The Olivier Voinnet affair: the saga is relaunched

By David Larousserie

"The Olivier Voinnet case 4/6". In 2016, new charges are laid on biologist articles. What he discovers pushes him to ask a new investigation to his guardianship, one of which is soon in turn questioned ...

In 2016, labs life has resumed in Strasbourg, Zurich or Paris. Olivier Voinnet returned to the straw mattress of the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, advised by a tutor. His former second in Strasbourg, and co-accused of manipulation of scientific images, Patrice Dunoyer, was reinstated at the end of September, during the inauguration of an extension of the lBMP, in the presence of Catherine Jessus, the patron saint of science of the life at the CNRS. He is nevertheless a little under guardianship, in this case that of the director of the IBMP. And in Paris, the Ministry of Research commissioned Pierre Corvol to make proposals on scientific integrity.

But in the summer, the heat returns and business resumes. Always because of or thanks to the site PubPeer, on which the first accusations had been exposed.

On July 19, just before 9 am, Olivier Voinnet, still in his pajamas, he says, receives a new report on the site PubPeer, on an "old" article already corrected. This is work published in Science in 2010. He immediately contacted Patrice Dunoyer, with whom he no longer collaborated. "Shit site! "he tells his former colleague, not decided to fall back into the nightmare of 2015 corrections, retractions ... But it continues, on the same article: two hours later, then the next day, the day after tomorrow, and again the next day ... Suspicious images are pointed.

Olivier Voinnet has resumed the hair of the beast and he wants to finish the "cleaning" of his scientific output. The time is serious, because this time the allegation is about a figure ... already corrected, which doubly threatens its credibility with his employer, the ETHZ! Trust, old, with Patrice Dunoyer breaks. Olivier Voinnet, who told his colleagues in Strasbourg that the last one to whom he would think for cheating in figures would be his former second, is withdrawn. He joins his group and decides to review all the articles of his former colleague. With image analysis software, they play with contrasts, brightness, color levels, but also layer subtraction functions and other transformations of form ... They tear their eyes on all the gray bands .

A new survey

What the team discovers in August was the stupefaction of contacting the ETHZ directors and giving them a presentation in more than 70 slides of these "discoveries". "They were flabbergasted", remembers Olivier Voinnet, who also warns Catherine Jessus, the patroness of biology at the CNRS, while the president of the ETHZ calls her counterpart of the CNRS.