Doubts cast over the work of a leading Danish medical scientist found guilty of scientific dishonesty may have created an “enormous legacy of misleading literature” in a field of research, a UK scholar has claimed.
Bente Klarlund Pedersen, professor of integrative medicine at the University of Copenhagen and director of Denmark’s Centre for Physical Activity Research and Centre of Inflammation and Metabolism, was found guilty last month of scientific dishonesty in relation to six articles of which she was a senior author.
The articles describe the release of proteins called myokines during exercise, which is purported to explain its health benefits.
The Danish Committees on Scientific Dishonesty, part of the Danish Ministry of Science, Innovation and Higher Education, found Professor Pedersen guilty of scientific dishonesty on account of involvement in the selective reporting of data and failure to make clear that data had been reused in five separate papers and that one paper incorporated results from a previous study.
She was also deemed to bear joint responsibility for image manipulation. As senior author, she was deemed guilty of gross negligence in overlooking the image manipulation that had been confirmed in one of four other articles.
One of her co-authors on the papers was former Copenhagen professor Milena Penkowa. In a ruling issued simultaneously, the committee found Dr Penkowa guilty of scientific dishonesty in relation to image manipulation in four papers. It found that she was “guilty at the very least of gross negligence by overlooking the fact that the articles recycled the same graphical material to report on different research results and by attempting to obscure this fact through image manipulation”.
An international committee convened by the university in 2012 found “grounds for suspicion of potentially intentional dishonesty” in 15 of Dr Penkowa’s papers.
Jamie Timmons, professor of systems biology at Loughborough University, who first raised concerns about Professor Pedersen’s work, said the committee’s verdict cast doubt on her “myokines story”, on which many academics had subsequently based their research.
“The medical and economic implications of this case are substantial as the importance of measuring these molecules was entirely based on this work from Copenhagen,” he said. “This creates an enormous legacy of misleading literature, and no doubt a large number of international academics that will need to revise, amend or even retract their work,” he added.
Professor Pedersen, who has published more than 400 papers, told Times Higher Education that she had committed “unintentional errors”. She denied manipulating results and said it “offends me that I can be declared dishonest when I have not been cheating”.
She declared that the inquiry’s conduct had contravened regulations and that the investigation committee’s conclusions contained so many “serious errors” that “it should have consequences”. She said she had begun legal action.
Professor Pedersen added that she had sought retractions of the papers in question as soon as Dr Penkowa’s alleged misconduct was discovered.