Stanford President Steps Down, Retracts Two Decade-Old Brain Studies

stanford president steps down retracts two decade old brain studies.jpg Science

In a stunning turn of events, Marc Tessier-Lavigne, former president of Stanford University, has retracted two influential brain studies published two decades ago in the prestigious journal Science. Tessier-Lavigne, who served as the lead author on these studies, officially stepped down from his role as the university’s 11th president in July, amid an ongoing controversy over the academic integrity of several of his scholarly papers. The retraction, announced on the same day as his resignation, is linked to data manipulation in eight images spread across the two papers.

The papers in question first came under scrutiny in 2015, with concerns resurfacing this year following investigations by the Stanford Daily student newspaper. Tessier-Lavigne, a renowned neuroscientist and former chief scientist at Genentech, has been at the helm of Stanford since 2016. The studies were among 12 that faced rigorous examination after the student newspaper raised questions about their academic integrity. This led to a profound impact on the scientific community, as acknowledged by Tessier-Lavigne himself, and set in motion a chain of events that ended with the president’s resignation.

Stanford University President Resigns Amidst Scientific Scandal

Marc Tessier-Lavigne, who previously announced his intention to resign as Stanford University’s 11th president, has officially stepped down. He also retracted two significant brain studies published in the journal Science in 2001 for which he was a lead author. The reason behind the retractions was data manipulation evident in eight images across both studies.

The Retractions and Their Impact

"In his retraction messages, Tessier-Lavigne expressed regret for the impact of these issues on the scientific community. The studies in question were among 12 scrutinized after the Stanford Daily student newspaper raised questions last year about the academic integrity of several scholarly papers co-written by Tessier-Lavigne, a neuroscientist and former chief scientist at Genentech. Questions about the two papers emerged as early as 2015, including from an anonymous commenter on the scientific watchdog site, PubPeer.

The Role of Student Journalism

The student reporter who pursued the story, Theo Baker, gained significant recognition for his work. Baker, who was a 17-year-old freshman when he started the investigation, became the youngest winner of the prestigious Polk journalism award for his coverage even before the president resigned.

Investigation by the University

Stanford University commissioned a scientific panel to investigate the 12 papers. The panel found serious flaws in the presentation of research data in each of the five papers for which Tessier-Lavigne was a principal author. At least four of them showed apparent data manipulation by others. However, the panel did not identify who had manipulated the data and stated that Tessier-Lavigne was not reckless in failing to identify flaws or research misconduct in the studies.

The Aftermath

Following the panel’s findings, Tessier-Lavigne announced plans to retract three of the brain studies and correct two other papers. The status of the retractions and corrections is currently uncertain, according to Steven Goldberg, a spokesman for Tessier-Lavigne. Tessier-Lavigne plans to remain on the Stanford faculty and continue to conduct brain research.

Richard Saller, chair of Stanford’s classics department and a former provost of the University of Chicago, assumed the role of interim president. The university announced plans to create a search committee this fall to hire a permanent leader.


This incident highlights the importance of integrity in scientific research. It also underscores the need for transparency and rigorous scrutiny of academic work. The role of Theo Baker, a student journalist, in bringing these issues to light demonstrates the power of journalism in holding institutions accountable. Lastly, the incident raises questions about the processes in place for vetting research and the responsibilities of authors in ensuring the accuracy of their work.

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