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An Online Campaign Plagues an Investigation

An investigation into misconduct at a research institution in Germany has been disrupted by a series of anonymous, accusatory emails and online posts, The Scientist reports. Silvia Bulfone-Paus, a researcher at the Research Center Borstel, noticed what could be data manipulations in some papers her group published and she brought them to the attention of officials who then started an investigation. That's also when "accusatory emails" about Bulfone-Paus and the papers began to appear in inboxes of people involved as well as those of journalists and journal editors, The Scientist says. The email and online accusations and leaks, posted to a Web site hosted in Panama, affected the official investigation — a Nature editorial from September called the online campaign a "trial by Internet." The investigation found two former postdocs guilty of data manipulation and six, though possibly up to 12, papers may be retracted. The research center also brought slander charges against the unknown person sending the emails, The Scientist adds. "It's really difficult to find out who it is," says Ulrich Schaible, who is on the Borstel board of directors, to The Scientist, "though we have suspicions." A Nature News article says that the German funding agency DFG is beginning its own investigation into the alleged misconduct. And if insufficient oversight led to the misconduct, Nature News says that Bulfone-Paus may also be penalized.

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