Posts Tagged ‘United States Office of Research Integrity’

University of Virginia physician found to have plagiarised 5 papers and sentenced to be supervised for 4 years

November 7, 2011

The US Office of Research Integrity has now made a finding of research misconduct in the case of Jayant Jagannathan and has applied sanctions for a period of 4 years.

Jagannathan was a former resident physician at the University of Virginia Medical Center and was found to have committed plagiarism in research supported by the National Institutes of Health and published in 5 papers between 2005 and 2009:

(more…)

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Scientific retractions increasing sharply but is it due to better detection or increased misconduct?

October 5, 2011

Retractions of scientific papers is increasing sharply.

I am a strong believer in the Rule of the Iceberg where “whatever becomes visible is only 10% of all that exists”. And while I do not know if the number of retractions of scientific papers is increasing because detection methods are improved or because scientific misconduct is increasing, I am quite sure that the misconduct that is indicated by retractions is only a small part of all the misconduct that goes on.

What is clear however is that the world wide web provides a powerful new forum for the exercising of a check and a balance. It provides a hitherto unavailable method for mobilising resources from a wide and disparate group of individuals. The success of web sites such as Retraction Watch and Vroniplag are testimony to this. And the investigative power of the on-line community is particularly evident with Vroniplag as has been described by Prof.  Debora Weber-Wulff’s blog. And this investigative power – even if made up of “amateurs” in the on-line community – can bring to bear a vast and varying experience of techniques and expertise which – if harnessed towards a particular target – can function extremely rapidly. The recent on-line investigation and disclosure that an award winning nature photographer had been photo-shopping a great number of photographs of lynxes, wolves and raccoons and had invented stories about his encounters was entirely due to “amateurs” on the Flashback Forum in Sweden who very quickly created a web site to disclose all his trangressions and exactly how he had manipulated his images.

Nature addresses the subject of retractions today:

This week, some 27,000 freshly published research articles will pour into the Web of Science, Thomson Reuters’ vast online database of scientific publications. Almost all of these papers will stay there forever, a fixed contribution to the research literature. But 200 or so will eventually be flagged with a note of alteration such as a correction. And a handful — maybe five or six — will one day receive science’s ultimate post-publication punishment: retraction, the official declaration that a paper is so flawed that it must be withdrawn from the literature. … But retraction notices are increasing rapidly. In the early 2000s, only about 30 retraction notices appeared annually. This year, the Web of Science is on track to index more than 400 (see ‘Rise of the retractions’) — even though the total number of papers published has risen by only 44% over the past decade. …. 

…… When the UK-based Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) surveyed editors’ attitudes to retraction two years ago, it found huge inconsistencies in policies and practices between journals, says Elizabeth Wager, a medical writer in Princes Risborough, UK, who is chair of COPE. That survey led to retraction guidelines that COPE published in 2009. But it’s still the case, says Wager, that “editors often have to be pushed to retract”. …… 

In surveys, around 1–2% of scientists admit to having fabricated, falsified or modified data or results at least once (D. Fanelli PLoS ONE4, e5738; 2009). But over the past decade, retraction notices for published papers have increased from 0.001% of the total to only about 0.02%. And, Ioannidis says, that subset of papers is “the tip of the iceberg” — too small and fragmentary for any useful conclusions to be drawn about the overall rates of sloppiness or misconduct.

Instead, it is more probable that the growth in retractions has come from an increased awareness of research misconduct, says Steneck. That’s thanks in part to the setting up of regulatory bodies such as the US Office of Research Integrity in the Department of Health and Human Services. These ensure greater accountability for the research institutions, which, along with researchers, are responsible for detecting mistakes.

The growth also owes a lot to the emergence of software for easily detecting plagiarism and image manipulation, combined with the greater number of readers that the Internet brings to research papers. In the future, wider use of such software could cause the rate of retraction notices to dip as fast as it spiked, simply because more of the problematic papers will be screened out before they reach publication. On the other hand, editors’ newfound comfort with talking about retraction may lead to notices coming at an even greater rate. …… 

Read the article

A graphic of retractions is here.

The academic and scientific community will – perforce – mirror the surrounding society it is embedded in. Standards of ethics and instances of misconduct will follow those of the surrounding environment. But the scientific community is somewhat protected in terms of not often having to bear liability for what they have published. Having to bear some responsibility and face liability for the quality of what they produce can be a force which will improve ethical standards immensely. Bringing incompetent or cheating scientists to book is not an attack on science. And it is what science needs to regain some of the reputation that has been tarnished in recent times. With the spotlight that is now available in the form of the world wide web, I expect the level of scrutiny to increase and this too can only be a force for the good.

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

August 15, 2011

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

Bengü Sezen – A “Master of Fraud” at Columbia University

August 2, 2011

The case of fraud by Bengü Sezen a chemist at Columbia University goes back many years and was a scandal in 2007 and briefly reported back in December 2010 by Retraction Watch.

Bengu Sezen

Further details have now emerged from the Office of Research Integrity and are put together by Chemical and Engineering News which  “show a massive and sustained effort by Sezen over the course of more than a decade to dope experiments, manipulate and falsify NMR and elemental analysis research data, and create fictitious people and organizations to vouch for the reproducibility of her results.”

A Master of Fraud (MFr) and it strikes me that she could probably have achieved great things if she had spent half as much creativity in real research as she did in duping her peers. Fraud by correction fluid in the age of photo-shopping seems particularly ingenious!!

Dalibor Sames: image njacs.org

No doubt there are extenuating circumstances but for this deception to have continued for a decade does not do any credit to her supervisor Prof. Dalibor Sames. Whether Sames has been subjected to any sanctions by the University is not clear. His role has been the subject of many posts and one “inside story” is available here.

The total number of papers retracted by Sames seems to be eight with Sezen involved in 6 of them.

C & EN carries the story:

Bizarre new details of the Bengü Sezen/Columbia University chemistry research fraud case are revealed in two lengthy reports obtained by C&EN this week from the Department of Health & Human Services. The documents—an investigative report from Columbia and HHS’s subsequent oversight findings—show a massive and sustained effort by Sezen over the course of more than a decade to dope experiments, manipulate and falsify NMR and elemental analysis research data, and create fictitious people and organizations to vouch for the reproducibility of her results. Sezen was found guilty of 21 counts of research misconduct by the federal Office of Research Integrity (ORI), which is housed at HHS, in late 2010 (C&EN, Dec. 6, 2010, page 10). A notice in the Nov. 29, 2010, Federal Register states that Sezen falsified, fabricated, and plagiarized research data in three papers and in her doctoral thesis. Some six papers that Sezen had coauthored with Columbia chemistry professor Dalibor Sames have been withdrawn by Sames because Sezen’s results could not be replicated. The ORI findings back Columbia’s own investigation.

The Sezen case began in 2000 when the young graduate student arrived in the Columbia chemistry department. “By 2002, concerns about the reproducibility of Respondent’s [Sezen’s] research were raised both by members of the [redacted] and by scientists outside” Columbia, according to the documents, obtained by C&EN through a Freedom of Information Act request. The redacted portions of the documents are meant to protect the identities of people who spoke to the misconduct investigators.

By the time Sezen received a Ph.D. degree in chemistry in 2005, under the supervision of Sames, her fraudulent activity had reached a crescendo, according to the reports. Specifically, the reports detail how Sezen logged into NMR spectrometry equipment under the name of at least one former Sames group member, then merged NMR data and used correction fluid to create fake spectra showing her desired reaction products.

The documents paint a picture of Sezen as a master of deception, a woman very much at ease with manipulating colleagues and supervisors alike to hide her fraudulent activity; a practiced liar who would defend the integrity of her research results in the face of all evidence to the contrary. Columbia has moved to revoke her Ph.D. …… 

…… After leaving Columbia, Sezen went on to receive another Ph.D. in molecular biology at Germany’s Heidelberg University. At some point during the Columbia investigation, however, Sezen vanished, though some reports place her at Turkey’s Yeditepe University. Her legacy of betrayal, observers say, remains one of the worst cases of scientific fraud ever to happen in the chemistry community.

See also

Julia Wang’s – The Sames and Sezen case, 2007

Chemical Villain of 2006: Dalibor Sames 

The Sezen Files – Part II: Unraveling the Fabrication


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