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Professor Klarlund: I am not dishonest

Professor could be found guilty of scientific dishonesty, but without having actually faked any data herself, she fears. And without having had any knowledge of her co-author Milena Penkowa's tampering with evidence

Sports physiology expert Bente Klarlund Pedersen has been accused of ‘serious breaches of good scientific practice’ because of eight articles co-authored with Milena Penkowa, who was herself charged with fraud and forgery, in a widely publicised case spanning the last few years.

At the very least, it could tarnish the reputation of the successful University of Copenhagen (UCPH) professor. Worst case scenario, it could destroy her career and affect the way interdisciplinary research is conducted in Denmark.

And this would happen even though it is at odds with international standard procedure, says Bente Klarlund Pedersen. Through her lawyer, she has sent a 92-page defence to the Danish Committees for Scientific Dishonesty (DCSD, in Danish: Udvalgene Vedrørende Videnskabelig Uredelighed, ed.).

Manipulated images irrelevant to results

The most important concern raised by DCSD in their draft accusation, made available to the media, is that three of the eight articles contain images that had been tampered with. Penkowa was the guilty party, but there is still ‘a case for gross negligence on Klarlund’s part’, according to DCSD.

But Klarlund states that individual authors ought to be responsible for their own work, and not that of their co-authors:

“Research nowadays is interdisciplinary, so one cannot possible have complete insight into the methods of others,” she says. It is wrong to equate error with attempts to deceive, she says.

Henrik Gunst Andersen, the head of DCSD, responds by saying that “it doesn’t matter whether it was grossly negligent or intentional – the fact of the matter remains: the law has been broken”.

According to Klarlund, the manipulated images didn’t even affect the results in the articles – they were not at odds with what was expected in a scientific context, and have widely been confirmed in other studies since.

Verdict has no rational basis

DCSD claims that data used from the same biopsies in six different articles is a case of “unclear construction of data”. Klarlund stresses, on the other hand, that this isn’t a case of re-using data, but one of biological material from a single test being used to different ends. To illustrate her point, she has included ten examples of scientists who have done exactly the same, including one from her accuser and Head of DCSD, Henrik Galbo.

Much research is based on material from so-called biobanks, so it is impossible to keep tabs on what else it might have been used for. If Klarlund is implicated, this kind of common practice could potentially be deemed scientifically dishonest and hinder research.

This has inspired 70 scientists from universities and hospitals to sign a petition in Klarlund’s defence, staying that “it is wholly uninteresting from a scientific point of view, whether or not the material has been or will be used in other research. DCSD’s judgement of Bente Klarlund Pedersen as guilty of scientific dishonesty clashes with common scientific practice and has no rational basis.”

Two-year case might start over

Both parties had until 15 August to address the draft accusation, but the case, which has already taken over two years, might have to start over. Klarlund’s lawyer Eigil Lego Andersen has found out that the Danish Minister of Science Morten Østergaard has extended the DCSD members processing Penkowa and Klarlund’s cases’ responsibilities past the six-year legal limit.

Although this exception was made to limit resources spent on the two cases, Klarlund’s lawyer says it is against the law. “The members that have been chosen to uphold scientific honesty should not be doing so based on dishonest grounds,” says Klarlund.

Her lawyer says that the draft accusation is lacking in terms of content, method and reasoning. Therefore he and Klarlund would like new people to review the case.

Attached to this article in the PDF file is Bente Klarlund Pedersen’s defence of her case towards the UVVU committee.

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