The Voinnet Case – Suspension for two years at the CNRS and an “admonition” at ETH Zürich !

 

The French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) decided to suspend Olivier Voinnet for two years, after investigations found evidence of misconduct in his work. CNRS issued today a press release (available here) in which the investigation committee reports its findings:

The commission of inquiry has established the existence of deliberate chart/diagram manipulations, in breach of the ethical standards applicable to the presentation of scientific results. This involved modifications and duplications of diagrams/charts or erroneous captions. Such inappropriate presentation of experimental data, however, does not amount to fabrication.

These violations, which do however amount to scientific misconduct, have tarnished the reputation of the CNRS and of research at large. Consequently, the CNRS President has conferred with the disciplinary committee and taken appropriate measures, in accordance with procedures applicable to civil servants.

The plant biologist Olivier Voinnet is a senior researcher on secondment at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zürich (Switzerland) since 2010. Both institutes investigated Voinnet’s work. Nature News notes that Voinnet will serve his suspension only when he returns to CNRS.

Voinnet has received several awards for his scientific work and contribution to the understanding of RNA interference (RNAi) in plants, including grants from the European Research Council (ERC). In 2013, he received the Rössler Prize. He was also elected Member of the French Academy of Sciences in 18 november 2014.

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Since last December 2014, Voinnet’s work has been criticized on PubPeer, an online platform that allows scientists to engage in post-publication peer review and discuss scientific research. In addition, Prof Vicki Vance has also published an open letter to scientists at the ETH Zürich and CNRS. She also posted, on ResearchGate, her review for one of Voinnet’s manuscripts.

CNRS did not publish the investigation report. However, the ETH Commission of Inquiry, who also published today findings of their investigations, has published a full report (completed on June 17th, 2015).

Both CNRS and ETHZ concluded to image manipulations in publications co-signed by Olivier Voinnet. However, no evidence for fabrication of data has been reported. “Conducted properly – published incorrectly”, concluded the investigation committee of ETH.

The ETH Commission, who conducted investigations in compliance with the ‘Procedure to address allegations of research misconduct at ETH Zurich (RSETHZ415)’,  wanted to determine:

Whether Voinnet and/or his coworkers committed any of the following research malpractice:

  •  Category 1: Publication of invented data. That is, the fraudulent production of results from unrealized or failed experiments, or manipulation of data in order to change the conclusions to be drawn from them.
  • Category 2: Publication of “beautified” or idealized figures. That is, the willful modification, duplication or mislabeling of images in order to make them look cleaner or more convincing, without affecting the overall conclusion of the original experiment.
  • Category 3: Publication of processed data including images without transparently announcing the nature of this processing (image splicing, contrast processing, etc). Awareness and journal requirements related to this issue have evolved considerably since approximately 2006/2008 and more stringent requirements for transparency have been in place since then.
  •  Category 4: Unintended publication of erroneous images in place of the correct ones.

The ETH Commission explained that the three first categories “constitute cases of intentional misrepresentation of data and hence are misconduct”.

The ETH Commission has examined all comments published on PubPeer which are related to Voinnet’s publications (19 papers). In this ETH report, we can read :

The document listed 19 papers that (according to OV) contained erroneous/manipulated figures. Also listed were 8 papers in which apparent anomalies could be due to inexplicable repeated background patterns in some blots, or where the same blots were simply re-probed, explaining why the same loading controls were used for each image shown. The document listed a further 4 papers that were discussed on PubPeer but for which OV argues against the existence of actual problems. He interprets these posts as an attempt to inflate accusations against him.

The ETH commission found two papers: PLoS Pathog. 2013;9(6):e1003435  and Plant Cell. 2004 16(5):1235-50 to be most problematic. The paper in Plant Cell was retracted at the request of the authors who confirmed the inappropriate manipulations of four images.

We provide on this page, the list of Voinnet’s publications retracted or reported by the ETH commission to be problematic.

Multiple national and international newspapers and science blogs have commented the decision of CNRS and ETH. In Nature News, Declan Butler wrote:

  In France, Sylvestre Huet from Libération published :


In Le Monde, Hervé Morin et David Larousserie published.

 

“Plant Biologist Guilty of Misconduct”, wrote The Scientist.

  More articles in English, French, or German are provided below.   On twitter, while scientists reported that they are satisfied with the CNRS’s decision, others criticised the decision made by the Executive Board of ETH Zurich.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reports and PR of the investigation commissions

Related articles in English

 

Related articles in French

 

Related articles in German

Images source: ETH Zurich.
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1 Comments

  1. control fake result true September 3, 2015 at 3:20 am

    SUSPENSION FOR TWO YEAR, is that all? This is ridiculous for science.

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