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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 21, 2012

The Last Thing a Professor Wants to Hear

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Posted by Derek

This can't be good. A retraction in PNAS on some RNA-driven cell death research from a lab at Caltech:

Anomalous experimental results observed by multiple members of the Pierce lab during follow-on studies raised concerns of possible research misconduct. An investigation committee of faculty at the California Institute of Technology indicated in its final report on this matter that the preponderance of the evidence and the reasons detailed in the report established that the first author falsified and misrepresented data published in this paper. An investigation at the United States Office of Research Integrity is ongoing.

As that link from Retraction Watch notes, the first author himself was not one of the signees of that retraction statement - as one might well think - and he now appears to be living in London. He appears to have left quite a mess behind in Pasadena.

Comments (14) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Biological News | The Dark Side | The Scientific Literature


1. Anon on December 21, 2012 10:59 AM writes...

How sure are we that this prof didn't push his "trainees" for certain results?

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2. luysii on December 21, 2012 11:04 AM writes...

Don't you all feel just a little bit tarnished by this (those of you publishing papers)?

That's the way this retired neurologist feels about Gilman. See

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3. dearieme on December 21, 2012 1:01 PM writes...

Surely those who sign are "signers" not "signees"?

I similarly object to being told I'm an attendee (unless, of course, I have been assigned a valet to attend to my wants.)

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4. paperclip on December 21, 2012 2:12 PM writes...

If the "friend of a friend" story I heard is to be believed at all, the gory details involve suspicious labmates' purposely mislabeling samples to get the author to "replicate" the results when it would have been impossible -- and using a hidden camera to capture the shenanigans. Maybe someone closer to the epicenter can give the scoop.

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5. Bromine on December 21, 2012 7:09 PM writes...

Another retraction caused by the "publish or perish" mentality. Can't say I'm not surprised that I can't pronounce the first author's name.

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6. Sam on December 22, 2012 3:59 PM writes...

"Another retraction caused by the "publish or perish" mentality. Can't say I'm not surprised that I can't pronounce the first author's name"

By that logic anyone who does not have an anglo-saxon last name is a fraud?

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7. Anonymous on December 22, 2012 5:21 PM writes...

%6. No, but the odds are screwed.

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8. bank on December 22, 2012 5:36 PM writes...


If I were you, I would delete the comment you made. If you can't do that, maybe Derek can do it for you.

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9. Non-anglo-saxon name on December 23, 2012 1:40 AM writes...

@8, bank

Can you elaborate? What is so unbearably horrible about Sam's comment #6, which to my untrained eye appears to be a reaction to Bromine's chauvinistic fart in #5? Did you perhaps mean to address *your* comment to Bromine @5?

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10. The Iron Chemist on December 23, 2012 9:17 AM writes...

@4: That sounds like a healthy working environment and a great place to work. It is truly surprising that talented potential scientists are fleeing to other fields instead of working under such wonderful conditions.

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11. James on December 25, 2012 6:02 AM writes...

Photoshop detective work may have to become a key part of the toolkit of every journal editor (and suspicious PI). From the comments on Retraction Watch:
"The odd thing about the gel images in Figure 2 A is that each gel image appears to be composed in 3 parts. In Adobe Reader, using the “Select Tool” (generally the deafult tool when you open a doc), click on the ladder in any one of the three gels (HCR1 HCR2 or HCR3). The Select Tool will highlight the image in blue, and you can then copy it etc. Generally, clicking on a figure image selects the entire image. Not so here."
more in the comments.

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12. Anonymous on December 29, 2012 3:16 PM writes...

everyday there is a new pefix and new RNA class popping in the literature; m, t, si, mi, pre, pri, sh, lnc, pi, sc...

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13. Healthy on December 29, 2012 5:36 PM writes...

Not first, nor the last. I have seen this kind of behaviour first-hand. How some researchers don't want to admit the results from negative controls, eventhough they are clear. They prefer to stand with wrong negative controls that show "significative paper ready" results. Example I see everywhere removing a primary antibody instead of replacing it for inspecific IgGs...

For funding, research and peer finding please refer to the non-profit Aging Portfolio.

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14. Anonymous on January 2, 2013 9:26 AM writes...


A better way to do it would be to look at the fine details of the image by adjusting the levels in photoshop or some other tool.

The selection tool anomalies may just be an artifact of rendering the pdf or how the image was pasted in to the final document. If you look at the high quality pdf at PNAS and extract out the image you can see that there is substantial fine detail in all of the lanes of the gel that is continuous for each sample. Little, if any, evidence of tampering.

In fact, if you look at the first gel (HCR1) you can see that Adobe allows for a pre-defined selection of row 7,8 and 9. However, in the image I posted below, there is a clear imperfection (highlighted in red) in the background of the gel that spans row 6 and 7. This would imply that the "pre-defined selection" from Adobe is not two gels put together, as their background imperfections are consistent.

Now, it is very likely that other things were altered. I do not think the gel is suspect though.

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