U. Luxembourg official offers more detail — or tries to — on Carsten Carlberg case
We’re continuing to try to find out more about the developing story surrounding Carsten Carlberg. Carlberg, as we have reported, was senior author on two papers retracted last year because one of the authors, a graduate student in Carlberg’s lab at the University of Eastern Finland (formerly Kuopio), fabricated data.
Carlberg holds a dual appointment with the University of Luxembourg, which recently announced the results of a months-long investigation into his behavior.
We have been relying on unofficial translations of a May 20th statement by university officials such as this one, by a generous Retraction Watch reader:
The investigating committee of international experts, appointed by the University, concluded in its report that the scientist cannot be accused of intentional manipulation of research results. However, as principal author of the publications, he bears the main responsibility for the retracted articles. In addition, he apparently did not supervise and lead his research team and doctoral candidates in Luxembourg in accordance to international standards. The committee also expressed doubts concerning other publications.
In its session of May 16th, 2011, the Board of Governance of the University of Luxembourg decided to initiate the dismissal procedure against the professor, as foreseen by the law. As President Rolf Tarrach emphasizes, this is an individual case: “It is our duty to protect the still young reputation of the University and of its scientists. Beyond the international standards, the University also conducts research according to an internal ethics policy and is forced to react rigorously when scientific standards are breached”, the President says.
But today we received an official version from Eric Tschirhart, who holds a position equivalent to vice president at the school. Tschirhart said Carlberg’s fate at the university is uncertain. The dismissal proceeding against him, the first the school has conducted in its eight-year life, won’t be concluded until early July.
Depending of the final position of board of governors, either he is fired, or he stays.
So how much of a chance does Carlberg have to hold onto his job? The document makes two main allegations about Carlberg’s behavior. The first is that “other publications” of his have come under suspicion; the second, that he mishandled his lab egregiously.
Where’s the evidence for these claims? Not in the statement. We asked Tschirhart for details — titles of articles, examples of mismanagement — but he demurred, saying the three-member external investigating committee hadn’t provided him a list.
Somewhat astonishingly, Tschirhart told us, “we have ourselves no evidence” of the tainted papers.
They were not published within the university … we will not investigate [them].
As for the second charge, Tschirhart said “the issue on this is very simple: Carlberg was more acting as a reviewer of figures, text, manuscripts” rather than a as an engaged lab head. He also said that all but two people (presumably including Carlberg himself) fled the lab in the wake of the retractions and as a direct result of the discredited papers. They were “uncomfortable with the situation and the way of working.”
We’ve asked Carlberg if he agrees with that characterization. But we’re having a hard time figuring out what, exactly, Carlberg is accused of not doing. Or, more precisely, we’re wondering where we’d find the standards to which he’s allegedly being held.
Tschirhart also told us that officials at the University of Luxembourg have no plans to consult with their counterparts in Finland regarding Carlberg, who splits his time equally between the two campuses. We find that a little puzzling, especially considering the fact that Tatjana Degenhardt, the graduate student whose fraud led to the retractions, worked in Finland, not Luxembourg, and had no connection to the latter institution.
Some Retraction Watch readers have claimed that there’s more to the Carlberg case is than it seems, while others have suggested it is fueled by obscure Luxembourgian academic politics. (We haven’t posted all of those comments, as some contain accusations we can’t verify.) We’re agnostic at the moment, and Tschirhart denied that politics has played a role in the inquiry.
What we do know is that the statement from the university regarding Carlberg’s activities contains allegations that may or may not be grounds for dismissal — but would certainly be sufficient cause for indignant resignation. Which, in the end, could be the objective.
Communication of the Life Sciences Research Unit relative to the articles appeared in the Luxemburgish press “Tageblatt” and “l’Essentiel” on-line 19.5.2011.
The 16 colleagues who have declared their support for the professor in bioinformatics in a letter to the university are external people not affiliated to our research unit. We are committed to highest scientific standards in our daily work and would like to distance ourselves from the incorrect working practices described in connection with the recent affair concerning this professor.
We’ll continue to update as we hear more.