Fake photos used in embryonic stem cell research

As I write this, this is breaking news.

A study that appeared to have important implications for embryonic stem cell research was retracted from the journal Science after scientists found that photos in it had been faked.

The headline in Live Mint reads: “Photos found to be fake, Science retracts embryonic cell study.” Not only is this shameful for any scientist, but in this case, it turns out that he is an Indian. This is not yet reported by Reuters, AP, or any other news agency.

Live Mint requires a (free) registration, so I’m reproducing (edited) content here:

A probe by the University of Missouri at Columbia found that the paper’s first author, Kaushik Deb, doctored images from one cell to make it appear they had come from several different cells, said R. Michael Roberts, an animal science professor and Deb’s supervisor, in a letter to the journal.

Science said in October that Deb’s results, published in February 2006, might not be reliable, and it waited for the author’s retraction after the university finished investigating. Science, Nature and other journals have been on guard against retouched pictures since the faked stem cell results of South Korean scientist Hwang Woo Suk were exposed last year.

Deb was studying which embryonic cells become stem cells and which implant the embryo into the placenta. His studies suggested that a protein, called cdx2, marked cells involved in implantation, suggesting that unmarked cells might be fated to become stem cells.

Other scientists, wary of doctored images after Hwang’s fakery, scrutinized the work closely and determined that a series of photos had been altered to look as though they had come from distinct cells, Roberts said.

Roberts said he didn’t expect to have to ferret out fraud while he was overseeing Deb’s work.
“He was relatively independent; I never looked over his shoulder,” Roberts said in a telephone interview. “Science is based on trust. If you’re going to mentor people, it’s almost impossible to look over their shoulders the whole time.”

Deb has resigned from the university, and Roberts said he believes the young scientist has returned to his home in India. Deb hasn’t returned telephone calls, letters or emails, Roberts said.

Given that stem cell research is already in so much controversy thanks to the religious right, is it wise to create further controversy through fake research? Don’t these scientists have any morals or ethics or a general understanding of what’s happening in society around them? And why does it have to be an Indian?!

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9 thoughts on “Fake photos used in embryonic stem cell research

  1. Mahendra,
    There have been several instances of scientific fraud. I am certain that only a tiny percentage (or, more likely, a fraction of a percentage) is detected, and the rest is part of mainstream scientific literature (horrible thought it may sound). Even the New England Journal of Medicine has been a victim of fraud, along with its readers. The bite of my initial comment in your ‘Oscar cat’ post was exactly this. In the laboratory of my own mind, I may have done ALL the research, “just didn’t have time to take the pictures –hey, so what, just let me put in these numbers (they don’t matter anyways)”.
    For my take on a scientific paper, try this article, and this one.

  2. This ticks me off. One of the things I cherish about science (or at least the great scientists that I have met) is that they never hold on to a pet theory in the face of sufficient evidence suggesting a contrary one. How can we uphold this ideal if evidence is doctored. It goes against what I was taught that science should be… the pursuit of knowledge about natural phenomena.

    I hate to be such an extremist, but Deb should be sanctioned.

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  4. Aikaterene: yes, you can see from the tone of my post how ticked off I was too! Your words mirror my thoughts exactly. And for evidence being ‘doctored’ – what an interesting pun! 🙂

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  6. scientific fraud and innocence are too hair line diferences… there are several fake, unreproducible and incompetent papers published in A grade journals.. the BIG HEAVY weight boss runs off and their nexus with their friends and colleagues gets them away.. some one like Kaushik Deb gets caught,, its no undoubtedly is bad, but trying to accuse one person and sparing the rest simply because they are BIG SHOTS and they have a residence in the US means no sense ! thats a mockery

  7. there was Science paper retraction in last year by Yale Scientist, Richard Flavell… not a single article or press even mentioned it ! thats funny. why so mess with Deb?? its terribly bad that he was fraud, but then Flavell paper was retracted due to an identical reason… fraud, why no one even write or talk about it?? is that due to strong hold over media and strong connections that someone escapes out and others are prosecuted to their ultimate extent? It’s nasty politics that kills everything and sadly to say, it has contaminated science terribly.

  8. There are people like SIR Ian Wilmut who had no contributions while cloning Dolly but got away with the name, fame and honor. Everybody now knows about the Indian scientist (Dr. Prim Singh, who was also racially discriminated), and a bunch of other scientist who have pititioned against Wilmut, after 10 long years.

    I am afraid this story is no different!!

    I also know that Deb actually reproduced data in front of external professors. And remind you science does not go by pictures..it goes by reproducibility.

    Deb should be strongly supported for his work, and for what he found.

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