Who Really Did The Work?

Who Really Did The Work?


Leonard Zwelling


By now this story is all over the Texas Medical Center. The above is off the Houston Chronicle web site, but this was reported on STAT’s web site on February 8 (https://www.statnews.com/2024/02/08/padmanee-sharma-cancer-md-anderson-jamie-lin-lawsuit-research/).

In short, Dr. Lin, a junior faculty investigator at MD Anderson, is accusing a prominent scientist, Dr. Sharma, of forcing her name onto papers Lin wrote reporting on work that Dr. Sharma had no role in. Read the articles if you want to know the details although they have now been widely reported. This dispute has been going on for months and it has just now made it to Harris County Court where Lin is seeking $5 million in damages from Sharma personally. MD Anderson is not a named defendant here.

However, reading between the lines, MD Anderson could have dealt with this and prevented it from going this far.

The leadership was aware of the allegations for many months and mediation at the institutional level failed. Why?

That’s what we don’t know.

The essence of the case is who actually contributed to the science reported in a paper submitted for publication?

Dr. Lin believes Dr. Sharma had no role in the work. Dr. Sharma—I think—disagrees but has chosen as a defense the fact that as a state employee she cannot be sued (“sovereign immunity”). That’s not much of a defense, but I am sure the story as reported is incomplete.

From my own experience, I always had to put my mentor on my papers regardless of his contribution, because he paid the bills. He had nothing to do with the best paper I ever wrote (accepted by The Journal of Biological Chemistry without revision). I no longer think that’s enough to warrant authorship.

If Dr. Sharma read the manuscript prior to submission and made edits and comments that improved the paper’s chances of acceptance, then perhaps her authorship is warranted. I also believe Dr. Sharma wanted Dr. Allison, in whose institute the work was done, to be included as an author. The article does not denote his contribution, if any.

It is my understanding that all of these regulatory matters have been sorted out by now and that an author has to have made a substantial contribution to any submitted work. It seems to me the facts could have been elucidated at Anderson and a solution found short of a trial. I guess not. Someone was being stubborn.

To my way of thinking, both of our protagonists may have committed scientific misconduct. If Dr. Lin really believed that Dr. Sharma had made no contribution, then putting her name on any submission is wrong. If Dr. Sharma really bullied Dr. Lin into including her and threatened Dr. Lin’s career, not only is this research misconduct, it’s unprofessional behavior warranting a significant penalty as Dr. Pisters has been quick to mete out to others.

I guess this is going to court now suggesting the legal and research integrity teams at Anderson were unable or unwilling to negotiate a satisfactory outcome.

How sad is this! No one could work this out before it goes to trial? Where was Dr. Pisters in all of this?

This may be another example of MD Anderson faculty misconduct especially at the leadership level. It’s a crying shame.

Bullying appears to have reached the level of authorship on publications. That’s a sad turn of events, but given the research misconduct reported from other centers, perhaps this should come as no surprise. Recently, MD Anderson brought in outside consultants to instruct the faculty on what constitutes research misconduct. Maybe this came too late for the current case. Regardless, this should have been resolved before it went public and into court. Where is the leadership at Anderson? Not here, for sure.

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