Posts Tagged ‘Sylvia Bulfone-Paus’

Are Universities cracking down on academic and scientific misconduct?

September 3, 2011

It may just be a passing gust of a cleansing wind but I do have a perception that universities are becoming much more responsive to allegations of academic dishonesty and scientific misconduct.

Investigations of misconduct at academic institutions have long been notorious for the amount of time they take (usually many years) and for always protecting “the establishment”. But I think I detect a change.

Investigations are speeding up and sanctions against those found guilty are beginning to be more than symbolic slaps on the wrist. The frequency of enforced resignations and dismissals seem to be increasing. I perceive a trend and I hypothesise that it is partly in response to the on-line scrutiny and negative publicity which comes from the blogosphere. 

Close on the heels of the recent Ahluwalia resignation /dismissal come these two cases:

1. Academic impropriety with Professor Julius Nyang’oro considered to have improperly helped athletes to cheat at the University of North Carolina. He is tied to two athletes who were kicked off the football team. In one case he did not detect or ignored blatant plagiarism and in the other he allowed a freshman to take a senior graduate level course and awarded him a suspiciously high grade. Nyang’oro apparently rarely gave low grades in his classes:

College athletes and accommodating professors

UNC professor resigns amid football investigation

UNC’s Afro-American studies head resigns amid questions of football …

2. A well known cardiac researcher Zhiguo Wang has been dismissed from the Montreal Heart Institute for scientific misconduct following retraction of two papers in the Journal of the Biological Chemistry just a month ago.  Wang also has an appointment at the University of Montreal, and is senior research scholar of the Fonds de Recherche en Sante de Quebec, a ChangJiang scholar professor, and a LongJiang scholar professor of China. The dismissal comes less than a month after the publication of the retraction notices.

Authors retract two JBC papers on how heart rhythms go awry; Montreal Heart Institute looking into why

Montreal heart studies ‘withdrawn’ – Zhiguo Wang’s arrhythmia research being investigated after retractions 

Montreal hospital dismisses cardiac researcher over misconduct allegations

There have been a number of other cases recently in Germany as well where the speed of the investigations by the academic institutions have been unprecedented (zu Guttenberg and Bulfone-Paus as examples).

Perhaps it’s all just in my mind – or even wishful thinking – but I have the distinct impression that a cleansing wind is beginning to blow. The world wide web may already be having an impact on combating academic dishonesty and scientific misconduct by forcing institutions to be more responsive. There is much on-line which is still malicious or untrue or just plain rubbish. But the amount of “solid” comment has achieved a  “critical mass”. The blogosphere can no longer be merely ignored it seems.

Sylvia Bulfone-Paus misconduct story stretches back to at least 1999

February 3, 2011

I have posted earlier about 12 retractions of papers concerning research done under the supervision of Sylvia Bulfone-Paus, a Director at the Research Center Borstel in Germany. Six of the retracted papers had been identified earlier and the next six are reported in Retraction Watch.

The retractions came after an investigation which confirmed the misconduct but put the blame squarely on two Russian researchers Dr. E. Bulanova and Dr. V. Budagian with comments that Bulfone-Paus bore responsibility as their supervisor but that she herself  had not committed any misconduct. The blogger / whistle blower represented by the Marco Berns / Martin Frost persona had commented that the singling out of Bulanova and Budagian was suspicious and hinted darkly at much earlier wrong-doings (and in fact had specifically mentioned the year 1999).

The latest 6 retracted papers  listed include one from 1999 giving some credence to the Martin Frost allegations:

Bulfone-Paus, S., Bulanova, E., Pohl, T, Budagian, V., Dürkop, H., Rückert, R., Kunzendorf, U., Paus, R., and Krause, H. Death deflected: IL-15 inhibits TNF-α-mediated apoptosis in fibroblasts  by TRAF2 recruitment to the IL-15Rα chain. FASEB J. 13:1575-1585 (1999, cited 118 times)

For this paper Bulfone-Paus was both first author and corresponding author. It would seem that any misconduct here cannot be passed off onto authors nos. 2 and 4.

After the investigation Martin Frost  wrote:

It was confirmed that the Institute Directors have been “snooping” on their workforce.  They have indeed viewed the log files of e-mails of the workers.  This deeply distressing news was compounded when it was revealed that the only person who the management arraigned after the Stasi-like “snooping” exercise was a member of der Betriebsrat (workers council) showing that the confidence essential for the worker – Betriebsrat relationship is now severely compromised.

The two other Directors are now discussing what to do next with Bulfone-Paus.

But as Retraction Watch describes, some damage control is being done by the institute with some assistance from the Editor of the EMBO Journal who includes the following sentence in his retraction notice:

The authors declare that key experiments presented in the majority of these figures were recently reproduced and that the results confirmed the experimental data and the conclusions drawn from them.

Why would the Journal publish a line so blatantly intended to white-wash some of the authors? Or does the editor mean that the retraction of the paper is somehow negated!

On this theme of the behaviour of Journals Martin Frost also wrote:

We have been sent the exchange of e-mails below from Dr. Karin Wiebauer.  They describe Dr. Wiebauer’s efforts to rid the scientific literature of the contamination of the mainpulated Bulfone-Paus papers. ….. One interpretation of the exchange is that the Editor-in-chief of the Journal of Immunology is stonewalling and attempting to bury the scientific miscconduct.

The sad saga goes on….


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

January 25, 2011

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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