Posts Tagged ‘Jatinder Ahluwalia’

Ahluwalia’s PhD cleared of fraud by Imperial College

July 31, 2013

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.


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In 2010 a paper written while Dr Ahluwalia was a postdoctoral researcher at University College London was retracted by his former boss, Anthony Segal, after a UCL committee found that he had manipulated his results and had probably interfered with colleagues’ experiments to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

Jatinder Ahluwalia – End-game in progress

August 27, 2011

Jatinder Ahluwalia’s career of scientific misconduct has cut a swathe through academia over the last 15 years but is now approaching its end-game as Imperial College reviews the award of his PhD.

At Cambridge University he lost his studentship funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council at the end of 1997, and was dismissed from the graduate studies program in 1998. He then went on to “earn” his PhD at Imperial College after which he was employed at University College London. An investigation at UCL  found that not only had he faked experimental results but also that he had sabotaged the experiments of some of his colleagues. He resigned or was dismissed by UCL in 2009 but then turned up as a senior lecturer at the University of East London. As retractions of his papers and allegations by co-workers mounted, UEL also investigated and Imperial College started checking the experiments which had led to the award of his PhD. Earlier this year he “left” UEL. Retraction Watch has documented the entire, sorry story.

This week another paper of his was retracted and Imperial College announced that the results on which his PhD were based could not be replicated. Imperial will now set up a committee to review the award of his doctorate.

The academics asked to independently re-run the experiments were unable to replicate the findings published in the paper Activation of capsaicin-sensitive primary sensory neurones induces anandamide production and release and so the authors decided to withdraw this from the Journal of Neurochemistry. The findings also formed the basis of Dr Ahluwalia’s PhD. The College has therefore written to Dr Ahluwalia to notify him that it believes it has grounds to investigate the validity of the data in his PhD. It will be convening a panel to review the award in accordance with its policy for investigating allegations of research misconduct.

I find it an incredible waste that in so many cases of scientific misconduct there is such a great deal of misplaced creativity and ingenuity – and even hard work – which goes into the misconduct and in then covering it up.

Very fishy: Dismissed from Cambridge, PhD from Imperial, misconduct at UCL, employed at UEL

February 9, 2011

The latest revelations about the chequered career of Jatinder Ahluwalia being dismissed from Cambridge for falsifying data seems like a film script for Leonardo DiCaprio and another Catch Me If You Can movie.

At Cambridge Dr M.D. Brand, Reader in Cellular Biochemistry was his advisor and in a letter dated November 10, 1997, wrote:

…I am no longer prepared to act as PhD supervisor for Jatinder Ahluwalia, and…recommend that he removed from the Board’s list of graduate students because I believe he has been inventing experimental results.

Brand sent Ahluwalia a copy of his letter, and offered again to let him repeat his experiments with witnesses. Ahluwalia evidently didn’t take advantage of that offer. He lost his studentship funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council at the end of 1997, and was dismissed from the graduate studies program
on February 18, 1998.

While the actions at Cambridge and UCL seem to restore some faith in academic integrity some questions arise about his stint at Imperial College where he received his PhD and at the University of East London where he is currently employed as Senior Lecturer & Programme leader in Pharmacology but is writing papers about plagiarism.

He writes on the UEL site:

I undertook my PhD training at Imperial College, Chelsea & Westminster Hospital and Novartis London, studying the mechanisms by which cannabinoid (CB1) and vanilloid (VR1) receptors regulate nociceptive transmission at pre-synaptic nerve terminals.

I was based in Novartis (London) throughout my doctoral studies.

The question arises as to whether Imperial College were aware of his shenanigans at Cambridge. His apparent employment or  funding by Novartis during his PhD also raises questions about whether Novartis were aware of his dismissal from Cambridge and even about his discoveries for (or sponsored by) Novartis:

During my first year, we discovered that CB1 and VR1 receptors are expressed on pre-synaptic nerve terminals (Ahluwalia et al. Neuroscience 100, 685-688, 2000; Ahluwalia et al. Neuroscience 110, 747-753, 2002). The final year of my PhD was spent investigating the effect of the endocannabinoid anandamide on pre-synaptic neurotransmitter release from cultured dorsal root ganglion neurons  (Ahluwalia et al. Journal of Neurochemistry, 84, 585-591, 2003; Ahluwalia et al. EJN, 17, 1-8, 2003).

His paper on plagiarism while at UEL also has some obvious commercial implications.

Imperial College, UEL and Novartis ought to be worried and perhaps so also should be the editors of Neuroscience and the Journal of Neurochemistry.

“Set a thief to catch a thief”?

January 22, 2011

Earlier posts have dealt with the case of Jatinder Ahluwalia – a pharmacologist – who was found to have deceived his colleagues and probably sabotaged other’s research whose paper published in Nature was retracted. Ahluwalia was then at University College London but is now employed at the University of East London.

Retraction Watch now points out that he has published a new paper – not on pharmacology this time but about plagiarism! The paper appears in Bioscience Education, “Students Turned Off by Turnitin? Perception of Plagiarism and Collusion by Undergraduate Bioscience Students.”

Ahluwalia and his co-author, Andrew Thompsett, did the study

to provide qualitative data on the perceptions of plagiarism and collusion of final year Pharmacology students.

That he is no longer at UCL is understandable but that he is employed in the position he has at the University of East London is less understandable – not least from the perspective of the University. East London University has a history going back to 1898 as an educational institution but only became a University in 1992. It is the 3rd largest university in London in terms of student numbers and the 18th largest in the United Kingdom. But it ranks around 108th of the UK’s 115 Universities. I have difficulty to see how this University (which clearly needs to improve its ranking) could enhance its reputation by employing Ahluwalia. But perhaps Ahluwalia is a good teacher even if his reputation as a researcher in his own field is irrevocably tarnished.

The subject of his latest publication being more a social study rather than hard-core pharmacology is also understandable. And unlike many other sociologists he may have some unique qualifications to study plagiarism.

The paper itself is somewhat negative about a particular commercial product (Turnitin) and therefore of some benefit to its competitors – and that itself rings some alarm bells.

Unfortunately for Turnitin,

The results from the pilot study suggested that students did not find Turnitin (UK) easy to use neither did they perceive it as a useful learning tool.

But some questions also arise as to the the publishing Journal’s wisdom of publishing such a study  – which could be considered  “negative advertising” – and by such an author. Especially since they say that one of their objectives is to disseminate “good practice”.  Even consumer magazines are wary of reviewing just one product in isolation without also subjecting competing products to the same tests. From their website:

Bioscience Education is an online, bi-annual electronic journal owned and published by the Centre for Bioscience. Its aims are to promote, enhance and disseminate research, good practice and innovation in tertiary level teaching and learning within the biosciences disciplines.

Set a thief to catch a thief is a well tried concept but it does require some modicum of common sense.

Why cannot a concept of tort or “product liability”apply to scientists?

November 28, 2010

Cases of scientific misconduct do not seem to lead to any significant sanctions. Scientists are not subject to the codes of ethics that other professions have (even if they are not always complied with). Lawyers and doctors and engineers can be “disbarred” or otherwise forbidden from practising their professions when found guilty of incompetence or fraud.  Why then can a physicist or a chemist or a biochemist not be subject to the same professional sanctions for misconduct? Learned Institutes of Physics or Chemistry or Mathematics rarely get involved in the ethics breaches of their members. Scientists also need to be held responsible (liable) for their work and in cases of fraudulent science or misconduct, the sanctions applied need to be seen to be in balance with the extent of the offence.

There have been many cases of scientific misconduct where the offender seems to get little more than a slap on the wrist or a mild reprimand. In some cases they leave one institution and merely move to another. Their degrees are rarely revoked and they usually continue “working” or faking work in some other institution.

Retraction Watch addresses the details of the case of the fraud committed by Dr Jatinder Ahluwalia at University College London which led to the retraction of a paper in Nature.

Earlier this month, we posted an item about the retraction of a 2004Nature paper, “The large-conductance Ca2+-activated K+ channel is essential for innate immunity.” (That post was followed up with provocative comments from a researcher not affiliated with the authors, about what should happen to papers whose results can’t be replicated.)

One of the paper’s authors, Jatinder Ahluwalia, hadn’t signed the retraction, and the notice referred to “Supplementary Information” that hadn’t yet been made available. Today, University College London (UCL) posted that supplementary information, which was the report of a panel that investigated charges of research misconduct against Ahluwalia. That report fills in a lot of details about what preceded the retraction.

UCL’s investigation found that Ahluwalia:

  • falsified the results of experiments conducted by him, on UCL premises, thereby committing research fraud, as defined by paragraph 1.1.iv of the UCL Procedure for Investigating and Resolving Allegations of Misconduct in Academic Research. It was alleged that Dr Ahluwalia altered the numbering of files of research results so as to misrepresent the results of experiments conducted by him;
  • further falsified and misrepresented the results of experiments conducted by him, on UCL premises, by the use of materials other than those specified in the reports of the results of those experiments, thereby committing research fraud, as defined by paragraph 1.1.iv of the UCL Procedure for Investigating and Resolving Allegations of Misconduct in Academic Research;
  • interfered with the experiments of others so as to distort their results, thus falsifying the results of research experiments conducted by others employed by UCL on UCL premises, thereby committing research fraud, as defined in paragraph 1.1.iv of the UCL Procedure for Investigating and Resolving Allegations of Misconduct in Academic Research. It was alleged that Dr Ahluwalia deliberately contaminated chemicals used by other researchers in their experiments so as to falsify the results of those experiments, in order to conceal the falsification by him of the results of his own experiments.

Dr Ahluwalia is currently employed as a Senior Lecturer & Programme leader in BSc & MSc Pharmacology at the School of Health and Biosciences, University of East London,  Stratford Campus, Romford Road, London E15 4LZ, United Kingdom. For having committed fraud and engaged in sabotage and even though he is no longer employed by UCL, it does not seem that his behaviour has led to any significant sanctions.

Recently a Harvard University investigation found its high-profile Professor Marc Hauser guilty of 8 counts of misconduct and sent him on a year’s “book leave” and he will resume his activities next year. He does not lose tenure and his degrees are not revoked and the sanction seems relatively mild in relation to his behaviour.

The product that researchers and scientists produce is publications – mainly as papers published in scientific journals and as books. Scientific misconduct (whether plagiarism or faking data or inventing data or cherry picking data) leads occasionally to dismissals (but not always) and generally very little else. It seems to me that the concept of tort or “product liability” should be applicable to the work of scientists and researchers where their work is the result of faking data, fraud or other misconduct since it would be work that “had not been done in good faith”. Tort would apply because the ramifications of their misconduct would extend far beyond their employment contracts with their employers.

Tort  (from Wikipedia) is a wrong:

that involves a breach of a civil duty owed to someone else. It is differentiated from criminal wrongdoing which involves a breach of a duty owed to society, and also does not include breach of contract. Tort cases may comprise such topics as auto accidents, false imprisonment, slander and libel, product liability (such as defectively designed consumer products), and environmental pollution (toxic torts).

Clearly a researcher has a civic duty to his co-workers, his department, his institution, his publishers and to the global community working in the same field. Scientific misconduct is a clear breach of these duties and any such researcher must then be both accountable and liable. Sanctions in such cases must be commensurate and seen to be commensurate with the offence. A year’s sabbatical from Harvard or merely moving across town to be employed at another university does not seem to be in balance with the weight of the misconduct.

The employment contract of a researcher with any institution no doubt has the appropriate language which allows sanctions (including dismissal) for breach of contract. However the liability of a fraudulent researcher – especially with published papers and books – goes beyond a simple breach of contract with his employer and extends to the entire community of workers in the field and even to all readers who may be influenced by the fraudulent work. For commensurate sanctions to be possible it becomes necessary for the concept of tort to be introduced and for  “product liability” to reside with the researcher whereby he can be held accountable by the entire audience his “product” is addressed to.

Authors of scientific papers and books need to be responsible and liable for their products.

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