Allegations of image manipulation in six papers produced in Paul Morgan’s lab between 2006 and 2012 were made last July on the science-fraud.org website. A screening panel established by Cardiff concluded that allegations relating to four of the papers warranted a formal investigation.
The investigation panel, chaired by a retired circuit judge, has now concluded that the corresponding author on the papers, Rossen Donev, is guilty of four counts of image falsification.
However, it cleared Dr Donev, who is now a lecturer at the University of Swansea, of the more serious charge of fabrication. This is because it did not find any reason to doubt the validity of the articles’ underlying science.
According to the panel’s summary report, Dr Donev conceded that falsification is an “entirely unacceptable practice when submitting a paper for publication”.
The panel did not believe any of Dr Donev’s co-authors had any reason to suspect what he had done.
“Dr Donev, as the corresponding author, must take responsibility for the images as submitted for publication,” it says.
However, it says Professor Morgan should have “taken more resolute steps” to ensure Dr Donev left his source material with the department “for safe-keeping, as is understood to be the normal practice” and should have checked the original image files before the papers were submitted to the journals. Professor Morgan told the panel he now does this routinely.
In a statement Professor Morgan said he was pleased the allegations against him had been dismissed and thanked his family, friends and colleagues for their support during this “extremely upsetting episode”.
“In order to ensure the highest academic standards are maintained it is necessary and right that allegations of research misconduct are assessed and investigated thoroughly. The university has examined more than 40 published articles in relation to my research group and no additional findings of academic misconduct were made.
“However it is a matter of deep regret that the actions of one individual has had such a profound effect on the academic reputations of my colleagues and myself.”
A Cardiff University spokesman said the university took allegations of research misconduct “extremely seriously” and accepted the panel’s recommendation that it establish systems “to ensure that data and original image files are in future viewed and assessed prior to submission for publication”.
Dr Donev did not respond to Times Higher Education’s request for comment. He was previously found guilty by Cardiff of manipulating images in 2011, which led to the retraction of a paper from The Journal of Immunology.
He told the Retraction Watch website at the time that Cardiff had concluded there had been “no intent to deceive or perpetrate fraud”.
Science-Fraud.org was forced to close earlier this year after its anonymous founder was unmasked and threatened with lawsuits by several of the scientists whose work had been questioned on the site.