Melendez challenges murky process at National University of Singapore

Alirio Melendez has not distinguished himself by his less than rigorous supervision of research carried out under him. So much so that 13 of his papers have been retracted and there be many more retractions to come. But the National University of Singapore has also shown itself to be less than transparent in handling cases of alleged misconduct. And now Melendez, while acknowledging his failings in supervising research, challenges the NUS on two counts; first for not being specifically able to detail any misconduct directly by him and secondly for its “unfair” process of investigation which ignored his submissions. Retraction Watch has been following the case(s).

Now the murky story reaches the Nature News Blog. The National University of Singapore does not come out of all this very well. When there is muck – they first try to hide it. If that doesn’t work they carry out opaque investigations and political considerations and protecting the “reputation” of the University seem to take priority.

An immunologist accused last year by the National University of Singapore (NUS) of “serious scientific misconduct” relating to 21 research papers says that he refutes the accusations and is calling on the university to make public its report into the matter.

“I categorically deny having been party to any fraudulent or scientific misconduct,” Alirio Melendez, who worked at NUS before joining the University of Glasgow and the University of Liverpool in the UK, wrote on a new website on 16 October, and at the site Retraction Watch, which has been tracking the case.

Melendez has maintained for two years that he is not to blame for the problems found in papers that he co-authored. Yet in December 2012, NUS said that a committee report had found fabrication, falsification or plagiarism associated with 21 papers, and no evidence indicating that other co-authors were involved in the misconduct. Or as Melendez sees it: “without showing any proof whatsoever that I am the guilty party for scientific fraud”.

Thirteen of those papers have now been retracted, and Melendez concedes that as corresponding author he is at fault for signing off the work without overseeing it adequately — a form of misconduct in itself. But in seven of the papers in which NUS found irregularities, he stated last week, he did not contribute data generation, analysis or any part of the manuscript writing.

So far, Melendez’s counterclaims have lacked convincing detail. That is, in part, because neither Melendez nor NUS would provide details of the papers, nor the committee report. Now, Melendez tells Nature that he will shortly post a “paper-by-paper response” on his website, but that it will be his “personal statement” on the papers, not the whole report. “Since this report is confidential I cannot publish it myself without NUS permission,” he claims. ……. 

……. There is also dispute about whether Melendez’s concerns have been given a fair confidential hearing by  NUS. The university says that it “conducted interviews with as many authors as possible” and that Melendez declined responses when a committee visited the United Kingdom in 2011 (which Melendez puts down to ill health).

Melendez says that last year, he did send two replies to the NUS investigation, but that they did not take these responses into consideration for their final report. The NUS spokesperson agrees, and says that Melendez’s responses in 2012 did not address the irregularities that NUS found and were also not sent in time for the deadlines that the university allowed, as guided by its research integrity code. Therefore, they “were not considered part of the record of the inquiry”. But Melendez says he was never made aware of this.

There would seem to be a whole lot of muck hiding under the carpets of the National University of Singapore and while the dirt may be invisible, the smell is spreading.

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