News - November 3, 2011

PhD fraud in Wageningen was discovered

The scientific community is in turmoil following the Stapel affair.

The extent and impact of his fraud are probably unique but that does not mean researchers elsewhere are squeaky-clean. It was disclosed recently that a publication with Wageningen input had to be retracted at the end of last year as incorrect biochemical data had been used.
The culprit was a PhD student who worked in Wageningen for six months. She wrote the paper in question during that period with food scientist Sander Kersten as a co-author. He heard from a German research group shortly after her departure that the PhD student had committed fraud in another publication.
‘A photo of her research results in her paper was identical to a photo from another publication, although it was supposed to be of new research data', says Kersten. Because of this, a new analysis was made of her Wageningen research data. The paper, which was published in March 2009, was retracted in November 2010.
By then, the fraudulent researcher was working as a postdoc at MIT in the United States. They fired her. Furthermore, she lost the PhD she had been granted by a Finnish university. An erratum has been added to another of her publications with the Wageningen nutrition group - some of her data for that publication had to be amended slightly although the study's conclusion remained the same.
As far as is known, the nutrition research is the only study with a Wageningen author that has been retracted over the past five years because of research fraud. Kersten thinks the huge pressure to publish is partly to blame. ‘Research policy is to select ambitious people who publish in leading journals. Some can deal with that pressure, others can't. Above all, this is a tragic story.'