Any chemist with access to the internet cannot possibly have missed the developing story of the Dorta Paper, summarized by this picture

Dorta Paper

From the SI of: Organometallics 2013, Article ASAP (DOI: 10.1021/om4000067)

and in this post over at ChemBark, which is being updated as the story unfolds – keep an eye on it.

Many things have gone wrong here, no doubt. For example, I don’t for a second buy that “make up” means anything else than fabricate. Apart from the corresponding author, who in my humble opinion has a lot to explain, I think several people have made a number of mistakes. A couple of days ago, I expressed my feelings in a comment to the ChemBark post.

DrFreddy Says:
August 14th, 2013 at 12:47 PM

Shame on the community. Shame on the Professor! Shame on the editors. Shame on the reviewers…

As for Emma though, I feel her pain. I’ve been thinking about putting up a donation fund for a gift basket or something to be sent to her. It’s almost like I wish she left those sentences in there on purpose. My gut feeling says she’s clean. But let’s see what the future holds. Exciting is perhaps not the proper word.

And this morning I got the most heartbreaking email from Emma Drinkel’s mother. With Mary-Anne’s permission, I’m re-posting it here in its entirety for all to read and draw their own conclusions.

From: Mary-Anne Drinkel [mailto:[email protected]]
Sent: 15 August 2013 21:04
To: Fredrik von Kieseritzky ‘[email protected]
Subject: Emma Drinkel – the Dorta Affair

Dear Dr Kieseritzky

I hope you don’t mind me contacting you, but I would just like to thank you for your comment on ChemBark. My name is Mary-Anne Drinkel, and I am mother of Emma. We are very proud of our daughter she has worked hard and conscientiously to earn her first class degree at Durham, her PhD at Zurich, and presently her Post doctorate work in Brazil- we know that fabricating data would be alien to her. I cannot believe that her good reputation, built up over these years can be destroyed in a week. I know nothing of the academic community, but the hostile and aggressive comments left on the blog sites are unbelievable. I don’t know if Reto Dorta was careless or has done a very bad thing, but I do know that Emma is the innocent party in this affair. How many PhD thesis could withstand the hostile scrutiny that Emma’s has been subjected to, with these bloggers determined to find evidence of wrongdoing – boasting about who broke the news first.

Emma’s husband has a new industry position in Switzerland, and they will be moving back to Europe very soon; this means Emma will be applying for jobs – she fears this affair will affect her chances, as she would be honest with prospective employers about her situation. They had decided to leave the academic world long before this episode because the competitiveness and political environment of university life was not for them. Emma is devastated that her good name at Durham and Zurich University will be forever tarnished by this affair.

My husband and I have felt so sad and so helpless as these events have developed – when I saw your comment that was sympathetic to Emma’s plight, it was the first bit of humanity I had witnessed in the whole affair, and I am grateful to you for that. Emma will get through this, she is resilient and has the support of her husband, family and friends – but we feel so angry that Emma has been subjected to this through no fault of her own.

Once again thank- you,

Best wishes,

Mary-Anne Drinkel

Yes, at least one grave mistake has been made. And every chemist is wondering: how common is this?

But – I kindly ask you to please think twice before you go out flaming people. Two wrongs don’t make a right. Who is the bad guy here? Perhaps the one who instructed someone to do something very unethical, and not the person who apparently did not do it, no?

Reto Dorta, would you please step forth?


21 Responses to In defense of Emma

  1. […] Update 6: Emma’s mother speaks up at Synthetic Remarks: In defense of Emma […]

  2. Dave Fernig says:

    I don’t think many were flaming Emma, but I guess the actual comment going viral, with the NanoLetts TEM of gold nanorods following hot on its heels may have given the impression of flaming. I tweeted about how Emma must be feeling (pretty bad) and there was clearly only sympathy in the responses. Emma and her parents should rest assured that the buck stops with the PI/corresponding author and only with the this (or these) individuals. After all, that is why someone is PI and corresponding author. They take responsibility and should be last off the ship. End of story.

    The community certainly awaits an explanation from the PI / corresponding author.

    • drfreddy says:

      Many weren’t flaming Emma?! This Reddit thread has at the time of writing 227 upvotes. If that isn’t flaming on massive level, I don’t know what is.

      • mod101 says:

        Yes in that comment chain they weren’t actually flamming Emma. If you note the comment “Emma why liek this” you can see that the flamming is not directed towards Emma. In this comment a redditor is mocking the PI by asking something dumb from the PI’s perspective. Emma just happens to be an innocent party caught up in the mocking of the PI.

  3. P says:

    People have done much worse and got back into academia…

  4. milkshake says:

    It is the sheer hilarity of her professor’s blunder that caught the attention. It is like to harangue the group members to start cutting and pasting their gels (to make them photogenic for publication), or rather peeing in the sink: a of people does it but they wouldn’t be proud to admit it in writing. Emma should be fine, job-wise, and when the subject comes up during the job interview I would recommend not to dwell on it and say something short and polite about her professor being under lot of stress, etc.

  5. ajsp says:

    I’m rather taken aback that you felt it necessary to defend Emma. Perhaps I’m rather naive – not hanging around in the shadows of the chemistry internet or following the affair closely enough – but I had imagined that Emma was the one author untainted by the most glaring slip-up (at least while we’re not seeing any made-up results). Either way, if she has done something wrong, I have yet to hear real news of anything that isn’t either a very minor failing in proofreading (eclipsed by that of the corresponding author, who was presumably also responsible for training her in these matters) or a laudable lapse in discretion.

    When I hear people in the public eye denying the possibility of wrongdoings I wasn’t aware they were being accused of, I must admit I don’t often come away unchanged. I hope the same doesn’t apply to people reading this.

    Emma, insert best wishes here.

  6. Evi says:

    I think most people in labs have a lot of sympathy for the situation Emma has been thrown into. Maybe they’re not the kind of people who usually comment on such things.

    Hopefully Emma will come out ok in the end. This was the major first author paper from her PhD. She’d waited a long time for it to be published. She was about to start applying for jobs in Europe, and would need Dorta’s support. Getting the paper out would be important for applications. She had a direct request to make up a piece of data.

    But she didn’t.

    I think that says a lot about her integrity. I suspect in the same situation many people would have faked it. Sadly, she’d probably be better off if she had.

  7. Son of Gashira says:

    Apparently according to the letter from Emma’s parents all the smart and “obviously” sarcastic comments weren’t obvious enough for Emma to feel safe, why the post by drfreddy was necessary.

  8. […] is that Emma Drinkel’s mother wrote an e-mail to Fredrik von Kieseritzky that is posted to his chemistry blog, Synthetic Remarks. You will recall that Emma Drinkel was the first author on […]

  9. […] August 2013 – Synthetic Remarks – “In Defense of Emma” – includes an e-mail from Dr. Drinkel’s […]

  10. […] Remarks carries an admirable post entitled “In Defense of Emma“ with an email from Emma’s mother which does not need any […]

  11. Mr. Fixit says:

    OK, as someone with a PhD, and some integrity I will say that I am severely insulted by the comments I have quoted below:
    “I don’t know if Reto Dorta was careless or has done a very bad thing, but I do know that Emma is the innocent party in this affair. How many PhD thesis could withstand the hostile scrutiny that Emma’s has been subjected to…”
    I will promise you my thesis or papers do not have any thing that would cause suspicion. All my published yields were repeated at least twice and I wrote and proofed every page! At the very least someone was very very careless, and that shouldn’t have happened.

    • drfreddy says:

      Three comments:

      1) “…HOSTILE scrutiny…” (emphasis mine) As opposed to sound scrutiny, which is a cornerstone of the scientific process, exactly how it should be. Peer-review = good. Social media bullying = BAD

      2) As a PhD I am not offended by someone else’s caring mother

      3) Everyone is free to pick my thesis and publications apart. In fact, I urge you to! Here. Mock me if it makes you feel better. See the difference? I asked for it. Emma didn’t.

  12. David Cheung says:

    Thank you for your comments! Social media bullying IS awful. And anonymous social media bullying, particularly when one can log in multiple times and “troll” is very dangerous.

  13. […] in light of the fact that “just making it up” was seen as a plausible work-around. Drinkel’s mother even e-mailed a sympathetic commenter to express her belief in her daughter’s […]

  14. […] con torce e forconi non è remoto. In un caso la madre di una ricercatrice accusata di frode ha scritto a un altro blogger, sconvolta per i commenti violenti su Internet contro la figlia, e preoccupata che accuse infondate […]

  15. m says:

    For the record an editorial review of this case has been published.

  16. Pixel says:

    Are people really happy with the editorial review?

    I do not think it changes much. It certainly does not clear Dorta for intended falsification. “Make up” still means the same!

    The same goes for this Chemical & Engineering article.

    We are not troubled by the missing NMR data. It is the comments regarding elemental analysis!

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