Birkbeck master cleared of misconduct after latest retraction

Long-running investigation into David Latchman’s UCL laboratory finds evidence of deliberate research misconduct, but concludes he was unaware of it

December 5, 2018
David Latchman

A prominent London geneticist has been cleared of research misconduct after a long-running investigation found evidence of deliberate wrongdoings by his laboratory group at UCL.

David Latchman, master of Birkbeck, University of London, was named on a paper published in the International Journal of Cardiology (“Enhanced IL-17 signalling following myocardial ischaemia/reperfusion injury”) in 2013, alongside 11 co-workers.

An inquiry by UCL, where Professor Latchman still works on a part-time basis to operate his lab, found that a series of images used in the paper had been “deliberately manipulated”, leading to a formal retraction of the paper.

Elsevier, the journal’s publisher, said that a panel “found that it was clear that the images had been intentionally manipulated as alleged, concluding that research misconduct had occurred”.

Professor Latchman’s lab has come under fire on a number of occasions in the past few years. In January 2015, UCL opened an investigation into a number of journal papers authored by Professor Latchman’s research groups.

This followed the retraction of a paper from 2002 by the Journal of Biological Chemistry over the reuse of an image from a 2001 paper.

Following the investigation, UCL ruled that Professor Latchman had “no case to answer” but admitted that “there were procedural matters in his lab that required attention”.

The university initiated a second probe later that year, however, focusing on the research practices of his lab.

A statement from Birkbeck on the hearing outcome confirmed that two separate investigations into publications connected to Professor Latchman’s research group had taken place, but concluded that “Professor Latchman had no knowledge of, or involvement in, the image manipulation identified”.

“In addition, the hearing found that Professor Latchman’s management of his UCL research programme was not at fault,” a statement said.

According to the Retraction Watch archive, Professor Latchman is named on a total of eight papers that faced retraction between 2002 and 2011.

Times Higher Education understands that two of the researchers named on the most recently retracted paper, Anastasis Stephanou and Tiziano Scarabelli, no longer work at UCL.

Responding to the outcome of the hearing, Professor Latchman said that he was “very pleased with this news”. “The hearing clearly recognised that issues such as those identified in the investigations may be difficult to detect even in well-run teams,” he said.

A UCL spokesman said that the university remained “committed to maintaining and safeguarding the highest standards of integrity in all areas of research”.

“We take any allegations of research impropriety very seriously and we have rigorous systems in place to ensure all allegations are investigated thoroughly,” he said. “UCL’s internal processes in relation to the matter are now complete and certain papers related to UCL’s investigations in this area have recently been the subject of retraction notices.”

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