January 2, 2017 at 03:09PM

A London university’s most senior academic is to be reinvestigated for alleged research misconduct after being cleared by a similar inquiry last year, the Guardian has learned.

Prof David Latchman, a prominent geneticist and master of Birkbeck, University of London, was found to have “no case to answer” by an inquiry in 2015, but a new investigation has been ordered following fresh claims of potential wrongdoing.

The inquiry will centre on several research papers published by Latchman’s human genetics research group based at nearby University College London. A screening panel at UCL has recommended a full investigation after it completed an initial assessment of the new allegations, according to details obtained by the Guardian under the Freedom of Information Act.

Latchman retracted two of his published research papers last year and corrected a number of others, but questions have been raised over dozens of studies from his group on the PubPeer website, a forum used by academics to discuss scientific research. Many of the comments raise concerns about images in papers that Latchman and other scientists co-authored between 1990 and 2013.

The first paper that Latchman’s group retracted included an image that was labelled as new data, but which the scientists had actually published in an older study. In the second paper, six images had either been flipped around or duplicated and given labels that made them look new. The corresponding author of the second paper, Anastasis Stephanou, who is now at the European University in Cyprus, took responsibility for the latter image irregularities and said his co-authors, including Latchman, were “completely unaware” of the inappropriate figure manipulations. Dr Stephanou did not respond to a request for comment.

The first investigation into Latchman’s lab came about when UCL received an anonymous allegation of possible research misconduct in 2013. The panel of scientists who looked at the evidence produced a report on the claims, but UCL said it would not make the document public because doing so would be “unfair and prejudicial” to the new inquiry. “This is because the latest allegations, whilst separate from those previously investigated, do relate to the same individual and may deal with substantially similar issues,” the university said.

The new investigation has been triggered by further allegations against Latchman, which are believed to come from the same anonymous source. The university said the inquiry was designed to ensure a “full and fair exploration” of the claims and would be conducted “under the presumption of innocence”. Though UCL cleared Latchman of any wrongdoing in last year’s inquiry, the geneticist accepted that there were “procedural matters” in his lab that required attention.

Latchman has used data protection laws to request more than two years’ worth of emails from senior UCL scientists and administrators who may have mentioned him or his case in their communications.

In a statement, the London law firm Mishcon de Reya said Latchman rejected the allegations. “On 26 August 2015 UCL announced that David Latchman had no case to answer following the allegations of research misconduct made by an anonymous source in December 2013. This decision was reached following a thorough 20-month investigation. These new anonymous allegations go over the same ground as the original one and in our view provide no basis for further investigation of Professor Latchman.”

Latchman was appointed master of Birkbeck in 2003 and received a CBE in the 2010 birthday honours for services to higher education. In 2011, BioVex, a company Latchman founded with a senior postdoctoral researcher, was sold to the US firm Amgen for $1bn (£820m). He is a member of the National DNA Database Ethics Group, which provides advice on the ethical use of the database to Home Office ministers.

A spokesperson for Birkbeck said: “UCL is currently considering an allegation of potential research misconduct in accordance with UCL procedures. The process is ongoing and it would be inappropriate for us to comment at this stage. A previous investigation into allegations made against Professor Latchman’s UCL research group found Prof Latchman had no case to answer in relation to research misconduct.”

UCL did not respond to a request for comment.

from Education | The Guardian http://ift.tt/2isRxWX