Articles in Science and Nature have been retracted after it emerged that data had been faked in one of the world’s leading DNA laboratories.
Cancer biologist Abderrahmane Kaidi, who had already resigned from the University of Bristol after admitting making up experiments and fabricating data, has confessed to doing the same thing while he was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Cambridge. Dr Kaidi worked in the laboratory led by Steve Jackson, a world-leading DNA researcher, between 2007 and 2013, and Professor Jackson was named as a co-author on both of the papers that have been retracted.
A Cambridge spokeswoman said that Dr Kaidi had been investigated under the university’s misconduct in research policy.
“The investigation has upheld the allegations against Dr Kaidi, who has admitted misrepresentation and fabrication of data in two papers. Dr Kaidi has taken full and sole responsibility for these actions.
“The university’s investigation did not identify any concerns regarding any of Dr Kaidi’s co-authors on these papers. The journals concerned have been informed of the outcome of the university investigation.”
The Science paper, published in 2010, was titled “Human SIRT6 promotes DNA end resection through CtIP deacetylation”. The university said that it had concluded that “falsification of research data” had occurred.
The second retracted article – “KAT5m tyrosine phosphorylation couples chromatin sensing to ATM signalling” – was published in Nature in 2013. The retraction said that the paper had been withdrawn “to correct the scientific literature, owing to issues with figure presentation and underlying data. The authors cannot confirm the results in the affected figures and thus wish to retract the article in its entirety.”
Dr Kaidi resigned from Bristol last year after admitting “to having fabricated research data to convince a collaborator in another institution that certain experiments had taken place, when this was not the case”, the university said. At the time he was being investigated over his behaviour towards other members of his research group.
While none of Dr Kaidi’s collaborators at either Cambridge or Bristol were implicated in the data fabrication, the case has been seen as demonstrating that research misconduct can occur anywhere, even in the most prestigious laboratories which produce the most influential science.
“It can go on anywhere, for sure,” said John Hardy, chair of molecular biology of neurological disease at UCL.
Speaking generally, Simon Kolstoe, a senior lecturer and university ethics adviser at the University of Portsmouth, said that there might be particular temptation for early career researchers to commit misconduct in top-level laboratories owing to the pressure to “continually produce exciting and novel results”.
“There is significantly more pressure on researchers at ‘research-intensive’ institutions to come up with whizzy observations to support regular publications in high-impact journals that then lead to grant income,” Dr Kolstoe said. “Such institutions are really quick at getting rid of whole labs that they do not see continuing as high performers in favour of replacing them with new, younger, bright sparks who may flare and then disappear themselves.
“It’s a sad state of affairs because it ruins careers and leads to temptations to cheat. I’m convinced that this perverse incentive culture – and the commodification of novel results – within academia is mostly responsible for such misconduct.”