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Penkowa on Penkowa

Controversial brain scientist Milena Penkowa speaks out in exclusive interview with our Danish section: The University of Copenhagen is acting as if I have already been found guilty of fraud, she says

It is not uncommon for scientists to criticise each other’s work and methods, and to accuse each other of fraud. Nor is it unusual that a scientific disagreement becomes a personal dispute. But according to former brain scientist Milena Penkowa, who is currently the subject of a scientific fraud investigation, these conflicts are normally solved internally.

The ‘Penkowa case’ was not: Last year it was covered in all Danish papers and on every TV news network, after an internal investigation was covered in the press.

»The only unusual thing about my case is that I was exposed and judged in advance. It’s shameful that the University of Copenhagen management are ignoring the fact that my case was leaked to the media, and that my rights have been breached,« says Milena Penkowa.

Read overview of Penkowa case in this article: Penkowa for dummies.

‘Guilty as – not yet – charged’

On 3 November this year the University of Copenhagen held a public hearing with the title: »What have we learnt from the Penkowa case?«.

The protagonist herself doesn’t understand why she wasn’t invited, or why university management has chosen to pass judgement before her case has been decided.

»It is grotesque to have a hearing about a case in which a verdict has not yet been reached. The university is acting as if I already have been proven guilty of fraud,« says Milena Penkowa.

Rector of the University of Copenhagen, Ralf Hemmingsen, set up a commission in connection with the hearing, that suggested implementing a so-called whistleblower-scheme. Suspicions of scientific misconduct should be allowed to be submitted anonymously.

Penkowa is strongly opposed to this suggestion. It encourages backstabbing, she says. It should be mandatory for accusers to prove that they have no hidden agenda when submitting suspicion of fraud, she argues.

Done deal

Apart from the scientific fraud, Milena Penkowa has been accused of spending grant money on herself instead of research. For her, she is already considered guilty in the public eye, and that this won’t change.

It was largely ignored in the media when the National Audit Office concluded that she had in fact spent the grant money on research and equipment, but not for the express purpose that she had initially specified in her grant request.

Still, the University of Copenhagen paid back DKK 2.1 million to the grant providers, and Penkowa paid back in excess of DKK 250,000. It was because she believed she had lost in advance, that she didn’t appeal the verdict of falsification of documents and embezzlement, she says.

Moving on

Right now, she waits – impatiently – for the Committee on Scientific Dishonesty’s (UVVU) conclusions to the cases that arose from her alleged fraudulent research. The verdict is expected in mid-2012, but she expects that even a positive verdict won’t change public opinion.

She wants to move on, she says. The plan is to work as a doctor: The National Board of Health has permitted her to open a private practice once she completes 12 months of work at a clinical company in Denmark with a department of medicine and surgery. So now she is looking for an employer who dares to take a chance on her, she says.

»They will get one of the most dedicated colleagues possible, who never gets sick«.

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