Stanford president to resign after flaws found in his research

Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne. Photo by L.A. Cicero of the Stanford News Service.
Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne. Photo by L.A. Cicero of the Stanford News Service.

Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne said today he will step down as president of Stanford after an independent review cleared him of research misconduct but found flaws in some papers he authored.

His resignation comes after the board of trustees launched a review in December into allegations he engaged in fraud and other unethical conduct related to his research and papers.

He says he “never submitted a scientific paper without firmly believing that the data were correct and accurately presented.” But he says he should have been more diligent in seeking corrections regarding his work.

The review assessed 12 papers that Tessier-Lavigne worked on, five of them in which he was the principal author. He said he was aware of issues with four of the five papers but acknowledged taking “insufficient” steps to deal with the issues. He said he’ll retract three of the papers and correct two.

Misconduct allegations about the work were first aired on PubPeer, a website where members of the scientific community can discuss research papers, the report stated.

The panel cleared him of the most serious allegations, that a 2009 paper published in the scientific journal Nature was the subject of a fraud investigation and that fraud was found. There was no investigation and no fraud discovered, the panel ruled. The paper proposed a model of neurodegeneration, which could have great potential for Alzheimer’s disease research and therapy, the panel wrote in its report.

But the panel also concluded the paper had multiple problems, including a lack of rigor in its development and that the research that went into the paper and its presentation contained “various errors and shortcomings.” The panel did not find evidence that Tessier-Lavigne was aware of the lack of rigor.

Tessier-Lavigne says he’s stepping down because he expects continued debate about his ability to lead the university. He will remain on faculty as a biology professor. He also said he will continue his research into brain development and neurodegeneration.

The board named European Studies Professor Richard Saller as interim president starting Sept. 1, said board chair Jerry Yang.

Tessier-Lavigne has been president for nearly seven years. — From staff and wire reports