Big trouble in a nanoparticles lab

After an anonymous tip about some papers by the Şen Research Group with possible duplicated graphs, I started digging around a bit more. And I found a couple more papers with duplications. And more. Quite a lot more. As of now, the SRG has 84 papers flagged on PubPeer. [Google Sheet link]

The Şen Research Group

The Şen Research Group is led by Professor Dr. Fatih Şen, who worked two years at the US Massachusetts Institute of Technology as a postdoc. In 2013, he started his appointment at Kütahya Dumlupınar University in Kütahya, Turkey.

According to the SRG website, Şen has received the 2015 Science Academy Outstanding Young Scientist Award (TÜBA-GEBİP) (I could not find his name on the http://www.tuba.gov.tr/ website, though) and the “2017 Young Scientist Award” from the “Science Heroes Association” at a ceremony at the Pera Museum, Istanbul. The lab’s photo-gallery features Şen receiving several awards. There is also lots of cake. And a parakeet.

Şen is a very prolific author. As per Google Scholar, Dr. Fatih Şen has published 158 papers while working at Dumlupınar university, mostly describing the production of different types of nanoparticles. Most of these papers were published in the last two years. He cranked out about 50 papers in 2019 and 41 papers in the first half of 2020 alone.

One of Fatih Şen’s most prolific co-authors, and often the first author on his papers, is Betül Celik, who changed her name (keeping the same email address) to Betül Şen around 2017. She appears to have completed her Master’s around 2018, a year later, with Fatih Şen as her mentor.

As of today, about half of Fatih Şen’s research papers now have been posted onto PubPeer for serious concerns. [Google Sheet link]

Very similar graphs

PubPeer user Thallarcha Lechrioleuca (a pseudonym) was the first to find some trouble in XRD graphs in the Şen Research Group papers, some of which appear to look more similar than expected.

Thallarcha spotted more potential duplications. Even though the SRG papers describe different nanoparticles in each paper, made with e.g. either titanium, palladium, or rutheniume-copper alloy, the graphs showing the measured particle sizes were very similar. Here are some examples.

Very similar TEM photos

After looking at more papers by the Şen Research Group, each of which described a different type of nanoparticle, I started to notice that in addition to the similar graphs that Thallarcha had found, some Transmission Electron Microscopy (TEM) photos also looked unexpectedly similar.

TEM photos are used in these papers to show the appearance and size of the nanoparticles under a special type of microscope. Many of these TEM photos have a little inset showing the structure of the nanoparticles at a higher resolution. These High-Resolution TEM (HR-TEM) photos were made to show the nanoparticle size and structure in more detail, and they were used by the authors to measure the “atomic lattice fringe”, the distance between the molecules which are lined up in rows, giving the nanoparticles a striped appearance.

Here are four photos, each from a different paper, showing such TEM and HR-TEM photos. In addition to the very similar shape of the size distribution curve – as already noticed by Thallarcha – the small circular HR-TEM insets all appear to be showing the exact same photo.

Here are six instances of this photo, which I named “Inset 1” in more detail. Each photo comes from a different paper and represents a different type of nanoparticle. Yet, by rotating them a bit so that they all have about the same orientation, these photos look very similar.

After plowing through all 158 papers by the Şen Research Group, I found a whopping total of 42 papers that all have the “Inset 1” photo. You can find an example and a list of the first 30 papers containing Inset 1 here: DOI 10.1016/j.ijhydene.2018.03.175 – [PubPeer]

Another HR-TEM photo that occurred frequently is a photo I called – you guessed it – “Inset 2“. This photo was featured in 15 SRG papers. You can find an example and a list of the first 14 papers identified with Inset 2 here: DOI: 10.1016/j.ijhydene.2017.05.113 – [PubPeer]

Here are six of those instances:

Several other inset photos were found less frequently across the SRG papers. I found Inset 3 in five papers, and Insets 4 through 7 in two papers each.

There were also some cases where the larger, TEM photo was duplicated (not shown).

Repetitive spectra

In addition to the XRD graphs which appeared to show highly similar areass across different lines, some of the papers appeared to show repetitive areas within NMR spectra. Those spectra usually show particular peaks, but the measurement in the other parts of the spectra is the background, the “noise”. The noise is not expected to be repetitive but rather random. Yet, some unexpected repeats were found within the same graphs.

Reporting the papers

All papers by the Şen Research Group with image concerns have been flagged on PubPeer. As of today, there are 84 SRG papers with PubPeer posts [Google Sheet link], which were published in 23 journals since 2015. It will be quite some work for me to hunt down the contact information for each of these journals, but I will do this in the next day or so. Update: papers were reported to the journals and institute on August 8.

Of note, one third (28/84) of these papers have been published in Scientific Reports, and 19 of these were published in 2020 alone. Other journals that published relative large portions of this set are the International Journal of Hydrogen Energy (16 papers), the Journal of Molecular Liquids (7 papers), and Nano-Structures & Nano-Objects (5 papers).

31 thoughts on “Big trouble in a nanoparticles lab”

    1. Extremely racist comment! I hope you are not a scientist or an employer.
      It happens everywhere in the world (check the link for example).
      https://www.chemistryworld.com/news/data-falsification-hits-polymer-mechanochemistry-papers/8369.article

      Sen is a graduate of a low class Turkish University. Somehow, he made his way to reasonable good university Metu. To be honest, it is a very problematic (where Bengu Sezen is also graduated- check Columbia Uni. fraud).
      In order to enter these universities, you just need to write your name in the university entrance exam. Nowadays, you can make negative score(as 4 wrong answers erase your 1 correct answer) and still can attend to chemistry departments in Turkey. I was graduated from the best university with highest attendance score but I was treated unfairly by corrupted professors (they let specific people cheat during exams, give exam questions and also write perfect references).

      The origin of the problem actually starts in the West. They lost their ability to attract talented and top immigrants from developing countries. Thanks to Jorge E. Hirsch and his stupid H-index method, academia just looks at the number of papers and citations. Sen get accepted from MIT as a post-doc, but thousands of chemists clearly better than him doesn’t even get rejection replies. There are hundreds of people like Sen in US and some made their way to the faculty positions in top universities.

      Being a synthetic polymer chemist, I can easily say that whoever publishes more than 2 paper per year either does very unimportant research or fabricating data. In my very specific field, it is even hard to publish 1 paper per year. I worked my ass off during PhD and only produced 3 papers. As a result I got rejected from 450 post-doc applications. But Sen or people like him get any position they want and awards. Academia and publishing paper is really meaningless. My advice for young talented people is to quit academia as soon as possible and work in small start-up companies or be a youtuber. Academia is probably the most corrupted thing in this world.

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  1. It is very sad that a group working with dozens of international teams is criticized in this way. If only Pubbeer had made unfounded claims by taking comments from someone who was an expert in his field. Also, she is not necessary not included scientists at MIT to increase the number of articles she claimed. If necessary, verification can be made on many publications, including NATURE, but even a negative approach indicates that the goal is different. When it is written a comment, It must be thinking that is difficult to do science in Turkey. Respects.

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  2. My interactions with MIT suggests they do not care much about integrity. I have been following the activities of the UK stem cell company Celixir who were involved with unlawful and unethical trials in Greece that used non-GMP cell products that put patients at risk. The Greek authorities conducted an in depth investigation that found evidence of serious improprieties and penalties were imposed on the company. The investigation concluded in Nov 2017 and shortly after, 2 of Celixir’s directors resigned. Celixir then recruited a new director from Harvard, one from MIT and a consultant from the Mayo clinic to serve on their advisory committee. Knowing that Celixir is a dishonest company, I had a feeling they might not have told their new recruits about what they had been up to in Greece. I therefore informed these individuals via their section heads. Harvard and the Mayo thanked me, and their staff members promptly resigned. On the other hand, the individual from MIT who is also a Commander of the British Empure, seems happy to stick with this company and I have to presume she has the blessing of her section head at MIT.

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  3. It is very disappointing to see racist comments here: “turkey is the land of the *********” and “the turk *******.” Scientist are supposed to be intelligent and thus not racist, because racists are fools. Predatory journals (yes, Scientific Reports is a predatory journal and it is a shame of The Nature group) that published those papers are as much responsibility in this scandal as the Şen group.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. It is very disappointing to see racist comments here: “turkey is the land of the *********” and “the turk *******.” Scientist are supposed to be intelligent and thus not racist. Predatory journals (yes, Scientific Reports is a predatory journal and it is a shame of The Nature group) that published those papers are as much responsibility in this scandal as the Şen group.

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    1. There are highly qualified researchers and scientists in Turkey who are closely watching this scandal. If the studies get retracted, I am pretty sure there will be consequences.

      Scientific Reports (SciRep) is not considered a predatory journal though. It is not THAT easy to publish there, the Editorial Board members are respected scientists, and there is an above-average peer-review process. I think what matters now is how the journal will handle this.

      So how does this kind of fraud go unnoticed through peer review and editorial assessment of this journal?

      First, this is a megajournal. Megajournals publish a lot more papers than subject-specific journals as they accept studies from all fields of science. This may create administrative issues regarding handling of papers, like checking for inconsistencies and irregularities in terms of the content of peer review reports etc., which eventually lead to research fraud go undetected.

      Second, this journal was founded in the steps of PLOS ONE, and does not really conduct an impact assessment. This way, subjective opinions of journal editors and the editorial board are avoided. This is a major reason why SciRep has so far published really good pieces of research. However, those who would feel the need to cheat may be more likely to submit their studies to journals such as SciRep as well, since as long as the studies “appear” to be conducted properly, they will be passed on to peer review.

      The real problem here is the peer review system. I can’t really imagine a peer reviewer, who will check for image duplications and repetitive patterns in plots FOR FREE in a very short period of time and in the midst of all kinds of other work like teaching, grant and manuscript writing, experiments, etc. We really need separate systems for detection of research fraud.

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  5. Thank you for this. Truly a secondhand embarrassment, I also wonder whether he has a Doctor of Philosophy from MIT as he claimed on his profile page here:

    http://portal.dpu.edu.tr/fatih.sen/cv

    Can you get a PhD in 2 years? I think you can, especially if you can publish 4354 articles every year PhD is a bonus.

    @Patricia Murray, We shouldn’t forget that being a temporary researcher at an institution is different than having a “degree” from there. so we can’t generalize like that.

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    1. Of course he does not have a PhD from MIT. He can freely edit his university profile page. However, profile pages at YOK website do not allow that, and only those degrees approved by the Turkish state are seen there. Here’s the link: https://akademik.yok.gov.tr/AkademikArama/AkademisyenGorevOgrenimBilgileri?sira=V-OBp1_xUj06V-k5ii5aPQ&authorId=85E964EA056F3DB3

      You won’t see no MIT there.

      He probably spent some time at MIT as a Visiting Researcher though. He obviously likes to show that off to everyone. Just like he likes to impress people by adding “Nature” next to “Scientific Reports” in his publication list here:
      http://senresearchgroup.com/yayinlar

      None of the other papers in that list include the name of the publisher. This is so pathetic. What a loser!

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      1. Fatih Sen thinks people are very pure. However, everybody is watching him. The sad point got his students in trouble. There may be the same fraud in the thesis of the whole.

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      2. “Synthesis and characterization of trimeric phosphazene based ionic liquids with tetrafluoroborate anions and their thermal investigations”

        This article is not like an article that Fatih Sen could understand. It looks like Fatih Sen’s name has been added to publish in the “Scientific Report” magazine. They destroyed small peaks by manipulating the spectrum with copy and paste. This is also dangereous wrong behavior.

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  6. Crazzy Dr Sen and research😀 group news:
    They try to get appropriate data by doing experiments in their labs like crazy, thinking that they will save themselves. They don’t know that the results will not change in their published articles.

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  7. I found one more paper with irregularities in the NMR spectrum, but without Fatih Sen as corresponding author. It seems to my eyes, all papers from those involved should be thouroughly checked. Sadly I don`t have access to the Elsevier journals.

    NMR problem:
    https://pubpeer.com/publications/D6A309482B8772281283DF6A1BA338#1

    Another paper with those authors but wrong image for control group in fluorescence array
    https://pubpeer.com/publications/75EFD09815690667D2D84026BD61F0#1

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    1. Just to clarify: BAGEP award is given by the (independent) Science Academy and is retracted. The GEBİP award is given by the governmental Academia of Sciences (TÜBA) and is not retracted.

      Like

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