A high-profile chemical engineer and professor of nanomedicine at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts, left his position after dozens of his studies were reviewed online.
Thomas Webster, who has published hundreds of research papers that collectively attracted tens of thousands of citations and is a past president of the Society for Biomaterials, has left Northeastern University since 2012, a spokesman for the institution said World of chemistry. However, the spokesman declined to comment further, noting that the institution “does not comment on specific personnel matters”.
The move comes in light of the recent review of Webster’s work, which has resulted in 69 co-authored studies being flagged on PubPeer, a website where commentators can discuss scientific articles after their publication.
Microbiologist-turned science integrity expert, Elisabeth Bik is one of the researchers who uncovered the unusual patterns in Webster’s studies. “Most of these articles have been flagged for image irregularities, and most have been flagged by me, but a few other PubPeer users found and published additional issues,” she says.
Bik adds that she referred most of the studies in question to the journals the work and Northeastern University were published in March 2020. “It can often take years for magazines and institutions to respond, and I have to applaud the university for taking action in a relatively quick way,” she says. “So far, however, the magazines involved in this case have not reacted.”
Bik found on her blog that eight of the 69 articles examined have so far been corrected by specialist journals and none have been withdrawn. “Many of the articles featured on PubPeer were published in magazines that Webster is a member of the editorial board. This is a major conflict of interest if concerns are raised about these articles,” she said.
According to Bik, Webster’s lab has been shut down since November. Webster is also no longer the editor-in-chief International journal for nanomedicine – a magazine he founded which published some of the articles in question. The magazine has not yet made any corrections after pointing out alleged imaging issues.
Webster could not be reached for comment.
“Now that the university appears to have graduated,” says Bik, “I hope they will follow up to make sure these papers are properly handled with corrections and withdrawals.”