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Stanford University is investigating its president over allegations of misconduct


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A quick dive:

  • Stanford University’s board of trustees will investigate allegations of research misconduct involving Marc Tessier-Lavin, the institution’s president, the institution’s president said Wednesday.
  • Tessier-Lavin helped write four articles that were under review for many years the PubPeer site, a forum where scientists can flag potential research inconsistencies. Scientists claim that the papers contain manipulated images.
  • However, the university’s request stems not from long-standing accusations, but from new report from his student newspaper, The Stanford Daily. The publication found a prominent academic journal, the European Molecular Biology Organization Journal, or EMBO Journal, is also considered one of the papers.

Dive Insight:

The integrity of academic work is important in the academy, and thus allegations of academic misconduct can derail the careers of college leaders.

One case involved Gregory Vincent, former president of Hobart and William Smith Colleges, a private institution in New York. Vincent resigned in 2018 amid accusations that he plagiarized his dissertation.

The negative conclusion of the Stanford investigation could also cause problems for Tessier-Lavin, who took over as Stanford’s president in 2016.

He is considered an outstanding neuroscientist who focuses on brain development. He researched the causes and treatments of degenerative brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, as well as neurodevelopmental disabilities.

The documents under consideration date back to 2001. One was published in 2008 in the journal EMBO, and the other three appeared in the journals Nature and Science in 2001 and 2003.

Elizabeth Bick, a renowned expert in image analysis and scientific integrity, told The Stanford Daily that the images in all four studies appear to have been doctored.

Photographs are mostly protein analyses. Bick found obvious manipulations, including that they were reversed and duplicated in ways that could have affected the results of the study.

In some cases, the changes appeared to be intentional, Bick said.

Stanford told the Daily that the president was not involved in the creation of the disputed images in the two papers. In the other two papers, the potential problems “do not affect the data, results, or interpretation of the papers,” the university said.

However, university spokesperson Dee Mastoffi confirmed to Higher Ed Dive that it will investigate the allegations.

The board of trustees will oversee the investigation “in accordance with its usual rigorous approach with which allegations of research misconduct are reviewed and investigated,” Mostoffi said in an email.

Tessier-Lavin said in a statement provided by Mostofi that both he and the university prioritize scientific integrity.

“I support this process and will fully cooperate with it, and I appreciate the oversight from the board of trustees,” Tessier-Lavin said.

Mastofi did not answer the question about the time frame of the investigation. Historically, however, such investigations have been slow, Beek lamented New York Times essay the last month.

Colleges and academic journals often did not respond to image manipulation, said Beek, who claims her work resulted in 956 corrections and 923 retractions.

“Scholarly publishers care deeply about their reputations, and research institutions can be embarrassed to admit that breaches have occurred within their walls,” Bick wrote.

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