Birk­beck mas­ter cleared of mis­con­duct after lat­est re­trac­tion

THE (Times Higher Education) - - NEWS - [email protected]­ere­d­u­ca­

A prom­i­nent Lon­don ge­neti­cist has been cleared of re­search mis­con­duct after a long-run­ning in­ves­ti­ga­tion found ev­i­dence of de­lib­er­ate wrong­do­ings by his lab­o­ra­tory group at UCL.

David Latch­man, mas­ter of Birk­beck, Univer­sity of Lon­don, was named on a pa­per pub­lished in the In­ter­na­tional Jour­nal of Car­di­ol­ogy (“En­hanced IL-17 sig­nalling fol­low­ing my­ocar­dial is­chaemia/reper­fu­sion in­jury”) in 2013, along­side 11 co-work­ers.

An in­quiry by UCL, where Pro­fes­sor Latch­man still works on a part-time ba­sis to op­er­ate his lab, found that a se­ries of im­ages used in the pa­per had been “de­lib­er­ately ma­nip­u­lated”, lead­ing to a for­mal re­trac­tion of the pa­per.

El­se­vier, the jour­nal’s pub­lisher, said that a panel “found that it was clear that the im­ages had been in­ten­tion­ally ma­nip­u­lated as al­leged, con­clud­ing that re­search mis­con­duct had oc­curred”.

Pro­fes­sor Latch­man’s lab has come un­der fire on a num­ber of oc­ca­sions in the past few years. In Jan­uary 2015, UCL opened an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into a num­ber of jour­nal pa­pers au­thored by Pro­fes­sor Latch­man’s re­search groups.

This fol­lowed the re­trac­tion of a pa­per from 2002 by the Jour­nal of Bi­o­log­i­cal Chem­istry over the re­use

of an im­age from a 2001 pa­per.

Fol­low­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, UCL ruled that Pro­fes­sor Latch­man (pic­tured be­low) had “no case to an­swer” but ad­mit­ted that “there were pro­ce­dural mat­ters in his lab that re­quired at­ten­tion”.

The univer­sity ini­ti­ated a sec­ond probe later that year, how­ever, fo­cus­ing on the re­search prac­tices of his lab.

A state­ment from Birk­beck on the hear­ing out­come con­firmed that two sep­a­rate in­ves­ti­ga­tions into pub­li­ca­tions con­nected to Pro­fes­sor Latch­man’s re­search group had taken place, but con­cluded that “Pro­fes­sor Latch­man had no knowl­edge of, or in­volve­ment in, the im­age ma­nip­u­la­tion iden­ti­fied”.

“In ad­di­tion, the hear­ing found that Pro­fes­sor Latch­man’s man­age­ment of his UCL re­search pro­gramme was not at fault,” a state­ment said.

Ac­cord­ing to the Re­trac­tion Watch archive, Pro­fes­sor Latch­man is named on a to­tal of eight pa­pers that faced re­trac­tion be­tween 2002 and 2011.

Times Higher Ed­u­ca­tion un­der­stands that two of the re­searchers named on the most re­cently re­tracted pa­per, Anas­ta­sis Stephanou and Tiziano Scara­belli, no longer work at UCL.

Re­spond­ing to the out­come of the hear­ing, Pro­fes­sor Latch­man said that he was “very pleased with this news”. “The hear­ing clearly recog­nised that is­sues such as those iden­ti­fied in the in­ves­ti­ga­tions may be dif­fi­cult to de­tect even in well­run teams,” he said.

A UCL spokesman said that the univer­sity re­mained “com­mit­ted to main­tain­ing and safe­guard­ing the high­est stan­dards of in­tegrity in all ar­eas of re­search”.

“We take any al­le­ga­tions of re­search im­pro­pri­ety very se­ri­ously and we have rig­or­ous sys­tems in place to en­sure all al­le­ga­tions are in­ves­ti­gated thor­oughly,” he said. “UCL’s in­ter­nal pro­cesses in re­la­tion to the mat­ter are now com­plete and cer­tain pa­pers re­lated to UCL’s in­ves­ti­ga­tions in this area have re­cently been the sub­ject of re­trac­tion no­tices.”

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