Robert Weinberg, Carlo Croce and Olivier Voinnet are extremely gifted scientists. They have spent long hours in the lab and their amazing drive and talent have turned them into towering figures in their respective fields. Their achievements are widely recognized and have earned them solid reputations in Cancer Genetics, Cancer Biology and Plant Biology, their respective disciplines. Yet, drive and talent are not the only things these three scientists have in common, as it turns out.
Left to right: Robert Weinberg, Carlo Croce and Olivier Voinnet.
While Weinberg, Croce and Voinnet were wholeheartedly committed to science, Ivan Oransky and his troupe at Retraction Watch kept busy collecting anonymous tips and using sock-puppets, under fake writer names like Clare Francis or Fernando Pessoa, to bring down the three great scientists. It takes all kinds, as the saying goes. The tips involved charges of data fabrication and image manipulation, and a few turned out to be true. Using pseudonyms, Retraction Watch relentlessly notified MIT, Ohio State University and the Swiss ETH, the respective home institutions of the three scientists, in an effort to get them fired or at least to get some serious reaction that Retraction Watch could then report in the most scathing terms. As soon as they managed to get some reaction, they defamed Robert Weinberg, Carlo Croce and Olivier Voinnet without further due and without waiting for a final outcome of the institutional investigations that they managed to elicit. To survive, Retraction Watch feeds on news that they themselves generate on the downfall of big names like these.
That being said, it appears that in each case, someone collaborating with or working in the lab of these great scientists has indeed committed misconduct, a circumstance that motivated retractions and corrections of published work. Of course, as cosigners of the papers, Robert Weinberg, Carlo Croce and Olivier Voinnet bear a share of responsibility on these retractions. Be as it may, MIT never publicly opened an inquiry on Weinberg, while Ohio State and ETH acquitted Croce and Voinnet, respectively. Of course one could argue that perhaps the institutions that have so heavily invested in promoting these superstars, would not be willing to bring them down now for fears that this could tarnish their own reputations. “Don’t kill the rain man”, as they say. Be as it may, as of now, the misconduct accusations or suggestions brought about and published by Retraction Watch are in effect false and constitute actionable defamation.