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Calls for new Penkowa inquest rejected

Chairman rejects open letter from staff calling for impartial investigation into the highly controversial Milena Penkowa case. Rector's office has no »professional, economic or personal interests or relations to Penkowa«, he says

The chairman of the University of Copenhagen’s board now rejects staff calls for another, impartial, investigation into the claimed fraudulent research of brain scientist Milena Penkowa. An already ongoing inquiry into scientific dishonesty will suffice, he says.

Milena Penkowa, a pharmaceutical researcher who voluntarily quit her job at the University of Copenhagen in December, is accused in one case of manipulating results on cancer research, and in another case of using funding earmarked for research on lawyers’ bills, clothes, travelling and restaurants.

Her case may, or may not, involve Rector Ralf Hemmingsen in his former role as Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences. In 2002 Ralf Hemmingsen made the unusual decision to bring in two external researchers from Norway and Sweden to re-evaluate her rejected Doctoral dissertation. Later on, as Rector, he submitted Milena Penkowa to a prestigious EliteForsk, elite research, prize, which she received in 2009.

Read an earlier, not case-related, interview with Milena Penkowa on the University Post here.

No personal interest

In the latest development, an open letter by 58 staff from the University of Copenhagen and other universities calling for an impartial investigation up and above an ongoing investigation by the Commitees for Scientific Dishonesty (UVVU), is rejected by the University of Copenhagen’s chairman, Nils Strandberg Pedersen.

»A parallel, internal investigation aiming to uncover other possible suspicions about scientific dishonesty would create confusion, and would be professionally incorrect as long as an impartial treatment of a specific suspicion about dishonesty is taking place at UVVU. If further concrete suspicion about dishonesty should occur, more cases would possibly be reported to UVVU«, Nils Strandberg Pedersen says to KUnet.

There is no doubt about the impartiality of the Rector’s Office in the case, he says to KUnet.

»Rector or prorector have no professional, economical or personal interests or relations to Penkowa or the project that she has participated in at University of Copenhagen« he says.

Employers can’t speak out

Nils Strandberg Pedersen points to the fact that employers are restricted from making public statements in personnel cases.

»Employee cases, when they have become part of the public polemic, are very difficult to handle externally. The information becomes asymmetric, but due to formal reasons the employer is restricted from giving an adequate public statement about the issues that exist and the decisions that are being made,« he says.

Milena Penkowa herself has stated to the Danish weekly Weekendavisen that the external researchers who re-evaluated her thesis found that the Danish evaluators lacked both the ability and the will to understand her dissertation. They wanted to remove a competitor, she added.

Read the open letter by 58 staff from the University of Copenhagen and other universities here.