News

Stanford board committee hires former federal judge to lead review into president's research

President Marc Tessier-Lavigne releases statement on scientific misconduct allegations

Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne addresses students during commencement ceremonies for the graduating class of 2022 at Stanford Stadium on June 12, 2022. Courtesy Don Feria/Stanford University.

Stanford's board of trustees has released more information about its plans to investigate university President Marc Tessier-Lavigne's research in response to questions about potential scientific misconduct.

Possible image manipulation in scientific papers where Tessier-Lavigne is listed as an author drew scrutiny last month after the independent student news outlet The Stanford Daily published an article detailing issues with multiple papers.

A university spokesperson initially told the Daily that in some cases Tessier-Lavigne wasn't involved in producing the questionable images, and that in the rest, the issues didn't affect the results. After the article's initial publication, however, the university announced that the board of trustees would create a special committee to conduct an investigation.

On Wednesday, Dec. 7, the special committee announced that it had hired former federal district court judge Mark Filip and his law firm Kirkland & Ellis to lead the review of Tessier-Lavigne's research. Filip is also a former deputy attorney general in the U.S. Department of Justice.

"To assess and evaluate the relevant scientific facts, Mr. Filip — in consultation with the Committee, as well as Stanford University faculty — will engage a panel of leading scientific experts who are highly regarded in the appropriate fields and independent from Stanford University," the statement said. "This expert panel will review the academic articles at issue."

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The special committee's update was signed by trustee Carol Lam, who is leading the committee, and board chair Jerry Yang, who is also a member of the committee. Because Tessier-Lavigne reports to the board, Lam and Yang wrote that it is the board's responsibility to oversee the investigation.

"In this circumstance, the Board is undertaking the review so that it will not be conducted by individuals who ultimately report to the president," the statement said.

Some have questioned why the board is conducting its own review, particularly given that Tessier-Lavigne is himself a member of the board of trustees.

Tessier-Lavigne isn't a member of the special committee overseeing the investigation and won't have a role in the review, Aidan Ryan told this news organization. Ryan is a spokesperson for the public relations firm Edelman, which the special committee has hired to handle media inquiries surrounding the Tessier-Lavigne investigation.

Concerns have also arisen over the makeup of the special committee itself. The Daily reported that trustee Felix Baker stepped down as a member of the committee after the news outlet came to him with questions about a potential conflict of interest. Baker's investment firm has an $18 million stake in a biotechnology company that Tessier-Lavigne co-founded, the Daily reported.

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Baker's departure was not addressed in Wednesday's statement from the committee, but he wasn't included in a list of the committee's members (Lam, Yang, James Coulter and Jeffrey Stone). According to Ryan, Baker requested that the committee proceed without him as a member "to avoid any question of potential conflict."

Tessier-Lavigne also released a public letter earlier this week. In the Dec. 5 message, which was addressed to Stanford's faculty, Tessier-Lavigne differentiated between papers on which he was the senior author and ones where he was a co-author.

The university president said that in the case of the three papers where he was the senior author, he has "previously corresponded extensively" with the editors of the scientific journals in which they were published about concerns with images in the papers. According to Tessier-Lavigne, since the new allegations have been raised, he has once again been in contact with journal editors.

As for the papers where he was a co-author, Tessier-Lavigne said that the images in question "are from collaborators' laboratories."

"I want to be clear that I have never submitted a paper without firmly believing that the data were correct and accurately presented. I also want to be clear that I take responsibility for any concerns that arise with respect to any work with which I have been involved," Tessier-Lavigne said. "I trust that a thorough examination will fully address the concerns that have been raised and will affirm my commitment to the highest standards of scientific integrity."

Tessier-Lavigne also said that he regrets the impact that the questions around his research are having on the university and that he welcomes the board's review, which he said is being conducted "without my involvement other than my full cooperation."

"As a scientist, I am dedicated to the rigorous pursuit of the truth," Tessier-Lavigne wrote. "The integrity of my work is of paramount importance to me, and I take any concerns that are expressed very seriously."

The special committee said that its review would "be informed by established processes for such research-related evaluations," and would "move expeditiously but thoroughly." A specific timeline wasn't given. The committee also said that the full board will receive the results of the investigation and be responsible for sharing the work with the broader community. How much information will be released publicly wasn't specified.

The board committee has created an email address where members of the public can submit feedback on the investigation: [email protected]

Correction: This article was updated to reflect that the special board committee, not the overall university, hired the external public relations firm Edelman. Palo Alto Online regrets the error.

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Zoe Morgan
 
Zoe Morgan covers education, youth and families for the Mountain View Voice and Palo Alto Weekly / PaloAltoOnline.com, with a focus on using data to tell compelling stories. A Mountain View native, she has previous experience as an education reporter in both California and Oregon. Read more >>

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Stanford board committee hires former federal judge to lead review into president's research

President Marc Tessier-Lavigne releases statement on scientific misconduct allegations

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Fri, Dec 9, 2022, 9:51 am
Updated: Fri, Dec 9, 2022, 5:07 pm

Stanford's board of trustees has released more information about its plans to investigate university President Marc Tessier-Lavigne's research in response to questions about potential scientific misconduct.

Possible image manipulation in scientific papers where Tessier-Lavigne is listed as an author drew scrutiny last month after the independent student news outlet The Stanford Daily published an article detailing issues with multiple papers.

A university spokesperson initially told the Daily that in some cases Tessier-Lavigne wasn't involved in producing the questionable images, and that in the rest, the issues didn't affect the results. After the article's initial publication, however, the university announced that the board of trustees would create a special committee to conduct an investigation.

On Wednesday, Dec. 7, the special committee announced that it had hired former federal district court judge Mark Filip and his law firm Kirkland & Ellis to lead the review of Tessier-Lavigne's research. Filip is also a former deputy attorney general in the U.S. Department of Justice.

"To assess and evaluate the relevant scientific facts, Mr. Filip — in consultation with the Committee, as well as Stanford University faculty — will engage a panel of leading scientific experts who are highly regarded in the appropriate fields and independent from Stanford University," the statement said. "This expert panel will review the academic articles at issue."

The special committee's update was signed by trustee Carol Lam, who is leading the committee, and board chair Jerry Yang, who is also a member of the committee. Because Tessier-Lavigne reports to the board, Lam and Yang wrote that it is the board's responsibility to oversee the investigation.

"In this circumstance, the Board is undertaking the review so that it will not be conducted by individuals who ultimately report to the president," the statement said.

Some have questioned why the board is conducting its own review, particularly given that Tessier-Lavigne is himself a member of the board of trustees.

Tessier-Lavigne isn't a member of the special committee overseeing the investigation and won't have a role in the review, Aidan Ryan told this news organization. Ryan is a spokesperson for the public relations firm Edelman, which the special committee has hired to handle media inquiries surrounding the Tessier-Lavigne investigation.

Concerns have also arisen over the makeup of the special committee itself. The Daily reported that trustee Felix Baker stepped down as a member of the committee after the news outlet came to him with questions about a potential conflict of interest. Baker's investment firm has an $18 million stake in a biotechnology company that Tessier-Lavigne co-founded, the Daily reported.

Baker's departure was not addressed in Wednesday's statement from the committee, but he wasn't included in a list of the committee's members (Lam, Yang, James Coulter and Jeffrey Stone). According to Ryan, Baker requested that the committee proceed without him as a member "to avoid any question of potential conflict."

Tessier-Lavigne also released a public letter earlier this week. In the Dec. 5 message, which was addressed to Stanford's faculty, Tessier-Lavigne differentiated between papers on which he was the senior author and ones where he was a co-author.

The university president said that in the case of the three papers where he was the senior author, he has "previously corresponded extensively" with the editors of the scientific journals in which they were published about concerns with images in the papers. According to Tessier-Lavigne, since the new allegations have been raised, he has once again been in contact with journal editors.

As for the papers where he was a co-author, Tessier-Lavigne said that the images in question "are from collaborators' laboratories."

"I want to be clear that I have never submitted a paper without firmly believing that the data were correct and accurately presented. I also want to be clear that I take responsibility for any concerns that arise with respect to any work with which I have been involved," Tessier-Lavigne said. "I trust that a thorough examination will fully address the concerns that have been raised and will affirm my commitment to the highest standards of scientific integrity."

Tessier-Lavigne also said that he regrets the impact that the questions around his research are having on the university and that he welcomes the board's review, which he said is being conducted "without my involvement other than my full cooperation."

"As a scientist, I am dedicated to the rigorous pursuit of the truth," Tessier-Lavigne wrote. "The integrity of my work is of paramount importance to me, and I take any concerns that are expressed very seriously."

The special committee said that its review would "be informed by established processes for such research-related evaluations," and would "move expeditiously but thoroughly." A specific timeline wasn't given. The committee also said that the full board will receive the results of the investigation and be responsible for sharing the work with the broader community. How much information will be released publicly wasn't specified.

The board committee has created an email address where members of the public can submit feedback on the investigation: [email protected]

Correction: This article was updated to reflect that the special board committee, not the overall university, hired the external public relations firm Edelman. Palo Alto Online regrets the error.

Comments

William Hitchens
Registered user
Mountain View
on Dec 9, 2022 at 2:48 pm
William Hitchens, Mountain View
Registered user
on Dec 9, 2022 at 2:48 pm

The pressure to "publish or perish" and to hustle more grand money can force researchers to manipulate data and once they start, they get caught in a nasty trap of their own making.

While slaving away to earn my PhD, I worked for a professor (now deceased) who routinely manipulated data. He would "cherry pick" data that agreed with his "theory of the year" and ignore all data that conflicted with his data. I remember that in one marathon session selecting from hundreds of data sets that required weeks for two grad students to collect, he threw out 90% of the data (which he called "false) and only published 10% (which he called "true") that agreed with his incorrect theory . We grad students who were present for this mass murder of legitimate data were shocked and horrified by his behavior. I thank god that I never let him mess with my data. My experiments were straight forward and did not require statistical data analysis.

He later had to publicly retract his published data and theory after another professor warned him (out of professional courtesy) that he was going to publish a paper that conflicted with my professors' tens of publications over several years that used manipulated data.


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