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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: derekb.lowe@gmail.com Twitter: Dereklowe

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In the Pipeline

« Biogen: A "Decimated" Pipeline? | Main | Down With the Research Works Act »

January 16, 2012

Defending Das' Resvertrol Research. Oh, Come On.

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Posted by Derek

I'm getting all the press releases from Bill Sardi, of Resveratrol Partners, as he does damage control from the Das scandal at UConn. And I have to say, he's putting in the hours getting these together. Problem is, on some key points, he doesn't know what his biggest problems are.

The latest one is titled "World Without Resveratrol: Researcher Falsely Accused", and claims that this may all be a plan to "send a message" to any academic who collaborates with the makers of resveratrol pills. The release goes on about how these are old accusations, which Das has refuted since then, and asks why these ancient concerns are coming up now, eh? The phrase "orchestrated hit job" is used. But that glosses over the times of the whole investigation, which has been a very detailed and involved one, and glosses over the amount of due process involved as well. There are a lot of problems with the publications from the Das lab, as detailed in the report that I linked to the other day, and tying them together has involved a lot of work.

But here comes my favorite part of the latest Sardi release:

". . .I asked Dr. Das directly, did he altered (sic) western blot images, or directed others in his lab to do so. While his initial answer was no, meaning he had not fabricated or altered any scientific finding, altering western blot images are a common practice in laboratories for reasons other than deception. The university chose to present their findings in a derogatory manner. Dr. Das explains that editors at scientific publications commonly request researchers enhance faded images of western blot tests so they can be duplicated in their publications. Western blot tests are frequently altered to remove backgrounds, enhance contrast and increase dots-per-inch resolution so they are suitable for publication. This had been fully explained to university officials long before. . .

No, no, no. The problems with the Das papers have nothing to do with enhancing the contrast on Western blots. They have to do with cutting and pasting sections of them, rearranging them, reusing them, and creating them out of pieces of other experiments. Look at that report. These people appear to have spent a ridiculous amount of time assembling "Western blots" out of miscellaneous digitized chunks. The resulting figures purport, in many cases, to represent particular experiments, but they do no such thing. They represent a bunch of previous bands from other experiments entirely, sliced and diced in a way that would seem to have no other possible motive than to deceive. Come on.

Oh, but there's more. Here, according to the press release, is how a cutting-edge academic lab works these days:

"As I drilled Dr. Das’ former students with questions, I found that lead researchers like Dr. Das do not do any lab bench experiments. Students do all the work and submit their results to him via e-mail or by directly downloading data into his computer. Dr. Das says when he is not traveling his office is open and students can enter and download data directly onto his computer. I had previously visited Dr. Das at the University of Connecticut and noticed his office door was left open and anyone could have access to his computer.

One former student told me that typically lead researchers like Dr. Das write the introduction and conclusion of experiments and the students enter all the data, before publication in scientific journals. Dr. Das, who is busy lecturing all over the globe because of his groundbreaking studies, does not directly oversee tests that are performed, and neither do most other lead researchers. The University of Connecticut report says the university holds Dr. Das responsible for all of the data. Probably most lead researchers in scientific laboratories around the globe are vulnerable to errors or even fabrication of data by their students."

Where to start? What the heck is this "download data directly into his computer" stuff? And what about all the doctored files found on other machines in the group? And yes, while lead authors are indeed vulnerable to errors and fabrication, this sort of thing typically does not involved years of work spread out across dozens of papers in multiple journals. Even the busiest and most distracted principal investigator might be expected to take the time to notice, eventually, that his group's work is a tower of fraud. And yes, the University should hold Dr. Das responsible for the data in his papers. His name is on the grants, his name is on the office door, he's the one with a high-paying tenured position while the students are cranking away under low salaries and stipends, and it's his name with an asterisk next to it on all those papers, as the contact person for any questions about them. Damn right he's responsible. He's responsible for making sure that anything going out into the literature with his name on it is something that he can stand behind.

Ah, but not to worry. It's all being taken care of:

"Dr. Das says many editors at scientific journals don’t believe the University of Connecticut report. They full-well know that editing of western blot tests is common practice and that the tests in question in no way invalidate his work and were only one part of the evidence provided in his papers from which Dr. Das drew conclusions. This is the case of scientific fraud that wasn’t."

That would explain why Dr. Das has been pulled from the co-editor job he had at one of those journals. They must believe him. And that would also shore up all those allegations of prejudice against East Indian researchers, since the editor of that journal is. . .well, he's Indian too, but you know what I mean. (Personally, if I were from India myself, I'd be furious at Das for helping to drag the reputation of my country's scientists through the mudhole, but maybe that's just me.)

No, I hope these press releases keep on coming. So far, we have lots of elaborate reasons why Dr. Das had nothing to do with all these fabricated Western blots, but who cares, right, since they're only a tiny part of his papers, which are great and important work even though he really doesn't write them anyway, and no, he has almost no connection with Longevinex and Resveratrol Partners, which is why the head of the company is spending all this time defending him in this case of minor stuff he never did, all 600 pages of summary and 60,000 pages of investigation material, and that explains why the journals that believe him are ditching him from their mastheads and publishing retractions of those great papers. Because it's all a conspiracy. Yeah. That's it.

Comments (28) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Aging and Lifespan | The Dark Side | The Scientific Literature


COMMENTS

1. Bill Sardi on January 16, 2012 1:34 PM writes...

Derek, thank you for quoting me. I recognize your skepticism. But I can go online and see courses are available on how to alter western blot images. This is a widespread issue, not just a Dr. Das problem. An online article says "There’s a difference between figures in a research article and the actual data. Scientists will quantify changes in protein levels, for example, but show the prettiest image they have to visually convey those changes in the paper. So even if you falsify an image but your data is solid, you can still stick with your scientific claims (although your intelligence could be fairly questioned)." See http://singularityhub.com/2012/01/15/hold-off-on-that-glass-just-yet-red-wine-researcher-charged-with-falsifying-data/

Bill Sardi

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2. johnnyboy on January 16, 2012 2:06 PM writes...

Derek, judging from Bill's comment above, there's another sentence you could add to the excellent last paragraph of your post: "... and anyway everybody does it, so there."

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3. CaptainPegleg on January 16, 2012 2:12 PM writes...

Uhh... Bill, I don't think that article supports your position.

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4. lazybratsche on January 16, 2012 2:27 PM writes...

Bill, cutting and pasting blobs from one western blot to another is [b]fraudulent data fabrication[/b], no question about it. The Uconn report finds [b]44 examples of fabricated western blots[/b], and a further [b]101 examples of deceptive image manipulation[/b] (see pages 11-15 of the report's executive summary, http://today.uchc.edu/pdfs/final_narrative.pdf).

That is a frankly obscene amount of manipulation.

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5. lewis robinson on January 16, 2012 2:29 PM writes...

Poor Ashutosh. First Deepak Chopra and now this. If it's any consolation, every time a Doc does something horrible, it reflects on all of us and we suffer by association. My late father, an attorney, felt the same way when it was necessary to disbar someone. It was even worse for my late father-in-law at the SEC, whenever he uncovered a Jewish crook. Thank God he passed before the Madoff imbroglio -- the incompetence of the SEC would have killed him.

It's human nature -- Saul Bellow in one of his novels, has a Polish reporter cringing whenever he has to report on fistfights at Polish weddings, etc., etc.

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6. lewis robinson on January 16, 2012 2:31 PM writes...

Poor Ashutosh. First Deepak Chopra and now this. If it's any consolation, every time a Doc does something horrible, it reflects on all of us and we suffer by association. My late father, an attorney, felt the same way when it was necessary to disbar someone. It was even worse for my late father-in-law at the SEC, whenever he uncovered a Jewish crook. Thank God he passed before the Madoff imbroglio -- the incompetence of the SEC would have killed him.

It's human nature -- Saul Bellow in one of his novels, has a Polish reporter cringing whenever he has to report on fistfights at Polish weddings, etc., etc.

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7. lewis robinson on January 16, 2012 2:32 PM writes...

Poor Ashutosh. First Deepak Chopra and now this. If it's any consolation, every time a Doc does something horrible, it reflects on all of us and we suffer by association. My late father, an attorney, felt the same way when it was necessary to disbar someone. It was even worse for my late father-in-law at the SEC, whenever he uncovered a Jewish crook. Thank God he passed before the Madoff imbroglio -- the incompetence of the SEC would have killed him.

It's human nature -- Saul Bellow in one of his novels, has a Polish reporter cringing whenever he has to report on fistfights at Polish weddings, etc., etc.

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8. RKN on January 16, 2012 2:43 PM writes...

During my PhD research I used a western blot (wb) many times to try to show differential expression between test & control. I was surprised. What I thought was a pretty routine assay turned out to be very difficult to reproduce, even using the same samples for the same vials, and the same anti-bodies from the same lot number from the same mfgr. People in other labs said they could easily reproduce their wb results, and yet others were like me, unable to do so. Pretty finicky. Fortunately, I worked in a proteomics lab. I turned to mass spectrometry for semi-quantification of protein levels. A technique I found to be more easily reproducible, and arguably more sensitive.

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9. Anonymous on January 16, 2012 3:01 PM writes...

Bill, you're comparing visual enhancement of imanges (ie; adjusting the contrast or color saturation) with complete fabrication of data. That's equivalent to saying painting by numbers is the same as what Michaelangelo did.

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10. Curious Wavefunction on January 16, 2012 3:35 PM writes...

Lewis, to be honest I am waiting for the day when Deepak Chopra is found committing fraud. Sadly we get to pick only the low-hanging (bad) fruit. It's still better than nothing of course. As for Madoff, I always thought that him swindling poor Elie Wiesel was the ultimate irony.

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11. milkshake on January 16, 2012 5:02 PM writes...

There is actually a biology field (targeted gene therapy using non-viral vectors) where a colleague of mine considers every single published paper that claims achieving a reproducible non-liver transfection in vivo to be a flawed piece of fluff. The problem with academic biology groups is that they need to secure grant funding and in areas where it is easy to generate artifact results that fit the preconceived ideas, an oversell means that the researchers have an incentive to fool themselves.

Permalink to Comment

12. lewis robinson on January 16, 2012 5:27 PM writes...

Actually the literary reference might have been to Bruno Lefty Bicek in "Never Come Morning" by Nelson Ahlgren. Worth a read if you have a rose colored view of the immigrant experience.

Permalink to Comment

13. lewis robinson on January 16, 2012 5:27 PM writes...

Actually the literary reference might have been to Bruno Lefty Bicek in "Never Come Morning" by Nelson Ahlgren. Worth a read if you have a rose colored view of the immigrant experience.

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14. chirality on January 16, 2012 5:45 PM writes...

"altering western blot images are a common practice in laboratories"

he probably meant "altering western blot images IS a common practice in laboratories" unless the Western blot images do, indeed, undergo spontaneous change. If true, it would explain a lot.

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15. Anonymous BMS Researcher on January 16, 2012 6:17 PM writes...

I have been doing biological research of one kind or another for over 25 years. While I personally never made any Western Blots, lots of my colleagues have, and I have read hundreds of scientific papers with images of gels.

I have just read the 49-page summary of the UConn review board's 69-thousand-page report. Having read that summary with close attention, I think there is only one plausible interpretation of the evidence assembled by that board: fraud on a massive scale was perpetrated by somebody in that lab. Most likely the PI was the perpetrator, but if he was not then the absolute maximally charitable interpretation I can imagine for his role would be culpable ignorance.

To anybody who might claim I am biased against Asian researchers, I would reply that I certainly don't. Many valued colleagues, including three whom I number among my mentors, are from China or India. Indeed, one of the two colleagues who played the biggest roles in teaching me the skills for which I got my current job is Indian (my other key mentor is from Hong Kong, and another former boss is also Indian). I don't care where a mind was born, I only care what he or she can do. I'm sure most of my colleagues from India are just as horrified by this UConn researcher's fraud as I am: intelligence and integrity are hardly unique to any one nationality.

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16. BossHogg on January 16, 2012 7:25 PM writes...

Focusing on the individual and their nationality, but the institution also has some credibility issues now...and it is American.

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17. pete on January 16, 2012 9:38 PM writes...

@1 Bill Sardi
Please give it up with all that plausible-doubt crap.

I've done more Western blots than I ever want to remember and what the review committee has found in examining Das's Western blots appears to constitute strong evidence of intentional, persistent, grandiose-scale fraud.

Are you really suggesting that this is solely the work of some nefarious Ph.D student or Post-Doc ??? Puh-lease.

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18. Spock on January 16, 2012 10:00 PM writes...

I refer all to the page on logical fallacy here.

One of those fallacies is the "Appeal to Common Practice":

The Appeal to Common Practice is a fallacy with the following structure:

X is a common action.
Therefore X is correct/moral/justified/reasonable, etc.

The basic idea behind the fallacy is that the fact that most people do X is used as "evidence" to support the action or practice. It is a fallacy because the mere fact that most people do something does not make it correct, moral, justified, or reasonable.

Examples of Appeal to Common Practice

Director Jones is in charge of running a state waste management program. When it is found that the program is rife with corruption, Jones says "This program has its problems, but nothing goes on in this program that doesn't go on in all state programs."

"Yeah, I know some people say that cheating on tests is wrong. But we all know that everyone does it, so it's okay."

"Sure, some people buy into that equality crap. However, we know that everyone pays women less then men. It's okay, too. Since everyone does it, it can't really be wrong."

"There is nothing wrong with requiring multicultural classes, even at the expense of core subjects. After all, all of the universities and colleges are pushing multiculturalism."

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19. Anonymous on January 16, 2012 10:07 PM writes...

@Derek:
"And yes, the University should hold Dr. Das responsible for the data in his papers. His name is on the grants, his name is on the office door, he's the one with a high-paying tenured position ....... Damn right he's responsible."

You came off pretty strong against Das, havent seen such language against Sames!!!


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20. Ginsberg on January 17, 2012 1:48 AM writes...

It is true that you can adjust a western blot image and not change the underlying raw data that is used for quantitative analysis. Cutting and pasting bands from other images however, changes everything. We move from aesthetic enhancements to scientific misconduct.

I don't think Bill Sardi read the part about cutting and pasting. He is not being honest. This wasn't about contrast and background.

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21. Anonymous III, Ph.D. on January 17, 2012 3:49 AM writes...

Someone commented that Longevinex fans comment on this blog. I've taken it for years and like it, but for me (and I suspect for most others) Das' research had nothing to do my choice.

The Immortality Institute interviewed David Sinclair a few years ago, and he said that he was taking 300mg of Longevinex (a resveratrol blend) a day for several years before taking SRT501.

Those who wanted to take what the biggest name in resveratrol research took would naturally follow the leader until more was known from human studies.

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22. Mr. Fixit on January 17, 2012 7:57 AM writes...

So we are in agreement, at least those of us with a brain, there was blatant fraud. My next question how is the current pool of grant money handled? Does it get pulled? In an ideal world the PI could be sued for all the wasted research funds, right? what does everybody else think?

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23. Bixbyte on January 17, 2012 5:29 PM writes...

Due to Dr Das and his reported fraud
all those longevinex buyers that supplemented on his Resveratrol formula wasted their money by not taking a suitable dose.

My Wife and I have been taking 1,500 milligrams a day for 5 years.

I am not a scientist and I see our improvements with large doses of Resveratrol.

Alex Kalman


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24. newnickname on January 17, 2012 7:21 PM writes...

@23 Bixbyte: You see your improvements compared to what? Who is the control, you or your wife?

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25. Journal Editor on January 19, 2012 8:44 AM writes...


I am surprised that any reputable scientific journal would be even consider a publication on Longevinex, as the company refuses to disclose the composition of the product. The company has declared that this is a proprietary "secret formulation". As a general principle for scientific publication "secret formulas" should be unacceptable. If we are dealing with a defined chemical, we must have a full chemical name. If we ares dealing with an extract, the specific procedure for preparing it must be described in sufficient detail to allow replication.

If the company wants to keep chemical structures or composition confidential, that is fine. But such data should not be published in the peer reviewed scientific literature.

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26. Sili on January 21, 2012 2:24 PM writes...

I am not a scientist and I see our improvements with large doses of Resveratrol.
You are correct. You are indeed not a scientist. Permalink to Comment

27. Otis on January 30, 2012 5:37 PM writes...

@Bill,

Please be quiet. The adults are talking.

-Otis

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28. Bixbyte on June 26, 2012 7:12 PM writes...

@newnickname my wife and I have been supplementing with 1,500 grams of 98% and 99% resveratrol daily for approximately 5+ years. I have saved the COA from kilogram purchases. I am holding a HPLC analysis trans res 1997 SHAANXI JIAHE PHYTOCHEM CO. Res works. We are two lab rats. Wish I had participated in a double blind study. A double blind would not have helped since they would have ended the experiment and who wants to be the placebo :). RES has Made us lose weight, helped our cardio, and increased our anaerobic exercise. My wife is doing miles. My lipid profile numbers are Excellent. So, this guy is a lier and his buddy boy seller is backing his possibly falsified WBs? Nice that I bought my RES from China. This other mans supplements might be fake too? Never know unless you have independent lab results. Madoff was a bad man and my Grandmother before she deceased knew Weisel so well from Poland too with her Jewish accent she would say "Veesel" I thought it was humorous that she called Ellie a Veasel. He was a little boy.
Lesson is the world is full of crooked people. Das screwed the pooch (Resveratrol pipeline).

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