The Sezen Files – Part I: New Documents

July 7th, 2011

ChemBark Investigates

Now that C&EN has blown the cover off of this story, I am rushing these posts to press.  I’m not sure when the next installment is coming; there is a ton of information to process.

ChemBark is now in possession of 167 pages of information directly pertinent to the finding of scientific misconduct against Dr. Bengu Sezen (formerly) of Columbia University.  The files relate to investigations conducted by both Columbia University (CU) and the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) in the United States Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).  In November 2010, ORI announced its finding that Sezen was responsible for 21 instances of scientific misconduct, and the organization subsequently barred her from receiving federal funding for five years.

The documents were obtained by ChemBark via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request submitted on 29 November 2010.  The documents were finally sent on 22 June 2011—over six months past the date of the original request, but a mere two days after ChemBark mailed a friendly reminder to DHHS by U.S. Certified Mail.

The files have been heavily redacted by Carol Maloney, who is Director of the Division of FOIA Services at DHHS.  Very few names other than that of Dr. Sezen remain in the documents, including only one single instance of Dalibor Sames (Sezen’s advisor at Columbia and co-author of several retracted papers).  In making her redactions, Maloney asserted FOIA exemptions (b)(6) and (b)(7)(c), which are intended to protect the personal privacy of parties involved in the investigation.  Statements within these 167 pages of documents allude to the existence of more than 10,000 pages of documents related to the investigation.  While the set of documents obtained by ChemBark has been heavily redacted and only represents a small sample size of the body of documents that exist, the information contained in them paints a vivid picture of what was unquestionably a sustained rampage of data fabrication by Sezen, and later, an equally egregious campaign by her to avoid punishment.  The depth of the deception and its tragic consequences are manifest within the investigatory record, and at times, the machinations of Sezen seem so far-fetched and desperate as to be comedic.

In this series of posts, ChemBark will go through the details of the case most pertinent to the chemical community.  The purpose of this endeavor is to inform the community of the details of the case with an eye on analyzing what transpired and learning from it.  Fabrication of data might be the most heinous crime that can be perpetrated against science, and while “negative” stories like this one often paint our field in a bad light, we cannot afford to ignore them.  Almost six years have passed since the first reports of key details about this case were published on the predecessor to ChemBark.  Unfortunately, the coverage provided by traditional outlets for scientific news has been superficial and woefully inadequate.  It has obviously taken an extraordinary amount of time to uncover the details of the investigation, but a few delayed blog posts are better than nothing.  I have long maintained in previous coverage of this story that there is plenty for the chemical community to learn from this case, and these documents verify that.

Associated Documents

3 December 2010 – Acknowledgment of receipt of ChemBark’s FOIA request
8 December 2010 – Denial of ChemBark’s request for expedited processing
20 June 2011 – Follow-up letter to DHHS FOIA Office
22 June 2011 – Cover letter from DHHS with Bengu Sezen Investigation FOIA Materials
22 June 2011 – FOIA Materials for Bengu Sezen Investigation


The Sezen Files – Part II: Unraveling the Fabrication
The Sezen Files – Part III: And What of Sames?
The Sezen Files – Part IV: Lessons and Lingering Questions
The Sezen Files – Part V: Wrap Up

33 Responses to “The Sezen Files – Part I: New Documents”

  1. Paul Says:

    So, C&EN has posted the entire FOIA package. This completely revises what I had planned. Will try to post tonight regarding some of the most pertinent details. For now, back to lab.

  2. sam Says:

    how did CEN get the document? their link to the document has your name on it:

  3. Chemjobber Says:

    Way to go, Paul. You’ve done the community a huge service.

  4. Dennis Says:

    Nice work! Now if only we can find out why N. Voss incorrectly added the chloroform peak against the explicit request of La Clair, we’d really be getting somewhere.

  5. Special Guest Lecturer Says:

    Well done in cracking this story open. It’s a fascinating read.

  6. Major Major Says:

    And what about the other graduate students in the lab who were “adversely affected” when they could not reproduce Dr. Dr. Sezen’s stellar results? What is Columbia doing to rectify this?

    “The committee recommends, subject to the individual students approval, that the Chair of the Department of Chemistry provide an addendum to any letters of recommendation written on behalf of the individuals that acknowledges their contributions to the resolution of this case.”

    Evidently, Columbia must have an extraordinary notion of the value of a letter from their Chemistry department chair.

  7. Chemjobber Says:

    It’s pretty awful, innit?

  8. See Arr Oh Says:

    Twitter is on fire with this story! Great job, Paul!

    Really, if you’re going to falsify 11 notebooks and 14 NMR binders, you might as well DO the chemistry!

  9. Paul Says:

    Ralf Decter tipped off C&EN.

  10. See Arr Oh Says:

    Sure it wasn’t M. Atkas?

  11. Hap Says:

    Thanks for doing all the work to make this known. It’s nice to know where everyone stands.

  12. Rudy Baum Says:

    As we stated in our story, C&EN obtained the Office of Research Integrity file on Bengu Sezen through a Freedom of Information Act request:

  13. Hap Says:

    Thank you too, although I haven’t read your story.

  14. wolfie Says:

    Paul, before you write more, you may please read a book :

    Plastic Fantastic – How the Biggest Fraud in Physics Shook the Scientific World

    by Eugenie Samuel Reich

    eugene could not say more

  15. hairpin Says:

    I’ve heard that the only reason he is still at Columbia is because Sam Danishefsky is a big supporter (Sames did his post-doc with the big guy). Everybody knew the results were fake before she spread lies about lawyers, etc. I don’t know why her colleagues supported her for so long. So much for the macho cut-throat attitude in chemistry.

  16. Paul Says:

    Please note that I have updated this post with links to PDF copies of my correspondence with DHHS regarding the FOIA request for records related to the misconduct at Columbia. I have also corrected the dates in the post regarding this correspondence.

  17. ChemBark » Blog Archive » CHEMisperceptions: A New Chem-Blog Roundtable Discussion Says:

    […] to those interested in the Sames-Sezen case, I have amended my first “Sezen Files” post to include all of my correspondence regarding the FOIA request.  Those PDFs are now available at […]

  18. Chemistry Blog » Blog Archive » Why is trust such an issue in science? Says:

    […] report on the investigation of Sezen's methods of purposeful deceit, and made public on at least two blogs and in C&EN.   At this point, I think whatever details of the case that are out there […]

  19. Paul Says:

    Looks like Crystallinity (of this comment) is back for more.

  20. Unilever Centre for Molecular Informatics, Cambridge - Why we need data repositories: prevention of Scientific Fraud (ACS and others please respond) « petermr's blog Says:

    […] FOIA Materials22 June 2011 – FOIA Materials for Bengu Sezen Investigation This is contained in ( ) – the first of several impressive posts which are worth reading – and we haven’t got to […]

  21. Paul Says:

    In case this was not already clear, the comment “Ralf Decter tipped off C&EN” was a joke. “Ralf Decter” is a person that Columbia believes Sezen invented to support her claim that her work was reproducible. For more on “Ralf Decter,” you can read the full report.

    Despite the fact that C&EN included my surname in the filename for the investigation documents posted on the ACS server, C&EN submitted their own FOIA request for the documents. I did not forward them my copy.

  22. Chemjobber Says:

    That’s what I had assumed.

  23. Columbia University maintains a wall of silence around the Sezen – Sames case « The k2p blog Says:

    […] The Sezen Files: Part1, Part2 and Part3 Eco World Content From Across The Internet. Featured on EcoPressed Green […]

  24. wolfie Says:

    Unless, as, if, we, were, standing upright, above the law and the world :

    sames is still a full professor and we are not

  25. ChemBark » Blog Archive » The 2011 Chemmy Award Winners, Part 1 of 2 Says:

    […] were a number of other contenders for this award. In 2011, the release of the results of Columbia’s investigation into the misconduct of Bengu Sezen finally […]

  26. Madison Says:

    This is a lesson to all graduate students: When asked to lie, cheat and steal by your professor – do it. If you do not, you will be destroyed and blackballed. The university will ALWAYS come to the aid of their brethren, tenured or not. You’ll find that most professors inflate a yield or clean up a result a bit. They rationalize this by saying a trainee did the work, and the results would be better in the hands of a post doc or professional. Don’t be honest if you find a cheater or discover fraud. WALK AWAY. If you can’t bear the guilt, quietly apply to medical school and take a masters. You’ll be better off for it. Columbia made it very clear where they stand on ethics and integrity. If you’re a fraud and a cheater, you’ll be welcomed at Columbia. Head there. If you’re honest – avoid Columbia like the plague. You’ll be ruined.

  27. My Advice to Breslow | ChemBark Says:

    […] think this is the main problem that Dalibor Sames has experienced regarding his work with Bengu Sezen. Bengu Sezen was exposed and punished to what is probably the fullest extent […]

  28. How C&EN and JACS Have Changed Since Sames-Sezen | ChemBark Says:

    […] the transgressions in the Sames-Sezen and Breslow sagas are very different, we can use both events as probes for how the ACS (through […]

  29. Türkiye Akademisinin Arka Sokaklarından Tez Manzaraları | Subjektif Says:

    […] The Sezen Files – Part I: New Documents (“Sezen Dosyaları – Kısım I: Yeni Belgeler“) (Paul Bracher) […]

  30. Türkiye Akademisinin Arka Sokaklarından Tez Manzaraları - Aşağıdan! Says:

    […] The Sezen Files – Part I: New Documents (“Sezen Dosyaları – Kısım I: Yeni Belgeler“) (Paul Bracher) […]

  31. Chemistry graduate school and mental well-being | Just Another Electron Pusher Says:

    […] The stress of grad school can affect one’s mood, leading to bouts of depression and low self-esteem. The pressure to be productive and innovative in one’s research project can also be an element among many which may help encourage (or at least fail to discourage) some aberrant mental behavior. […]

  32. Some VERY Suspicious TEM Images in Nano Letters | ChemBark Says:

    […] to the community what happened after it was finished with its investigation of Bengu Sezen. A FOIA request filed by ChemBark and another news organization were required to report the full extent of […]

  33. tabiya Says:

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