School newspaper scoop leads to investigation of Stanford president

Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne is the subject of a university investigation following a report by the school’s newspaper, the Stanford Daily, that he committed scientific research misconduct.

Earlier this week, the Stanford Daily published an exhaustive history of a series of papers co-authored over the past few decades by Tessier-Lavigne — a neuroscientist — that contained potentially altered images. Stanford Daily spoke with several experts who reviewed the articles that appeared in Science and Nature academic journals, and they all came to the same conclusion about the altered imagery, a serious indictment of the research field.

At first, a Stanford spokesperson downplayed the findings from the student newspaper story, writing that for two of the research papers in question, Tessier-Lavigne “was not involved in any way in the generation or presentation of the panels that have been requested.” and for two other research papers in question, the allegedly altered images “do not affect the data, results, or interpretation of the papers.”

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But Elisabeth Bik, a highly regarded scientific researcher who is a “specialist in spotting manipulated images,” according to the academic journal Science, pushed back strongly against the university’s assessment.

“I hope Dr. Tessier-Lavigne will not dismiss these concerns as irrelevant,” Bik wrote to the Stanford Daily. “There seem to be a lot of visible errors in these papers and some duplications suggest [of] an intention to mislead. Dismissing these as not affecting the data is not very reassuring.”

After the Stanford Daily’s report, as well as reports from other publications, Stanford changed tactics. On Tuesday night, Stanford announced an investigation into Tessier-Lavigne’s research. The school “will evaluate the allegations presented in The Stanford Daily in accordance with its normal rigorous approach in which allegations of research misconduct are reviewed and investigated,” a spokesperson wrote in a statement.

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