Oct. 3, 2011, was the beginning of the end for Frank Sauer’s tenure at the University of California, Riverside. On that day, an anonymous emailer contacted Sauer’s institution with accusations that the biochemist had cooked his research in at least eight papers over a 16-year period.
Sauer was found to have doctored images in studies using government money — nearly $3 million of it. He went on to lose his position at UC Riverside, several papers to retraction, and, in May, a subsequent legal battle over the severity of the federal sanctions. Along the way, he concocted a fantastic tale of sabotage against German scientists (like himself), replete with poison-pen letters and fabricated credentials.
Retraction Watch has obtained a copy of UC Riverside’s report on the Sauer case through a public records request. The report, which is undated but which describes committee meetings and interviews from October 2011 to October 2012, lists 33 allegations of scientific misconduct against Sauer, 20 of which the committee determined to involve deception. Of the remaining 13, the committee either could not find proof of guilt or determined that the data were legitimate.
Most of the allegations stemmed from the anonymous emailer. About six weeks later, the journal Science raised five additional allegations. The investigative committee subsequently tacked on another allegation after a referee raised concerns about a paper Sauer had submitted to Nature in 2005.
Among the claims are that Sauer spliced images without revealing the edits; reused images in different figures; and manipulated or falsified other images. For help, the university turned to a private company called Califorensics, based in Roseville, which conducted analyses of Sauer’s work and personal computers.
Although in some instances Sauer appeared to be behaving recklessly at best, in some cases “the evidence demonstrated that the research misconduct was committed intentionally and knowingly.”
However, the investigative committee did not recommend that Sauer be fired. Rather, it called for a variety of penalties, including that the researcher be banned from publishing papers for five years, that he be ineligible for merit pay raises for five years, and that he be required to attend “training the trainers” workshop on research ethics — after which he not only would have to demonstrate that he understood the but would then have to “direct a research ethics course” at the university for at least three years.
The 109-page document makes for interesting reading — which is exactly why we plan to obtain and post more of these institutional investigations.
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