The strange and murky case of Silvia Bulfone-Paus: 12 retractions so far …..

Twelve papers where Sylvia Bulfone-Paus was the senior author have been retracted.

Silvia Bulfone-Paus: image retraction watch

That itself is sufficiently unusual and remarkable. But the story seems to go back a long way. Retraction Watch has been following the story.

In September 2010 Nature carried the story of a formal investigation which had started in July 2010 of scientific misconduct being carried out at the Research Center Borstel in Germany (Forschungszentrum Borstel, Leibniz Gemeinschaft, Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, Medizinischen Fakultäten der Universitäten Lübeck und Kiel). The story however was not about the investigation but about a destabilising influence:

But events around such an investigation in Germany have taken a troubling and damaging turn from such good practice in the past few months. An unknown agitator using the presumed pseudonym Marco Berns is engaged in an e-mail and Internet offensive against two biomedical researchers whom he accuses of scientific fraud.

Berns’s libellous messages are targeted at dermatologist Ralf Paus and immunologist Silvia Bulfone-Paus, a married couple who both hold joint positions at the University of Manchester, UK, and the University of Lübeck, Germany.

The trial-by-Internet is disturbing a formal investigation, organized by the Research Center Borstel in Germany and begun in July, into some of the pair’s publications.

“Marco Berns” and his accomplice (or alter ego?) “Martin Frost” were posting articles on the internet since at least the end of 2009 and had also been subjected to “cease and desist” demands from lawyers representing the Research Centre. Some of these articles questioned Sylvia Bulfone-Pause’s use of academic titles among other wrong doings.

It does seem that the formal investigation started in July 2010 partly – if not wholly – because of the allegations which had been made by Berns and Frost in 2009. Formally the reason for the investigation was that Bulfone-Pause herself had reported some manipulation of data in papers published about research carried out under her supervision but how and when such manipulation had been discovered is not very clear.

In any case the investigation was completed and the results were published by the Research Centre on 2nd December 2010.

The Commission concludes that scientific misconduct (has ocurred) within the laboratory group “Immunobiology” for years. In 6 out of 8 of the analyzed publications in which, the two former research assistants, Dr. E. Bulanova and Dr. V. Budagian, recorded as first authors, manipulation of images found that the manipulation of the reproduction of scientific results. Data corruption within the meaning of “independent inventors” of results are not available. Given the primary responsibility of the first authors in data collection and data presentation in a scientific publication, these two first authors of these publications (bear the) main responsibility for scientific misconduct.

The blame was put squarely on Drs. Bulanova and Budagian – both Russian – and as their supervisor, Bulfone-Paus received a firm slap on the wrist:

The 6  publications complained of (were) produced under the senior authorship of Prof. Dr. Bulfone-Paus………  The Commission considers that this a lack of supervision which must be expected from the senior author / group leader, even if the first author of the offending publications are experienced scientists. The senior author / research group leader, therefore, carries a key responsibility for the scientific wrongdoings within their work group.

Nature reported:

An external investigation, launched in July and chaired by Werner Seeger, a biomedical researcher at the University of Giessen, Germany, found that two former postdocs with the centre’s immunology group were guilty of using pictures of protein blots from unrelated experiments to support their findings on signalling in cells involved in allergic reactions such as asthma. The pair’s supervisor, Silvia Bulfone-Paus, who chairs the centre’s immunology and cell biology department, bears “substantial responsibility” for the manipulations, the committee found, but added that they found no evidence of data fabrication.

The three Directors of the Research Centre are Prof. Dr. Dr. S. Bulfone-Paus, Prof. Dr. U. Schaible and Prof. Dr. P. Zabe. And the elusive Martin Frost continued his writings implying that the Russian scientists could actually just be scapegoats for the more senior authors involved and that some of their wrongdoing could be traced back to 1999!!

Now the six retractions have grown to be 12 papers so far.

This story is not over yet……..

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2 Responses to “The strange and murky case of Silvia Bulfone-Paus: 12 retractions so far …..”

  1. Sylvia Bulfone-Paus misconduct story stretches back to at least 1999. « The k2p blog Says:

    […] Bulfone-Paus misconduct story stretches back to at least 1999. By ktwop I have posted earlier about 12 retractions of papers under the supervision of Sylvia Bulfone-Paus, a Director at the Research Center Borstel in […]

  2. Continuing >> The strange and murky case of Silvia Bulfone-Paus « The k2p blog Says:

    […] a comprehensive recapitulation of the twists and turns in the Silvia Bulfone-Paus / Borstel case. This is a strange story and at least 14 retractions, anonymous internet campaigns, Russian scientists being used as […]

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