Call for top UK geneticist to resign over a decade of research fraud

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A row over scientific fraud at the highest level of British academia has led to calls for one of the country’s leading geneticists and highest-paid university chiefs to leave his posts, reports The Guardian . David Latchman, professor of genetics at University College London and master of Birkbeck, University of London – a post that earns him £380,000 a year – has angered senior academics by presiding over a laboratory that published fraudulent research, mostly on genetics and heart disease, for more than a decade.

The report says the number of fabricated results and the length of time over which the deception took place made the case one of the worst instances of research fraud uncovered in a British university.

Latchman blames junior lab staff for falsifying data, and two investigations at UCL, the first in 2015, found no evidence that he intended to commit, or was aware of, the fraud. A disciplinary hearing in 2018 concluded that there were insufficient grounds for dismissal or for any formal action against him.

But, the report says, the investigations were deeply critical of Latchman. Both found that his failure to run the lab properly, and his position as author on many of the doctored papers, amounted to “recklessness”, and upheld an allegation of research misconduct against him.

The outcome of the case has riled a number of senior academics, who believe Latchman has taken responsibility neither for the fraud nor for the waste of grant money that happened on his watch.

Professor John Hardy, a fellow of the Royal Society at UCL, is quoted in the report as saying he wanted to go public because he was angry about the situation. “Some minion carries the can. This is how it is, all the time. The powerful get away with it,” he said. One member of Hardy’s panel was Professor Gudrun Moore, a geneticist at UCL. She said: “The outcome of this has shown, at the very least, that he is a very poor leader of a scientific team, and under his leadership, paper after paper was published with incorrect data.

“I was surprised that he did not resign. Things go wrong in science all the time but the facts and the data have to be sacred. If we are not telling our young researchers that, what are we telling them? That if you don’t get the outcome you want, you can just make it up?”

The report says two senior scientists familiar with the case, who spoke on condition of anonymity, were dismayed at its outcome. One said Latchman should consider standing down – a move that would send a clear signal to the scientific community about the seriousness of research fraud.

The report says Latchman no longer has a lab and has stopped supervising research, but he is still a part-time professor of human genetics at UCL, and master of Birkbeck. To date, six of the papers have been withdrawn and two more corrected.

Full report in The Guardian

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