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The Dark Side

Pfizer Fires For Fakery

Today’s second “bad behavior” story comes courtesy of Retraction Watch and Leonard Schneider’s For Better Science. Schneider has been tracking some problems with papers from Min-Jean Yin, who was working at Pfizer’s La Jolla site. Five papers that came out of her work there are now being retracted – duplicate images in the gels were picked up by folks who commented on PubPeer, and an internal Pfizer investigation confirmed the duplications. It’s taken a few months, but it appears that not only is Pfizer requesting that the papers all be retracted, but that Yin is no longer an employee of the company.

Here are the five papers, and as you can see, they stretch across several different projects:

What isn’t clear is how much of this fraud affected internal work at Pfizer. You’d have to think that Yin was generating proprietary data for these various projects, and eventually they were cleared for publication for one reason or another. The way it works in the drug industry, projects are often some way back in the rear-view mirror by the time that happens, and you generally aren’t able to go back and generate new data just for the paper (or at least not much). So you really have to wonder if some of Pfizer’s own drug discovery efforts got messed up by some of this fakery, or if these were just images stuck on to make the manuscripts look more complete. Neither possibility is good, of course. . .

29 comments on “Pfizer Fires For Fakery”

  1. SPQR says:

    At least she was shit-canned swiftly. In academia everyone just looks the other way and hopes that the problem will be forgotten in time.

  2. Jedd Jeddords says:

    Shameful & damaging.
    BA has lost control of the sinking ship.
    Nicely titled alliteration.

  3. Chrispy says:

    Pfakery 🙂

  4. LM says:

    This happens more than you hear about. This was public so they had to talk about it. At my company they just let the guy go (a fellow!) and now he works somewhere else “doing science”.

  5. Luysii says:

    Too bad, but you can only imagine what awfulness corrupt physicians can unleash during their careers. Those of you teaching organic chemistry to premeds are in a great position to help nip this in the bud.
    Harvard summer school chose not to with one character in 1962. God only knows what he did. For the sad details see —

    1. Spiral Stairs says:

      I’m curious to see the PubPeer comments. Have any links?

    2. Tom says:

      I used to refer to TA’ing Organic and Organic lab to premeds as “preventative medicine.”

      1. Luysii says:

        Excellent 1

        1. exGlaxoid says:

          I had one student who could not do a single lab without breaking something, dropping or spilling chemicals, or creating a lab disaster. They wanted to be a surgeon. Thankfully, their grades avoided that. I would not ever want a doctor who could not set up even the simplest experiment without breaking or dropping something. They should go into philosophy or even psychology, but never be allowed near living creatures with a sharp object. I think they also cut themselves a few times…

          1. luysii says:

            I had a section of 20 kids (just the A’s and B’s) during the school year. 19 of them were fine, but one of them drove me crazy, because he wanted to know what all the chemicals we were using in the lab TASTED LIKE. So I had to keep one eye on the 19 and the other eye on him.

    3. Xiexie says:

      One story from your blog post caught my eye. I struggle to believe it at face value, but actually taking a moment to consider the story… Find it even less believable. Wouldn’t taking urine from catheterized urology patients, whom I sincerely hope were recently sedated or anesthetized, be a terrible idea? I would be willing to bet half that urine would test positive for opioids. Unless this urologist also failed the pharmacology class where they teach you about the kidney’s function, this sounds like a tall tale.

      “1 A drug addicted urologist who passed his urine tests (for a while) after he was caught, by catheterizing his patients, obtaining their urine, then catheterizing himself and instilling their (presumably) drugfree urine into his bladder. #”

      1. luysii says:

        No, not if your practice has some 80 year old ladies in it. He actually did evade drug testing this way. We don’t actually know exactly what he did. It could have just been urine samples (commonly given by urology patients) which he then instilled in his own bladder. Good pick up on your part

        1. loupgarous says:

          My reaction to the dolorous tale of the urologist who instilled his patients’ urine to pass drug tests was to wonder how many UTIs he contracted that way. Even 80 year-old ladies are apt to be diabetic and culturing interesting flora in their bladders. The man must really have been addicted.

          However, as their urologist, the guy would also be in a position to know whose urine was (relatively) clear, microbiologically speaking, and to be reasonably sure who was or wasn’t taking opioids for pain (especially if their main complaint is what he was treating).

  6. Anon says:

    Not that I like or respect Pfizer for their ethics much either, but I would like to see Pfizer sue this girl and take away her home for fraud, and then donate the money to some charity. At least as a token to send a message that integrity is worth more than money. But nah, it’s Pfizer, after all, so thst would be hypocritical.

    1. loupgarous says:

      Perhaps the Susan G. Komen Fund can help out there (since at least three of those papers were breast-cancer related). Drug companies pay attention when charities built around the diseases they sell remedies for speak.

  7. Ted says:

    You get what you manage for.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Next time industry folks talk about irreproducibility (or faked results) from academia, someone should remind them of this post.

  9. Fired Fellow says:

    Faux Figures Frustrate Pfizer…fascinating

  10. Anonymous Researcher snaw says:

    My parents were on the faculty, so I heard quite a few tales of student cheating. In one particularly memorable case my father took a paper with some passages he suspected might have been plagiarized to a colleague. After maybe 30 seconds the colleague exclaimed, “that’s from one of MY books!”

  11. Pete says:

    Two recent (student) examples of plagiarism:

    (1) student copies an entire chapter of a PhD thesis as an MSc dissertation. Without changing phrases like ‘in this chapter’. And the dissertation is read by the supervisor of the PhD thesis…

    (2) student copies word-for-word a published paper as their dissertation. Including the final line ‘The authors would like to thank X for valuable discussions’…

    1. SedatedFMS says:

      I corrected my own undergraduate reports for a medicinal chemistry practical. Word for word, with my usual spelling mistakes.

  12. Nick K says:

    I wonder how many person-years and dollars have been wasted by other researchers as a result of this mendacious dross?

  13. Pfizer Joe says:

    Not Surprising. The culture at Pfizer allows this kind of behavior and sometimes worse.
    All of the people on the paper are responsible! They are co-authors and should be held accountable for the contents of the papers. Also, the Pfizer execs who reviewed the paper prior to its release to the public, Where were they? There are lots of people who should pay.

  14. Screener says:

    Does anyone know whether any of the retracted papers were used to support PFizer regulatory filings? Or what would happen to a filing that had a supporting paper retracted?

  15. observant says:

    Pretty much the same group of authors on these papers. I always wonder how a co-author on a paper either does not notice or remains silent when *their data* all of a sudden looks quite different in the draft they are reviewing. sometimes a co-author simply does not know the details of a collaborators part of a project (although they should), but when you have the same group over and over it’s pretty clear someone must have noticed…

  16. MX says:

    Recent story of plagiarism.

    Student plagiarises 30% of his undergraduate thesis. Student goes on to become president. News outlet discovers the plagiarism. University claims that the rulebook doesn’t apply to alumni, and moreover they are faced with a fait accompli, with respect to which it is impossible to proceed.

  17. Me says:

    Pfizer Pf**ks Pfaker

  18. anon says:

    Student plagiarises 30% of his undergraduate thesis..

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