Panel of scientists has joined research review of Stanford’s president


A panel of prominent experts is taking part in the review of Stanford University’s president over possible research misconduct claims, a special committee of the university’s board of trustees announced Friday.

The special committee is reviewing allegations that research papers co-authored years ago by Marc Tessier-Lavigne, an internationally known neuroscientist who has led the university since 2016, might contain altered images.

The five scientists, all members of the National Academy of Sciences or National Academy of Medicine or both, include a Nobel laureate, a former president of Princeton University and a former provost of Harvard University. The panel has begun its evaluation and does not have a set timeline for completing the work.

Some of the complaints were first made long ago. In 2015, Tessier-Lavigne had tried to correct papers, but those corrections were not published. But in November the Stanford Daily, a campus newspaper, reported that the European Molecular Biology Organization Journal was examining concerns that had been raised about a 2008 paper that Tessier-Lavigne co-authored, and that there were questions about other papers.

The university launched an investigation.

Stanford investigates its president for possible research misconduct

Amid the scrutiny, additional concerns were noted about papers in question published by Cell and Science.

Tessier-Lavigne has said he supports the process and will cooperate fully with it. In December, he wrote a letter to colleagues providing context — such as the large collaborative nature of much biological research with multiple laboratories involved, and the addition of modern digital analysis tools that have revealed problems with published images, including both serious and small inadvertent errors.

Tessier-Lavigne also highlighted efforts by authors to address questions or attempt to correct errors in works: In seven cases, he was a collaborating author, the data being questioned was generated in another lab and the senior author is responding to the concerns, sometimes by taking responsibility for any issues.

In three cases under review, published in 1999 and 2001, he was the senior author and had corresponded with the journals several years ago about concerns that had been raised. And late in 2022, he wrote, he learned of additional concerns in two of those articles and has been corresponding with journal editors about them.

In the more than 200 articles which he co-authored, he wrote, “In every case, at the time of submission I believed that the data were correct and accurately presented.” He also wrote, “I take extremely seriously any concerns that are raised about my work as a scientist.”

Some scientists have noted that Tessier-Lavigne has an enormous and influential body of work that has stood the test of time and been validated by researchers around the world.

Seven Stanford professors, several of them National Academy of Sciences members, wrote a letter to the Stanford Daily in December urging people not to rush to judgment. They wrote that Tessier-Lavigne’s research had revolutionized understanding of how the brain is wired.

“Scientific integrity and data reproducibility are paramount to what we do,” wrote professors Aaron D. Gitler, Liqun Luo, Robert Malenka, Susan K. McConnell, William T. Newsome, Carla J. Shatz and Kang Shen. “Nevertheless, errors do occur in science — and when they do, there are several options for making corrections, depending on the severity of the error. Questioning a researcher’s scientific integrity is a very serious allegation that should not be confounded with the detection of errors in a few papers, particularly against a backdrop of work that has been widely replicated by others.”

They wrote that other authors of the papers have taken responsibility for some errors, but that they believe it is appropriate to review three papers published in 1999 and 2001 on which Tessier-Lavigne is the senior author.

The board of trustees announced last month that it would appoint a special committee of board members to examine the situation. The committee made clear that the responsibility for the review rests with trustees, rather than people who report to the president.

The special committee retained outside experts to lead the review “with rigor and impartiality,” naming Mark Filip, a former federal judge and former deputy attorney general at the Justice Department and his law firm,…

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