A federal judge ruled against an Ohio State cancer researcher’s defamation lawsuit Tuesday, which was filed in April 2017 against a professor who accused him of falsifying data and plagiarism.
Dr. Carlo Croce, a professor of molecular biology and cancer genetics and researcher at the James Cancer Center, sued David Sanders, a biological sciences professor at Purdue University, over statements made in a 2017 New York Times article. Sanders claimed he found falsified data and plagiarism in more than 20 Croce papers published in scientific research journals.
As of Thursday, 10 of Croce’s articles have been retracted, according to the Retraction Watch Database.
“It’s a reckless disregard for the truth,” Sanders said about Croce in a New York Times interview. Croce cited Sanders’ statement and others as defamatory.
Croce said in an email that he disagrees with the decision.
“The court opinion is wrong! It will be appealed!” Croce said.
Ohio State declined to comment on the lawsuit.
In 2014, Croce was recognized as being an “influential researcher” in his field of study by Thomson Reuters, a media and information firm, based on the number of times his work had been cited. Croce’s work has been cited 238,430 times in other works, according to Google Scholar.
Croce’s salary at Ohio State in 2019 was more than $804,000, according to the university salary database. The Times estimated in 2017 that Croce received more than $86 million in federal grants as a principal investigator.
In Ohio, a plaintiff must establish that the publication of a false defamatory statement caused harm to the plaintiff and that the defendant “acted with the requisite degree of fault,” dependent on the “public” nature of the plaintiff.
Judge James Graham found Sanders was truthful in saying there were “routine problems” in Croce’s papers and Croce did not provide enough evidence to show that Sanders acted with negligence in making the statement.
The court also ruled that Sanders’ statement that Croce is “knowingly engaging in scientific misconduct and fraud” is a protected opinion, as well as Sanders’ quote calling such issues “a reckless disregard for the truth.”
In the article, Sanders specifically accused Croce of manipulating and duplicating blot images — images that are unique to each experiment that reflect different experimental conditions — and using duplicated images in multiple papers. According to the court opinion, about 30 of Croce’s papers were subject to corrections, retractions, withdrawals or had the publishing journals issue official statements expressing concern about credibility of the papers.
Following the New York Times article, the university opened an external investigation, conducted by Ropes & Gray LLP, into the Office of Research’s handling of misconduct allegations against Croce. In March 2018, the university announced that the office complied with all applicable laws and regulations and that evaluations of allegations against Croce were consistent with university policy and legal requirements.