A now-retired professor tweaked the findings in seven figures of a 2007 paper, according to a new finding of misconduct released yesterday by the U.S. Office of Research Integrity.
The subject of the findings isn’t a stranger to our readers: We’ve already reported on nine retractions for Nasser Chegini, a former professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Florida (UF) who had won more than $4 million in Federal grants. And Chegini, who retired in early 2012, had been under investigation since at least 2012, with the ORI asking UF to broaden that investigation at one point.
Indeed, the ORI’s notice states that eight of Chegini’s retractions resulted from the UF’s investigation. The ORI’s findings, however, stem from another paper, published in the Journal of Reproductive Immunology, which has not been retracted.
According to the ORI, in that paper, Chegini:
…falsified data points and standard errors of the mean in bar graphs plotting matrix metalloprotease expression or activity in the following figures of JRI 2007:
-Figures 2A, 2B, 2C
-Figures 3A, 3B, 3C
-Figures 7A, 7B, 7C
-Figure 8, middle left panel and lower right panel
“Doxycycline alters the expression of matrix metalloproteases in the endometrial cells exposed to ovarian steroids and pro-inflammatory cytokine” has been cited 15 times, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science. Just one of those citations came after 2012, when the investigation was already in full swing.
Chegini has agreed to retract the 2007 paper, and have his research supervised for five years. However, the report notes:
[Chegini] has not applied for or engaged in U.S. Public Health Service (PHS)- supported research since 2012; Respondent has no intention of applying for or engaging in PHS-supported research or otherwise working with PHS…
The fact that the ORI issued findings on just one study, despite the fact that so many other Chegini papers were clearly problematic, suggests a different approach than they have typically taken. A spokesperson for HHS, of which ORI is a part, told Retraction Watch:
In this case, the institution made research misconduct findings about a retired researcher’s nine publications, and eight of those publications were retracted by the journals after notification by the institution of the research misconduct. The remaining publication has not been retracted. To correct the scientific record, the HHS Office of Research Integrity (ORI) pursued findings of research misconduct for the one publication that had not been retracted. ORI accepts the research misconduct findings of the institution that led to the eight prior retractions, compliments the institution on its handling of the matter, and makes new findings only on the ninth publication, so that the scientific record is corrected. ORI’s targeted approach in this case enables ORI to conserve resources while timely pursing targeted findings to support deterrence of research misconduct, protect Public Health Service funds, and correct the scientific record.
Our interpretation: This is akin to nailing Al Capone on tax evasion. Had Chegini still been in research, or had his other problematic papers not yet been retracted, the “targeted enforcement” approach would likely earn justified criticism. But closing this case means the ORI — which went many months without issuing a finding until May — can make a statement about Chegini that will be in the Federal Register forever, and turn its limited resources elsewhere.
The notice lists eight papers that were “retracted as a result of the institution’s investigation.” We have counted nine retractions for Chegini; the one not listed in the ORI report was retracted in 2012 by Molecular Human Reproduction, and mentions the UF investigation. (You can read our 2012 post here.)
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