The leading journals Science and Cell on Thursday issued “expressions of concern” on papers co-authored by Stanford University president Marc Tessier-Lavigne, who is under investigation over allegations of research misconduct.
Tessier-Lavigne, a neuroscientist, is facing scrutiny over allegations of altered images in at least five papers he worked on going back two decades, including two papers published in Science and one in Cell. The story has grown more complicated, however, because Tessier-Lavigne notified the journals years ago with concerns about the images in the studies as published.
Tessier-Lavigne reported to Science in 2015 the issues with the images and prepared “Errata,” Holden Thorp, the journal’s editor-in-chief, said last month. The journal never published them “due to an error on our part,” Thorp said as he issued an apology.
In the editorial notes published Thursday, Thorp again apologized for not posting the errata in 2015. But as he wrote in one of the statements, “Both we and the authors are aware that additional concerns have been raised since 2015. We are therefore not proceeding with a correction at this point but are alerting readers to the concerns while the authors and the authors’ institution investigate further.”
Cell had similarly said that Tessier-Lavigne contacted the journal in 2015 about minor concerns that had been raised about three images in the paper published there. At the time, the journal’s editors determined that no action was warranted. But after the allegations about Tessier-Lavigne flared last month, Elisabeth Bik, a scientific integrity expert who specializes in detecting manipulated images, identified more significant alterations in one of those images that she said appeared to have been intentional.
In their note of concern Thursday, Cell editors wrote that they had been looking into “additional potential issues in the paper,” citing potential areas of duplication in two figures.
“A university investigation is underway, and its outcome will inform any further action that we may take,” the Cell note said. “This statement is to alert readers of the concerns and the ongoing process.”
In a statement Thursday, Tessier-Lavigne said he welcomed the expressions of concern.
“The notifications provide additional information on my interactions with the journals both to address prior concerns that had been raised years ago, as well as new concerns that have arisen more recently,” he said. “The notifications appropriately alert the research community and represent an important step in the process of evaluating the concerns. I look forward to working with the Board of Trustees’ Special Committee and the journals to resolve these matters in full.”
In a previous statement, Tessier-Lavigne said he has been working with journal editors as the reviews continued. “I want to be clear that I have never submitted a paper without firmly believing that the data were correct and accurately presented,” he said in the statement. “I also want to be clear that I take responsibility for any concerns that arise with respect to any work with which I have been involved.”
Stanford launched the investigation into its president after a Stanford Daily article highlighted scientists’ concerns about the papers Tessier-Lavigne co-authored, specifically arguing that some of the images in the papers appeared to have been altered.
Last week, Stanford announced it had hired an outside law firm to conduct the investigation, after concerns were raised about potential conflicts of interest in the school’s internal review process.
This story has been updated with Tessier-Lavigne’s Thursday statement.