U researcher tells her side

  • Article by: DR. MORAYMA REYES
  • Updated: October 8, 2008 - 9:42 AM

Dr. Morayma Reyes: I freely admit that errors were made that merit a correction in the Journal. These were honest errors in part due to inexperience, poor training and lack of clear standards and guidelines about digital image handling and proper presentation.

I freely admit that errors were made that merit a correction in the Journal.  These were honest errors in part due to inexperience, poor training and lack of clear standards and guidelines about digital image handling and proper presentation.

That said I completely disagree with the statement that “the manipulation misrepresented experimental data and sufficiently altered the original research record to constitute falsification”.

This incorrect statement stemmed from a difference of opinion about the interpretation of the results which clearly reflects lack of expertise by the UMN panel in the research area in question, stem cell biology.

Indeed I requested UMN to give proper consideration to difference of opinion and to be given a chance to be heard by a second panel with expertise in stem cell biology. The University denied both requests.

UMN was very unfair and failed to follow the appropriate procedures. The panel composition did not include a student, violating University’s policy http://www.policy.umn.edu/groups/ppd/documents/procedure/AcademicMisconduct_proc2.cfm.

Immediately after I received the decision from UMN I requested a meeting with Dr. Mulcahy, the deciding officer, to discuss disciplinary actions and to have the opportunity to request a hearing to challenge the decision of falsification, as per University’s policy http://www.policy.umn.edu/groups/ppd/documents/procedure/AcademicMisconduct_proc3.cfm.

The UMN denied my request for a hearing because I am not a University employee. I think it is very unfair for graduate students or former graduate students to be denied the rights for a hearing and subsequent appeals because of ambiguities of the University’s policy.

One accusation was about a duplicated western blot that appears twice in the paper. The use of a duplicated western blot in reverse orientation was an inadvertent error.

We found the original western blots that should have been used in place and the interpretation of the results would have been the same had we shown the correct western blot.

The other three allegations were related to image manipulation. I acknowledged that the figures in question were manipulated by global changes (e.g. adjustment of brightness and contrast). These practices were well accepted in the scientific community at the time (1999-2002).

Based on the current standards the alleged manipulations could be considered inappropriate (violate the guidelines but do not change the interpretation of the results) but not fraudulent manipulations in which the image is intentionally altered to cause others to believe as true that which is not true.

The UMN panel did not accept the distinction between inappropriate vs. fraudulent manipulation.

The report asserts that images were edited with a photoeditor.  Dr. Mulcahy described the findings as "photoshopping things out or adding things in" (www.startribune.com).

If that is true, I not only had nothing to do with such manipulations I did not even have access to photoediting software. 

The panel knows this and makes the accusation despite its own conclusion of no evidence that any computer I used at the time could have had photoediting software.  I could not have possibly “altered orientation of bands, introduced lanes and covered objects or image density in certain lanes” and then merge the figure in Power Point 97 as the UMN panel claimed I did.

They also ignored the findings of two outside consultants, one, Mr. Reis, a major national figure in forensic image analysis, showed that the assertion can not be proven from the available data.  

The UMN panel did not have preponderance evidence to prove their allegations and did not give proper consideration to the evidence I brought in my defense that these errors were unintentional and were common and accepted practices at the time.

I am left with concern that the University's findings may have been intended to narrow the issue rather than addressing the standards used at that time by UMN and by other investigators in the field of stem cell biology. 

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