds to Danish committee”

  1. So no one is responsible and the Captain can leave the ship first in the only lifeboat? How convenient, the PI has no supervisory responsibilities, other than garner as many papers as possible from their research team.

  2. Astonishing this is being played out in public – I can’t imagine this could happen in the UK or US where these matters are almost always hidden away behind closed doors, and frequently obvious fraud is downgraded to ‘sloppy work’ (countless RW articles).

    Reading a bit of background this sounds like a complex case involving another researcher (Penkowa). Is there an up-to-date account of what the fraud actually was?

    1. To summarise, Penkowa used research grant money to drive a fancy car, then invented data to support her conclusions. Perhaps the best known single case is her fictitious test of close to two thousand rats carried out at a non-existent facility in Spain. Such “data” buffed out her numbers, supporting the conclusions derived from significantly smaller populations of animals that she tested in Denmark. She also got around some problems by forging signatures from her students. It also seems she may have been aided by a personal connection to the Rector of the University of Copenhagen, and the then-minister of science. mentions a sum of 5.6 million DKK, the 1700 rats, and then-dean Ralf Hemmingsen, now Rector. reports that “irregularities” have been found. Quote: “The panel of international researchers is in no doubt that there is justified suspicion of deliberate scientific malpractice in 15 of Penkowa’s articles.” reports on Penkowa getting a suspended sentence for trying to set up her student assistant for embezzling. reports peripherally on a set of questions submitted by the then minister of science Helge Sander, questions which, perhaps ironically, implied that one of Penkowa’s competitors for a tenure could be benefitting nepotism. Sander has never confirmed that he got the list of questions from Penkowa, but has never named an alternate source.

      The University Post is the internal newspaper at the University of Copenhagen, and as could be expected took quite an interest in the case. You’ll be able to find a couple dozen relevant articles on the case there.

  3. Nobody is going to bother to wade through 57 pages of pompous obfuscating drivel from Bente’s lawyers, so case closed 😉

    Like Kaspar says, the Penkowa case was not just about scientific fraud and embezzlement and Milena’s red sports car with its’ personal number plates (Google it for pictures…). At one stage, as the net was closing in, Milena blamed one of her students (sounds familiar?), which held things up for a year or two. Perhaps the most shocking aspect was the revealing of the nepotism and corruption in publically funded Danish science all the way up to the science minister. But take heart, Milena has recently confessed(?) her sins with the comment “nobody’s perfect, not even me.”

    It is a quote on her own website (in Danish), but translated here:

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