What you should know about the Stanford president’s resignation
Marc Tessier-Lavigne, a renowned neuroscientist, announced Wednesday that he was resigning as president of Stanford University after an outside review of his research found fault with several high-profile journal articles published in his area of responsibility.
A committee wrote the review in response to allegations that Dr. Tessier-Lavigne was involved in scientific misconduct. The committee included five well-known biologists and neuroscientists, including Randy Schekman, who received the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, and Shirley Tilghman, who served as president of Princeton University from 2001 to 2013. Regarding 12 scientific papers, the committee said there were no evidence that dr. Tessier-Lavigne knowingly falsified data or withheld such information from the public.
However, the committee noted that “several members of Dr.’s labs had directed or supervised the research. In response, Dr. Tessier-Lavigne to withdraw three of the five articles, to ask for two major corrections and to resign as President.
“I am pleased that the panel has concluded that I have not committed fraud or falsification of scientific data,” said Dr. Tessier-Lavigne in a statement, adding, “While I was not aware of these issues, I want to make it clear that I…” Take responsibility for the work of my lab members.”
What were the allegations?
In 2015, numerous concerns were raised about the image data on the PubPeer website, which were published in three articles – one in the journal Cell in 1999 and two in the journal Science in 2001 – in which Dr. Tessier-Lavigne had acted as lead author. Concerns varied, pointing to what appeared to be digital editing and manipulation of image backgrounds, the duplication of certain images, and the creation of composite images that obscured the purity of the scientific data.
These concerns were revisited in 2022 by multiple media outlets, including Stanford student newspaper The Stanford Daily, which Dr. took a closer look at Tessier-Lavigne’s research. The media drew attention to pictures in more than a dozen different newspapers in which Dr. Tessier-Lavigne had worked. Although some images appeared to have little effect on the results of the studies, others appeared to have significantly influenced the results.
As a result, the Stanford board of trustees conducted an investigation into the scientific work of Dr. Tessier-Lavigne and organized a five-person panel of experts to examine the allegations.
In early 2023, The Stanford Daily published further claims that Dr. Tessier-Lavigne published an article in Nature magazine in 2009, while working as an executive at biotechnology company Genentech, that contained falsified data. Citing unnamed sources, the student newspaper indicated that a research review board at Genentech conducted an internal investigation into the 2009 paper and found evidence of data falsification. The Stanford Daily also pointed out that Dr. Tessier-Lavigne was made aware of those problems but was prevented from making them public.
dr Tessier-Lavigne firmly denied the allegations.
Was there fraud?
After 50 meetings and the collection of 50,000 documents, the five-strong expert panel published its findings on Wednesday. It concluded that Dr. Tessier-Lavigne, although there were image manipulations and evidence of methodological negligence in each of the papers he examined, did not participate himself and “did not knowingly assisted others in doing so”.
He was also acquitted of the most serious allegation of data falsification in his 2009 Nature article. The committee found that the investigation “lacked the rigor that one would expect from a paper with such potential consequences” and concluded that Dr. Tessier-Lavigne could have addressed the paper’s shortcomings more openly, but concluded that the allegations of fraud were false.
In the paper, the researchers claimed to have found a chain reaction of brain proteins, including one called death receptor 6, that contributed to the development of Alzheimer’s disease. If the research holds up, she promised to show a new way to better understand and treat the disease.
“There was some excitement that this might have been an alternative way of thinking about the disease,” said Dr. Matthew Schrag, a neurologist at Vanderbilt University.
Further investigations – some of which were carried out by Dr. Tessier-Lavigne’s lab published – but found that the experiments that highlighted the role of the DR6 chain reaction in Alzheimer’s did not prove the claims. This was partly due to unforeseen side effects of the inhibitors used in the experiments, as well as impurities in the proteins used.
The expert panel suggested that Dr. Tessier-Lavigne could have made a direct correction or retraction rather than publishing more articles refuting the 2009 paper’s findings. However, the report found that the allegations of fraud, first published in the Stanford Daily and based on testimony from largely unnamed sources (some of which the committee was unable to identify), were linked to an unrelated incident of scientific misconduct at Dr. Tessier-Lavigne were linked to the 2009 paper.
dr Schrag, who found images that looked like duplicates in the 2009 study and flagged them publicly in February, said the study just wasn’t rigorous enough. “The quality of the work was not high,” said Dr. Schrag and stressed that he was speaking for himself and not for his university.
What is “image manipulation”?
Of the 12 papers examined by the expert commission, she found almost all of them to be “manipulation of research data”. According to the report, such manipulation involves a range of practices, including digitally altering images, stitching panels together, using data from independent experiments, duplicating data, and digitally altering the appearance of proteins. However, the committee acknowledged that some examples of manipulation may have been unintentional or possibly an attempt to “embellish” the results.
Mike Rossner, president of biomedical image manipulation consultancy Image Data Integrity, said that for 12 years between 2002 and 2013 he reviewed manuscripts accepted for publication in the Journal of Cell Biology, found manipulations that violated our guidelines and corrected them before publication In most cases, he said, the problems were unintentional and did not affect the interpretation of the data. But about 1 percent of the time, the paper had to be pulled.
“The pattern is emerging that this is not as rare as we would like to believe,” said Dr. Aslant.
Is the “laboratory culture” to blame?
The many cases of image manipulation prompted the expert committee to interview postdoctoral researchers working at different times and at different institutions, including Stanford and Genentech, under Dr. Tessier-Lavigne had worked.
Many praised Dr. Tessier-Lavigne’s intellectual acuity and commitment to scientific rigor, but many also described a laboratory culture that provided incentives for good results and successful experiments. They felt that the lab and Dr. Tessier-Lavigne “tended to reward the ‘winners’ (i.e. postdocs who were able to achieve favorable outcomes) and marginalize or belittle the ‘losers’ (i.e. postdocs who were unable or had difficulty) in generating such data ),” the report said.
The committee concluded that Dr. Tessier-Lavigne did not want this dynamic, but it may have contributed to the high rate of data manipulation in his laboratories.
dr Tessier-Lavigne, who is stepping down as president on Aug. 31 but remains a biology professor at Stanford University, said in an email to students, “Although I am constantly critical of all the science in my lab, I have done this myself.” I have also always run my lab on trust – trust in my students and postdocs and that the data they presented to me was genuine and accurate. In the future, I will further tighten the controls.”