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Parkinson’s Researcher Fabricated Data

Neuroscientist Mona Thiruchelvam agrees to retract two studies linking neurodegeneration to pesticides.

By | June 29, 2012

image: Parkinson’s Researcher Fabricated Data Substantia nigra in Parkinson's disease WIKIMEDIA COMMONS, FILIP EM

Substantia nigra in Parkinson's diseaseWIKIMEDIA COMMONS, FILIP EM

A former assistant professor at the University of Medicine and Dentistry, New Jersey (UMDNJ) committed research misconduct by fabricating data, according to an investigation by the university and the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Research Integrity (ORI). The ORI, which announced its findings on Thursday (June 28), determined that Mona Thiruchelvam falsified cell count data published in two papers in 2005 in Environmental Health Perspectives and Journal of Biological Chemistry, both of which she has agreed to retract.

Thiruchelvam fabricated stereological cell count data in two studies on how pesticides influence neuronal mechanisms involved in Parkinson’s disease (PD). The studies reported the results of 13 new experiments that supposedly counted nigrostriatal neurons in the brains of mice and rats, but an investigation spearheaded by the UMDNJ determined those counts were never taken. The nigrostriatal pathway is a major dopamine circuit in the brain, and loss of neurons in this area is one of the main features of Parkinson’s disease.

The papers slated for retraction investigate the neurological response to the combined pesticides paraquat and maneb, and suggest the pesticide atrazine also has a role in disrupting dopamine pathways. The false data were used to create several summary bar graphs, which Thiruchelvam modified to support the hypothesis that proteasomal dysfunction is higher in males than females with PD, and that exposure to paraquat and maneb enhances this effect.

Gary Miller, who cited the Environmental Health Perspectives paper (which has been cited 36 times, according to ISI), said his lab has always been skeptical about the association between certain herbicides and Parkinson’s. “There is strong evidence of an association between pesticides and PD, but figuring out exactly which compounds are driving this has been difficult,” he told The Scientist by email. “I suspect some laboratories have pursued studies based on these findings, which is unfortunate. The retraction of these papers doesn’t help the field.”

Deborah Cory-Slechta, a co-author on the same paper, said in an email she was “both shocked and disappointed” by the news. Both papers have had influence in the field, with the Journal of Biological Chemistry study being cited 73 times according to ISI.

A collaborator at UMDNJ first brought the matter to the attention of university research integrity officials a few years after Thiruchelvam joined the university in 2003, when he realized she was publishing cell density data without using his lab as she had done before. An initial inquiry was launched, for which Thiruchelvam provided the name of a researcher in California who she said had provided her with data. The witness, who Thiruchelvam said by that point had moved to England, was called and confirmed the story, but further investigation by UMDNJ revealed that this was a false witness. When investigators got a hold of the actual person Thiruchelvam had named, they learned she still resided in California and that she denied providing any data to Thiruchelvam.

In her defense, Thiruchelvam then produced 293 data files she said were the product of a confocal microscope system manufactured by the company Micro Bright Field (MBF). When UMDNJ investigators gave MBF the data to interpret, the company concluded that the files were corrupted and couldn’t be verified as real or false. However, when the case was passed to the ORI for oversight review, agents used forensic computing software to determine that many of the files, despite having different file names and dates, were identical in content.

This suggested to the ORI that the corruption had been intentional on the part of Thiruchelvam, and not due to damage by a computer virus. The identical files were then sent back to MBF for further analysis, which subsequently discovered that all of the files had come from one single file created in 2002 during one of Thiruchelvam’s previous investigations at the University of Rochester, before she joined UMDNJ.

After the investigation was passed back to UMDNJ and the findings were confirmed, Thiruchelvam was notified and provided with an opportunity to respond. She never did, and in February 2010, she left the UMDNJ. The ORI sent her a Voluntary Exclusion Agreement, which excludes her from federal funding and serving on advisory committees for seven years, which she signed without comment.

Thiruchelvam could not be reached for comment by The Scientist. Judith Neubauer, Associate Vice President for Research and Regulatory Affairs at UMDNJ, said in an email that the university expects the highest standards from its community, and “this breach of this trust by Dr. Thiruchelvam is a great disappointment to us.” She added that the issue resulted in “collateral damage to collaborators, trainees, and the scientific community as a whole, and threatens to undermine the public trust in all the excellent work being done at our University. Rest assured that we view this violation very seriously and believe that appropriate action has been taken.”

Correction (July 6, 2012): This story has been updated from its original version to correctly reflect that the Environmental Health Perspectives and Journal of Biological Chemistry papers were published in 2005, not 2009. The Scientist regrets the error.

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Comments

July 1, 2012

Nothing  more than  a nice example of the american way of scientific working

Avatar of: Bill

Bill

Posts: 1457

July 1, 2012

If by the American way of scientific working you mean foreigners coming here and fabricating data at B-list universities then I agree with you.

Avatar of: Ellen Hunt Phd

Ellen Hunt Phd

Posts: 1457

July 2, 2012

No kidding. It's a serious problem and departments are spineless about it. 

But there is no difference at A-list Universities. They are all shot through with this stuff. Take a look at what happened to Kessler at UCSF!

The corruption is so profound that you can be the former head of the FDA and they will run you out if you're honest like the pack of jackals they are.

Avatar of: RobertD

RobertD

Posts: 1457

July 2, 2012

Ironically, Science reported this today online:

An investigating committee in Japan has concluded that a Japanese anesthesiologist, Yoshitaka Fujii, fabricated a whopping 172 papers over the past 19 years. Among other problems, the panel, set up by the Japanese Society of Anesthesiologists, could find no records of patients and no evidence medication was ever administered.
"It is as if someone sat at a desk and wrote a novel about a research idea," the committee wrote in a 29 June summary report posted in Japanese on the society's Web site.

So it appears that Japan has taken the lead in bogus research papers, but we in America will not rest until we have reclaimed the title!   :)

Avatar of: 95616

95616

Posts: 7

July 2, 2012

Wow

Avatar of: 95616

95616

Posts: 7

July 2, 2012

She must not be allowed to perform any research or hold any teaching position in any institution, and further, her Ph.D. must be revoked once and for all...  What a shame!!!

Avatar of: Laura Robinson

Laura Robinson

Posts: 1457

July 2, 2012

I'm confused. Did her papers link Parkinson's to herbicides or pesticides?

Avatar of: RobertD

RobertD

Posts: 1457

July 2, 2012

As Brian stated, these compounds are an herbicide and and a fungicide, but according to Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P... the definition of pesticide includes "pests" which can be plants.

Avatar of: Brian Hanley

Brian Hanley

Posts: 66

July 2, 2012

Paraquat is an herbicide. Maneb is a fungicide.

Avatar of: Verbsat

Verbsat

Posts: 2

July 2, 2012

This is a further confirmation that the plethora of author names on scientific papers must be eliminated or that each listed author must bear the same responsibility since he/she was a co-conspirator in the fraud. The publications' game must have its consequences (Cf. P. Wyatt in the April issue of Physics Today) 

Avatar of: SolomonRivlin

SolomonRivlin

Posts: 8

July 2, 2012

This is not the only misconduct case connected with PD research. Just last week, our local paper published the following story about a research by Dr. Fred Roisen from the department of Anatomical Sciences and Neurobiology:

http://www.courier-journal.com...

This very scientist was involved in an investigation by the University of Louisville, School of Medicine, 15 years ago, after he was accused of plagiarism from a graduate student's thesis on which he served as a co-mentor. Though the university did its best to cover-up the case (see my book at: http://www.universal-publisher..., the other co-mentor of said graduate student sue the university and Dr. Roisen for stealing her work by applying for a grant that was funded without ever including her on it or even informing her that he used her project for it. She won her lawsuit and received an undisclosed amount of money (rumors say to be more than $1,000,000) on the condition that she would resign her post in the School of Medicine. I myself, as the whistle blower in the case, suffered retributions, too. And yet, here we are, 15 years later, the culprit is, literally, cashing in on his misconduct and receiving accolades for his "achievements."  Clearly, not all  scientists who commit scientific misconduct are being discovered and punished, and even when they are exposed, they sometimes being rewarded for their actions, as the case of Dr. Fred Roisen exemplifies. I did send a letter to the local paper, reminding them that they themselves cover, as a headline story, the plagiarism case back in April 6, 1998 under the title: "U of L faculty to investigate plagiarism charge in medical school - Professor claims department chairmen used student's thesis." However, they chose not to publish my the letter

Avatar of: Ellen Hunt Phd

Ellen Hunt Phd

Posts: 1457

July 2, 2012

Typical. The system of science in America has become so corrupt that I think it's broken.  Med School Deans these days are chosen because they are corrupt - period.

Avatar of: MD Lugos

MD Lugos

Posts: 1

July 2, 2012

This is terrible, grievous, inhumane and retrogressive in scientific exploration.  It must not be condone in all terms and by all standards, and stiff sanctions must be meted on perpetrators of such unwholesome acts without further delays. She must be made to face the music by stripping off any award, honour, promotion or upgrade that such publications attracted her. This is selfishness. What a shame!!!

July 2, 2012

Too bad

Avatar of: johnfryer

johnfryer

Posts: 11

July 2, 2012

Sad, because it is almost certain some chemicals will cause Parkinson's but to have people fabricate results is stupid.

Mercury is known to destroy brain nerve cells, can be photographed doing so and even here the authority view is use more mercury as its OK.

Most man made chemicals can never it seems be blamed for anything bad and one wonders if this is one example of a set up to prove the point.

Thalidomide is in the clear and selling more today than back in the bad old days when some people thought it harmful and not the safest medicine in the pHARMocopaeia.

Avatar of: Disgruntled

Disgruntled

Posts: 1457

July 3, 2012

American scientists don't get paid what they deserve because foreigners are taking over the job market.

Avatar of: Disgruntled

Disgruntled

Posts: 1457

July 3, 2012

American scientists don't get paid what they deserve because foreigners are taking over the job market.

Avatar of: Bob Greene

Bob Greene

Posts: 1

July 4, 2012

Was this done without grad students, or were they co-opted into this mess? How much corrupt research is behind all the pronouncements of the evils of pesticides?  False or sloppy research gets into the knowledge base and is cited as authority long before it is caught, if it is ever caught.  Some, like this, will continue to be cited because most folks won't look up references.

Avatar of: Lah99

Lah99

Posts: 6

July 16, 2012

According to multiple pharma industry studies to replicate published research, two thirds of  published data is either not reproducible or can only be reproduced in the narrow confines of the system used and has no relevance to disease as claimed.   It would seem that fraud is part of a greater problem and the part that is either growing the fastest or is being revealed with greater frequency.

Avatar of: Nick Strelchenko

Nick Strelchenko

Posts: 1

July 16, 2012

That is why so difficult to get federal funding these days. It is number of scientific cluster who fabricate data and support to each other. In first row it is relates to universities. Sorry to hear that...

Avatar of: Haydn_Allbutt

Haydn_Allbutt

Posts: 3

July 16, 2012

I find it difficult to fathom a scientist who
could even contemplate falsifying data.  Information that is made up is
worth less than nothing as it damages the credibility of all science.  We
depend completely on previously published data on which to base our own
research.  Without that we cannot do what we do, therefore to make up data
destroys what you are presumably trying to be a part of any way so why bother
doing it in the first place.  The fact
that they do suggests that they are getting something out of it, so I suspect
the problem is that non-scientists control so much of the scientific pathway
that there is reward not for the science but for other measures (ie how many
papers you put out, the impact factor of journals that we publish in, the
number of grants we get, the number of students we attract, etc etc.).  In other words much of the career of science
is not about science at all but about what non-scientists make us do in order
to satisfy their measures of success instead of our own.

Avatar of: J J

J J

Posts: 3

July 17, 2012

Ridiculous hyperbole, don't you think? Perhaps you've spent too much time looking at bikini photos on your Facebook page.

Avatar of: FJScientist

FJScientist

Posts: 52

July 17, 2012

The discussion with Kessler at UCSF had nothing to do with the fabrication of data. That was an argument about what funds were available to the department.

Kessler was under the firm conviction that more were promised upon his hire than what ultimately were made available. I don't know the details about who may be right or wrong. But there clearly was a misunderstanding about departmental finances that have zero, zippo, absolutely nada to do with the topic of this forum (corruption of scientific data).

Avatar of: J J

J J

Posts: 3

July 17, 2012

Let's not get carried away. This case is especially egregious, but science as a whole works just fine in the US... besides the chronic shortage of funding in some disciplines.

Avatar of: charles g

charles g

Posts: 1

July 17, 2012

It is a reflection of the often sad state of affairs that we are in that researchers find the temptation to cheat as often as they do (much more cheat than are caught).   The pressure to publish, often and in high impact journals, that acts as the primary driver for this 'scientific infidelity'.  The fact that faculty promotions committees place such a huge emphasis on this aspect of scientific output (often to the exclusion of many other important aspects) that also drives this intense competition and accompanying negative side effects.  Mentoring, teaching, and administrative duties are often completely overlooked when it comes to compensation and advancement.  Arrogance of scientific faculty also plays a huge role as many principal investigators go all out to get a paper in Cell or Science once they get an inkling that the data they have generated might have some potential for high impact.  So often, scientists fit their data and hypotheses into the journal instead of the other way around.  Very often the people generating the data (postdocs, technicians, and students) themselves recognize the limitations of the data.  They most often recognize that these limitations make the entire study not publishable in top tier journals.  However, the PIs often ignore or chose to limit the discussion and instead try to 'force' the data into a higher journal.  The difficulty they have in getting their (often substandard) work accepted into these to tiered journals, provides them with extra impetus to cheat their way ion (often after the initial response from the editor).  There are many other aspects of scientific fraud and reasons for it than I have room for here, but I do believe that the system itself creates an environment where cheating and scientific misconduct is sadly almost 'second nature'.

Avatar of: agelbert

agelbert

Posts: 50

July 18, 2012

Maybe there is no scientific proof that being hit with a two by four on the head will result in guaranteed neurological damage either but anybody that thinks pesticides, which were developed BECAUSE they would inflict neorological damage on insects, uses the above scientist's fraud to claim their is no causal relationship had better start looking at lethal dosing amounts in insects and then do a body weight comparison with humans. THEN backtrack with less and less amounts on the target insect. You'll find that the dose, no matter how low, will inflict damage on the insect. To pretend we humans are immune to pesticides because we don't immediately develop some degenerative disease is ridiculous and violates the precautionary principle while making the pesticide manufacturers quite happy. I smell a pseudo science RAT here!

Avatar of: agelbert

agelbert

Posts: 50

July 18, 2012

"I find it difficult to fathom a scientist whocould even contemplate falsifying data." Epidemiological studies about cancer clusters near nuclear power plants are routinely gamed using a very large population selection and then erasing the data subjects that don't fit the Procrustean Bed statistic data points. The final population is still statistically large enough to look scientifcally valid. The extracted members of the population are purged from the beginning of the study. The results are low to no verifiable link between nuclear power plants and cancer. It 's a lie.

Study how the Petroleum industry used distorted thermodynamics MJ/L on gasoline when burned in an internal combustion engine to claim that ethanol, a superior fuel to gasoline when burned in a high compression engine giving equal or better mileage than gasoline per liter has only 65% the energy of gasoline. That is true if you use them both to boil water in laboratory conditions but NOT true in an ICE because of ethanol's higher octane rating. This is corporate pseudo science and has been with us for well over a century.

The common thread in the information I just gave you is energy extraction corporations and the way they lie for profit while they externaiize the pollution costs to us. Wake up! Research the above and you will see what I mean and much more.

Avatar of: Haydn_Allbutt

Haydn_Allbutt

Posts: 3

July 18, 2012

Oh no, not at all agelbert.  I am not for a second suggesting that it doesn't happen.  I completely agree with you that it happens all the time.  I am saying that I can't fathom the SCIENTIST who would do such a thing.  The over all point I was making is that there are far too many NON-scientists in the science supply chain, distorting our discipline for their own ends.  If only Science didn't have to depend so heavily on non-scientists for our promotions, and our grants and our jobs etc.  Also Science needs to be better regulated.  Imagine a non-qualified person chopping you open and doing surgery on you just because they call themselves a "surgeon".  It would never be done.  But anyone can set up shop and call themselves a Scientist and publish what ever fiction they want and people accept it as Science produced by a proper Scientist.  You are most certainly NOT a Scientist Just because you have a PhD to your name.  There is a standard of ethical conduct and professional responsibility associated with being a Scientist.  We need to rout those that would destroy our Discipline from our Ranks where they hide.  There needs to be some way of identifying the proper Scientists so that it can be they who are employed, funded, published etc, instead of mixing in the garbage produced by all these pretend Scientists.  Anyway just don't even get me started about the abuse and misuse of Science.

July 20, 2012

You know if you publish a study that finds no connexion between NPP and cancer, nobody will notice it, but if you manage to publish one that does find one, your work will be quoted everywhere. So where does the true incentive lie ?

And why are they no study like that for coal plants that release a hundred time more radioactivity to the environment than NPP ? Oh, right, that's because the effect would be too hard to isolate from all the other pollutants the coal plant releases !

Avatar of: dehdeh

dehdeh

Posts: 28

July 20, 2012

At least in science, lies are discovered when data cannot be replicated.  People who feel it is OK to lie have so many other fields where they will never be caught, in fact where lies are rewarded - advertising, business generally, religion, law, TV, radio, politics, ... gee - lies are rewarded nearly everywhere except in science.
I do not understand why a person would lie about data in science - ultimately they will be exposed.

Please distinguish errors - using an inappropriate model, drawing wrong conclusions, even inappropriate statistical tests - from intentional lies.  At the boundaries between known and unknown, errors are common - we all make them.  I am part of a three institution study of mouse lifespans all using identical techniques (the NIA's ITP).  Everything is not exactly replicated, even when honest competent people do their best to replicate.  Of course important results must be replicated, and when 3 independent labs get the same result, it gives you a warm feeling that findings are real.

Avatar of: mitodoc

mitodoc

Posts: 4

December 31, 2012

If you are really interested in a whistleblower's story involving this same institution, I invite you to visit my website: www.helenezhill.com.

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