On Monday (July 1), University College London released reports from misconduct investigations into the lab of David Latchman, who was a prominent geneticist at the university and is now head of Birkbeck, University of London. The documents describe evidence of research fraud in Latchman’s research group from separate investigations conducted in 2014, 2015, and 2016.
In the first investigation by University College London (UCL), a panel checked 28 papers dating back to 1997 from Latchman’s lab and found evidence of research malpractice in eight of them. The second investigation looked at 32 papers and uncovered signs of misconduct in seven of them.
The university received a third set of allegations in 2016 of “data fabrication, falsification, manipulation and plagiarism” for seven papers published between 2002 and 2008. Two separate panels reviewed these allegations. The panel for the second set of allegations writes that the evidence indicates the lab had developed a culture “outside the accepted standards of researcher integrity” and that the activities took place over a long period time, involving “more than one individual.”
The panels did not claim that Latchman fabricated data or had knowledge of the misconduct. One panel wrote, “Whilst he did not intentionally commit the misconduct in research identified in this investigation, his recklessness in the conduct of his laboratory and his involvement as author on many publications facilitated that misconduct.”
In response, Shimon Cohen, a spokesperson for Latchman, writes in a statement to The Guardian, “The nature of the manipulation identified in the UCL investigation was such that any fraud would only be apparent to a reviewer who was actively looking for such deception. To subject all research to this disproportionate scrutiny is not reasonable, to then make the assertion that to overlook such deception is ‘inattentive’ or ‘reckless’ is unjust.”
Latchman’s group has retracted at least six papers, according to The Guardian. In one retracted paper, coauthor Anastasis Stephanou, who is now at the European University Cyprus, seems to take responsibility for manipulation images. The retraction notice says, “The corresponding author, A.S., regrets the inappropriate figure manipulations of which the co-authors were completely unaware,” according to BuzzFeed News. Stephanou denies misconduct, saying, “I was not involved directly in any of the [images] that were flagged up” to BuzzFeed News.
A statement accompanying the investigation documents states that UCL started formal disciplinary action against an unnamed former member of Latchman’s lab but the person resigned before it was completed. A disciplinary hearing in September 2018 cleared Latchman of wrongdoing and noted that fraud could be hard to detect. The hearing also recommended that UCL “consider the difficulties in leading a research unit” when faculty have limited time available.
Latchman no longer supervises research, according to The Guardian.
Chia-Yi Hou is an intern at The Scientist. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.