Want bogus data, million-dollar fraud allegations and a scientist on the lam? We give you Alain Malafosse.
The British Journal of Psychiatry has retracted a June 2013 paper by Malafosse and his colleagues on the genetics of bipolar disorder in children because Malafosse allegedly fabricated key data in the study.
The article, “Childhood maltreatment and methylation of the glucocorticoid receptor gene NR3C1 in bipolar disorder,” purported to find that people with bipolar disorder who had experienced more, and more severe, abuse early in life were more likely to show epigenetic changes. According to the abstract:
Early-life adversities have a sustained effect on the HPA axis through epigenetic processes and this effect may be measured in peripheral blood. This enduring biological impact of early trauma may alter the development of the brain and lead to adult psychopathological disorder.
Not so, the journal now says. The BJPsych has issued a retraction notice (paywalled, unfortunately) stating:
An investigation carried out at the request of the Dean of the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Geneva has concluded that one of the authors (Alain Malafosse) fabricated methylation data. A reanalysis of the DNA reveals no significant correlation between childhood trauma and methylation of the NR3C1 gene. The original conclusions therefore no longer hold true and we wish to retract the paper.
The journal also has retracted an editorial linked to the tainted paper, “Epigenetic traces of childhood maltreatment in peripheral blood: a new strategy to explore gene–environment interactions:”
We wish to retract this editorial as it was partly based on an article that has been retracted (Childhood maltreatment and methylation of the glucocorticoid receptor gene NR3C1 in bipolar disorder. BJP, 204, 30–35).
The study, which was cited four times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge, was conducted with a variety of both government and foundation grants. The BJPsych also published an editorial that touches on the fraudulent study. Titled “Fine ethical judgements on the reporting of research findings,” the author, Kamaldeep Bhui, writes that:
Public education and public health rely on accurate reporting and scientific integrity. It is regrettable that in this month’s Journal, we must draw attention to a retraction (p. 164). The methylation data from this study were fabricated. I thank the University of Geneva for acting so swiftly. Maintaining high standards of conduct are essential if we are to maintain public trust and confidence, and avoid confusion, alarm, suspicion of and fears about scientific advances.
But wait, there’s more. As The Local — a Swiss English-language site — reported in April, Swiss authorities believe Malafosse was behind a $1.9 million fraud scheme to divert government research funding for personal gain. According to the outlet:
The allegations are linked to bills sent to an “external laboratory”, a non-profit foundation based in Montpellier that has the same address as a close relative of Malafosse.
A French citizen originally from Algeria who spent 18 years in Switzerland, he fled from his home in the upscale Geneva neighbourhood of Champel to the south of France, where he apparently has another home, the report from Le Temps indicated.
Malafosse was elected to municipal office in the French town of Saint Brès shortly before the Swiss issued the arrest warrant. France reportedly does not extradite its citizens, so Malafosse may be free to serve his term on the council.