New Jersey university biologist earns funding ban for doctoring more than 40 images

John Pastorino
John Pastorino

A researcher has agreed to a five-year ban on Federal U.S. funding for research after the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) determined that he had falsified or fabricated more than 40 images in nine papers.

The findings, released by the ORI today, are another chapter in a case involving John Pastorino, a cell biologist at Rowan University. In February, we reported that two journals had issued expressions of concern (EOCs) for six of his papers.

Pastorino, according to the ORI, 

falsified and/or fabricated Western blot data for mitochondrial function related to cell/tissue injury, in fifty-eight (58) blot panels included in forty-two (42) figures in eight (8) publications, one (1) unpublished manuscript, and one (1) grant application. In the absence of valid Western blot images, the Respondent fabricated and/or falsified quantitative data in associated bar graphs, statistical analyses presented in figure legends, and related text.

The researcher, says the ORI,

duplicated images, or trimmed and/or manipulated blot images from unrelated sources to obscure their origin, and relabeled them to represent different experimental results.

Six of the eight published papers, from the Journal of Cell Science and Biology Open, are the ones subjected to EOCs earlier this year. The other two are:

The ninth paper was an unpublished manuscript submitted to the Journal of Cell Science. All told, the eight published papers have been cited more than 200 times.

Pastorino, who agreed to a five-year Federal funding ban, did not immediately respond to a voicemail and email seeing comment. The ORI findings do not say anything about retracting the papers.

This is the ORI’s second announcement of a finding within a week.

Update, 11 a.m. Eastern, 5/13/16: Rowan University tells us that they required Pastorino to retract all of the published papers, and that

The respondent is no longer employed at Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine.

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10 thoughts on “New Jersey university biologist earns funding ban for doctoring more than 40 images”

  1. Why aren’t there any stronger consequences of research misconduct?
    The five years exclusion program is all to soft, and why does not ORI demand
    the articles containing falsified data to be retracted

    1. My impression is that they go easier on people who admit what they did and agree to some conditions. It’s sort of like in the justice system where you get a lighter sentence if you plead guilty.

      However, I agree with you that these penalties are not enough. I can see making a deal with someone who fudged one paper. However, when someone is making a career out of lies, and when there are multiple papers involved, I think that person should not ever be funded to do science again. I’d honestly be in favor of jail time for the worst offenders.

  2. What dismays about this finding is that yet again ORI has failed to exercise a simple option -well within its authority and recognized by the NIH- to insure some form of correction to the literature occurs. This is because the wording of the Federal Register Notice (FRN) makes no mention whatever about a recommendation for retraction, either by the institution or (baring that) by the ORI. Had the FRN included that language, the NLM NIH would have inserted a “Comment” Link to the result of the any PubMed search yielding the publication at issue. That link would then enable researchers to see the details of what was found to be falsified, irrespective of whether the publication was ever retracted. See “Further Correcting the Literature: PubMed “Comments” Link Publications to PHS Research Misconduct Findings,” ORI News Letter Sept 2011, p.4 ff. at

  3. The observation by “Anonymous” (about wasted dollars) above reiterates the importance of NLM-NIH providing a readily accessible source of information relevant to results of its PubMed searches, used in the course of normal research activity, that links publicly available information about a selected paper. In the case of an ORI finding, Comment Links should be a simple closed loop since the ORI finding, the NIH Guide for Contracts, the Federal Register Notice about the misconduct, are all under the big happy family called the PHS. (the same is not true for the NSF.) “Comment” links are/were *entered manually* into PubMed database, after ORI sends a notice to NLM-NIH at case closeout indicating the dreaded word “retraction” has appeared in a PHS finding. That means this is a process governed only by policy and human decision, not only at ORI, but also at NLM. Technically, NLM-NIH should not need cover to link information the is already available in the public domain. If they can do it for GenBank, etc., why not for other databases like the Federal Register or the NIH Guide? Action to correct the literature should not depend on magical trigger words appearing in the MHS finding.

    Admittedly, I don’t know why the ball was dropped in this case (or in others). But those interested in looking for accountability could find out whether the institution fat least fulfilled one step of the process (i.e., by recommending retraction) by making a FOIA request to the ORI for the institution’s report, since the latter is made available in closed misconduct cases.

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