The power of anonymous comments—and the liability of those who make them—is at the heart of a possible legal battle embroiling PubPeer, an online forum launched in October 2012 for anonymous, postpublication peer review. A researcher who claims that comments on PubPeer caused him to lose a tenured faculty job offer now intends to press legal charges against the person or people behind these posts—provided he can uncover their identities, his lawyer says.
The issue first came to light in August, when PubPeer’s (anonymous) moderators announced that the site had received a “legal threat.” Today, they revealed that the scientist involved is Fazlul Sarkar, a cancer researcher at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. Sarkar, an author on more than 500 papers and principal investigator for more than $1,227,000 in active grants from the U.S. National Institutes of Health, has, like many scientists, had his work scrutinized on PubPeer. More than 50 papers on which he is an author have received at least one comment from PubPeer users, many of whom point out potential inconsistencies in the papers’ figures, such as perceived similarities between images that are supposed to depict different experiments.
Recently, PubPeer was contacted about those comments by Nicholas Roumel, an attorney at Nacht, Roumel, Salvatore, Blanchard & Walker P.C. in Ann Arbor, Michigan, who represents Sarkar and spoke to ScienceInsider on his behalf. On 9 June, the University of Mississippi Medical Center announced that Sarkar would join the faculty in its school of pharmacy. Records from a meeting of the Mississippi Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning note that he was offered a tenured position and a salary of $350,000 per year, effective 1 July.