University of Liverpool reverses course, names researcher guilty of misconduct

Daniel Antoine

A few weeks ago, we received a press release that gave us pause: The University of Liverpool said it had found one of its researchers guilty of research misconduct — but did not say who, nor which papers might be involved.

Now, less than one month later, the university is naming the researcher, and identifying a paper that it has asked the journal to retract.

After we covered the opaque release, we received some tips that the scientist might be Daniel Antoine, who studies liver damage. Last week, Liverpool confirmed that Antoine is the researcher in question.

After he left Liverpool, Antoine took a position at the University of Edinburgh. However, the faculty page is now blank, and a spokesperson told Retraction Watch he is “no longer employed by the University”:

We cannot comment on the circumstances surrounding an individual member of staff leaving our employment.

The new release from Liverpool recommends retracting a 2012 paper in the Journal of Hepatology, “Molecular forms of HMGB1 and keratin-18 as mechanistic biomarkers for mode of cell death and prognosis during clinical acetaminophen hepatotoxicity.” The paper has been cited 170 times, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science.

We’ve reached out to Antoine at his Liverpool and Edinburgh email addresses, but haven’t heard back.

Why the sudden burst of transparency?

Just weeks ago, the University of Liverpool was declining to provide details about the case. According to a spokesperson:

We are now recommending the retraction of a specific paper and, as such, we issued an updated release with the name of that paper and the researcher involved.

However, the new release states that the investigation wrapped up months ago:

Following a detailed investigation, the panel produced its final report in March 2018, which concluded that Dr Dan Antoine, who left the University of his own volition last year, was involved in research misconduct. It found that malpractice had directly influenced and undermined the findings of the research.

Another paper in the journal co-authored by Antoine has been temporarily removed; according to the statement from Liverpool,

…a paper which is available in pre-print has been temporarily removed as a precautionary measure while its source data is verified.

The Liverpool statement says the university has launched a comprehensive review of his work. A statement from Louise Kenny, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Health and Life Sciences, notes:

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…I would also like to emphasise that no current and no other former employees or collaborators have been implicated as a result of the investigation.

According to a biographical statement for Antoine, he has received several young investigator awards, and his research has been funded by the European Commission, Medical Research Council, Wellcome Trust, The Royal Society and the pharmaceutical industry.

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7 thoughts on “University of Liverpool reverses course, names researcher guilty of misconduct”

  1. There are ten co-authors in the retraced paper, what were the roles and contributions of the other nine researchers/co-authors in the misconduct? Are all of them innocent of misconduct? They are from three different UK and USA universities.
    This RW report and that of the U of Liverpool say nothing about other co-authors and two other universities involved.

    1. From the release: “I would also like to emphasise that no current and no other former employees or collaborators have been implicated as a result of the investigation.”

    2. From our post, a quote attributed to Louise Kenny:

      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…I would also like to emphasise that no current and no other former employees or collaborators have been implicated as a result of the investigation.

  2. How is it a reversal of course when anyone could have anticipated the name of the researcher would be released eventually? Just because you’re impatient for information, doesn’t necessarily mean the university didn’t have a valid reason to not release all the specifics exactly when you thought they should. There could have been legal issues that have to be ironed out, and the libel laws in the UK are ridiculous. I think you’re being unfair to the university here; you’re not entitled to all the information you want exactly when you want it.

    1. Thanks for the feedback. From our last post, which is linked here:

      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.

  3. It’s striking how often the fraudsters are winning young investigator awards and the like. Perhaps we are expecting so much of our young investigators that only fraudsters find it easy to live up to expectations.

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