Immunologists are gearing up for a lengthy clean-up of research literature after the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge fired an immunologist for allegedly fabricating data—an incident they say may raise questions about all of his publications. Still, researchers who commented this week on the incident said that, for now, it doesn't seem to have affected their own findings.
On Oct. 27, MIT announced it had fired Luk van Parijs, an associate professor in biology, after he admitted fabricating data in a paper and several manuscripts and grant applications. Colleagues said van Parijs, who co-authored more than 30 published papers on immunology and RNA interference, was an emerging heavyweight.
Learning of alleged misconduct "in somebody with such a broad number of scientific contributions … is really scary," Isabel Merida of the National Biotechnology Center in Madrid, whose publications cited some of the findings under investigation, told
And although van Parijs admitted faking data in only one paper, the investigation casts a shadow on all of them, scientists noted. "I think people will now take all his work with a grain of salt," said Michael K. Racke, a professor of Neurology and the Center for Immunology at the University of Texas-Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.
MIT officials haven't announced which paper is supposedly tainted. But in the inquiry's wake, California Institute of Technology officials said they have launched their own probe into the two papers van Parijs co-wrote for the journal
Officials with Cell Press, publisher of
Parijs, whom MIT promoted last year, was a "rising star" in the field—as his increasingly influential publications suggested, Racke told
Much of van Parijs's key research examined molecules regulating the survival or death of immune cells known as T lymphocytes. When the balance among these chemicals goes awry, T lymphocytes that cause autoimmune disorders can proliferate.
Van Parijs didn't answer Emails from
"It would be very important, if not imperative, that all of his publications are re-evaluated and that it becomes clear which ones are without doubt, and which ones should be retracted," Jon D. Laman, a professor in the Department of Immunology at University Medical Center Rotterdam, The Netherlands, said in an Email to
Racke said this analysis might require scouring obscure journals to see who has -- or hasn't -- been able to replicate the findings. "Everybody reads the 'big splash' papers," but follow-ups often appear in lesser journals, Racke noted.
Early assessments by other researchers who have cited van Parijs suggest the impact might be minimal. Merida said in an Email that when she cited one of the 1999
After citing a noted 1997