Controversial Canadian additive researcher not guilty of misconduct, report says | science

Botanist Stephen Newmaster, whose controversial work has had a profound effect on how nutritional supplements are tested and marketed, has not been involved in a scientific breach, the University of Guelph (UG) has said.

Newmaster “shows a pattern of misjudgment and has failed to apply the standards expected in research in his discipline,” Commission Chairman John Walsh wrote today in a letter to the eight scientists who filed a complaint against Newmaster last year. However, despite “many shortcomings” in his work, the commission said it had “insufficient evidence” to find Newmaster guilty of misconduct in three investigations his prosecutors said.

“Given the evidence gathered for data falsification, I was very surprised by the conclusion,” said evolutionary biologist Paul Hebert, who signed the complaint, who heads UG’s Center for Genomics of Biodiversity. Newmaster did not respond to a request for comment today.

Newmaster specializes in the application of DNA barcoding, a technique introduced by Hebert that identifies species based on DNA fragments, to plants and plant products. In 2013 BMC medicine study, he accused the industry of selling substandard products contaminated with toxic pollutants. The newspaper attracted international media and led to the repression of the products by the New York Attorney General.

The study also led Newmaster to worldwide fame as a testing expert and industry advocate. His private companies and a non-profit group at UG have raised millions of dollars by certifying supplements, cannabis and other foods.

A 43-page complaint filed at the university in June 2021 by Hebert and other scholars, including co-authors of two of Newmaster’s articles, said Newmaster had committed fraud and plagiarism and had not revealed a conflict of interest as required. . Their complaint focused on the 2013 study on supplements, which BMC medicine has since been placed under investigation; a 2014 article on the use of DNA barcoding to identify forest plants, which was withdrawn in 2021; and a 2013 paper examining the use of DNA barcoding to determine forest caribou diets.

Newmaster denied all allegations in the complaint last year. “I have never participated in an unethical activity or academic violation,” he wrote in an official response received from science.

Investigation by science published in February, based on a review of thousands of pages of Newmaster’s work, as well as his videos, Powerpoint presentations and websites, revealed many other cases in which he appears to manipulate or fabricate data, plagiarize and fabricate elements of his academic record. . Newmaster declined to comment on science history and the committee did not address these additional issues.

Today’s letter to the complainants summarizes the commission’s conclusions, but provides little detail on its reasons. UG has not yet issued its final decision, a process that could take several months. A spokesman did not respond to a request for comment on whether Newmaster could be sanctioned for problems in his work that the commission identified. UG’s policy implies that it will not be subject to penalties of any kind.

“This was a completely credible and well-founded claim with a lot of evidence,” said Stan Thompson doctoral student Ken Thompson, who signed the complaint, the first to question Newmaster’s work in 2020. UG dismissed Thompson’s concerns several times and did so. no formal investigation was launched until a group of eight scientists lodged a complaint.

As a UG student working with Newmaster, Thompson co-authored a study of forest plants. Years later, Thompson realized that Newmaster had never shown him the raw data or uploaded it to a data warehouse as required. Newmaster and his colleague appear to have used recordings from an unrelated experiment in an unsuccessful effort to confirm the work, according to the complaint of misconduct. the diary Biodiversity and conservation withdrew the document in October 2021, citing several serious problems. “The editor-in-chief … no longer trusts the validity of the data reported in this article,” the withdrawal notice said.

Newmaster’s prosecutors have expressed concern that the investigation may not be rigorous, given the members’ lack of genomics experience. Walsh, chairman, is vice dean of the Gordon S. Lang School of Business and Economics at UG; Jeff Wichtel is dean of the UG Veterinary College; and Cynthia Fecken is a psychologist at Queen’s University in Kingston. An unidentified expert was assisted. Walsh did not respond to a request for comment today.

Thompson is particularly disappointed that the commission says allegations of misconduct are not supported due to “lack of records and data. “That was the essence of our complaint,” he said. “We knew they would not be able to find records. Our complaint alleges that Prof. Newmaster falsified his work and never had any data to archive it. That’s really disappointing. “

“There’s a big question we need to ask ourselves as scientists working in Canada,” Thompson added. “Do we really care about dealing with misconduct?”

This story was supported by science Investigative Journalism Fund.

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