Cancer biologist Rakesh Kumar has chalked up another retraction, this time for “identical,” “duplicated,” and “replicated” figures and images.
It comes on the heels of a flurry of motions in Kumar’s $8 million lawsuit against his employer, George Washington University, for breach of contract and emotional distress because it removed him as department chair last year and placed his research on hold. Kumar remains employed by the university.
The retracted paper, published in Development in 2004, “Metastasis-associated protein 1 deregulation causes inappropriate mammary gland development and tumorigenesis,” analyzed the role of a protein, MTA1, in mammary gland development and cancer. It was published while Kumar was at M.D. Anderson in Houston, and has been cited 81 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge.
By our count, Kumar now has three retractions and five corrections. Numerous anonymous comments on Kumar’s papers have been posted on PubPeer, many of them critiquing images. Here’s the complete notice from Development:
The authors contacted the journal when they became aware of a number of errors involving the re-use of lanes and panels in multiple figures of the paper. Specifically, the vinculin lanes in Fig. 6H and Fig. 1E are identical, and two of these lanes are also duplicated in Fig. 7D. In addition, the vinculin lanes 1-3 in Fig. 7C are duplicated in lanes 4-6, and in Fig. 9 the Bcl-XLbands in lanes 2 and 3 are identical. Finally, Fig. 3B is replicated (with aspect changes) from a previous paper (Fig. 2C of J. Biol. Chem. 278, 17421-17429).
It has not been possible to fully resolve these anomalies, and therefore the authors and the editors of the journal believe that the most appropriate course of action is to retract the article. The authors apologise for any inconvenience this may have caused. This complies with the policies and practices of the journal.
Katherine Brown, executive editor of Development, tells us that all five authors, including Kumar, agreed to retract the paper:
As the retraction statement says, the authors contacted us some time ago regarding the errors in the paper. Having followed our standard procedures in cases such as this, and according to COPE guidelines, we came to the conclusion that a retraction was the most appropriate course of action. All authors did agree to retract the paper.
The retraction is another development in the ongoing drama involving Kumar and GWU. Kumar was hired as a professor and chair of GW Medical Center’s Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in October 2008, with a base salary of $300,000 plus $1.25 million in start-up funds for his laboratory and $2.5 million for the department, according to an appointment letter included as an exhibit in the university’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit.
But following an internal investigation by committee from 2013-2014, GWU found that Kumar “committed research misconduct with respect to ten” of fourteen allegations brought forward by the university’s Research Integrity Officer. Kumar subsequently sued the university.
On April 2nd, GWU filed a motion to dismiss the suit, stating that Kumar “does not set forth facts sufficient to state a claim,” according to the motion for dismissal, which you can read in its entirety here.
Retraction Watch makes an appearance in the motion to dismiss: In the original lawsuit, Kumar alleges
an anonymous source privy to confidential information about the GWU inquiry released the confidential information to the online blog RetractionWatch.com.
In the motion to dismiss, GWU claims Kumar “offers no factual basis” that the information posted on Retraction Watch came from the university, pointing out that the anonymous source posted the same information on Science-Fraud.org in December 2012, before the GWU inquiry began.
On Monday, May 11th, Kumar’s lawyers filed a brief in opposition of the dismissal along with an amended complaint. In the brief, they state that the motion for dismissal is flawed because GWU failed to show that Kumar’s allegations against the university—which include that he was removed as department chair in breach of contract—are not “adequately plead.”
The brief goes onto assert that Kumar does have sufficient claim to breach of contract, in part because GWU failed to
perform a timely annual evaluation of Dr. Kumar’s performance in 2013 and 2014 as promised.
And although both sides appear to agree that Kumar’s service as department chair was “at the pleasure of” the university, the motion states that
Dr. Kumar is protected by the University Faculty Code, which protects him against arbitrary and capricious university decisions without a formal annual evaluation.
Kumar’s brief also gives us a unique window into the internal investigation at GWU. Kumar’s brief alleges that the investigation was “improper” and “unfair”:
As part of its investigation, the Investigation Committee interviewed: 14 current and former members of Dr. Kumar’s laboratory; Dr. Kumar; three members of Dr. Kumar’s office staff; and five additional witnesses.
On April 23, 2014, GW provided Dr. Kumar with 31 interview transcripts. A review of the transcripts makes clear that many of the interviews with additional witnesses and office staff focused on Dr. Kumar’s Chairmanship and character, inquiring, for example, whether the witness thought Dr. Kumar should be Chair, whether the witness knew the term of Dr. Kumar’s appointment, what discussions the witness had had with the dean’s office, and whether the witness knew Dr. Kumar’s wife’s name. The questions asked had little, if anything, to do with the misconduct allegations.
The members of the Investigation Committee engaged in improper and unfair leading questioning that was designed to elicit the response that the questioner desired instead of a search for the truth.
…Ignoring extensive witness testimony that Dr. Kumar was not responsible for the research and figures in question and that there was nothing wrong or disconcerting about the working environment in the laboratory, the Investigation Committee concluded that Dr. Kumar committed misconduct in ten of the allegations.
The brief is surprisingly engaging reading; you can read the whole thing here.
Our numerous requests for a comment from Kumar have not been answered, and his lawyers declined to comment on pending litigation. We’ll update if we learn anything more.
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