Univer­sity chief in sci­en­tific fraud scan­dal

The Daily Telegraph - - Front Page - By Camilla Turner ed­u­ca­tion ed­i­tor

A LEAD­ING univer­sity has be­come em­broiled in a re­search scan­dal af­ter an in­quiry found that sci­en­tific pa­pers pub­lished over 11 years had been doc­tored.

Prof David Latch­man, Mas­ter of Birk­beck, and one of the coun­try’s prominent ge­neti­cists, is ac­cused of “reck­less­ness” by al­low­ing re­search fraud on his watch at Univer­sity Col­lege Lon­don’s In­sti­tute of Child Health. UCL un­der­took a for­mal in­ves­ti­ga­tion af­ter a whistle­blower al­leged fraud­u­lent re­search in dozens of pa­pers pub­lished by sci­en­tists at the in­sti­tute.

A panel of ex­perts was set up to in­ves­ti­gate the claims and their find­ings were re­ported ear­lier this year, but had not been made pub­lic.

The panel found that two sci­en­tists – Dr Anas­ta­sis Stephanou and Dr Tiziano Scara­belli – were guilty of mis­con­duct by ma­nip­u­lat­ing images in seven pub­lished re­search pa­pers. Prof Latch­man, for­mer dean of the In­sti­tute, is cited as an au­thor on all seven pa­pers.

In one, pub­lished in the Jour­nal of the Amer­i­can Col­lege of Car­di­ol­ogy, the panel said there was “clear ev­i­dence” of cloning, where parts of an im­age were copied and pasted over the same im­age. Else­where in the re­search, an im­age from a pa­per pub­lished a decade

ear­lier was also used. In an­other pa­per, an im­age was “cropped and flipped” be­fore be­ing used again in the same re­search. Images were found to have been “in­ten­tion­ally” ma­nip­u­lated in sev­eral other pa­pers.

The re­port found that Prof Latch- man was “in­suf­fi­ciently at­ten­tive” in his over­sight of the in­sti­tute which “al­lowed” the con­duct to con­tinue.

The panel con­cluded that while Prof Latch­man had “no in­ten­tion” to com­mit fraud, his “fail­ure” to man­age the lab­o­ra­tory ap­pro­pri­ately, as well as his in­volve­ment as an au­thor on the publi­ca­tions, amounted to “reck­less­ness”.

They went on to say that his be­hav­iour “fa­cil­i­tated” the re­search mis­con­duct iden­ti­fied in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Prof Latch­man was in­sti­tute dean be­fore be­com­ing mas­ter of Birk­beck, in Lon­don, in Jan­uary 2003, but con­tin­ued to hold a full-time po­si­tion at the in­sti­tute.

The In­sti­tute, along with its clin­i­cal part­ner Great Or­mond Street Hos­pi­tal for Chil­dren, is re­spon­si­ble for the largest con­cen­tra­tion of chil­dren’s health re­search in Europe. Al­le­ga­tions of pos­si­ble re­search fraud at the In­sti­tute first sur­faced in 2013. An ini­tial 20-month in­quiry found in 2015 that Prof Latch­man had “no case to an­swer”. But UCL or­dered a fresh in­ves­ti­ga­tion af­ter a whistle­blower made a se­ries of al­le­ga­tions of mis­con­duct by sci­en­tists.

Re­searchers are un­der in­tense pres­sure to pub­lish re­search pa­pers that raise the sta­tus of their depart­ment and se­cure fund­ing or re­search grants.

A panel of three pro­fes­sors was set up in May last year to in­ves­ti­gate al­le­ga­tions in re­spect of 32 pa­pers pub­lished be­tween 1990 and 2013 by sci­en­tists at the In­sti­tute.

In 25 cases, the in­quiry found there had not been re­search mis­con­duct, but in the seven oth­ers, it said there was ev­i­dence of fraud. Prof Latch­man said he had “no idea” that images were be­ing ma­nip­u­lated and “re­gret [s] that an- yone at the relevant time would do such a thing”. He added: “I am pleased that the UCL in­ves­ti­ga­tion has con­firmed that I had no knowl­edge of the im­age ma­nip­u­la­tion, let alone any im­proper in­tent, although I do take is­sue with its con­clu­sions in re­la­tion to the su­per­vi­sion of re­search.”

A UCL spokesman said the univer­sity was “com­mit­ted to main­tain­ing and safe­guard­ing the high­est stan­dards of in­tegrity” and “take [s] any al­le­ga­tions of re­search im­pro­pri­ety very se­ri­ously”.

He added: “We have rig­or­ous sys­tems in place to en­sure all al­le­ga­tions are in­ves­ti­gated thor­oughly. UCL’S in­ter­nal pro­cesses in re­la­tion to the mat­ter are on­go­ing and cer­tain pa­pers re­lated to in­ves­ti­ga­tions in this area have re­cently been the sub­ject of re­trac- tion no­tices. We do not in­tend to com­ment fur­ther on the mat­ter at this time.”

Sir Har­vey Mcgrath, the chair­man of Birk­beck gov­er­nors said: “This mat­ter does not re­late to Pro­fes­sor David Latch­man’s lead­er­ship of Birk­beck, which has been ex­cel­lent.

“Fur­ther­more, UCL’S in­ves­ti­ga­tion con­firmed that in his re­search role at UCL, Pro­fes­sor Latch­man was not in­volved in, and had no knowl­edge of, the im­age ma­nip­u­la­tion iden­ti­fied.”

Dr Stephanou said he “dis­agreed” with the find­ings and was not re­spon­si­ble for any re­search mis­con­duct. He said although he was cited as a co-au­thor, he “did not pro­duce or pre­pare any of the images the panel flagged.

Dr Scara­belli did not re­spond to re­quests for com­ment.

Prof David Latch­man was said to be guilty of fail­ing to man­age the lab­o­ra­tory ‘ap­pro­pri­ately’

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