Friday, November 18, 2016

Post at The Scientist related to Sarkar matter in Michigan

On 17 November 2016, Bob Grant at The Scientist posted an article PubPeer Lawyers Ask to Enter Misconduct Report into the Court Record . The newsworthy event in November 2016 was American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lawyers representing PubPeer filed a motion with the Michigan Court of Appeals on November 16 to enter an internal Wayne State University investigation of pathologist Fazlul Sarkar into the legal record .

This post related to a case, now at the Michigan Court of Appeals, involving Dr. Fazlul Sarkar, once of Wayne State University, a case which IPBiz has not been covering. Some of the interest of The Scientist in this case may be found in the sentence:

Previously, the ACLU legal team successfully lobbied the court to amend the record with a story that ran on The Scientist quoting summary statements from the report, obtained independently through the Freedom of Information Act, indicating that the university found Sarkar guilty of scientific misconduct. Strictly as to legal issues, we have the matter of hearsay evidence and of confidentiality.

[Update on 5 Dec. 2016: the motion to enter the misconduct report into the appellate record was denied.]

Some of the history of the case may be found in the post The Case Against PubPeer . This 2015 post separately notes

The commenters of PubPeer have been at the forefront of exposing scientific fraud, with their biggest coup being their rapid exhaustive coverage of all the flaws within Haruko Obokata's Stem Cell paper. Their criticisms triggered retractions from Nature, one of the most prestigious scientific journals out there. That such a highly regarded journal could fumble its peer review so disastrously provided more evidence that post publication peer review is crucial to science.

with the Obokata case one that IPBiz has covered. From the 2014 post by IPBiz --RIKEN investigation confirms Obokata paper on stem cells in Nature used doctored figures -- :

Normile pointed to the role of bloggers in uncovering the problems

Almost immediately after publication, bloggers in Japan and contributors to PubPeer, a website where scientists discuss published papers, started pointing out possibly manipulated images and apparently plagiarized text.

LBE separately pointed out the role bloggers played in the Hwang Woo Suk matter in the publication ``Lessons to be Learned from the Hwang Matter: Analyzing Innovation the Right Way,'' 88 JPTOS 239 (March 2006).

** The 2015 post in sciencemadeeasy also notes

Does this mean Dr Sarkar is guilty of misconduct ?

I don't think so. If you read all of the papers, you'll find one repeated sentence. "All authors contributed to this article equally". There is no way for anybody outside of his laboratory or institution to know that, and here in my country at least, we have the presumption of innocence.

The truth is that we don't know, and we may never know for sure.

If he is innocent, it won't mean he'll get off unscathed. As Ushma S. Neill points out-

When questioned about data in a paper, many senior authors feign ignorance and blame the first author or data generator, but I find that disingenuous. If you are the senior author, it is incumbent on you to verify all of the raw data yourself. There is intense pressure to produce, and to produce high-impact results. Sometimes this can lead to a student doing anything to please. If the paper goes out with your name on it, you should be able to verify every single piece of data in it and take responsibility for it.

As to how misconduct allegations, related to federally funded projects, are handled, some text from F. Lisa Murtha, HCCA 2015 Compliance Institute, which relates to inquiries related to Scientific Misconduct: (PHS) 42 CFR 93, (NSF) 45 CFR 689:

Protecting Evidence • You must take possession of all the evidence immediately • Evidence includes study records, computer hard drives, lab books, working papers, correspondence, rough drafts • The respondent is innocent until proven guilty. You must make it possible for him/her to continue working while your review is underway
The Inquiry Report • The Inquiry is analogous to a grand jury. The purpose is not determine guilt or innocence, but to determine whether there is sufficient credible evidence to warrant a full investigation • A recommendation against proceeding to an investigation is not necessarily the same as a finding of “innocence” • Must state what evidence was reviewed • Summarizes relevant interviews • Includes the conclusions of the Inquiry • The individuals against whom the allegation was made shall be given a copy of the report inquiry—their comments may be part of the record • The individuals may be given longer than 60 days to complete their response • The Inquiry is NOT intended to reach a final conclusion • Legal standard: Preponderance of the evidence to go forward


See also:

**Keep in mind, that universities may have their own policies on things related to ethics, plagiarism, etc. that can be apart from ORI mandated investigations of misconduct on projects involving federal funding.

Recall the recent IPBiz post -- Appellant Walker loses appeal against Harvard University in case involving copying of dissent in Bilski -- related to the case

Walker v. Harvard, Cosgrove, Weinreb, 2016 U.S. App. LEXIS 19164 (CA1 Oct. 24, 2016 ) which was an appeal by former law student Walker of an unfavorable summary judgment decision, which concerned a violation of the Harvard Law School Handbook of Academic Policies


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