[Nature] Scientific image sleuth faces legal action for criticizing research papers

First I’d heard of this!

https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-01430-z

A prominent French microbiologist has filed a criminal complaint against a world-renowned research-integrity specialist after she publicly flagged concerns about his published work, including papers suggesting that the drug hydroxychloroquine was effective at treating COVID-19, a claim that has now been refuted.

The complaint was filed on 29 April to a prosecutor in Marseille, France, by a lawyer acting on behalf of Didier Raoult, along with his colleague structural biologist Eric Chabriere, both at the city’s Hospital-University Institute Mediterranean Infection (IHU). It accuses Elisabeth Bik — a microbiologist turned research integrity consultant, based in California — of aggravated moral harassment, attempted blackmail and attempted extortion.

Bik — whose work scrutinizing images in research papers has earned her a worldwide following and has led to more than 170 retractions — denies these allegations, and says that her comments about the pair’s work are standard scientific critiques.

More than 1,000 scientists have rallied to support her in an open letter that claims the case could have a “chilling effect” on scholarly criticism.

Link to sign the open letter in the wiki section on the left hand side of the page below:

Co-organizer of PubPeer Boris Barbour, a neuroscientist at public-health research institute IBENS in France, is also named in Raoult and Chabriere’s criminal complaint. Barbour declined requests for comment from Nature ’s news team.

A spokesperson for PubPeer told Nature : “A successful legal action could have a chilling effect on post-publication peer review.”

“Direct legal action against the site has never been initiated,” the spokesperson notes. “However, we have in the past resisted a subpoena seeking to identify our users, and PubPeer does occasionally receive and respond to legal threats.”

Bik says she wonders why Raoult has not responded to specific concerns she raised about the papers. “Why doesn’t he show me proof that I am wrong? I would be happy to accept that,” she says. “Science should be discussed in the scientific arena, not the legal one.”

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Yes, this is extraordinary. Raoult’s (too) early publication on Hydroxychloroquine (+ AZM) treatment for early or only suspected COVID has been properly and thoroughly criticised, publicly, for enormous statistical-methodological failings by many reputable scientists. Why does he attack this lady? Answer: because she’s famous and hence got Retraction Watch to run an article on it. This present action by him only harms his reputation further. I guess he’s feeling very bitter about everything. He thought he had the miracle cure for COVID and shouted that from the rooftops. But he’s been proved wrong. He doesn’t like statisticians. I’m sure he’s had bad experience with French medical statistics people in the past. But he’s badly out of his depth on the topic of good statistics. I’m writing a paper on this…

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Yep, a shameful attack from someone who can’t defend their science, so is resorting to scare-tactics instead. Errors like this are bound to happen when shortcuts are taken (that paper was published less than one day after submission) and conflicts of interest exist between authors and editors at the journal. We wrote this paper exploring these problems – among other failures to adhere to open science principles – during the pandemic (soon to be published in BMC).

The lead author on that paper has since been publically harassed by Raoult and his merry band of thugs, probably due to our paper but also a petition he drafted to show support for Elisabeth Bik (the microbiologist being sued by Raoult). I invite everyone to sign that petition to show Dr Bik our support in this difficult time – personally I think we need to make our voices as loud as possible that this is not the appropriate way to respond to legitimate criticism of research of any kind, especially when the stakes are so high as this.

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