Biologist with five-year funding ban earns 7th and 8th retractions

Biology OpenA biologist in New Jersey has retracted two more papers, bringing his total to eight retractions, following a finding by the U.S. Office of Research Integrity (ORI).

The analysis of the work of John Pastorino, previously a cell biologist at Rowan University, in Glassboro, concluded that he had doctored more than 40 images, resulting in a five-year funding ban.

The report flagged eight published papers (and an unpublished one), six of which had already received expressions of concern (EOCs). Nataly Shulga was a co-author on all eight papers. With these two new retractions in Biology Open and Biochimica et Biophysica Acta (BBA) – Bioenergetics, all of the flagged papers have now been retracted.

Here’s the retraction notice for the Biology Open paper, issued July 15:

This Research Article has been retracted at the request of the corresponding author, John G. Pastorino.

This notice updates and replaces a recent Expression of Concern, published on 21 January 2016 (see Supplementary information).

Biology Open was alerted to potential blot duplication and reuse in this article. These concerns were relayed to Dr Pastorino, the corresponding author, who responded with an explanation and original data. Following review of these data, we felt unable to resolve this matter at a distance, so contacted the authors’ institution (Rowan University) and requested that they investigate further.

Following their assessment, Rowan University required that Dr Pastorino retract this paper. Dr Pastorino also entered a Voluntary Exclusion Agreement with The Office of Research Integrity (ORI); the agreement can be found here:http://ori.hhs.gov/content/case-summary-pastorino-john-g.

ORI found that Dr Pastorino intentionally falsified and/or fabricated data, and specifically, that he “…duplicated images, or trimmed and/or manipulated blot images from unrelated sources to obscure their origin, and relabelled them to represent different experimental results in:

 • Figures 3A and 6B in Biol. Open 2015” (doi: 10.1242/bio.014712).

The PDF of the retracted article is available as Supplementary information.

The 2015 Biology Open paper, “Fructose sensitizes pancreatic beta cells to TNFα-induced necroptosis,” is yet to be indexed by Thomson Reuters Web of Science.

And heres the retraction notice in BBA Energetics:

This article has been retracted at the request of the corresponding author as part of his agreement with the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) of the US Department of Health and Human Services. https://ori.hhs.gov/content/case-summary-pastorino-john-g

It was found in an investigation performed by ORI that the Western blot presented in Fig. 2A was falsified or fabricated. On behalf of all authors, the corresponding author takes full responsibility and apologizes to the readers of BBA Bioenergetics for submitting and publishing the erroneous article and any inconvenience caused.

The paper, “Sirtuin-4 modulates sensitivity to induction of the mitochondrial permeability transition pore,” has so far been cited 11 times.

According to the ORI findings, Pastorino

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.

Starting April 27, Pastorino also agreed to exclude himself from peer review committees for five years.

In May, Rowan informed us that Pastorino was no longer an employee at the School of Osteopathic Medicine, noting that the institution asked him to retract all papers flagged by the ORI.

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8 thoughts on “Biologist with five-year funding ban earns 7th and 8th retractions”

  1. Was his research Federally funded, and if so, how much money was wasted ?

    Unfortunately, retrieval of such funding, or its equivalent, apparently requires a letter from a US Senator as in the case of Dr.Han at Iowa State(ISU). He was found guilty by ORI and initially received a similar penalty.However, subsequent to receipt of a letter from Sen.Grassley, Han was indicted on four federal criminal charges; the National Institutes of Health rescinded $1.4 million in grants and ordered ISU to repay $496,000 in salary and other costs .

    More of that might give potential offenders second thoughts.

    Don Kornfeld

  2. If ORI feels certain enough to write “intentionally falsified and/or fabricated data”, why only a five-year ban?

    1. A reasonable question! The idea underlying ‘Sanctions’ (in administrative law) differs from that for ‘punishment’ (in criminal law). Sanctions reflect many considerstions, including proper stewardship in public funding, corrective measurements (etc, etc, and further adminstrivia). During my time at ORI, but well before this case, the nature of the imposed sanctions reflected two considerations: The severity of the infraction AND and the evidence for “lack of present responsibility” (yeah, more administrivia, but that means essentially “how incorrigible is the respondent. . . i.e, is there ‘hope’? In reading about this case from the Federal Register, it appears there was cooperation in the process, and agreement for correction of the literature, etc, both good signs and maybe exactly what you are seeing in these retractions. So, while I don’t know the specific answer to your question, I Wpuld hope there was an underlying logic of this sort that was applied.

  3. In this case I agree. Although from a practical viewpoint, a 5-year funding gap is enough to end a career anyway, he’s lost his job, and I can’t imagine who would hire him to do anything except flip burgers after the ORI verdict.

    1. I don’t know about that — Anil Potti, last I checked, is practicing oncology in North Dakota. So he’s probably still eating regularly.

      I certainly won’t have him as a doctor (I check my doctors out pretty well). My previous internist told me that my appointments were like going through the inquisitions he got as a resident. 🙂

    2. Redman has done follow up studies on ORI Respondents( guilty of misconduct): 106 in 8 years; 43 with Phds/MDs. Their conclusion: it is not, as expected, that punishment for fraud caused permanent expulsion from academia.39% did remained employed;28% were employed as scientists in industry and 51% continued to publish. The outcome for trainees obviously had more destructive effects.(1)

      Don

      1. Redman,BK,Merz,JF,Scientfc Misconduct: Do the punishments fit the crime? ,Science, 8August,2008,775

  4. What is the maximum period of debarment? I couldn’t find it on the ORI website. Has anyone seen a longer period?

  5. I can recall 7 yr, 10 yr, and lifetime debarments. (They have not yet extended beyond the grave.) Also, in considering sanctions, keep in mind that the potential consequence for a subject of a PHS Finding extends beyond its duration (and/or its specific intent and scope). For example, being blocked from receipt of federal funding gets really messy if the respondent is a physician whose clinical practice relies on Medicare patients. And fleeing to industry may not be fool-proof route back to unblemished career prospects, specifically if the company that hired you executes a so-called CIA (corporate integrity agreement) to garner federal business.

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