Dutch University Fires Unnamed Researcher

If you google “Ranjit Chandra” (a famous Canadian nutrition researcher), the second result is this page, created by me, which lists many articles about a scandal that Saul Sternberg and I did a lot to to uncover. We pointed out that several details of one of Chandra’s papers were impossible. I did not create the page to harm Chandra, but it does: For the rest of his life, anyone curious about him will find out about the scandal. It is a scarlet letter with capital S and capital L.

I suspect this is why Leiden University recently fired a scientist without naming him/her.

Leiden University Medical Centre (LUMC) has fired an employee who has committed fraud in the collection of research data. An internal inquiry showed that the employee deliberately manipulated laboratory research. The employee has confessed and accepted the dismissal. Additionally, the LUMC withdraws two scientific publications by this employee. The fraud was discovered by immediate colleagues at the Rheumatology Department.

A deal was struck. The employee won’t contest the firing, the medical center won’t name the employee in the press release. The employee didn’t want the scandal to follow him/her for the rest of their life.

I disagree with this deal. As a result of the employee’s fabrication, a clinical trial was started in which sick people ingested or had injected a powerful drug. The university claims no one was hurt (“It is clear that at no time a dangerous situation has arisen for patients”). I have no idea if anyone was hurt, but the potential for damage was great. Last night a friend told me about a Traditional Chinese Medicine drug that a friend of hers took. It worked for years and then one day stopped working. It came from China. It turned out the Chinese manufacturer had run out of the crucial ingredient and had substituted an animal tranquilizer. Her friend was really damaged by this. Chandra’s data might have caused people to take too many vitamins.

The medical center employees who handled this case (presumably very high up in medical center administration) treated the rest of us — who deserve to be warned about the fabricator — not so differently than the fabricator did: as people who don’t matter. Who don’t deserve protection.

More A comment at Retraction Watch says the anonymity is Dutch tradition: “The names of the people are not published so that these people have a chance of rebuilding their lives in the future. In the Netherlands even people who have committed serious crimes do not have their full name or photo published in the press.”

5 Replies to “Dutch University Fires Unnamed Researcher”

  1. And without the name of the evil-doer, there will be far less publicity for the case and therefore for Leiden University.

  2. It’s hard to keep this kind of stuff secret, especially these days. Nature is reporting that the person is name Annemie Schuerwegh:

    Research fraud  A researcher at Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands has been fired for committing scientific fraud, the centre announced on 14 August. Annemie Schuerwegh, who worked in the rheumatology department, admitted manipulating data included in a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2010, says a report from the centre. She went into the laboratory outside office hours and added mouse antibodies to tubes of human blood samples. The centre will withdraw the article and another paper, and has halted a clinical trial based in part on the fraudulent data.


  3. And by insisting on full retribution and perpetually tarring the culprit, one raises the stakes and guarantees the culprit will fight the accusations tooth-and-nail and never clearly admit guilt or lay out what was falsified.

    It may be satisfying to destroy their ability to ‘rebuild their lives in the future’, but there are consequences to total warfare and some of those may be unintended. There are reasons lawyer & doctor confidentiality extend to crimes; another good example is how felony murder laws encourage additional murders – if you’re already going to jail for life for committing an armed robbery, you might as well kill the clerk so he can’t testify later. The Bloody Code was repealed for good reason.

    So the question is: do you want vengeance, or do you want to make the world a better place?

  4. @gwern: Naming the perp is not about “vengeance.” It is about ensuring that they do not get to repeat the identical misdeed again and again and again. The example of pedophile priests comes to mind.

    You make a good point about mandatory sentencing laws – I know of no easy answer.

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