Finnish institute finds no evidence to support misconduct in diabetes paper

VTT Research CentreAn investigation at the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland has found no evidence of misconduct by one of its former researchers in a diabetes paper.

We previously reported on the case after the VTT was accused of cutting corners in a previous investigation into Matej Orešič (now based at the Steno Diabetes Center in Gentofte, Denmark)In 2014, the VTT concluded that there was no evidence of falsification or data tampering on the part of Orešič in the 2008 paper published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine (JEM). The proceedings came into the public domain through a news article published in the Finnish media outlet Helsingin Sanomat in February 2016, which prompted the VTT to reopen the case.

Now, the same people who questioned the previous investigation told us they have doubts about the latest conclusions, noting the probe should not have focused on a single paper, but rather on alleged problems within the plasma and serum metabolomics group, previously led by Orešič.

Orešič sent us this report, which the VTT released on June 15, outlining their decision. The VTT confirmed the legitimacy of the report, which says:

The conclusions from all these three independent evaluations were that they were not able to detect violations of good scientific practice in this publication.

One of the investigators, Ville-Petteri Mäkinen from the South Australian Health & Medical Research Institute in Adelaide, says in the report:

I found no suspicious features in the article that would suggest any of the samples, measurements or molecular concentrations were fabricated.

He went further to point out that he came across no convincing evidence that any of the statistical tests were falsified. But, he adds:

There were several technical issues that need attention, but it is important to remember that the first author (as far as I know) is a metabolomics expert, not a statistician, and the majority of the other authors are clinicians or basic biologists.

In the report, Mäkinen says he found evidence of “poorly represented” results and “exaggerated claims” in the title and abstract, but none that he can unequivocally pinpoint as fraud. 

Orešič sent us this statement, dated June 14, which reads:

I am satisfied with the decision and the external examination reports. While the reports raised specific scientific issues typical of critical scientific evaluation such as in peer review, such matters are best discussed within the scientific community using the proper channels.

Kari Raivio, Chancellor Emeritus at the University of Helsinki in Finland who previously criticized the VTT’s procedures, told us he couldn’t comment on the “substance” of the research or the possible misconduct, but, nevertheless, added:

What I find amazing is that the inquiry was strictly limited by VTT to performing a microscopic autopsy on a single article published a decade ago, whereas the original accusations had to do with the scientific practices of the group, polishing and overinterpretation of data, not limited to the article in question.

Kai Simons, emeritus director of the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Biology and Genetics in Dresden, Germany, who conducted an earlier investigation into Orešič’s group, agreed with Raivio’s concerns. Simons told Retraction Watch that the investigation shouldn’t have focused on this one paper, but instead on the fact that many members of the group were unhappy, and unfamiliar with the process by which papers are created from raw data.

Susan King, executive director of Rockefeller University Press — which publishes JEM — told us the journal is still investigating the 2008 paper. We’ll update the post with anything else we learn. 

Update 9/23/16 9:17 a.m. eastern: On September 21, The Council for Mass Media in Finland responded to complaints about Helsingin Sanomat’s coverage of this story. In one decision about this June article, the council decided the publication had “violated good journalistic practice” (based on our Google translate):

Magazine reported that the Institute is embarking on a new report on the scientific fraud. The article erroneously the term “breakthrough in the case”, which gave a false impression of the story treated in the study were used. The magazine is not remedied the lack of information on request.

In another decision released September 21 about this article, the council again said HS had “violated good journalistic practice” (again, based on Google Translate):

Science magazine reported fraud investigated reports. Journal gave readers a false impression of the content of the reports, and restated the essential factual errors.

It continues:

Helsingin Sanomat published a story “VTT’s report did not provide definite evidence of fraud – the liquidators raise the issue of the serious shortcomings in the scientific article”. The story told by three opinions of liquidators, which a government research institute VTT was commissioned to establish a scientific article against scientific fraud suspicion.

The complainant, a researcher who is a suspicion of fraudulent science first author of the article, and that has had a very adverse publicity in the story and the HS’s previous scientific fraud because of dealing with stories. The complainant had requested a correction to several passages of the story. The magazine is not even respond…The council believes that Helsingin Sanomat has violated good journalistic practice and to give notice to the magazine….

It concludes:

It was a material mistake by the Journal did not agree to fix the problem.

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One thought on “Finnish institute finds no evidence to support misconduct in diabetes paper”

  1. Matej Orešič´s case from the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland is an example of how a research misconduct investigation can go wrong, in spite of the fact that Finland has national guidelines for the responsible conduct of research (RCR) and procedures of handling allegations of research misconduct. In addition, all publicly funded universities and research institutes have formally committed to follow the guidelines provided by the Finnish Advisory Board on Research Integrity (TENK,
    The case was mismanaged in several ways. Orešič and the co-authors were not informed why their article published in The Journal of Experimental Medicine (205: 2975-84, 2008) became under investigation. VTT also kept the reports of two external statisticians scrutinizing the article secret, also from the funding bodies. The RCR guidelines are applicable to grant applications as well. VTT should have informed the financiers of Orešič´s research team and assisted them to investigate the truthfulness of the data in the funding applications. VTT´s investigations were focused on the contents of the JEM article and did not include original raw data and funding applications. The external statisticians and investigators could not find fraud in the JEM article, but criticized the scientific quality of the work; the groups compared were small and nonsignificant differences were interpreted as significant. (4Pharma, Tale, Mäkinen, Huhtaniemi; available at
    Figure 2 in the JEM article was used as a representative example of metabolite changes in the development of type 1 diabetes in the funding application from the Academy of Finland and in other connections. There is no clear difference in the metabolite profiles between the progressor to diabetes type 1 in Fig. 2 and its two matched controls, nor is there significant difference between the progressors and nonprogressors in the metabolites except for certain lipids (4Pharma). According to Orešič, he omitted the controls from Fig. 2 because including them would have led to too much material in the article (HS 7.2.2016:
    In our opinion, Orešič and his research group gave at least partially misleading information to a funding body. The deed does not represent fraud, but it should have been investigated whether it represents disregard for the RCR. According to the Finnish guidelines, violations of the RCR include fraud and disregard for the RCR. As one example of disregard for the RCR the guidelines mention “reporting research results and methods in a careless way, resulting in misleading claims.”
    In our recent publication (Räsänen & Moore 2016) we state that researchers need more knowledge and education of the Finnish guidelines on research integrity and misconduct, the guidelines contain poorly elaborated definitions and need revision, slipping from the guidelines occurs quite commonly in the primary institutions and sometimes even in TENK, and appealing to TENK is common, in about 45% of the cases (; see also Moore’s blog posting with our response to TENK:

    Liisa Räsänen and Erja Moore

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