Former UMass post-doc faked data, says federal watchdog

The U.S. Office of Research Integrity has found a former post-doc at the University of Massachusetts Medical School guilty of misconduct stemming from falsification of data.

The finding comes more than two years after a retraction referred to an investigation at U Mass. The ORI said Ozgur Tataroglu, who worked as a neurobiologist at the institution, doctored data in a published paper and two federal grant proposals. The 2015 paper, which appeared in Cell, was retracted in 2017. Tataroglu refused to sign the notice, which stated: 

An in-depth review of the dataset generated by the first author revealed clear evidence that he had repeatedly misrepresented and altered primary data pertaining to the role of calcium, calmodulin, and SOL protease in Drosophila during the study. An independent investigation conducted by the University of Massachusetts Medical School concluded that the first author committed scientific misconduct. Since the manipulated data—which measured the amplitude of circadian phase shifts in response to temperature pulses in various genotypes using luciferase and behavioral assays—were critical to support our conclusions, we are retracting the above article.

ORI said Tataroglu refused to admit to fabricating his results. According to the agency’s report on the case, the voluntary settlement “is not an admission of liability on the part of the Respondent.” 

Ozgur Tataroglu

However, according to ORI, Tataroglu:

engaged in research misconduct by knowingly, intentionally, and/or recklessly falsifying data in bar graphs representing phase shift of circadian clock activity between Drosophila without and with heat pulse (HP) treatment in: Figures 1G, 2F, 3C, and 4C of Cell 2015; Figures 7D, 8G, and 9C in grant application R01 GM079182-05A1; Figures 3C and 4 in grant application R35 GM118087-01; and two (2) figures recorded in his unpublished data files, by selectively altering the original Drosophila behavior locomotor data in his primary data files. The data manipulations resulted in the creation or exaggeration of phase shifts caused by either HP treatment or over-expression of the calpain protease SOL, to support the hypothesis that temperature phase shifts the Drosophila circadian clock through the regulated degradation of the pacemaker protein TIMELESS mediated by SOL.

Under the terms of the finding, Tataroglu has agreed to have his government-funded research monitored for the next three years. He does not appear to have been barred from receiving such grants, which ORI sometimes makes a condition of such agreements. 

Tataroglu is listed as a faculty member at Istinye University in Istanbul, although it is unclear whether that listing is current as he has not published any papers since 2015. Neither he nor Patrick Emery, the head of the UMass lab where he worked, immediately responded to requests for comment.

Update, 1445 UTC, 1/15/20: Emery declined to comment:

The case is now closed and I do not wish to discuss it further.

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