Columbia University maintains a wall of silence around the Sezen – Sames case

The Bengü Sezen – Dalibor Sames scandal rumbles on while Columbia maintains a wall of silence around the case. But the silence raises suspicions. Sezen has been painted as and has appeared clearly as the villain in the piece but Dalibor Sames  – her supervisor – seems to be getting away with very little censure. What is especially disturbing is that three of his subordinates lost their positions for raising doubts about her work while he was rewarded with tenure during the same period. To that extent it does seem that some of the extreme rhetoric now being used against Sezen and the scathing “official” criticism of Sezen is “designed” – at least partially – to deflect questions and blame away from Sames. It seems inexplicable to me that Dalibor Sames can escape any responsibility or censure and is not to be held accountable for his part in the affaire. To take away his tenure would of course be an unacceptable precedent for Columbia and would be quite unthinkable! But even assuming – in the best case – that he had no part in the deception he does come across as being not only incompetent to supervise research by others but also as eminently gullible. In the worst case he could have been her Svengali.

Chemical & Engineering News carries a new comprehensive article by William Schulz about the case and Rudy Baum posts about Sezen, Sames and Columbia  in the Editors blog.

This week’s lead Science & Technology Department story by C&EN News Editor William G. Schulz is a devastating account of systematic scientific fraud committed by former Columbia University chemistry graduate student Bengü Sezen. Schulz has been following the Sezen case since her work was called into question and Columbia began an investigation of it in 2006.

Sezen worked under the direction of Dalibor Sames from 2000 to 2005. Sames was an assistant chemistry professor when Sezen joined his group; he received tenure at Columbia in 2003. During her time in Sames’ lab, Sezen was the lead author on three papers published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, all of which Sames retracted in 2006 after the results reported in the papers were called into question because no one could reproduce them (J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2006, 128, 8364). Sezen received her Ph.D. in 2005; Columbia revoked it earlier this year. …

But what of Sames? Questions about Sezen’s research were raised by other members of Sames’ group as early as 2002, Schulz reports. Those questions weren’t just ignored by Sames; those who raised them were punished. “At least three unnamed subordinates left or were dismissed from the Sames lab, for example, for stepping forward and raising concerns about Sezen’s irreproducible research results,” Schulz writes. As the report makes clear, these whistle-blowers were sacrificed in order to maintain her favored status in the research group. Sames acted, in fact, only after a member of his group specifically set Sezen up and presented irrefutable evidence of her misconduct.

Columbia’s investigation focused exclusively on Sezen’s misconduct.  From the ORI report obtained by C&EN, it appears that Columbia has not made any attempt to probe whether Sames was guilty of scientific misconduct himself during Sezen’s time in his lab. 

Schulz writes in his excellent article:

Questions about the massive Bengü Sezen scientific fraud case at Columbia University linger in the August heat. But many of them will likely never be answered—especially the question, Why? Columbia in 2005 awarded her a Ph.D. degree in chemistry with distinction; however, it was based in large part on her fraudulent work. Details of the case make clear that Sezen, at the very least, has a sophisticated understanding of chemical principles. The effort she put into faking it and covering her tracks, say many people who have reviewed the case, easily match that required for legitimate doctoral work in science……. Sezen left Columbia shortly after receiving her chemistry degree and enrolled at Germany’s Heidelberg University, where she picked up another doctoral degree in molecular biology. But, with mounting questions about her chemistry thesis and published work—eventually to include retraction of research papers she coauthored with her professor, Dalibor Sames, on C–H bond functionalization—Columbia assembled an investigative committee to probe deeper. ….

As the evidence of her misconduct began to pile up, however, her attempts to explain away her actions became increasingly implausible. …. And then she was gone. Sezen’s whereabouts today are unknown. ……..

Columbia has erected a wall of silence around Sezen, her brazen fakery, and the consequences for those who had the misfortune of working with her. Aside from the few spare and prepared statements about her doctoral degree and the status of its misconduct investigation, the university has blotted out any mention of what happened inside the Sames laboratory between 2000 and 2005, when Sezen was a Ph.D. candidate. During this period, however, Sames was granted tenure.

Columbia has expressly forbidden Sames or any of its other employees from speaking publicly about the Sezen case. ……..

But it’s unclear what, if any, consequences Sames has suffered because of his failure to find out what might be going on with Sezen, especially when red flags about her work were raised so early on. A visit to the Sames group website today includes a photo of Sames and a slideshow of many young, enthusiastic, and smiling lab group members.

From the comments on the blog ChemBark it would seem that one of the commenters is Sezen herself and that she is still in Germany (or operating through an IP address from Germany). 

Related: The Sezen Files: Part1, Part2 and Part3

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