Voinnet retraction brings entire school of thought crashing down

Voinnet retraction brings entire school of thought crashing down

Another retraction hits the fallen star plant scientist Olivier Voinnet. This time it is a previously corrected paper in Science, which was pulled after new evidence of further data manipulations appeared on PubPeer some months after its 3rd correction.

This makes it Voinnet’s 8th retraction, but the loss of the Dunoyer et al 2010 paper is more than just another brick falling from his great publishing record edifice. It is one of the two pillars of an entire school of thought in the field of plant pathogen defence, which we now witness crumbling into dust (see my earlier report and a brief summary below).

The Dunoyer et al 2010 paper has been corrected twice before (both are behind paywall, the one from April 15th 2011 acknowledges image reuse: “The image in Fig. 3B (center panel) was previously published as Fig. 1e in P. Dunoyer et al., Nat. Genet. 39, 848 (2007)”). The third correction from January 22nd 2016 declared a shopping list of further image irregularities, with Patrice Dunoyer taking full responsibility, just like he did on many other occasions (see my earlier report here).

Evidence posted on PubPeer in July 2016 which caused retraction of Dunoyer et al 2010

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5 retractions and a sack for Pfizer lead cancer researcher Min-Jean Yin

Five months ago, I reported about data integrity concerns in 6 publications authored by Min-Jean Yin, who had been working at the pharma giant Pfizer in La Jolla, California, as Senior Principal Scientist since 2003. One paper, where she contributed as a collaborator (Lamoureux et al, European Urology, 2014), has been corrected already in March 2016. Five other cancer research papers, on the efficiency of Pfizer’s own pharmacological enzyme inhibitors, will now be retracted, after an investigation performed by Pfizer confirmed the suspicions of data manipulation, originally raised on PubPeer. These five papers stemmed directly from the Pfizer lab which Yin used to be in charge of. Used to be – because according to her recently updated LinkedIn profile, Yin doesn’t work there anymore. Since September 2016, she joined a rather unremarkable Californian biotech start-up Diagnologix LLC in San Diego, as “General Manager”. With such a career (and surely also salary) setback, it is safe to assume Yin did not leave Pfizer after 13 years of service entirely voluntarily. Continue reading “5 retractions and a sack for Pfizer lead cancer researcher Min-Jean Yin”

Manel Esteller, the Schrödinger cat of Barcelona

Manel Esteller, the Schrödinger cat of Barcelona
This text was first published on September 30th as Spanish translation on Hipertextual.

The Spanish Institut d’Investigació Biomèdica de Bellvitge (IDIBELL) in Barcelona has discovered a new application of the famous Schrödinger uncertainty theory, by extending quantum mechanics from single atoms to entire scientific publications and its authors. The traditional Schrödinger cat inside a box with a poison-releasing radioactivity detector can be simultaneously dead and alive, and you never know which until you open the box. According to IDIBELL, a senior scientific research group leader can be also simultaneously 100% responsible and utterly not responsible for any given scientific publication of his, depending on the nature of observation. Such a “Schrödinger cat”-scientist is Manel Esteller, cancer researcher and director of strategic projects at IDIBELL. On the one side Esteller is being hailed and awarded with highest prizes for his publications on cancer genetics (most recently the Gold Medal of Honour by the Catalan Parliament), from the other side he is being declared as entirely not responsible for these same research papers, as soon as any evidence for data manipulations in them surfaces. Esteller’s quantum state of responsibility for his own research oscillates between yes and no depending on whether you open his IDIBELL box in order to give him a prize or to report suspected research misconduct.

This is how the Barcelona Theory of Quantum Irresponsibility developed.

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Helin Vakifahmetoglu and Nobel-prized autophagy research of Karolinska

The Nobel Assembly at the Karolinska Institutet (KI) in Sweden awarded this week the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2016 to the Japanese scientist Yoshinori Ohsumi “for his discoveries of mechanisms for autophagy”. Autophagy is a physiologically highly relevant intracellular process of protein and organelle recycling, when these are misfolded or damaged or when the cell lacks nutrients. Possibly, KI Nobel Assembly’s decision might have been inspired by the success of their own excellent young autophagy researcher: Helin Vakifahmetoglu-Norberg, see also this press release. The following is to raise concerns about hers and KI’s achievements in the Nobel-awarded research field of autophagy, which are somewhat marred by recurrent image duplications. The copious new evidence I was given by a certain sleuth team suggests a possibly bigger problem than KI previously decreed.

The young group leader started her career in the field of apoptosis (cell death) research and authored many publications in highly respectable journals, both as PhD student of Karolinska in the lab of cell biologist Boris Zhivotovsky, as well as postdoctoral scientist in Harvard, with another apoptosis specialist, Junying Yian.  Vakifahmetoglu-Norberg then returned to KI to start her own cell biology research group, not on apoptosis, but on autophagy. At her institutional website she lists research funding from top-sources like the Swedish Research Council (VR), the Ragnar Söderberg Foundation, the Swedish Society for Medical Research and several others.  “Highly enthusiastic and hardworking postdocs and undergraduate students” are invited to join the “protein degradation pathways“ lab, while also discretely asked to bring their own financial support. Funding money plays a big role at KI, as we all recently learned during the Paolo Macchiarini scandal.

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Can lawyers influence a misconduct investigation? Case of Tina Wenz

Tina Wenz is a German mitochondria biologist, who was now found guilty of research misconduct in her six publications, authored as postdoc and group leader. The investigation was performed by her former employer, the University of Cologne in Germany, the results were announced in a press release on September 29th 2016. She was instructed to retract all these 6 publications, her former postdoctoral advisor and corresponding author Carlos Moraes from the University of Miami already announced to ask the journals to retract his four common papers with Wenz. Two other papers came from Wenz’ own former lab in Cologne, within the CECAD ageing research centre. Previously, Wenz’ lawyers attempted to squash any kind of identifying reporting about their client; a source indicated that the Cologne investigation had a certain heavy legal edge to it. None of these legal efforts helped, it seems. The university chose to de-anonymise Wenz’ name as well as to release detailed descriptions of research misconduct, a rather singular event in the notoriously secretive German academic environment, where the outcomes of institutional misconduct investigations are reported in public only with all identifying information removed or in fact are sometimes not even known to have ever taken place. In fact, the same University of Cologne keeps rejecting my freedom of information requests about a different investigation they have performed. On June 20th 2016, my inquiry to the University of Cologne about the outcome of that and the Wenz investigation was rejected outright.

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Mild criticism only for Sumitran-Holgersson and Olausson from Gothenburg University Hospital investigation

The indestructible Swedish regenerative medicine researcher Suchitra Sumitran-Holgersson could have been stopped early on, and a patient of hers could have been alive still. The former professor at the Karolinska Institutet (KI) was caught faking data in 2009. A paper had to be retracted as consequence (Elsheikh  et al, Blood, 2005) , but in 2011 the entire external investigation and its results was declared nil and void by the Swedish Research Council Vetenskapsrådet (VR) which had originally commissioned it. The reasons used back then were rather incomprehensible, it boiled down to the accusations against the two investigators themselves, of having found research misconduct where they were not supposed to find research misconduct (for details, see my earlier report). To top it off, all frozen funding of this cheater professor was reinstituted and the University of Gothenburg together with its Sahlgrenska University Hospital welcomed Sumitran-Holgersson as a “genius”. There, at the Department of Surgery at the Sahlgrenska Academy she established a hub of regenerative medicine, helped by her husband Jan Holgersson (whose company had been threatening his wife’s investigators, silently condoned by VR), and by the head surgeon Michael Olausson. Together, Sumitran-Holgersson and Olausson produced a string of regenerative medicine papers of which the University of Gothenburg and Sahlgrenska used to be very proud. Maybe less so these days, since a rich evidence of fresh data manipulations surfaced on PubPeer several months ago (see examples here). Meanwhile, part of Sumitran-Holgersson’s tremendous funding has been frozen, though VR still maintains their trust in her research. Apparently, also the Sahlgrenska Academy of Gothenburg.

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The newly found innocence of Paolo Macchiarini

The newly found innocence of Paolo Macchiarini

The tide is turning for the fallen star surgeon Paolo Macchiarini, who transplanted numerous patients with lethal tracheas made out of dead donor organs or plastic and sprinkled with cells from the bone marrow. Just when Macchiarini started to became the synonym for everything what is bad and evil in regenerative medicine, after two damning investigations by his former employers Karolinska Institutet (KI) and the Karolinska University Hospital, things began to change for the better.

In a surprising decision, the Italian court in Florence cleared the former head surgeon of Careggi Hospital of all accusations of fraud (Macchiarini was accused of extortion, namely of huge sums from patient families while offering to save the terminally ill). This court decision prompted the Tuscan governor Enrico Rossi to immediately lament the loss of a “great surgeon”, who would have done so much good if he only remained in Florence, under proper control. Back in 2010, this politician’s exalting letter of recommendation helped Macchiarini to get the KI professorship despite the many negative references from his medical colleagues.

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