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Few Tweaks Here and There

After a pair of investigations uncovered evidence of misconduct in his work, the French National Center for Scientific Research has suspended plant biologist Olivier Voinnet, Nature News reports. Voinnet is a senior scientist at CNRS, though he has been working at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich since 2010.

Both institutes investigated Voinnet's work, which focused on how RNA interference in plants, invertebrates, and mammals help fend off viruses, after an anonymous email pointed out issues with his work, Retraction Watch says, adding that his work has also been criticized at PubPeer.

The ETH Zurich investigation found that "Voinnet breached his duty of care in the handling of figures as well as in his supervisory duties as a research director." In particular, the investigation examined figures from 32 of his publications and found errors ranging from "beautification" to more serious editing in figures from 20 of them. It concluded, though, that the raw data and experimental documentation supported the papers' scientific conclusions.

As Voinnet violated ETH Zurich's Guidelines for Research Integrity and Good Scientific Practice, he is to receive an admonishment from the organization's president, the organization says.

ETH Zurich also recommends the retraction of three papers, in addition to two that have already been pulled, Nature News notes, adding that Voinnet can continue his research at ETH Zurich, though his group will work with an external advisor and is being encouraging to adopt electronic lab books to better track its work.

The CNRS investigation similarly found evidence of errors, which it says amounts to research misconduct, but not to fabrication, Retraction Watch says. That inquiry found that charts and diagrams had been improperly manipulated or duplicated, and that some had the wrong captions, in breach of ethical standards for presenting scientific results.

CNRS suspended Voinnet for two years, and says the matter "tarnished the reputation of the CNRS and of research at large." Nature News notes that that suspension will only be served if he returns to CNRS.

"I very much regret not exercising the necessary care during the publication process, and I take complete responsibility for all errors," Voinnet says in a statement.