Irish university strips student of PhD following investigation

maynoothMaynooth University has revoked a former student’s PhD following an investigation into the circumstances that led to two previous retractions in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

During the investigation, Aisha Qasim Butt admitted to some misconduct in the two papers and the research that made up her PhD, according to a university statement (which you can read in full here):

During the detailed investigation, the student admitted to the falsification and misrepresentation of some research data included in her PhD thesis and in the journal publications.

Maynooth University takes an extremely serious view of issues of this nature and has decided to revoke the PhD degree awarded to Aisha Qasim Butt. This is necessary as the PhD thesis of Aisha Qasim Butt is no longer sufficient to support the award of PhD.

The last author on both papers is Sinead Miggin, a biologist at Maynooth. The university statement exonerates Miggin and the two other co-authors on one of the papers:

The investigation was conducted according to the University’s Research Integrity Policy 2014 and in accordance with the “National Policy Statement on ensuring research integrity in Ireland”.  It was conducted by a four-person panel, three of whom were external to the University.  The investigating panel had relevant international scientific experience and research management as well as legal expertise. It found that the senior staff member who initially reported the matter, Dr Sinéad Miggin, and the two other researchers, Dr Suaad Ahmed and Dr Ashwini Maratha, were in no way complicit with the actions of Ms. Butt and thus have been fully exonerated of any wrongdoing. The University would like to thank them for their co-operation in the investigation and their professional forbearance during this very difficult time.

We covered the retractions of both papers — “14-3-3ϵ and 14-3-3σ inhibit Toll-like receptor (TLR)-mediated proinflammatory cytokine induction” and “Modulation of TLR3, TLR4 and TLR7 mediated IFN-β, Rantes and TNFα production by HIVEP1” — in 2014.

Miggin sent us this statement:

I became aware last year of inconsistencies in figures presented in two papers published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.  I realized that the papers needed to be withdrawn and alerted my University.  Maynooth University then began a very detailed and independent investigation which looked through all aspects of the work. During the course of that investigation, one of the co-authors, my former PhD student, Aisha Qasim Butt, admitted to the falsification and misrepresentation of some research data included in her PhD thesis and in the journal publications.  The investigation found that Dr Suaad Ahmed, Dr Ashwini Maratha and I were in no way complicit with the actions of Ms. Butt and thus we have been fully exonerated of any wrongdoing.   This has been a tremendously difficult time for me and I would like to thank all those who have supported me during this period.  Given that I withdrew the papers appropriately and have fully cooperated and been exonerated after a year-long investigation I now consider the matter concluded.

Butt and Miggin also co-authored a 2013 paper in the Journal of Immunology, as well as  a 2012 review article in Proteomics about the potential role of viruses in treating cancer.

In 2013, Miggin issued a correction to a PNAS paper after a figure “appeared incorrectly;” that paper did not include Butt on the co-author list.

We’ve been unable to track down contact information for Butt. We found a site that lists her as a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Stephen Pennington at University College Dublin, but she is not listed in another page describing current members of the lab. We’ve contacted Pennington to see if she is currently working in his lab. Her LinkedIn page also notes she worked as a postdoc at Trinity College Dublin.

Pennington referred us to University College Dublin, which sent the following statement:

UCD has been made aware of the action taken by Maynooth University in revoking the PhD degree of Aisha Qasim Butt.

Consequently a detailed local investigation has been initiated in relation to the work Aisha Butt has been involved in during her time at the UCD Conway Institute.

Update 11/20/15 5:52 p.m. eastern: We’ve updated the post to note that Pennington responded to our question about Butt’s status in his lab by referring us to UCD.

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