NIH neuroscientist loses second paper, again the result of first author misconduct

Stanley Rapoport. Source: NIH
Stanley Rapoport. Source: NIH

Stanley Rapoport, a neuroscientist in the National Institute on Aging, isn’t having a lot of luck with his first authors. One committed misconduct and cost him a paper in the journal Age last year, and now he’s lost another paper with a different first author, but for the exact same reason.

The latest paper, in Neurochemical Research, examined whether chronic doses of aspirin reduce brain inflammation. It has been cited 14 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge.

Here’s more from the note:

This article has been retracted on request of the Editor-in-Chief. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has found that Dr. Mireille Basselin engaged in research misconduct by fabricating and/or falsifying data in “Basselin M, Ramadan E, Chen M, Rapoport SI, Anti-inflammatory effects of chronic aspirin on brain arachidonic acid metabolites. Neurochemical Research 36 (1) 139–145, 2011.” Figure 2a–e was falsified. Please note none of the other authors are implicated in any way. Each of the co-authors of the manuscript has agreed to this retraction.

Some of the wording even feels similar to the signed note from Rapoport that was included in the Age retraction:

The NIH found that Dr. Fei Gao engaged in research misconduct by fabricating and/or falsifying data in Figures 1-7 and Table 2 in “Aging decreases rate of docosahexaenoic acid synthesis secretion from circulating unesterified α-linolenic acid by rat liver. Gao F, Taha AY, Ma K, Chang L, Kiesewetter D, Rapoport SI. Age (Dordr). 2012 Mar 3,” and therefore I request a full retraction of this paper. Please note, none of the other authors were implicated in any way.

Stanley I. Rapoport

In 2012, Basselin and Rapoport issued a correction to a paper about neuroinflammation in the brains of rats with HIV, following errors in the molecular weights listed in three figures. The two authors appear to have published a number of other papers together.

John Dahlberg, deputy director at NIH’s Office of Research Integrity, couldn’t comment on this case specifically, but explained how investigations work at ORI:

In general…institutions often will request retractions/corrections of articles which their committees have found to warrant such actions prior to ORI completing its review, assuming that ORI would have jurisdiction in any particular case.

We’ve reached out to Rapoport, as well as the journal’s editor in chief, Arne Schousboe at the University of Copenhagen.

The NIH email provided for Basselin on previous publications bounced. Co-author Ramadan declined to comment.

Hat tip: Rolf Degen

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5 thoughts on “NIH neuroscientist loses second paper, again the result of first author misconduct”

  1. The post refers to “NIH’s Office of Research Integrity”. ORI is not part of NIH; it is part of the Department of Health and Human Services, which NIH is also a part of.

    Normally this would be a minor point. Here, though, where the retraction notice says that “The NIH found that…”, I would think that it is not referring to an ORI finding, although it could simply be mistaken too.

    1. Frank, you are correct, ORI is not part of NIH (not since it was OSI from 1989-1992).

      But NIH conducts its own investigations and makes its own findings of research misconduct.

      NIH notifies ORI at the start of each investigation, and NIH and sends its investigation reports to ORI for oversight review and administrative actions that ORI pursues against the perpetrator (including debarment from federal funding if warranted) at the HHS level.

  2. It seems convenient to mark a single person for misconduct. Yet, surely, one could argue that a set of authors is a team. Thus, there are some shared responsibilities, at least two. Firstly, a supervisor is supposed to supervise their student. Secondly, all authors are customarily supposed to ensure the quality, coherence and validity of all aspects in a paper prior to submission. Thus, although it is convenient to blame the “first author”, in my opinion, this is not the academically correct position to assume by the team. Curiously, we find a similar situation with a fresh retraction in the Journal of Clinical Investigation:
    The retraction notice states:
    “Following extensive review by an NIH-appointed investigation committee, the NIH found that one author, Stephanie Watkins, was the sole individual responsible for the instances of research misconduct. None of the other authors was aware of the misconduct.”

    1. That’s a convenient position to hold, but is impossible in the real world (at least in bio where data is inherently variable). Most papers have a few experiments that can only be performed by one specialist in the lab. If that specialist changes the raw data on a paper on which you’re an author, you would take responsibility for the fraud? Because you should have fitted CCTV and watched them?

      The supervisor cannot possibility be expected to know when someone is deliberately falsifying the information that they’re provided with. It’s easy to be smug when you haven’t been a victim of a fraudster, I hope all of your co-authors have been honest “Supervision” unless you were watching the data being gathered and kept a copy for yourself for every single figure. If you didn’t do that, you have no way of knowing.

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