Birkbeck College academic investigated after allegations of ‘research misconduct’

A leading scientist and academic and his research team are being investigated after his university received anonymous allegations of “research misconduct”, The Independent can reveal.

Professor David Latchman, who has been Master of London University’s Birkbeck College since 2003, and members of his research team have retracted or corrected up to eight studies following an inquiry by fellow academics.

The findings, now made public, suggest mistakes made with the presentation of data rather than deliberate fraud or falsification.

Professor Latchman, a highly regarded geneticist, is unusual among university administrators in also running a laboratory. He is the co-founder of a bio-technology company which was sold to an American company in 2011 for $1bn (£670m).

The misconduct investigation, which The Independent understands began last summer, is being carried out by University College London (UCL), where Professor Latchman retains a chair in genetics and bases his research.

UCL said that errors had been identified in eight published studies. But it said the findings should not be “misinterpreted” as meaning that authors have been “knowingly or deliberately involved in misconduct”.

Birkbeck told The Independent that the UCL investigation was focused on Professor Latchman’s research team and “other associated research groups at UCL”.

The website Retraction Watch, which monitors academic corrections, said two research papers published in The Journal of Biological Chemistry by Professor Latchman and his team were last week the subject of corrections relating to images used to illustrate findings.

A third paper, published in 2002, was formally retracted from the same journal after it emerged that a figure panel had partially appeared in a previous study.

In all three cases the authors of the studies said the errors did not affect the interpretation of results or the conclusions. The retracted article will be resubmitted with corrected data.

In a statement, UCL said: “We received an anonymous allegation of potential research misconduct concerning UCL staff… Some errors have been identified in eight publications, and appropriate retractions have taken place. This should not be misinterpreted as an indication that individual authors have been either knowingly or deliberately involved in misconduct, because our processes are not yet complete.”

Corrections are a growing feature of the highly competitive world of academic research, where successful studies build reputations and can help attract a greater share of a dwindling funding pot.

Data produced by US-based Retraction Watch showed a tenfold growth in the number of retractions in academic journals between 2000 and 2010, while the number of published studies grew by only 44 per cent in the same period.

In a statement, Birkbeck said: “We understand that the UCL investigation has focused on a number of publications from Professor Latchman’s research group.

“Professor Latchman is a highly respected geneticist and higher education leader. Birkbeck reiterates the need for the processes currently underway to be completed appropriately and rapidly in fairness to all concerned.”


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