Ahluwalia’s PhD cleared of fraud by Imperial College

I have posted extensively about Dr. Jatinder Ahluwalia’s scientific misconduct while at University College London and earlier at Cambridge. He was awarded his PhD by Imperial College London in a collaborative industrial doctorate with Novartis as his sponsor.

Following the ruckus, Imperial College investigated his PhD but have now cleared him of any fraud but their report does complain that access to Ahluwalia’s lab books was restricted by Novartis and only supervised access was permitted. Ahluwalia’s career in academia has virtually come to an end but I do have a suspicion that his PhD supervisors at Imperial College (Dr. Istvan Nagy) and at Novartis ( Dr Marco Compagna) cannot be completely free of all blame.

On the atmosphere in the research group, Dr Nagy suggests that Jatinder Ahluwalia was under no pressure to publish or to produce results in Dr Nagy’s group and Dr Nagy felt that a climate to produce fraudulent data did not exist, since there was no reason to produce papers in a hurry.
From discussions with Dr Nagy on the set-up of Dr Ahluwalia’s supervision arrangements it appears that the separation between Novartis and Imperial may have led to errors in supervision, where any mistakes that Jatinder Ahluwalia may have made in methodology and interpretation could not easily be checked.

THES and Retraction Watch cover the story.

THES: 

Imperial College London has cleared disgraced researcher Jatinder Ahluwalia of committing fraud during his industrial doctorate at the institution. 

However, a report setting out the finding also reveals that Imperial experienced considerable difficulties in investigating its suspicions due to the reluctance of the industrial collaborator on Dr Ahluwalia’s studentship to grant access to his lab books.

The investigation was announced in August 2011, after Dr Ahluwalia’s co-authors agreed to retract a 2003 Journal of Neurochemistry paper, of which he was first author, following the failure of his former supervisor, Istvan Nagy, to replicate its findings.

In 2010 a paper written while Dr Ahluwalia was a postdoctoral researcher at University College London was retracted by his former boss, Anthony Segal, after a UCL committee found that he had manipulated his results and had probably interfered with colleagues’ experiments to cover his tracks.

It subsequently emerged that Dr Ahluwalia had been dismissed from the University of Cambridge’s PhD programme in 1997 after his supervisor suspected him of faking results.

He then did a PhD at Imperial between 1999 and 2002, funded by a Medical Research Council “Case” studentship, in collaboration with the pharmaceutical company Novartis.

In 2009, while the UCL investigation was ongoing, Professor Segal informed Imperial of his suspicions about the 2003 paper. No misconduct was found during a subsequent investigation, but the paper was corrected in 2010 after “an arithmetical error” was identified.

Following its 2011 retraction, a six-person panel investigation panel – which included Imperial’s pro-rector for education, dean of students and student union president – was formed to check Dr Ahluwalia’s PhD work for fraud. None was found. …..

Dr Ahluwalia left the University of East London, where he had been a senior lecturer in pharmacology, in 2011 following an internal investigation. His current whereabouts are unknown.

Retraction Watch: 

We’ve uploaded the entire report here.

Ahluwalia, as Retraction Watch readers may recall, has had a paper in Nature retracted, as well as one in theJournal of Neurochemistry. The Nature retraction followed an investigation at University College London, where he was a postdoc, and he then left the University of East London after we reported that he had been dismissed from Cambridge the first time he had tried to get a PhD.

Imperial, where he earned his doctorate, began investigating more than two years ago. They began looking in whether he should lose his PhD after the Journal of Neurochemistry retraction, because that paper formed the basis of his thesis. They found:

The panel determined that there was no evidence of research misconduct in Dr Ahluwalia’s thesis. It noted that fraudulent activity by Dr Ahluwalia had been reported elsewhere but that this did not suggest that misconduct had occurred at Imperial. As no evidence of fraud or misconduct at Imperial had been identified, the award of the PhD should stand.

Part of the reason the investigation took so long was because of problems accessing Ahluwalia’s data, given that his supervisor was a :

An initial confidential review of the thesis and publications was carried out by a private firm contracted for the purpose and identified the need for further investigation. In parallel to this a protracted negotiation ensued between the College and Novartis for the panel to have access to Dr Ahluwalia’s notebooks which were in Novartis’ possession. Eventually supervised access to the notebooks on Novartis’ premises was agreed by Novartis.

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