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North Carolina State University's Stefan Franzen joined two other researchers at his institution in 2004 to investigate how to use RNA to help form metals, but now has been fighting for those colleagues to acknowledge that the research underpinning that work is flawed, the News and Observer's Joseph Neff reports in a multi-part series.

Franzen's colleagues at NC State Bruce Eaton and Dan Feldheim, along with PhD candidate Lina Gugliotti, reported in Science in 2004 that they used RNA to help generate palladium crystals.

According to Franzen, discrepancies in the work — un-indexed electron micrographs, higher levels of solvent used than reported — cropped up as Franzen worked with them to build on the original findings, Neff notes. After some heated back-and-forths, Franzen pushed for a correction to the paper, but he says Feldheim became angry and made legal threats. Feldheim said that the correction relied on a formula developed in his lab that was now the property of SomaLogic, the company Eaton moved to in 2005, the News and Observer says.

Eaton, Feldheim, and Gugliotti declined to speak with Neff.

Franzen submitted his correction to Science, and Eaton and Feldheim wrote a rebuttal; Science did not run the correction.

Franzen also asked NC State to conduct a misconduct investigation, Neff writes. The school found evidence of falsification, but concluded that it was not intentional. The school urged them to correct the paper, and passed their findings on to the National Science Foundation to conduct its won investigation.

As Neff reports, Franzen was not satisfied with this outcome and spent his own money to sue under public record laws to see Gugliotti's lab notebooks. There, Franzen said he found a "smoking gun," Neff reports, as it included images of crystals that were degrading at room temperature — palladium melts at nearly 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

At the end of the second part of the series, Neff notes that the NSF investigation is ongoing five years later. A few days after the series appeared, Neff reports in a third article that a recent federal investigation appears to indicate that the two professors and graduate student at NC State "recklessly" falsified research, though the report does not include the names of the scientists or the school.

“The OIG report appears to be the Franzen-Eaton-Feldheim case, and it does appear that the OIG has found research misconduct and recommended sanctions, but we cannot definitively confirm that,” university spokesperson Brad Bohlander tells the News and Observer. Neff adds that the report asks for the paper to be retracted.

In an email, Eaton tells Neff that Franzen launches an attack each year around the holidays and that Franzen has written threatening letters to Eaton's students.Eaton adds that he is no longer interested in this area of research. Franzen tells the News and Observer that he has tried to warn the students about the falsified data, but did not threaten their careers.

HT: Retraction Watch