Post-doc fired after explaining image problems in paper to Retraction Watch

Christian Ramos
Christian Ramos

We reported last week on a Portuguese group that lost two papers over mislabeled image files.

Now, we’ve learned that first author Christian Ramos has been fired after speaking to Retraction Watch and offering what seemed like a heartfelt apology (which you can read here).

We’ve reached out to principal investigator Jorge Leitão at the University of Lisbon, and will update with anything we learn.

12 thoughts on “Post-doc fired after explaining image problems in paper to Retraction Watch”

  1. This is very concerning. Originally, Ramos said, remember, that

    “I was responsible for composing the final figures of each paper that we produced, and asked the team members to give me the files. In Figure 8 of this paper, it seemed that there has been a labeling error in the source files, and I did not realize that some images where duplicated in the experiment that was being represented…”

    And he concluded that

    “This situation left me ashamed and infuriated with myself, and disappointed with the team members. Ashamed because I did not perform my job well and failed to see such mistakes, infuriated because I believed that I could trust in the team members, when I should have known better. Disappointed because only myself and the PI made any effort to deal with this situation.”

    In other words Ramos clearly stated that he was not the only one who screwed up, although he took ultimate responsibility. But then he later sent a ‘clarification’ with a quite different tone, this time seemingly saying that he alone was at fault:

    “The errors that were published result from lack of self-verification, and therefore are my responsibility, and all co-authors were completely unaware of them.”

    All of which makes me wonder if Ramos has been fired for – perhaps correctly? – suggesting that the problems in the lab went beyond his mistakes?

  2. The fired author seems to have to take all the responsibility – I do not know the case, persons, journals involved, but perhaps he was not allowed to make any statements, although they appear to be honest, but may bring too much attention to a lab.

    1. Perhaps, but would that be cause for /immediate/ termination of employment? Where I work (UK), and have worked (NL), that would most likely mean a procedure of internal evaluation, warnings, and perhaps eventually someone might get fired if the situation was really obvious and irreparable.
      This case seems neither obvious nor irreparable, from what has come out. That includes statements from the lab head that “a problem with a malfunctioning computer and image storage and mislabeling led to the assembling by one of the co-authors of images that were previously published by our research group”: a malfunctioning computer cannot possibly justify sacking the guy, while (honest) mislabeling seems cause for reorganisation of lab practices but not firing personnel.
      Even when accounting for some mediterranean passion and flamboyance, either this story is covering up some ugly facts, or this post-doc has a great case to make and fight this apparently disproportionate decision.

      (Yeah, Portugal is not on the mediterranean, I Know…)

      1. If – as we’re told – this was purely a matter of an honest mistake, I don’t see how anyone should get fired over it. Especially given how many people keep their jobs after actual misconduct as readers of this blog know.

        Ramos’s statement to RW is also hardly worthy of firing. I can see why it might have annoyed the rest of his lab, but he never named names, and he never suggested that anyone else was guilty of misconduct. He just said that unspecified other people in the lab made honest mistakes.

        1. But I would consider the possibility that he just blamed other people to distract from his wrongdoing. In that case firing him would be exactly the right answer. Just because he talks to RW it does not mean that he tells the truth to RW.

          I hope that there will be some kind of official statement on the situation.

  3. This is really mean, but also too predictable. Someone starts talking and gets sacked right away. This is actually what you learn as young scientist: always look away and keep your trap shut, or it will be your head. Any chance Ramos will now tell what really happened, since they sacked him anyway?

  4. That institution in Lisbon has been pretty quick in erasing Christian Ramos from its pages. He is no longer shown on Jorge Leitão’s website (the one RW has linked to) as a team member. It must be pretty important for some people.

    Remarkably (or maybe just not…), Mr Leitão has not been equally quick in noting the retraction of the J. Bacteriol. article. That article still shows up nicely on top of his publication list.

    Maybe Mr Leitão would like to comment on that to RW? Or, I guess he will not…

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