9 August 2012

Significant indication of fraud in Penkowas early research

Scientific misconduct

A review of the collected research of Milena Penkowa prepared by an independent panel of international scientists concludes that the former neuroscientist may have committed fraud in more instances than the police charges already filed and the previous cases sent to the  Danish Committees on Scientific Dishonesty . In its report the panel found indications of falsified animal experiments, data manipulation, falsified results and lacking control experiments in a further 15 articles authored by Penkowa.

The University of Copenhagen-appointed panel looked into a total of 79 scientific articles co-authored by Penkowa. It found significant indications of scientific misconduct in 15 of these articles, all published between 2000 and 2005.

“It is important for us to be able to delineate between unintentional errors and conscious falsification. The scientific panel, however, is certain that there are significant indications of conscious scientific dishonesty in 15 of Penkowa’s articles. The articles primarily date from research carried out early in her career,” says chair of the panel Hans Lassmann, of the Medical University of Vienna.

In reviewing the articles, the panel asked all of Penkowa’s co-authors to complete a questionnaire. A total of 124 co-authors completed 472 questionnaires, which together with laboratory experiments, the panel’s own investigations of the material, efforts to verify the results and personal interviews with key individuals, formed the basis for the for the report’s conclusion.

“This exhaustive study by the international scientific panel is a crucial element of the University of Copenhagen’s response to the questions about Penkowa’s research that have unfortunately emerged. We now have a complete picture of which of her research may have been fraudulent. It is now up to the Danish Committees on Scientific Dishonesty to make their final decision regarding the question of scientific fraud,” says University of Copenhagen Prorector Thomas Bjørnholm, who was responsible for the framework of the international investigation.

No other scientists implicated

The report offered mixed impressions of Penkowa’s research. She appeared to be highly productive, producing a large body of research during the span of just a few years, and much of her research cannot be criticised. Those she conducted research for, or together with, described her as an ambitious and diligent scientist, who worked well with others and whose experiments were well documented. The panel also did not find problems with the articles her students had contributed to.

“The problems are limited to the scientific work where experimentation and data analysis were carried out by Penkowa herself. The instances of scientific dishonesty are concentrated to her early research career,” Lassmann says.

After earning her PhD in December 1999, Penkowa received a grant from the Danish Health Sciences Research Council to continue for the next three and a half years in a post-doctorate position. It is this period where she is suspected of carrying out the fraud.

About the investigation

The University of Copenhagen has previously sent two cases regarding research done by Milena Penkowa to the Danish Committees on Scientific Dishonesty. In addition, the police have been asked to investigate allegations of forgery of documents in connection with experiments on animals. The goal of the international scientific panel’s investigation has been to determine whether there are further indications of scientific dishonesty.

The panel’s investigation was limited to Penkowa’s research. During her career, she co-authored articles together with a number of Danish and foreign researchers, and the panel requested that all authors indicate which research they carried out, and which research was carried out by others.

Before it was submitted to the University of Copenhagen, Penkowa was permitted to review the panel’s final report. The panel did not find that any of her arguments were convincing enough to lead them to change its final conclusion: that there are 15 articles with such serious deficiencies with their data and their scientific conclusions that the panel suspects her of fraud.


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