Blast in the Past: Image concerns in paper about comet that might have destroyed Tall el-Hammam

Tall el-Hammam was a Bronze-Age city in current Jordan that is a site of archaeological interest. It is believed by some to be the biblical city of Sodom. According to the Bible, Sodom and Gomorrah were cities full of sinners, which were destroyed by “sulfur and fire” sent by God.

A paper published last week in Scientific Reports now claims that Tall el-Hammam was destroyed by a “cosmic airburst”, perhaps by the impact of a meteorite or comet. The article provides evidence of melted pottery and plaster, shocked quartz, and diamond-like carbon, all suggesting the city was exposed to a sudden high-temperature event.

The paper got a lot of media attention. However, several images presented in the paper appear to contain repetitive elements, suggestive of cloning.

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Impersonators and fake email addresses

This morning a professor at a US university warned me that they had gotten an email from a person pretending to be me. The email came from elisabeth_bik@yeah.net, and was signed with my name. But that is not my email address!

The email sent to the professor flagged a scientific paper as “The following article is fake. The impact on society is very bad”.

Maybe I should feel flattered, but it is quite disturbing that people pretend to be me.

So here is a quick warning that there are Elisabeth Bik impersonators using fake email addresses. My correct email address is eliesbik at gmail dot com and if an email comes from any other address that is not me!

Researcher photoshops his name onto a Nature Communications paper

Here’s a novel way to boost your resume: photoshop your own name onto a paper written by another research group. Then pin it to your Twitter profile and claim it as your own paper.

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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. [Excel spreadsheet; PDF version]

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Fatty acids, STAT3, and unexpected image similarities

This blog post expresses my personal opinion and is not an accusation of misconduct.

An exciting new paper about STAT3

The STAT (“signal transducer and activator of transcription“) protein family consists of proteins involved in many important aspects of cellular function, such as growth, differentiation, and apoptosis (programmed cell death). These transcription activators are activated themselves if other molecules bind to them, and they act as messengers that transfer changes outside of a cell to inside the nucleus, by binding to promoters and determining which genes are switched on or off. One of STAT proteins, STAT3, in particular has been the topic of many studies, because it might play a role in cancer. Simply put, the continuous activation of STAT3 might induce cancer, and STAT3 might be a target for new anti-cancer drugs.

A recent study, published on 28 August 2019 in Nature by authors from Harvard Medical School and the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, therefore gained quite some attention. It reported on one of the ways by which STAT3 can be activated, through the binding of fatty acids in a process called palmitoylation.

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Face value: sunscreen, lack of control group, and conflict-of-interest

A reader pointed out a 2016 paper published in Dermatologic Surgery.

Daily Use of a Facial Broad Spectrum Sunscreen Over One-Year Significantly Improves Clinical Evaluation of Photoaging – M. Randhawa et al. – Dermatologic Surgery: December 2016 – doi: 10.1097/DSS.0000000000000879

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Duplications in Spectrum Plots

One of my recent investigations led me to expand my set of figure types to look at. For our 2016 mBio study, in which I scanned >20,000 papers for image duplication, I focused on real photos of Western blots, agarose gels, tissue sections, etc.

Some examples of photos from biomedical papers. Top left: Western blot. Top right: agarose gel. Bottom left: petridish with bacteria. Bottom right: immunostaining of tissue sections. None of these photos have image duplications. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
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Falsification: The Andrew Wakefield case

The Andrew Wakefield case

One of the best-known examples of data falsification is a study described in a 1998 Lancet paper with Dr. Andrew Wakefield as the lead author. In this paper, 12 children with autism and chronic enterocolitis were described, and these symptoms started immediately after MMR (Measles / Mumps / Rubella) vaccination in 8 of these children.

However, a 2004 investigation by Sunday Times reporter Brian Deer revealed concerning issues with patient recruitment and undisclosed financial conflicts of interest.

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