Research misconduct and breach of ethics

How Luis Serrano, CRG's (Barcelona) Director, lied to the Catalan/Spanish Court

Below is how His Excellency Luis Serrano, CRG Director (Spanish/Catalan research institute of Excellence™), did his best to protect reputat...

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Style of doing science: FAQ on CRG, Barcelona and EMBL-EBI connection

After having known/read my experience in working for science (not real one, but so to say, science), my friends and colleagues keep asking me mainly these two questions: 
I. What happened at EMBL-EBI and why are these cases connected?
— Serrano lab used to be a part of EMBL System Biology Unit, apparently they foster phenotypes like that.
II. Why didn't you quit on your own once you realized that the environment in CRG, Barcelona, was so toxic?
— I did want to, my mistake was that I relied too much on a snitch, was mislead by a «good cop» (Luis Serrano's left hand, whereas his work-wife was a «bad cop») — they all were just a perfect match for each other.
I just could not believe I saw it all real and not in my sleep.
I could not accept the idea that the guy was just a cad.
Also, there was a tiny subjective reason… which kinda shadowed my objective assessment of the situation.
Here are the answers elaborated.
  1. In April of 2013 my boss at EBI-EMBL reported on me to HR after I had used capital letters in one word of the working correspondence: that was the exclamation-like «WHAT?», — he said then that I was rude and impossible to collaborate with (indeed I wasn’t much collaborative in some sense, see below p.13).
    HR explains me that writing one word in email using capital letters is equal to shouting. But on the other hand she looks confused and keeps asking me whether I have something more to tell her. I don’t want to tell more.
    However, the project coordinator, who was the addressee of that my email, says in the presence of HR that she hasn't considered me rude and inconvenient to collaborate.
    Meanwhile I'm excluded from acknowledgement in inner EBI meetings concerning the project: up to the extent that they later say «all right, they took your results and presented them as their own, but they’ve had you acknowledged as they thanked Systems Microscopy consortium and you are a member of it» (nice, isn’t it?).

  2. In June of 2013 all of the sudden my Dad falls down in a swoon and cannot walk well after getting back, I urgently come back home from the UK. My bosses are apprised.

  3. On 25/06/13 my Dad passes away on my arms in a hospital after having tremendously suffered from the acute AAA rupture.
  4. Staying home on my vacations (they were approved) that summer and busy with documentations following the funeral I’m getting a quite boorish email from the project coordinator at EBI that I have to correct something in the code ASAP as she's preparing a paper (in fact the project wasn't ready then for the paper yet and that paper was later written by myself with the help of my boss of the later time).
    Also she writes me that my talk on the ISMB conference was prepared badly — it was very soon after the funeral, though she lied, almost the same talk was also given for the SM consortium spring meeting, later I could bring several references from both conferences proving her falsehood.
    She doesn't forget to note that she understands that I'm in a hard life situation.

  5. I tell her to fuck off: not that words directly, of course, just that she's misbehaving and I won't read her emails until I’ll come back to work from my legit vacations.

  6. When I come back I'm told that my contract is suspended for insubordination and unauthorized leave. The custom was that folks at EBI, including bosses, didn’t care much of vacation paperwork, spoken agreement was usually enough. I’m advised to leave the campus ASAP.

  7. Being in the state of a catatonic stupor I do nothing for about a week, but a colleague meets me and brings EMBL-EBI’s docs and proves me that their actions against me were in contradictions with their own legislative papers. He urges me «Catherine, don’t stay like that, do something, go to a lawyer».

  8. I go to the Cambridge Citizen Advice Bureau, they ask me questions like «Did you hack them? Did you steal something from them? Who is this employer?» and advise me to write and to call to the EMBL-EBI Head Office in Heidelberg, they also give me a list of lawyer addresses to visit.
    I follow their advice.

  9. Next day after my contact with EMBL-EBI HO the Head of Administration at EBI calls me, apologizes for the suspension of the contract and invites me back to work.

  10. All my email/servers etc credentials are withdrawn, I spend some time to get some of that back, but not everything. I’m implicitly hinted that they are prepared to give me an EOC agreement (End of Contract).
    I write to EMBL-EBI Head Office again.

  11. Administrative Director of EMBL, Keith Williamson at that time, comes to the UK to talk to me. It turns out that he’s mislead about the project which they declare as accomplished (it was just a stupid lie, I wonder how further they’d report about it).
    After my talk with him I’m fully restored in my rights.
    They recognize that everything is fine with my holidays, I was wrongly accused in insubordination and unauthorized leave, though no apologies now, except spoken ones from Keith (he was the one who at least seemed a gentleman in all that story).

  12. I’m invited for a chat in the EBI Director office (Ewan Birney) along with my boss and his proxy on R&D tasks. I’m told that I have «questionable personal qualities» (btw, ad hominem is the most beloved fallacy and trick of rogue scientists — Birney repeats the same after my boss) and this is me, who had a lesson now and must comply with their way of doing R&D.

  13. I write another email to the EMBL Head Office with cc to my boss and Birney where I ask (at last) why is that me who has «questionable personal qualities», why was I bullied, why did all this happen after my boss didn’t have me responsive to his invitation to private bike rides (and to have a look together on concert posters, — but I don't mention that), I claim for fair employment practice — that was completely ignored, I also ask to change the person who authorizes my leaves — that was accepted after the investigation, see below.

  14. I get a response from Director General of EMBL, Iain Mattaj, where he implies that the bullying was alleged but that I dared to accuse my boss in sexual harassment and that all needs to be investigated.

  15. I reply that I didn’t say that the conduct of my boss was a sexual harassment per se, all I asked: the explanations of the bullying and I mentioned him hitting on me in that context.
    This my reply was ignored.

  16. I’ve never got any explanation. I was told off that I brought forward the accusation of sexual harassment with no reason. I was made guilty for the mention of the fact that my boss had hit on me and then bullied me.

  17. However, Iain Mattaj apologized for the bullying itself, he even used a word «harassment» in his apologies. After the investigation I’ve got the apology letter from him where he enlightens me that I took the suspension of my contract, accusation in unauthorized leave and removal of all my credentials at work etc for the bullying because my father passed away right before that.
    All the rest was just fine.
    Basically, he didn't apologize for the damage itself, he apologized that I felt damaged.
    Yet better that way, than nothing.
    He also generously spared me from a discipline sentence for my alleged accusation in sexual harassment™ of my boss.
    Nice, isn’t it?
    Although they’ve swapped my boss for his proxy and that was the second gentleman in all that story (minding top level).

  18. After getting that hysterical email from Maria Lluch-Senar — Luis Serrano tandem at CRG 
    (I was surprised, really: Luis himself never was that verbose with English that poor, didn't used ES layout, although this didn't matter: NB — they used ad hominem again, but that was just only Maria's personal way to communicate her problems: 
    «if I do not want to take even an effort to get into your app's functionality — this is your problem, that I have difficulties understanding you» in reply on my rebuttal to her manipulations and lies…)
    — I asked Luis Serrano to behave fairly and that I wouldn’t be just silent and shocked, I’d been prepared by this case at EMBL («you are guilty if I'm rude with you and even if I breach our own protocols and rules» — their MO). 
    Maria used to imitate work activity while getting disrespectful and aggressive without any attempt to follow the elementary guidance, like — how to load heavy data (she couldn't use even corporate FTP properly instead of corporate emails, when it was absolutely necessary due to the type of data being transferred… and every time you were guilty with any her problems below any professional qualification!)  
    Although, Serrano lab used to be a part of System Biology unit of EMBL, they had to follow their rules:
    «maintaining a culture based on the principles of good scientific practice, throughout the Laboratory and in their respective Units».

    I believed that they had to follow that at least to the degree that EMBL was able to (appologizing a bit afterwords as «ah, we'are sorry you've feeled that way» — not for the damage itself, of course).
    But Luis Serrano, once the Head of EMBL systems biology Unit and CRG Director, president of SOMMa (some local Spanish Network of Excellence™) said me that he didn't care. Literally:
    «I don't care, we are at CRG here, we have nothing to do with EMBL».
    All right.
    Those were their good scientific practice.

  19. Shortly after this email exchange (where I was trying to get free from the creepy situation) and direct threats to be fired (but with «a lot of money» — yet another dishonesty from the CRG's Director) I apprised Luis Serrano that under the conditions he put on me I’d better quit on my own at the end of the year. Naturally!

    They ignored that, apparently that was not a way to bring them satisfaction (however they did try to fire me first as if following my wish: they prepared papers for that by the end of October to fire me in a couple of weeks after that, see below their lies about 3-months term to make me obeying to the Director's favorite).

  20. But then, in the end of September'2016, they were just about to go to their lab retreat, Serrano wrote me that my presence there would be «awkward» and it’s up to me to go or not, I did not want to go to their retreat, I was preparing to quit anyway.
    But a colleague asked me to come, she also assured me in her support (instead, she started to coercing me to hypocrisy and simulations, allegedly she was suffering from Maria domination and manipulations but turned out to be just a snitch for Serrano).
    Better I’d never seen that part of their specific culture at that retreat (so freaking lowbrow level even ignoring complains of other guests of the resort).
    That was awkward.
    Indeed, shortly before the retreat Luis Serrano accused me that I can work with no one, whereas I had no communications and collaborations with his people by that time — his Maria just cut communications with Serrano lab's folks by any means.
    No one in my lab confirmed the falsehood of me unable to collaborate: I was working in another lab and Serrano—Lluch-Senar were about to move me to their lab, allegedly for better collaboration.
    In fact I was alienated from any collaboration in Serrano lab: instead Serrano had been forcing me to talk to his favorite only alone.
    Later Luis Serrano lied to the Court that they had transferred me to make me follow the discipline I have allegedly violated.

    If they feel better on the way they have chosen: lying, threatening, making their research labs the places of so toxic ambiance with no respect, no open discussion, licking asses, making folks lick asses, humiliating them, snitching on each other, where even their own written code of good scientific practice is violated,
    it's up to them.

    are the other parts of the story.

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