A winner of one of Germany's most prestigious and financially generous scientific research prizes did not participate in the award ceremony this Wednesday (March 2) after being accused in an anonymous letter of publishing false data.
Stefanie Dimmeler, a 37-year-old biologist at the University of Frankfurt, was named in early December as one of 10 winners of the German Research Foundation's (DFG's) Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize for her work in atherosclerosis. Each Leibniz Prize carries a cash award of €1.55 million (USD $2.05 million).
But a few days after Dimmeler was named as a prize winner, DFG President Ernst-Ludwig Winnacker received an anonymous letter referring to a November 2003 article in
DFG spokeswoman Eva-Maria Streier told
On the DFG's Web site, Dimmeler remains on the list of prize winners, but she is absent in the photo of the other nine happy winners celebrating at the ceremony. Streier said: "She remains a Leibniz Prize winner." After the university committee's final investigatory report is issued, a decision will be made by summer whether to officially award the Leibniz Prize to Dimmeler or to withdraw it.
Streier said the DFG would not release the letter publicly. However, she said the false image was the only allegation against Dimmeler in the letter.
The note sent to Winnacker was not the first anonymous letter concerning the wrongly labeled image. In an interview this week with
Dimmeler said she confirmed that the image in the
Dimmeler then provided
Dimmeler said that she had then felt the matter was settled. Then came the thrill of learning she had been awarded the Leibniz Prize, followed a few days later by the second anonymous letter questioning her honesty.
"For a scientist, it the worst thing that can happen to you," Dimmeler said. "Honesty is one of the important things in science. What is happening now is the worst point of my life. I live for science. I love science. It's not my job, it's my life."
Dimmeler said she believes the same person wrote both letters, but does not know for certain the identity of the person. "Of course, one has some ideas," she said.
Asked why someone would have written the anonymous letters, Dimmeler said: "It must be someone who is extremely jealous, extremely aggressive. Someone who has a lot of hate."