Until the spring of 2020, Raoult is best known as a distinguished microbiologist who founded and headed the research hospital Institut Hospitalo-Universitaire Méditerranée Infection, or IHU. He discovered or co-discovered dozens of new types of bacteria – a group of them named Raoultella – as well as giant virus. By many accounts, his broad reach in the scientific community was matched by his fiery personality: In 2012, Science magazine described him as “imaginative, rebellious and often looked down upon.” “He can make your life more difficult,” says one researcher.
A handful of Raoult’s thousands of publications have also come under close scrutiny. In 2006, the American Society of Microbiology banned him and four co-authors from its journals for a year for “misrepresenting data” after a reviewer discovered similar figures. identical, but should not be, on two versions of a submitted manuscript. (Raoult opposed the ban, saying he was not at fault.) And some researchers found that Raoult did one-third of all articles ever published in a journalstaffed by some of his collaborators.
Last year, Raoult’s team made an adjustment to a 2018 studyand another one from 2013 is fully retracted (The magazine said that Raoult could not be reached while it was making its decision). Both contain apparently duplicate or suspect images, first discovered by Bik, who flagged more than 60 of his other studies on PubPeer for potential problems.
And by last July, his most notorious research had been reviewed by outside experts commissioned by the journal’s publishers. Scientists were not lenient. “General methodological shortcomings”, “uninformed” and “completely irresponsible” someone said. Another group said it “gave a lot of attention and contributed to the demand for the drug without adequate evidence.”
Despite acknowledging these flaws, the leaders of the International Society of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy, which publishes the journal alongside Elsevier, chose not to withdraw the study. “We believe that, in addition to the importance of sharing observational data at the height of the pandemic, there should be a strong public scientific debate about the findings of the paper in an open and transparent manner. White,” they said. At the same time, a group of 500 French infectious disease specialists Complaint filed with local health officials, accusing Raoult spreading misinformation about hydroxychloroquine.
Raoult guard his “exceptional work”, arguing that the call for a retraction had “no other reason than the opinion of those who are vehemently hostile to” hydroxychloroquine. At a hearing in the French Senate in September of that year, he again downplayed criticism of his research. Bik “found 5 errors in a total of 3,500 articles” he say, while acknowledging that there may be other minor errors. He denies ever committing fraud.
At the Senate hearing, Raoult summon Bik a term meaning “head hunter”, a “girl” who has “followed” him since he was “famous”. And over Thanksgiving, biologist Eric Chabrière, a frequent Raoult collaborator and co-author of the hydroxychloroquine study, tweeted that Bik was “harassing” and “trying to smear” Raoult.
He cites her previous work at uBiome, a microbiome testing startup that the FBI raided in 2019. (Bik, who served as chief science editor there until late 2018, said that she was never questioned and was not related to the founders’ alleged scheme to defraud insurance companies and investors.) Chabrière also alleges she was paid by the pharmaceutical industry.
“I am not sponsored by any company, but you can sponsor me at @Patreon,” Bik tweeted back, linking to her account. As she explains to Chabrière, she is also a consultant to universities and publishers that want to investigate suspicious papers.
“Happy to investigate any of your institute papers, as long as you pay me :-),” she added.
In the months that followed, Chabrière referred to her as “a real dung beetle,” “a mercenary who only listens to money” and someone “who gets paid to attack and discredit certain targets. ” His supporters sometimes pile up with vague threats. Meanwhile, Raoult calls her “a crazy woman” and a “failed researcher” of “average intelligence”.
Then, on April 30 of this year, Chabrière tweeted a screenshot of a legal complaint allegedly sent to a prosecutor in France. It charged her and PubPeer co-host Barbour with “moral harassment”, “attempted blackmail” and “attempted blackmail”. Her home address is listed. The tweet was later deleted.