Scientific smear campaign?

An anonymous agitator upsets a German misconduct investigation

By | December 22, 2010

An official misconduct investigation at the linkurl:Research Center Borstel;[uid]=16&cHash=38590e0b1343baec04b94508ffa8e904 in Germany has been overshadowed by an anonymous effort distributing accusatory emails to scientists and journalists, and posting documents and allegations online.

Image: Wikimedia commons, michael fosu b.
In July, linkurl:Silvia Bulfone-Paus,; head of the department of immunology and a member of the board of directors at Borstel, brought suspicions of data manipulation in several papers from her lab to the attention of officials, Ulrich Schaible, a member of the board of directors at Borstel told The Scientist. Subsequently, an external investigation committee was formed to look into potential misconduct in the lab. "This was formally all done how it should have been done," said Schaible. But also in July, around the same time as the formal investigation began, accusatory emails distributing information about linkurl:Bulfone-Paus;[Author] and details about suspect papers, such as evidence of manipulated figures, were sent by one "Marco Berns" to involved personnel and the press. The accuser also sent copies of emails he/she had sent to editors of the journals who published the suspect papers. The acting director of the Borstel, Peter Zabel, received at least one email, as did journalists, the Leibniz Assocation, and a German research foundation, said Schaible. Similar information was then posted online to linkurl:a Web site; hosted in Panama and operated by a linkurl:Martin Frost,; possibly a pseudonym for the same person or people behind the original emails. The anonymous efforts significantly upset the official investigation, said Schaible, and have affected scientists at the Borstel. "It was really, really disruptive," he emphasized. A linkurl:Nature; editorial attacked the "trial-by-Internet," stating: "Claims of scientific misconduct must be assessed in confidence to protect both accused and whistle-blower from rumours that could prejudice the inquiry." "Because of all this, we've tried to be as transparent as possible," said Schaible. The center posted the results of the misconduct commission on their Web site on December 4th, as soon as it was released, fearing the campaign Web site might post it first. "It was an unusual thing, but we were sure someone else would do it anonymously," he said. The investigation found two former postdocs, Elena Bulanova and Vadim Budagian, guilty of misconduct, and six papers are likely to be retracted, said Schaible. The commission noted that Bulfone-Paus bears "major responsibility" for the misconduct within her lab group. In the end, a total of 12 papers will be investigated, said Schaible. Bulfone-Paus declined to comment for this article. Neither Bulanova nor Budagian could be reached for comment. The six papers, on a variety of cell signaling in immunology, were published between 2001 and 2009 in the EMBO Journal, the Journal of Immunology, the Journal of Leukocyte Biology, and the Journal of Biological Chemistry. The Scientist received accusatory emails from "Fernando Pessoa," who declined to speak on the record. The Research Center Borstel has brought formal slander charges against the still-unknown person or people behind the campaign, said Schaible, yet there is little else the institution can do in response to the attack. However, it appears the anonymous campaigner has knowledge of internal meetings at the Borstel: On December 11th, for example, the campaign website described the "audible gasps of horror" from Borstel employees when managing director Peter Zabel shared that the number of papers that are under investigation had increased from six to twelve. Still, someone at the Borstel could be unwittingly leaking information to someone on the outside. "It's really difficult to find out who it is," said Schaible, "though we have suspicions."
**__Related stories:__***linkurl:Life after fraud;
[July 2009] *linkurl:Opinion: Erase science's blacklist;
[14th July 2010] *linkurl:PhD student admits misconduct;
[15th April 2010]


Avatar of: Ellen Hunt

Ellen Hunt

Posts: 199

December 22, 2010

Good old Germany. In Germany, telling the truth is slanderous if it hurts, and even if it doesn't. \n\nIt's not as if there isn't a pandemic of scientific fraud stalking the world. And it isn't as if that pandemic isn't strongest in life sciences. \n\nOnly in Germany would the efforts of someone to ensure the truth got out be attacked as wrong. \n\nLong past time for a "WikiScienceLeaks" to start. \nOr has it ...


Posts: 2

December 23, 2010

Having read the article I was rather bemused by the only comment posted so far because it seems to damn the German system for attacking the truth and protecting lies. This seems quite at odds with the information in the article. As I understand it the head of a lab brings up the possibility of fraud in their own group and the institution investigates and finds that two researchers are guilty and publishes the results of their investigation naming the guilty. At the same time an anonymous person or persons have been publishing information about the potential fraud and the investigation process. The poster seems to regard these people as virtuous and the host institution as in the wrong - on what basis? We are not presented with the details of the anonymous postings which may or may not be libelous. Who might have been libeled? Clearly not the named researchers since they have been found guilty, so I assume there must have been defamatory comments about other people or the institution itself. To compare this to Wiki_leaks suggests that anyone should be able to anonymously publish accusations about whoever they want - you perhaps? - rather than have a proper investigation. There is no suggestion in the article that the anonymous postings affected the outcome apart from publication of the final report. I know I'd rather deal with an accusation from someone I could confront within a framework that had rules and rights than a web-based campaign that smeared my name
Avatar of: Meme Mine

Meme Mine

Posts: 7

January 1, 2011

Climate change believer scientists are to science, what abusive priests are to religion.\n-Scientists we were told polluted the planet in the first place with their chemicals, germ warfare, nuclear weapons, deep see drilling technology, land-mines???..and ActiveOn. Do the math.\nMeanwhile, the UN had allowed carbon trading to trump 3rd world fresh water relief, starvation rescue and 3rd world education for just over 24 years of climate control instead of needed population control. \nWE DON?T TRUST YOU.\nEFFECTS? \n"negligible or little if any" to "unstoppable warming" WAS the consensus of the believer?s "chosen" scientists.\nDo the math.
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 19

January 18, 2011

...It does not seem to be a rational response to this article or the story it tells.
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 1

January 19, 2011

It has been reported that so far 5 papers by S. Bulfone-Paus have been retracted.\n\n\n\nWhat is wrong with somebody wittingly, or unwittingly, telling the truth?
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 1

January 25, 2011

Now 6 have been retracted.\n\n
Avatar of: Jörg Zwirner

Jörg Zwirner

Posts: 1

January 26, 2011

Three years ago, I asked the senior author of a joint article for access to the original data files after failing to reproduce part of the published findings. The senior author rejected the request and I invoked the ombudsman commission of the german research foundation (DFG). It took a whole year till the senior author delivered 2 of the requested files while he kept withholding the control file. Although the ombudsman, in writing, acknowledged any co-author's principal entitlement to access original data files, it was not helpful in enforcing this right. Two more years of toing and froing followed but I am still without valid control file. Instead, a mock control was presented (1 color staining instead of two colors as published). Two month ago, I finally filed a complain with DFG main office. That´s the way it is!\nWhat can you do if an ombudsman commission obviously fails to follow due process or is utterly negligent? \nShould you go public? And how?\nWhat is your advice?\n
Avatar of: Fernando  Pessoa

Fernando Pessoa

Posts: 1

February 2, 2011

If you look here:\n\n[tt_news]=290&tx_ttnews[backPid]=89&cHash=3365e8a9f4b87973531c1a48230f92c2\n\nAnother six accepted for retraction. 6 new ones out today are emboldened.\n\nF.P.\n\nBulanova, E., Budagian, V., Pohl, T., Krause, H., Dürkop, H., Paus, R., and Bulfone-Paus, S. The IL-15 receptor alpha chain signals through association with Syk in human B cells. J. Immunol. 167:6292-6302 (2001)\n\nBulanova, E., Budagian, V., Orinska, Z., Krause, H., Paus, R., and Bulfone-Paus, S. Murine mast cells express novel functional IL-15Rα isoforms. J. Immunol. 170:5045-5055 (2003)\n\nBulanova, E., Budagian, V., Orinska, Z., Hein, M., Petersen, F., Thon, L., Adam, D., and Bulfone-Paus, S. Extracellular ATP induces cytokine expression and apoptosis through P2X7 receptor in murine mast cells. J. Immunol. 174:3880-3890 (2005)\n\nBudagian, V., Bulanova, E., Orinska, Z., Thon, L., Mamat, U., Bellosta, P., Basilico, C., Adam, D., Paus, R., and Bulfone-Paus, S. A promiscuous liaison between the IL-15 receptor and the Axl receptor tyrosine kinase in cell death control. EMBO J. 24:4260-4270 (2005)\n\nBulanova, E., Budagian, V., Orinska, Z., Koch-Nolte, F., Haag, F., and Bulfone-Paus, S. ATP induces P2X7 receptor-independent cytokine and chemokine expression through P2X1 and P2X3 receptors in murine mast cells. J. Leukocyte Biol. 85:692-702 (2009)\n\nBudagian V, Nanni P, Lollini PL, Musiani P, Di Carlo E, Bulanova E, Paus R, Bulfone-Paus S. Enhanced Inhibition of Tumour Growth and Metastasis, and Induction of Antitumour Immunity by IL-2-IgG2b Fusion Protein. Scand. J. Immunol. 55:484-492 (2002)\n\n\nBulanova, E., Budagian, V., Duitman, E., Orinska, Z., Krause, H., Rückert, R., Reiling, N., and Bulfone-Paus, S. Soluble IL-15Rα is generated by alternative splicing or proteolytic cleavage and forms functional complexes with Il-15. J. Biol. Chem. 282:13167-13179 (2007)\n\nBudagian, V., Bulanova, E., Orinska, Z., Duitman, E., Brandt, K., Ludwig, A., Hartmann, D., Lemke, G., Saftig, P., and Bulfone-Paus, S. Soluble Axl is generated by ADAM10-dependent cleavage and associates with Gas6 in mouse serum. Mol. Cell. Biol. 25:9324-9339 (2005)\n\nBulfone-Paus, S., Bulanova, E., Pohl, T, Budagian, V., Dürkop, H., Rückert, R., Kunzendorf, U., Paus, R., and Krause, H. Death deflected: IL-15 inhibits TNF-α-mediated apoptosis in fibroblasts by TRAF2 recruitment to the IL-15Rα chain. FASEB J. 13:1575-1585 (1999)\n\nBudagian, V., Bulanova, E., Brovko, L., Orinska, Z., Fayad, R., Paus, R., and Bulfone-Paus, S. Signaling through P2X7 receptor in human T cells involves p56LCK, MAP kinases, and transcription factors AP-1 and NF-kB. J. Biol. Chem. 278:1549-1560 (2003)\n\nBudagian, V., Bulanova, E., Orinska, Z., Ludwig, A., Rose-John, S., Saftig, P., Borden, E., and Bulfone-Paus, S. Natural soluble IL-15Rα is generated by cleavage that involves the tumor necrosis factor-α-converting enzyme (TACE/ADAM17). J. Biol. Chem. 279:40368-40375 (2004)\n\nBudagian, V., Bulanova, E., Orinska, Z., Pohl, T., Borden, E., Silverman, R., and Bulfone-Paus, S. Reverse signaling through membrane-bound Interleukin-15. J. Biol. Chem. 279:42192-42201 (2004)\n\n\n
Avatar of: Clare Francis

Clare Francis

Posts: 1

February 10, 2011

J Immunol. 183, 3004-13. (2009) contains image duplication, and too consistent statistical errors.\n\nScutera S, Fraone T, Musso T, Cappello P, Rossi S, Pierobon D, Orinska Z, Paus R, Bulfone-Paus S, Giovarelli M.\n\nSurvival and migration of human dendritic cells are regulated by an IFN-alpha-inducible Axl/Gas6 pathway.\n\nThe left most panel in Figure 1A, IFN/DC 1d (1day) is the same as the right most panel in Figure 1C, GM-CSF+IFN (48 hours). The histograms show all the same features. Even if the same treatments for the same time were carried out on 2 different aliquots of the same starting cells you would not expect that all the features, bumps and dips, should appear exactly the same in both sets of histograms.\n \nFigure 1 B lower panel. The 3 error bars on the IFN/DC columns are the same.\n\nFigure 1 D. The error bars on the 500, 1000, and 10000 IU/ml IFN-alpha treatments are the same.\n\nFigure 2A. Left most panel, Axl, is the same as the middle panel of figure1A (3d=3 days).\nThis may be simple data reuse, but they are the same.\n\nFigure 4B. Right panel (6hrs) the error bars of the first 6 (left to right) columns are the same.\n\nFigure 4C, left panel, the error bars on the first 3 (left to right) columns are the same.\n\nFigure 5. The error bars on the left panel (middle and right most columns) are the same.\n
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 4

May 31, 2011

Keep scrolling down to see the side by side comparison.\n\nThe similarities are in blue.\n\nJust open one of the sites\n\n\n\n\n\nBy the way, the first author resigned as director. The details of the plagiarism were not stated so perhaps it is for another case.\n\nNeuer Fall wissenschaftlichen Fehlverhaltens = new xase of scientific misconduct\n\n[tt_news]=341&tx_ttnews[backPid]=74&cHash=9d4fe609dec563b2ed3bb34a5fec8583
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 4

May 31, 2011

Laborjournal published this piece about the managing-directorial resignation (Peter Zabel, because of duplicate publication)\n\n\n\nafter I commented on the Scientist website.\nIs that not itself a duplicate publication?\n\n
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 4

June 2, 2011

An article from the Times Higher Education\n\nHusband and wife in data duplication papers probe\n\n

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