As third retraction for prominent physicist appears, university still won’t acknowledge investigation

Despite a university’s attempts to avoid discussing a misconduct investigation involving one of its former (and prominent) researchers, we keep reading more about it.

In the third retraction this year for physicist Dmitri Lapotko, the journal mentions a misconduct investigation at Rice University, which concluded the data had been falsified. Trouble is, whenever we’ve tried to talk to Rice about that investigation, they won’t even confirm it took place.

Here’s the retraction notice for “Transient Photothermal Spectra of Plasmonic Nanobubbles,” published by Langmuir:

The Editor-in-Chief retracts the article entitled “Transient Photothermal Spectra of Plasmonic Nanobubbles” published in Langmuir, 2012, 28 (10), pp 4858–4866, DOI: 10.1021/la205132x. On February 18, 2015, an Expression of Concern was posted on this article alerting readers to an ongoing investigation regarding the published figures in this article, which has now been completed. The investigation by the Office of Research, Rice University, confirmed research misconduct due to data falsification. The expression of concern has been removed upon retraction of this article.

The original article was published as an Article ASAP on February 16, 2012, and was retracted on April 11, 2017.

The 2012 paper has been cited 15 times, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science, formerly part of Thomson Reuters. Last year, a user posted a comment about the paper on PubPeer, suggesting it bears similarities to a 2014 Nature Medicine paper with the same first and last authors.

For the third time, we tried to ask Rice about the investigation, which the latest notice confirms. A spokesperson told us:

We do not comment on the existence or nature of a specific investigation, except to communicate directly to parties who are affected by the investigation.

Last month, we covered another retraction for Lapotko, a researcher with a background in laser weaponry whose work includes using nanotechnology to diagnose and treat human diseases, highlighted by media outlets including the The New York Times and Science.

Eventually, though, questions began to emerge about Lapotko’s work. In addition to the three retractions, he has published multiple corrections, including some describing figure-related errors and duplication (1, 2), and several of his papers have been questioned on PubPeer.

The first author on all three retractions is Ekaterina Y. Lukianova-Hleb; we contacted her as well as Lapotko using their Rice email addresses, but both bounced back.  We’ve also contacted device company Masimo Corp., where Lapotko now works. A spokesperson told us:

Dr. Dmitri is Director of Laser Science for Masimo.

We were aware of the investigation by Rice University.

Dr. Dmitri stands by the veracity of his data.

Masimo intends to conduct its own study on plasmonic nanobubbles.

Update 4/24/17 3:35 eastern: We’ve heard from a representative of the American Chemical Society, which publishes Langmuir. He told us the EOC was replaced by the retraction statement. In regards to the Rice investigation:

I can only say that the Rice University Office of Research did conduct an investigation.  After reviewing the University’s report, the journal editor retracted the paper.  Unfortunately, details about the investigation would have to come from Rice University.

Hat tip: Rolf Degen

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