Stanford newspaper scoop leads to investigation of school president

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

Earlier this week, the Stanford Daily published an exhaustive story about a number of papers co-authored over the last few decades by Tessier-Lavigne — a neuroscientist — that contained potentially altered images. The Stanford Daily spoke to multiple experts who reviewed the papers, which appeared in the Science and Nature academic journals,and they all came to the same conclusion about the altered imagery, a serious charge in 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 queried,” and for two other research papers in question, the allegedly altered images “do not affect the data, results or interpretation of the papers.”

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

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

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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 assess the allegations presented in The Stanford Daily, consistent with its normal rigorous approach by which allegations of research misconduct are reviewed and investigated,” a spokesperson wrote in a statement.

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