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 (
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.
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:
— Nature News&Comment (@NatureNews) July 11, 2015
In France, Sylvestre Huet from Libération published :
In Le Monde, Hervé Morin et David Larousserie published.
— Le Monde (@lemondefr) 10 Juillet 2015
“Plant Biologist Guilty of Misconduct”, wrote The Scientist.
Plant Biologist Guilty of Misconduct: RNAi researcher Olivier Voinnet found to have willfully misrepresented data. http://t.co/o7892CQx0L
— The Scientist (@TheScientistLLC) July 13, 2015
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.
— Ralf Reski (@ReskiLab) July 10, 2015
— Dominik Steiger (@dominiksteiger) July 14, 2015
The case of Voinnet and Weinberg show that not all fraudulent science is punished the same way; Voinnet: http://t.co/Ws1TT1vAa7
— manasataramgini (@blog_supplement) July 14, 2015
ETH says no misconduct. Report they commissioned disagrees. So does CNRS. Interesting. https://t.co/y5F3qGsmpr
— Vicki Vance (@vickivance3420) July 10, 2015
Reports and PR of the investigation commissions
- The Executive Board of ETH Zurich. “Conducted properly – published incorrectly” [Press Release]. 10 July 2014. A version in French is available here. ETH has also published a version in German.
- Report of the ETH Commission of Inquiry set up to clarify allegations against Prof. Olivier Voinnet of ETH Zurich – 10 July 2010 (issued on 17 June 2015).
- Guidelines for Research Integrity and Good Scientific Practice at the ETH Zurich.
- The French Center for Scientific Research (CNRS). Completion of the procedure against Olivier Voinnet. CNRS. Paris, 10 July 2010.
- Interview with Prof Alain Fuchs (President of CNRS). Journal of CNRS. 9 July 2015.
- The French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS). Allégations sur les publications d’Olivier Voinnet : le CNRS met en place une commission d’enquête scientifique [Communiqué de Presse – Press Release] . Paris, 9 AVRIL 2015
Related articles in English
- Voinnet notches second retraction, two more corrections. by Ross Keith. Retraction Watch. 30 July 2015.
- Few Tweaks Here and There. GenomeWeb. 13 July 2015
- The “Voinnet Case”: Incorrect Measures for Incorrect Figures? by Leonid Schneider. Lab Times Online. 12 July 2015.
- Leading plant biologist found to have committed misconduct – by Declan Butler. Nature News & Comment. 10 July 2015.
- High-profile biologist is suspended after two investigations found he “breached his duty of care”, committed “misconduct”. Retraction Watch. 10 July 2015.
- The “Voinnet Case”: Background of a Retraction plus an Open Letter by Leonid Schneider. Lab Times Online. 13 April 2015
- The Plant Cell. Statement Regarding the Review and Publication of Olivier Voinnet manuscript by Dunoyer et al. 2004. 6 April 2015
- Too Much to be Nothing? by Leonid Schneider. Lab Times Online. 24 March 2015.
- Report: Plant Biologist Guilty of Misconduct by Tracy Vence. The Scientist. 10 July 2015.
- Corrections (and one EoC) propagate for distinguished plant biologist, Olivier Voinnet by Ros Keith. Retraction Watch. 02 July 2015.
- Investigations into Voinnet’s work announced; critic publishes original peer review by Ivan Oransky. Retraction Watch. 13 April 2015.
- Retraction to appear for beleaguered plant researcher Olivier Voinnet by Ivan Oransky. Retraction Watch. 06 April 2015.
Related articles in French
- Olivier Voinnet et les dérives institutionnelles. Mediapart. 14 Juillet 2015.
- Olivier Voinnet et le fiasco de l’évaluation scientifique (I). La Science au XXI Siècle. 14 Juillet 2015.
- Olivier Voinnet, CNRS : une sanction de fait inexistante ? par Scientia. Mediapart 12 Juillet 2015
- Olivier Voinnet, star de la biologie végétale, sanctionné par le CNRS par Hervé Morin et David Larousserie. Le Monde. 10 Juilet 2015.
- Un chercheur français, Olivier Voinnet, durement sanctionné par le CNRS pour pratiques de publication critiquables par Hervé Maisonneuve. Rédaction Médicale et Scientifique. 11 Juillet 2015.
- Le CNRS exclut Olivier Voinnet – Par Sylvestre Huet . Libération 10 Juillet 2015.
- Un français, ingénieur agronome, dans la tourmente : Olivier Voinnet… que va faire le CNRS ? par Hervé Maisonneuve Rédaction Médicale et Scientifique. 22 avril 2015.
- Le phytobiologiste Olivier Voinnet a été suspendu pendant 2 ans pour avoir manipulé des images sur certains de ces travaux by Jacqueline Charpentier. Actualités Houssenia Writing. 11 Juillet 2015.
- Olivier Voinnet, star de la biologie, accusé de mensonge par Hervé Morin et David Larousserie. Le Monde. 9 Avril 2015.
- Olivier Voinnet et les institutions scientifiques (I) par Luis Gonzalez-Mestres. La Science au XXI Siècle. 12 avril 2015.
- Olivier Voinnet et les institutions scientifiques (II) par Luis Gonzalez-Mestres. La Science au XXI Siècle. 06 juin 2015.
Related articles in German
- Manipulations-Vorwurf. ETH-Forscher am Pranger Von Patrick Imhasly. Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ). 17.4.2015
- ETH-Professor soll Bilder manipuliert haben. 20 Minuten. 09.04.2015.
- Wegen Fehlverhalten suspendiert. Der Tagesspiegel. 14.07.2015