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DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

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December 1, 2010

The Sames-Sezen Case: The Feds Speak

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Posted by Derek

Paul Bracher at Chembark broke the news that the Office of Research Integrity has issued a finding on the Sames-Sezen misconduct case at Columbia. This was big news back in 2006 and 2007, and it should still be news now.

For those who haven't followed this, the case concerns a series of papers published from Dalibor Sames' lab at that university on some interesting C-H activation chemistry. This work was largely performed by a graduate student, Bengü Sezen, but none of it has proven to be reproducible, and there was a string of retractions. (Sezen herself maintained that there were no problems with the work). So far, so bad - but what gives the story more depth is that papers were retracted where Sezen was not even a co-author and the apportionment of blame is still very much arguable. That last point gets into a lot of speculation, but the investigations into the matter haven't done much to clear any of it up.

Here's a PDF with some more background for those wanting to get up to speed, and Paul's earlier posts on the matter have a lot of information for those wanted to dig into this case. I'm not sure that we're ever going to know what really happened here, which is a shame, because we'd all like for it not to happen again.

Comments (24) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: The Dark Side


1. BoredChemist on December 1, 2010 12:10 PM writes...

Maybe someone should make an independent film about this case. Which actor/actress would be well suited to play Sames/Sezen? I nominate Matt Damon & Alice Braga. Gosh, this scandal makes me feel like a tabloid reader!

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2. Anon on December 1, 2010 12:29 PM writes...

C&EN is reporting that the university has asked the trustees to revoke Sezen's Ph.D., although this would not take away her second Ph.D. in molecular biology from Heidelberg:

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3. CR on December 1, 2010 12:48 PM writes...

"Paul Bracher at Chembark broke the news that the Office of Research Integrity has issued a finding on the Sames-Sezen misconduct case at Columbia."

Not to nitpick, but didn't the Office of Research Integrity "break the news" by actually issuing the finding?

I still find it hard to believe that Columbia is going to revoke her Ph.D. (which they should), but doesn't appear to be doing anything to Prof. Sames. I spoke with the good Professor at a GRC right after this was published and asked many questions - all answered with utmost certainty that the reactions would work well. Got back to my lab and nothing worked - even the same reactions as reported. I know my former PI would have had multiple students perform the reactions prior to publication on a reaction of this scope. You can't tell me that this graduate student pulled the wool over this guy's head. Just too neat and tidy to blame the student.

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4. anchor on December 1, 2010 12:56 PM writes...

It is awful that people have paid the price and in this case, withdrawal of papers and a Ph.D. What price did Prof. Dalibor Sames pay for his callous attitude and rush to publication? Did he ask any probing questions with his student even before it was sent to publication?

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5. geezer on December 1, 2010 1:43 PM writes...

If you dig a little deeper, the supposed intimimacy between Sames & Sezen may have clouded his judgement. So there may have been probing... but not verbally.

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6. Hap on December 1, 2010 1:48 PM writes...

The worry with the Sames-Sezen case (as noted on Chembark) was that Columbia changed its rules on investigation during this case, so that a report that should have been made public in eight months took roughly five years to be made public. Since the grad student is the only one being found liable and it seems like a slam-dunk, why did it take so long? If you have to change the rules during an investigation, just as with tenure cases, the unavoidable impression is that there is something to hide.

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7. anchor on December 1, 2010 1:55 PM writes...

@ #1 and #4
I say wow! This storyline has all the elements (love, hate, dishonor, deceit etc.), indeed for a fine movie script. A medicinal chemist (like me) and still in the job market....maybe it is worth it! Any takers?

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8. Golfer on December 1, 2010 2:09 PM writes...

"You can't tell me that this graduate student pulled the wool over this guy's head. Just too neat and tidy to blame the student."

This is the generation of no accountability for the ruling class. Iraq war, banking system collapse = No one fired or held accountable.

You think anyone cares about a lab that is faking data? Corey Incs students have published the most preposterous yields for years (and if you can't reproduce them you have simian subpar lab technique). America rewards in your face sociopaths who strike a pose of condescending superiority.

Only the winnings and awards are attributed to an individual. That's the American way!

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9. Iridium on December 1, 2010 2:49 PM writes...

I cannot judge if she is guilty or not.
But I would like to say that if they are going to revoke her PhD. the supervisor MUST also be punished in one way or another.

It is rather simple: we are not speaking about overcomplicated and long experiments. It should be standard procedure to have a "third person" (for example someone from the neighbor lab) reproducing 1 or 2 key experiments before publication.

How much is it...up to 5 hour works for a 6 months project?..too much..!?!?!

It is not just about fraud. Honest mistakes happen very often, or weird batches of reagents etc.

If a "Professor" cannot think about it even once or does not deserve the salary....or he did not want to know...

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10. Curt F. on December 1, 2010 4:57 PM writes...

I wonder how new graduate students at Columbia, i.e. prospective advisees of Prof. Sames, are told of this case and its outcome?

Ideally whether or not there is a formal reprimand put in place against Prof. Sames or not, one would hope it would affect his chances of recruiting new students.

But for that to happen the prospective students would actually need to somehow become informed of the issue...

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11. Old Timer on December 1, 2010 6:15 PM writes...

I remember other students were asked to reproduce her work. For some of them, Bengu would spike their reactions with desired product in the middle of the night. For others, the reaction would fail. I would caution those so quick to judge Sames (and I'm no Sames fan). Ask yourself how you could really guard against an intelligent student intent on fraud in an otherwise perfectly functioning laboratory?

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12. blue on December 1, 2010 6:58 PM writes...

The real victims are the five students that Sames fired for not being able to reproduce this work. Maybe he should of looked a little closer after the first few.

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13. CR on December 2, 2010 9:06 AM writes...

@Curt F:

"Ideally whether or not there is a formal reprimand put in place against Prof. Sames or not, one would hope it would affect his chances of recruiting new students.

But for that to happen the prospective students would actually need to somehow become informed of the issue..."

If a student is going to Columbia and doesn't know how to use the internet and isn't looking at the chemistry blogs (or C&EN) then they deserve to stumble into Sames group unaware.

@Old Timer:

"Ask yourself how you could really guard against an intelligent student intent on fraud in an otherwise perfectly functioning laboratory?"

If all you say was, in fact, going on, then Sames could have easily done the reaction himself. Or, figured out that reactions were working when they ran overnight (because of the product spiking, which by the way, seems very fishy) and not working other times. The easiest way when 2 people cannot get them to work is have them running simultaneously.

Sezen deserves all of the blame that is coming to her (stripping of her Ph.D. as well); but Sames deserves the blame as well - incompetence, ignorance, or "what could I have done?" is not an excuse.

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14. Incha on December 2, 2010 9:10 AM writes...

Why are these papers still available on the ACS website? Yes, the retractions are also there, but it is easy to go to the paper without noticing the addition/correction. In the case of a retraction it should be made obvious on the full text HTML and pdf.

There are papers featuring Sezen as an author which have not been retracted - does this work still stand?

I wonder what her supervisor at Heidelberg thinks of this.

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15. Will on December 2, 2010 11:18 AM writes...

For all the innuendo thrown around re Sames and Sezen's supposed intimacy, does anyone know if Columbia has a stated position forbidding such relationships between faculty and their students? If there was a relationship, this is a clear example of why they are/should be forbidden. Although Sames has tenure, could he be censured or otherwise punished by the university?

If I were Sezen, and Columbia was trying to revoke my doctorate, I might be inclined to try to take Sames down with me...

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16. iridium on December 2, 2010 12:56 PM writes...

"I would caution those so quick to judge Sames"

I agree, I do not want and I cannot judge Sames. However, we can discuss chemistry.

"For others, the reaction would fail." ????

We are speaking about developing a new reaction...that must be reproduce any
time by every chemist in the world...if they use the same conditions.

So, a REAL scientist would ask
himself....WHY does it work only for these 5 persons and not for the other 3?
WHY does it work today and not yesterday?

Is it the reagent? is it the protocol? Is it the stirring? Is it some kind of

You cannot just publish the best result! If an unknown factor is responsible
for the swinging is not only your duty to find out but it is the
And when you really are unable to explain it (it might happen sometimes)... you
should mention it in the article even at the cost of publishing it in a journal
with lower impact factor.

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17. Kinase Nerd on December 2, 2010 6:22 PM writes...

... and there she comes again ...

Sezen, B., M. Seedorf and E. Schiebel. (2009). The SESA network links duplication of the yeast centrosome with the protein translation machinery. Genes Dev., 23:1559-1570.

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18. Sezen in Turkey on December 3, 2010 5:39 AM writes...

She is a group leader in Yeditepe University, Istanbul, Turkey. Good luck to her and her uni.

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19. The trend on December 3, 2010 6:10 AM writes...

Now here it goes again. Publish some papers, get good fundings and then retract some! What about the fundings Sames got on the basis of these papers? Who will pay back the tax payers money? Science after all is personal and egoistic quest only.

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20. Sezen why another Ph.D on December 3, 2010 7:31 AM writes...

Did she realized the result of her ´results´ intutively and started another doctorate work in Germany. That is puzzling. Rarely anyone likes to go through Ph.D PAINS again in one life time.

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21. Gordon on December 4, 2010 1:05 PM writes...

The whole affair leaves some questions on how Sames' group is run. Fraud thrives in an atmosphere where you can't call bullshit, and there must be plenty of that going around at group meetings. That in mind, one wonders how many postdocs tasked with reproducing Sezen's results the guy went through. It was five, someone on the web said.

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22. Spiny Norman on December 5, 2010 1:38 AM writes...

@17 and 20 -- Interesting. Elmar Schiebel is a leader in his field, highly respected. I wonder how much he knew when he took her as a student.

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23. xyz on December 5, 2010 1:31 PM writes...

I could not find her name in any of the related departments, her being a group leader in that university (both in English and the native language)? maybe, she had to quit when they realized her case. I encountered her name in the same country within some seminar series but without any departmental title.

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24. Yelena Fredricks on March 29, 2014 1:26 PM writes...

In the United States, certainly, it appears that 'ax' for 'ask' has become a marker for race. It seems not unlikely that its use in African American vernacular can be traced to early forms of English, though, and it is strange that 'conservative' objectors to it do not rejoice in itspreservation. In Br. English it has long been treated as archaic but as recently as 1850 it was recorded as current 'provincial' (from the Isle of Wight) English in James Orchard Halliwell's Dictionary of Archaic Words.

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