Latest updates: Stanford president under investigation for research misconduct

A stack of research paper pages with red ink over data
(Graphic: MICHELLE FU/The Stanford Daily)
Updated Dec. 15, 2022 at 8:02 a.m.

University President Marc Tessier-Lavigne is under investigation for alleged research misconduct following allegations first reported in The Daily that multiple papers co-authored by the president contain altered images.

In late November, The Daily broke the news that The European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) Journal was reviewing a paper co-authored by Tessier-Lavigne for alleged scientific misconduct. Science misconduct investigator Elisabeth Bik and other experts also identified “serious problems” in three other papers, including two where the president was the lead author.

The University acknowledged “mistakes” in a statement to The Daily but defended the president’s role in any potential issues in a statement prior to the initial article.

Following The Daily’s article and further reporting from local and national publications, the Board of Trustees launched an investigation into Tessier-Lavigne’s research Tuesday. Stanford spokesperson Dee Mostofi said that the University will “assess the allegations presented in the Stanford Daily, consistent with its normal rigorous approach by which misconduct are reviewed and investigated.”

The allegations against the president have continued to grow: Misconduct experts have now identified at least eight papers they suspect of image alteration. 

On Friday, the board announced a Special Committee charged with conducting the investigation. The committee is chaired by Carol Lam, former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California. The board has not responded to questions about what the full scope of its investigation will be.

Daily reporting found that one of the committee members, Felix Baker, had an $18 million investment in Tessier-Lavigne’s biotech company Denali Therapeutics. After The Daily asked the board to comment on the potential for a conflict of interest, Baker stepped down from the committee.

Prominent biologists and misconduct experts sharply criticized the structure of the University’s investigation, which is being conducted in-house by colleagues of Tessier-Lavigne who don’t have expertise in biology. Tessier-Lavigne also sits on the Board of Trustees but will not participate in the investigation.

Faculty also criticized the statement announcing the formation of the committee, which was written by the chairman of the board, for containing positive comments about Tessier-Lavigne’s “integrity and honor” alongside the announcement of an investigation charged with determining allegations about lack of research integrity.

A picture of the board of trustees.
The Stanford Board of Trustees, the body investigating President Marc Tessier-Lavigne’s scientific misconduct allegations. (Photo: Steve Castillo Photography)
Jan. 18, 2023, 12:42 a.m.
Renowned scientists joined the investigation into Stanford's president. The investigation has no budget cap nor a projected timeline, a spokesperson said.
Marc Tessier-Lavigne speaks at a faculty senate meeting
President Marc Tessier-Lavigne speaks at a Faculty Senate meeting. (Photo: Stanford News)
Dec. 15, 2022, 8:02 a.m.
Following another public statement by the University president, prominent research journals have signaled there may be reason to lose confidence in three papers by Tessier-Lavigne.
Marc Tessier-Lavigne speaks at graduation
President Marc Tessier-Lavigne welcomes the parents, families and graduates to a commencement ceremony. (Courtesy of L.A. Cicero)
Dec. 7, 2022, 6:28 p.m.
“This story is evolving in ways that make me question my decision to come to Stanford and SLAC to conduct my research in the first place.” Researchers criticized the special committee appointed by the Board of Trustees for lack of transparency and the committee released a statement.
President Marc Tessier-Lavigne at a faculty senate meeting
President Marc Tessier-Lavigne at a Faculty Senate meeting. (Photo courtesy of Stanford News)
Dec. 6, 2022, 12:32 a.m.
Marc Tessier-Lavigne wrote a letter to faculty taking responsibility for research with alleged image alteration bearing his name. Hours later, the journal Cell announced it would reinvestigate a paper it first examined in 2015.
Figure 1c from a 2003 Nature article. The image seems to show bands which have been duplicated and manipulated.
Courtesy of Bryon Hughson. This figure, annotated with Forensically, purports to show alteration in a 2003 Nature paper co-authored by Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne. According to Hughson “Blots in lanes 5 and 8 show unexpected similarities in luminance gradient patterns.”
Dec. 5, 2022, 1:35 a.m.
One editor of a journal urges President Tessier-Lavigne to step down as more allegations of image alteration in papers co-authored by the neuroscientist emerge and the investigation into his work is, according to experts, marred.
A collage of several figures with highlighted areas showing alleged duplications within the photos.
Annotated Figure 5 “Novel Role for Netrins in Regulating Epithelial Behavior during Lung Branching Morphogenesis,” Current Biology, 2004. Courtesy Elisabeth Bik.
Dec. 2, 2022, 6:58 p.m.
Three more papers have been identified as containing alleged image manipulation since The Daily’s first article. Stanford announced that former U.S. Attorney Carol Lam would lead its investigation, upsetting scientists who criticized the University for investigating itself rather than calling on a third party.
Marc Tessier-Lavigne speaking at a meeting
(FARRIN ABBOTT/Stanford News Service)
Nov. 30, 2022, 11:49 a.m.
The prominent research journal “apologized to the scientific community” for failing to issue any public statements on the two papers which contain alleged image manipulation.
Marc Tessier-Lavigne speaking at a meeting
(Photo: L.A. CICERO/Stanford News Service)
Nov. 30, 2022, 1:05 a.m.
As the University’s Board of Trustees works to “assess the allegations presented,” a researcher raised new concerns about “serious” issues in a journal article Tessier-Lavigne co-authored in 1999.
A stack of research paper pages with red ink over data
(Graphic: MICHELLE FU/The Stanford Daily)
Nov. 29, 2022, 2:08 a.m.
Marc Tessier-Lavigne faces years of allegations of scientific misconduct in his research, including papers he co-authored containing images which researchers say appear “definitely photoshopped.” One of them is now under investigation by a major journal.

Theo Baker is the Vol. 263 Investigations Editor. Contact tbaker 'at' stanforddaily.com. Find him on Twitter @tab_delete.

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