A chest freezer that can hold 400 litres should be hard to miss. Especially when collecting evidence related to one of the biggest cases of alleged academic research fraud
A freezer with the accused’s name, Penkowa, written on it should be even more difficult to overlook. This is, however, exactly what has happened at the Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Copenhagen, the place where Milena Penkowa was employed until she was suspended from her position accused of scientific dishonesty in March 2010.
The faculties response to the situation can be found here, with comment from Director Arnold Boon.
Oops, we found a freezer
An e-mail sent out by the Faculty to the lawyer of Milena Penkowa, the Committee for Scientific Dishonesty UVVU and to the Secretariat of the International Expert Panel that is scrutinising her research, explains the new situation:
»In connection with the rebuilding and renovation of the Department of Neuroscience and Pharmacology a locked freezer was found in room 16.1.39, with the name of Milena Penkowa on it. It is an approximately 400 litre chest freezer, which freezes down to minus 81 degrees. After the keys to the freezer had also been located, a faculty representative, Inge-Lise Damberg, was asked to be present at the opening of the freezer. The freezer was unlocked and opened on 2 April in the presence of Professor Morten Møller, Inge-Lise Damberg and Steen Pedersen. It was determined that the cabinet included various tests and more,« writes the Faculty of Health Sciences in an e-mail from 3 April this year.
Having not found the chest freezer any sooner means that the committee and panel looking into the Penkowa case have not yet seen all the evidence that can determine whether Penkowa is innocent or guilty.
New material may be crutial
Milena Penkowa describes the newly found chest freezer containing her tissue samples as a »colossus«. The fraud-accused brain scientist calls it grotesque, remarkable and incomprehensible that it has taken the Faculty of Health Sciences two years since her suspension to locate the freezer.
See University Post article Penkowa: They messed up my archive.
The new finding supports Penkowa’s claim that the Faculty has treated her evidence in this case recklessly.
»The freezer contains samples of tissue, showing that I've carried out the tests, which I say I have. Therefore, the freezer and what’s in it is so crucial to my case. Since the investigation made by the expert panel depends on the material received from UCPH, I can only call it scandalous and disastrous, that the freezer with all my work only pops up now, « says Penkowa.
Penkowa: everything is not registered
In March this year faculty director of Health Sciences, Arnold Boon, reported that an experienced company from outside UCPH had registered and catalogued everything relevant in the Penkowa case. This happened after Milena Penkowa said the Facutly of Health Sciences of not treating her achieves correctly.
The sudden appearance of the chest freezer shows that the process of collecting evidence has not been conducted properly and outsiders have had ample opportunity to manipulate with samples, Penkowa argues.
Read University Post article Faculty rejects Penkowa's chaos claims.
Penkowa points out that the very same person who reported her to the Committee for Scientific Dishonesty UVVU, was responsible for the safekeeping of her research material until an external company took over the job in the summer of 2011.
An unlikely error, says Penkowa
Milena Penkowa adds that she, through her lawyer, has in vain attempted to secure the material to be used as evidence against her. The last two years she has even failed to obtain her personal belongings, including privately purchased books, from the Faculty of Health Sciences.
At the Panum Institute, the chest freezer was placed in a room that the faculty knew was used by Penkowa’s research group. The freezer in question was even included on a list of the brain scientist’s inventory. It seems almost incredible that the freezer has been overlooked by mistake, Penkowa argues.
According to Milena Penkowa a further fridge with test samples was in the same room as the chest freezer. Since the fridge is not mentioned anywhere, Penkowa fears that the freezer is not the only overlooked material not registered in the case.
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