An immunologist accused last year by the National University of Singapore (NUS) of “serious scientific misconduct” relating to 21 research papers says that he refutes the accusations and is calling on the university to make public its report into the matter.
“I categorically deny having been party to any fraudulent or scientific misconduct,” Alirio Melendez, who worked at NUS before joining the University of Glasgow and the University of Liverpool in the UK, wrote on a new website on 16 October, and at the site Retraction Watch, which has been tracking the case.
Melendez has maintained for two years that he is not to blame for the problems found in papers that he co-authored. Yet in December 2012, NUS said that a committee report had found fabrication, falsification or plagiarism associated with 21 papers, and no evidence indicating that other co-authors were involved in the misconduct. Or as Melendez sees it: “without showing any proof whatsoever that I am the guilty party for scientific fraud”.
Thirteen of those papers have now been retracted, and Melendez concedes that as corresponding author he is at fault for signing off the work without overseeing it adequately — a form of misconduct in itself. But in seven of the papers in which NUS found irregularities, he stated last week, he did not contribute data generation, analysis or any part of the manuscript writing.
So far, Melendez’s counterclaims have lacked convincing detail. That is, in part, because neither Melendez nor NUS would provide details of the papers, nor the committee report. Now, Melendez tells Nature that he will shortly post a “paper-by-paper response” on his website, but that it will be his “personal statement” on the papers, not the whole report. “Since this report is confidential I cannot publish it myself without NUS permission,” he claims.
But a spokesperson for NUS told Nature last December that it is “standard procedure” there to keep research-misconduct investigations confidential (although this is not the case at some other universities that have investigated research misconduct). Pressed, she repeated this week that internal inquiries were confidential and did not reply to a query about whether a redacted version of the report might be released.
There is also dispute about whether Melendez’s concerns have been given a fair confidential hearing by NUS. The university says that it “conducted interviews with as many authors as possible” and that Melendez declined responses when a committee visited the United Kingdom in 2011 (which Melendez puts down to ill health).
Melendez says that last year, he did send two replies to the NUS investigation, but that they did not take these responses into consideration for their final report. The NUS spokesperson agrees, and says that Melendez’s responses in 2012 did not address the irregularities that NUS found and were also not sent in time for the deadlines that the university allowed, as guided by its research integrity code. Therefore, they “were not considered part of the record of the inquiry”. But Melendez says he was never made aware of this.
In addition, the NUS stated:
As a leading research university, NUS is committed to ensuring that all allegations of research misconduct are investigated thoroughly and fairly. This investigation involved a detailed examination of the papers concerned. The University had also liaised with the various institutions involved and conducted interviews with as many authors as possible. NUS offered every opportunity at each stage to Dr Melendez to respond to the Committee’s questions during the period of the investigation. In all, the 21 papers concerned were carefully examined with the journals involved. Since then, several retractions and corrections have been issued by the journals.