University of Liverpool announces it’s investigating someone for misconduct. But don’t ask who.

University of Liverpool

Transparency begins …. with a T, as Ali G once said. That seems to be extent of the University of Liverpool’s commitment to openness, at least in the handling of an ongoing misconduct investigation at the UK institution.

We know this much: The school in late 2017 launched an inquiry into one of its scientists — apparently someone involved in liver research. The investigators concluded that the employee, who has since left the institution, had indeed committed research misconduct, according to a statement from the university.  

The problem is, that’s all we know at this point. The university is refusing to name the researcher, identify any affected papers or shed any other light on the matter. The only salient facts in the statement are that the work involves:

research relating to biomarkers of liver damage and the potential this research had to inform mechanisms, diagnosis and prognosis of various disease states.

Sabina Frediani, a spokeswoman for school, told us:

We have not named the individual concerned because the comprehensive review is still in process but we have ensured that research collaborators have been informed.

Now, we might give the school a pass if it simply said it had an ongoing investigation about which it couldn’t comment. But the University of Liverpool opted to go public with the case — in the least satisfying of ways.

The statement is a masterstroke of barely relevant information masquerading as key detail, while ignoring the most important items: namely, the name itself. Knowing that an anonymized researcher possibly working hepatology — but possibly not — is of zero use to anyone else in that field or any other area.

So what, exactly, are scientists, or the public, supposed to do with this revelation?

Evidently the implications of the misconduct may be sweeping. According to the university statement:

Due to the range of activities connected with this research, the University has launched a comprehensive review and taken a number of actions including: An ongoing review of all publications and research activity undertaken by the individual concerned during his time at the University. In some cases this is expected to lead to further action including the retraction of published academic research.

The statement quotes Louise Kenny, the pro-vice-chancellor for health and life sciences, saying:

The integrity of academic research is of the highest importance to the University of Liverpool, which is recognised for delivering world-leading research in many different fields … Any potential impact on patient safety is our primary concern. However we are confident, in relation to the research activity investigated thus far, that patient safety has not been compromised.

Kenny adds that:

no current and no other former employees or collaborators have been implicated as a result of the investigation.

Ironically, by refusing to identify the scientist behind the mess, the school has succeeded in casting unearned suspicion over many others.

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3 thoughts on “University of Liverpool announces it’s investigating someone for misconduct. But don’t ask who.”

  1. UK libel laws are insane. Their hands may be tied wrt naming the individual through no fault of their own.

    Unclear how suspicion has been cast over “many others.” How many people leading projects involved in liver damage biomarker identification left the University of Liverpool last year? Can’t be too many. I’d suspect you might be able to ascertain the identity of the individual already with just a little bit of digging. We’ll all surely be able to connect the dots once the retractions come out anyhow.

  2. Oh C’mon…

    PubMed: “Hepatic AND marker AND Liverpool”. 3 names consistently show up as senior authors – Daniel Antoine, Munir Pirmohamed, and Kevin Park. Pirmohamed and Park are still there, but a quick look at 2 articles shows Antoine is no longer at Liverpool… Feb’ 2018 affiliation listed as Liverpool (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29146439) and 3 months later affiliation is MRC in Edinburgh (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29729369). An article on the MRC website confirms the recent move (https://www.ed.ac.uk/inflammation-research/news-events/2017/blood-test-spots-overdose-patients-at-risk-of-live). The phrase “has since left the institution” in your article implies the departure occurred after the investigation began – that would fit a late 2017/early 2018 time frame.

    Despite being in Edinburgh a while, Antoine has no web-page yet . But, this search result page (https://search.ed.ac.uk/?q=antoine&search=&page=3) suggests a link to a page that used to exist (https://www.research.ed.ac.uk/portal/en/persons/daniel-antoine(836b8c7d-e9ce-4d73-87e9-fe5ba4ba398f).html), but it now goes to a dead-end. Whatever info’ the MRC website was hosting about Antoine, they removed it.

    Number one hit on a generic web search for “Daniel Antoine Edinburgh” goes straight to the MRC site, to a faculty listing page that no longer exists, just a few short months after he moved there (https://duckduckgo.com/?q=daniel+antoine+edinburgh&t=ffab&ia=web) –> https://www.ed.ac.uk/inflammation-research/people/principal-investigators/dr-daniel-j-antoine

    As mentioned above, overly-restrictive UK defamation laws probably explain why Liverpool chose not to name names. Hence my use of a pseud to leave this comment. Thankfully the Sarkar vs. PubPeer case held up the principle that sites cannot be forced to divulge IDs of their commenters. That said, Liverpool could do everyone a favor by allowing free discusson of this case by naming the perp’.

  3. This case clearly shows how important it is to be transparent. I actually don’t see any reason not be show full openness in such cases. Rumors will begin to swirl and the innocent part will be hit.

    Searching Univ. of Liverpool and Liver research don’t give you many possibilities and therefore extra important to be clear here!

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