Journal papers from the research group of David Latchman, master of Birkbeck, University of London, are among a number under investigation by University College London for possible research misconduct.
Allegations about image misuse were made last year by the prolific pseudonymous whistleblower known as Clare Francis. Professor Latchman has led Birkbeck since 2003 but maintains a lab at UCL, where he is professor of human genetics.
On 16 January, a 2002 paper of which Professor Latchman is senior author was retracted by the Journal of Biological Chemistry. The retraction notice simply says it has been “withdrawn by the authors” - of whom there are another three.
Martha Fedor, editor-in-chief and a professor at the Scripps Research Institute in California, said the journal “maintains strict confidentiality in these matters”, so was unable to give any further information. The page on the PubPeer post-publication peer review website relating to the paper, to which Ms Francis referred investigators, alleges that the paper reuses an image from a 2001 paper, authored by the same four authors plus others.
The 2002 paper’s first author, Anastasis Stephanou, a reader in molecular and cell biology at UCL, confirmed to the Retraction Watch website that this was the reason for the retraction, and attributed it to error.
The previous week, another two papers authored by a different set of researchers and Professor Latchman were corrected by the same journal. In total, questions are raised on PubPeer about 25 papers on which Professor Latchman is an author.
In a statement, UCL confirms it is carrying out research misconduct investigations into an unspecified number of papers relating to an unspecified number of its academics.
“The process is ongoing and it would be inappropriate for us to comment about named individuals at this stage,” it says. “Some errors have been identified in eight publications, and appropriate retractions have taken place. This should not be misinterpreted as an indication that individual authors have been either knowingly or deliberately involved in misconduct, because our processes are not yet complete.”
Professor Latchman did not respond to a request for comment but a spokesman for Birkbeck said: “Professor Latchman is a highly respected geneticist and higher education leader. Birkbeck reiterates the need for the processes currently under way to be completed appropriately and rapidly in fairness to all concerned.”