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10 retractions and counting

In an unusually large case of misconduct, an immunology lab at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, has pulled 10 papers so far, with about five more expected, and cancelled a clinical trial after a senior research associate was found guilty of falsifying data. Image: Wikimedia commons"I was shocked when I initially got the letter from Dr. [Larry] Pease" -- linkurl:the head of the lab;http://mayoresearch.mayo.edu/staff/pease_lr.cfm -- "stating the decision to retract all these papers (appro

By | May 26, 2010

In an unusually large case of misconduct, an immunology lab at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, has pulled 10 papers so far, with about five more expected, and cancelled a clinical trial after a senior research associate was found guilty of falsifying data.
Image: Wikimedia commons
"I was shocked when I initially got the letter from Dr. [Larry] Pease" -- linkurl:the head of the lab;http://mayoresearch.mayo.edu/staff/pease_lr.cfm -- "stating the decision to retract all these papers (approximately 15)," linkurl:Lieping Chen,;http://gradimmunology.med.som.jhmi.edu/FacultyDetails.aspx?fid=3 co-author on some of the papers, told The Scientist in an email. "It is very unfortunate when anybody has such an associate in the laboratory," said Chen, based at The Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. "It's surprising that a falsification could go on at such an extensive level for so long," added molecular immunologist linkurl:Gordon Freeman;http://www.dfhcc.harvard.edu/membership/profile/member/31/0/ of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. "It's the longest running pervasive falsification that I've ever heard of." But despite the scope of the retractions, the impact on the field is likely to be minimal, researchers said. The loss will be "not too significant because it was a unique reagent with a unique proposed mechanism of action," Freeman said. "The damaging effect is clear but as far as I know the clinical projects derived were not of key importance for our understanding on how the immune system works," immunologist linkurl:Ignacio Melero;http://www.cima.es/labs-en/gene-therapy-in-immunology/summary/1 of the University of Navarra in Spain agreed in an email. "From the point of view of scientific knowledge, what will change is mainly the notion that dendritic cells could be stimulated through this pathway." Starting in 2002, Pease and his colleagues published a series of papers about their discovery of a naturally occurring human IgM antibody, known as sHIgM12 (or B7-DCXAb). This antibody appeared to bind to a particular receptor called B7-DC on dendritic cells and upregulate the immune cells' function by promoting cell survival, enhancing the presentation of antigens, and increasing secretion of cytokines. This was somewhat surprising, as this group of dendritic cell receptors was generally believed to bind to T cells to regulate T cell function, but not dendritic cell activity. The fact that the antibody appeared to be activating dendritic cell function suggested that it might be a good therapeutic target for increasing the immune response. "The antibody was claimed to be therapeutically active in a wide variety of diseases, [including] asthma [and] cancer, [and] to have really enormously strong effects," Freeman said. But after continued research in the lab turned up "suspicious patterns of experimental results," linkurl:according to one retraction notice,;http://www.jimmunol.org/cgi/content/full/184/11/6552 Pease and his lab members ran a number of blinded experiments that did not support the findings. The resulting investigation at the Mayo Clinic concluded that one of the lab's researchers, Suresh Radhakrishnan, "tampered with another investigator's experiment with the intent to mislead toward the conclusion that the B7-DCXAb reagent has cell-activating properties," linkurl:according to another retraction notice.;http://www.plosone.org/annotation/info:doi/10.1371/annotation/36ac4b2c-cf27-41d9-90e2-e5d58d307896 "I was surprised about this retraction from [Journal of Experimental Biology]" -- linkurl:the lab's first publication about B7-DCXAb;http://jem.rupress.org/content/early/2010/04/02/jem.2002146632610r.short?rss=1&ssource=mfc -- "because the groups involved enjoy an excellent reputation in the field," said Melero of the University of Navarra. "The message of that paper was interesting for us because it provided a tool to activate dendritic cells." "I think [the retractions are] tremendously sad for science," Freeman agreed. "I think if something is too good to be true, it often isn't true." So far, ten papers have been retracted, including linkurl:one from Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences;http://www.pnas.org/content/107/18/8498.1.full and linkurl:six from the Journal of Immunology.;http://www.jimmunol.org/current.shtml#LETTERS_OF_RETRACTION All together, the papers retracted thus far have been cited nearly 250 times, according to ISI, and more papers will be retracted "in the coming weeks," said Mayo spokesperson Bob Nellis. PNAS and the Journal of Immunology both confirmed that the retractions were published at the request of the authors, but did not comment on how the papers slipped through the peer-review system. Additionally, linkurl:a clinical trial;http://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT00658892?term=b7-dc&rank=1 that planned to test the antibody as a potential therapy in patients with stage IV melanoma, in collaboration with the National Cancer Institute, has been cancelled, Nellis said. "No other researchers were involved, [and] no patients were harmed," he said. Since the finding of misconduct, the "lab has refocused its efforts along other lines of research." Pease was not taking interviews, according to Nellis. Radhakrishnan is no longer employed by Mayo, and the institute did not have any information about his current whereabouts. Hat tip to the linkurl:DrugMonkey;http://scienceblogs.com/drugmonkey/2010/05/eight_retractionsso_far.php blog.
**__Related stories:__***linkurl:Misconduct case drags on;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/57447/
[24th May 2010]*linkurl:PhD student admits misconduct;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/57297/
[15th April 2010]*linkurl:Misconduct from cancer researcher;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/56186/
[25th November 2009]
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Comments

Avatar of: Augustus White

Augustus White

Posts: 7

May 26, 2010

The Drugmonkey blog (linked in the article):\n\nhttp://scienceblogs.com/drugmonkey/2010/05/eight_retractionsso_far.php\n\nnow contains fairly extensive comments purportedly from Suresh Radhakrishnan (comment #13). I have no reason to doubt their authenticity -- just being cautious.
Avatar of: Mitchell Wachtel

Mitchell Wachtel

Posts: 30

May 26, 2010

This differs from that fellow from Alabama, who really messed up many scientific lives by falsifying a protein structure. Because the conclusions were inconsequential, no one really took notice; and the offender lived a reasonably nice life for about a decade without having to worry about anyone's hiring a hit man. The best example of good cheating was Harvard's Darcee, who fraudulently validated the results of other experiments, supporting established conclusions in over a hundred of papers.

May 26, 2010

To reiterate,\n1.Retractions are a must if data fail to replicate-blinded or not!\n2.The risk to benefit ratio in falsifying data is not worth the effort. \n3.In this instance, it is physically impossible for me to induce artificial signals in\nevery experiments executed in the laboratory, including mine, over the past 8 years.\n4.I believe in the self-correction process of scientific data. Therefore, I would have taken all measures to ensure that falsification occurs consistently by mass contamination of the reagent, as my goal was to become a successful Principle investigator pursuing Science as my career.\n5.I would not hurt the pride and prestige of my son, my family members, Dr. Pease, Pease lab. nembers and the Mayo Clinic.\n6.My heartfelt thanks to Dr. Pease and the Mayo Clinic for providing me with an opportunity to be part of their team for the past several years.\n\nSpecific Response to a comment:\nI would have been under constant stress due to the fear of being caught as this reagent was the focus of the whole laboratory for the past few years. But, I did live a comfortable life.
Avatar of: Neil Baxter

Neil Baxter

Posts: 2

May 26, 2010

At least medical science is concerned enough to react to scientists misbehaving. This allows me to trust people in this science - you will eventually catch your errors and fix them. Then there is Global Warming ?science? where the administrators, and governments help the ne-erdowells cover up their bad science.\n\nThank you for a vetting and review system that is doing its job.
Avatar of: DUNG LE

DUNG LE

Posts: 17

May 26, 2010

Blame on a person, and said his current whereabout is not known.\n\nThis cant be a responsible answer! And how can we know if that is true or cover up? \n\nWonder if public funding involved in those retracted papers!!!
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 15

May 26, 2010

I think it would be diligent to investigate all authors associated with these fabricated works of nonsense in all honesty. The degree of accountability for any falisifed data must firmly rest with all of the authors. It is interesting to note that Dr Lieping Chen had moved from Rochester's Mayo Clinic to The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine at the time these papers were being published. Are we to assume that he as well as others knew nothing of these misconducts and serious lapses in ethics? What I am suggesting is that all authors associated with these retracted works be investigated or scrutinized for ethical and scientific codes of conduct so that we can be certain that the extent of the fraud is no deeper than what appears at first glance. Peer reviewers should take immediate note.
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 3

May 27, 2010

So, fellow researchers consider that 'the impact on the field is minimal' and someone (another peer in the field?) commented "the conclusions were inconsequential, no one really took notice". \n\nA decade of funding, 15 papers in the literature and none of this work considered to be of any consequence? That surely makes a sad situation even sadder!
Avatar of: Mitchell Wachtel

Mitchell Wachtel

Posts: 30

May 27, 2010

Vital invalid research was the water memory theory, which garnered INSERM funding and a big time pub. The impact would have been huge had the theory been accepted for a decade; for one thing college chemistry tests would have been far more readily passed. The Nature investigation did not believe dishonesty occurred, favoring instead a series of "statistically ill-controlled" experiments lacking appropriate efforts to exclude "systematic error, including observer bias", as well as exclusion of measurements in conflict with the original claim. \n\nConsider the perhaps ill-worded phrases "guilty of falsifying data", "a falsification could go on at such an extensive level for so long", and "the longest running pervasive falsification". Such do tend to create an impression that all is not quite on the up and up. By the same token, a superficial viewing of either version of The Fugitive proves appearances deceive; I am now 94.5% sure this was some sort of a misunderstanding.\n\nIn any case a merciful and providential divine force rendered the research effort trivial, best considered a partly anticipatory element of the stimulus package. This conclusion follows from: "despite the scope of the retractions, the impact on the field is likely to be minimal".
Avatar of: Nitin Gandhi

Nitin Gandhi

Posts: 34

May 31, 2010

If the senior research associate can manipulate the other peoples results in the lab for around 8 years, then he is genius! it seems very unbeleivable.\n\nSecondly In many of such recent scientific misconduct caught it is observed that either the grad student, post doc or research asociate are implicated, and PI tells I am sorry! \n\nI strongly feel that PI should be primarily responsible for fraud done by ANYONE in the lab, because if there is discovery then NOBLE prize too goes to PI and NOT others!
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 1

June 17, 2010

Interestingly, there were no comments as to fiscal liability in all this. Somebody paid this persons salary [8 yrs x say $100k/yr with benefits], supported the laboratory, and those collaborators doing honest work with them. In a time of 'tight pay lines' this cost would seem huge....
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 5

June 23, 2010

Someone in the article said, "It's surprising that a falsification could go on at such an extensive level for so long." Sadly, I don't find this incredibly surprising. Although most of us would agree it is incredibly disappointing, infuriating, etc. It seems like every couple of years someone is found guilty of serious misconduct that went on for several years. \n\nFor listings of recent (and archived) ORI findings, go to ORI Case Studies at http://ori.dhhs.gov/misconduct/cases/. Note that these reports only represent cases funded by the U.S. federal government. Presumably many other countries have analogous departments to oversee scientific misconduct. \n\nKeep in mind that these reports only represent cases where all of the following events occurred: someone observed misconduct, the observer came forward and reported it to the institution, the institution conducted a thorough investigation, the institution didn't try to cover up the misconduct, the findings were properly reported to relevant journals for retractions, and the case was referred to the ORI for additional review as required when the research is federally funded. (whew!)\n\nBut how often does the observer of the misconduct even report it in the first place? And how often is the PI actually investigated (rather than the PI shifting the blame to the postdoc, grad student, technician, etc)? In fact, studies show that scientific misconduct is seriously under-reported. For example see Martinson BC, Anderson MS, de Vries R: "Scientists behaving badly,". Nature 435:737. June 9, 2005 (Full Text Link at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/eutils/elink.fcgi?dbfrom=pubmed&cmd=prlinks&retmode=ref&id=15944677)\n\nI wonder how many of us are actually surprised by these findings...\n\nAre you surprised/doubtful, or do you think this sounds accurate?
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 6

July 22, 2010

But after continued research in the lab turned up "suspicious patterns of experimental results," according to one retraction notice, Pease and his lab members ran a number of blinded experiments that did not support the findings.\n\nSounds like they had prior experience working for Monsanto\n
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 8

July 22, 2010

In the Journal of animal science - there are several papers on three large pig trials in which the experimental treatments are not correct. There are several ( 13? ) letters to the editor - with absolute eye witness testiony that the experimental treatments - the genetic lines - the number of genetic lines - the designation of genetic lines - their amount of heterosis. In human health research - the ORI - is heavy handed, conducts thorough investigations and holds researchers and universties accountable. So universities may overeact to any even possible misconduct(not frimly proven but circumstantial evidence) in human health research. But in agricultural research - their is no real ORI - and no real USDA watch dog over research - USDA-OIG does not consider scientific misconduct as anything crinimal to investigate - even if additional grants - research funding or sales of pigs was based on fradulent reporting of the data. ( have this directly from USDA -OIG investigator from OHIO). \n\nSo - there are huge differences in the level of scientific integrity in human health and agricultural research. The letters to the editor in which the correct experimental treatments are made point blank clear by the person supplying the pigs - yet no one - not the funding agency -the universities - the publisher - any branch of USDA - has yet to take any action to correct the scientific record - and hold people accountable. Even when actual data sets - eye witness testimony - have been provided. \nYet all Federal funding agencies are not supposed to continue sending research funds to universities which do not follow Federal guideliknes concerning scientific misconduct ( law in the Federal register). \n\n

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