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University: Penkowa could lose PhD, Doctorate

International investigators cast suspicion on 15 papers of Milena Penkowa, but praise other parts of her work and career. University of Copenhagen warns that she could lose her Doctorate and PhD

After years of scandal it was probably what was least expected from the international panel investigating the neuroscientist accused of fraud: Praise for the person herself, Milena Penkowa.

But according to the international panel that was set up to investigate her scientific work, Milena Penkowa not only reacted promptly to questionnaires and was helpful to investigators, but the panel was »impressed by the amount of material, present in the form of embedded tissue blocks and stained tissue sections in the archive of Dr. Penkowa’s laboratory.«

That said, 15 of her academic papers have been deemed suspicious by the panel, and they will now be targeted for further investigation by the Committee on Scientific Dishonesty (UVVU).

See our ‘for dummies guide’ to the Milena Penkowa scientific fraud case here.

Three suspicious areas

Professor Hans Lassmann of the Medical University of Vienna, who chaired the panel of experts, pointed to three main areas of potential scientific misconduct:

First of all, the animal experiments which Milena Penkowa claims to have carried out, but which have not been sufficiently documented. Second, the methodology of her experiments, and her choice of markers to pinpoint results. Third, the small numbers of animals and experiments that she used to prove her findings, and the variations between the individuals in her data.

The problem with the animal experiments is something that is being investigated by the police and by the Committee on Scientific dishonesty.

»We realise that if this is true that certain animal experiments were not carried out, then this may have implications for even more papers,« Professor Lassmann said at the press conference.

As for the second, the methodology, Professor Lassmann said that »you need very specific controlled experiments to be sure that what you see is what is right«. However, »we did not find documentation that Milena Penkowa had done sufficient controls«.

Finally as for Penkowa’s data, Professor Lassman said that the panel did not »find how you (Penkowa… ed.) could come up with this homogenous quantitative data«.

University: Clear, possible cheating

While the international panel maintained that it could not clearly prove cheating, the University of Copenhagen draws a sharper conclusion to the international panel’s report.

In a press release, the University of Copenhagen refers to a »clear conclusion of possible cheating«, and will refer the 15 articles to the UVVU committee, saying that this could result in Milena Penkowa losing her Doctorate and PhD.

Prorector Thomas Bjørnholm compared the Milena Penkowa case to other cases of scientific dishonesty: In contrast to other cases where the scientist immediately collaborated after suspicions were raised, Milena Penkowa did not admit to fraudulent research. This had been a complicating factor, drawing out the investigations, he said.

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