Monday, August 08, 2011

Tales from the Academic Netherworld: Whistle-Blowers Victimized at Columbia

I just caught up with the latest news on the massive, masterly fraud perpetrated by Bengü Sezen at Columbia. [See also Janet Stemwedel's commentary on the C&EN story].

Following excerpts from William G. Schulz's story deal with the unfortunate victims in Dalibor Sames's group:

At least three unnamed subordinates left or were dismissed from the Sames lab, for example, for stepping forward and raising concerns about Sezen’s irreproducible research results.

“Two graduate students, [redacted], were asked by [redacted] to leave his group at the beginning of the third year of their graduate study and one graduate student, [redacted] decided to leave the [redacted] after passing the second-year qualifying examinations. Each of these students had spent much time unsuccessfully trying to reproduce and extend Dr. Sezen’s work,” the Columbia investigators write in their misconduct investigation report. And while they were not able to determine exactly why these students were asked to leave, “the wasted time and effort, coupled with the onus of not being able to reproduce the work, had severe negative impacts on the graduate careers of these students.”

What became of those former Sames lab members is unknown. Columbia has erected a wall of silence around Sezen, her brazen fakery, and the consequences for those who had the misfortune of working with her. [...]

The editorial in the same issue of C&EN asks the right question:

But what of Sames? Questions about Sezen’s research were raised by other members of Sames’ group as early as 2002, Schulz reports. Those questions weren’t just ignored by Sames; those who raised them were punished. [...] As [Schulz's] report makes clear, these whistle-blowers were sacrificed in order to maintain her favored status in the research group. Sames acted, in fact, only after a member of his group specifically set Sezen up and presented irrefutable evidence of her misconduct.

In the words of Matt, "These students [whistle-blowers] (and their careers/future livelihoods) were thrown under the bus by Sames and Columbia."