The Amazing Dr Kouznetsov

Article excerpt

Here is a story to strike a chill of anxiety into the hearts of editors and their peer-reviewers. Do we, should we, need we check our submissions with greater rigour?

Keywords: Ireland, conservation, creationism, medieval, textiles, Turin Shroud

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It is rare in scientific fraud to find a repeat offender. Once exposed, the perpetrator usually slinks off into oblivion. Yet the case of a low-level Russian microbiologist, working in the Moscow City Station for Sanitation and Epidemiology, reveals an extraordinary resilience: he was able to put himself in the international limelight no less than three times, twice even after being discovered in flagrante delicto. His final act was a spectacular fraud performed on a prominent British journal, involving false claims about archaeological samples not from some remote corner of the former Soviet Union, but from the Republic of Ireland.

The international career of Dimitri Kouznetsov began as a creationist with claims of 'scientific' evidence against a facet of Darwinian evolution. He had become a Baptist and linked up with creationists in Europe and the US; he then managed to get an article published in a respected peer-reviewed scientific journal, the International Journal of Neuroscience (Kouznetsov 1989), then published by Gordon & Breach Science Publishers of New York. The article dealt with mRNAs isolated from wild timber voles, and had the following subtitle: 'A new criticism to a modern molecular-genetic concept of biological evolution.' The article was highly technical, and appeared to be well-researched and presented. One would have thought that, in view of what was clearly a highly significant (if true) and certainly controversial claim, the article might have been subjected to close scrutiny prior to publication. It apparently was not, and it was only the interest of a Swedish scientist a few years later that brought to light numerous false claims, in the form of non-existent references which were cited to build Kouznetsov's argument. Prof. Dan Larhammar of Uppsala University wrote to the journal (Larhammar 1994) pointing out the following false citations:

* An article supposedly published in Upsala [sic] University Research Reports: no such journal could be identified, nor were the authors known to Uppsala University.

* An article in Allergologica Acta: a journal named Acta Allergologica exists bur the article was not found therein.

* Articles in Immunochemical and Immunocytological Methods; International Journal of Applied Immunology and Immunochemistry; Biotechnologica Acta; Comparative Biochemistry, Biophysics and Genetics; Methods and Approaches in Clinical Chemistry and Immunochemistry; Scandinavian Archives of Molecular Pathology--no such journals could be found.

The publication of Prof. Larhammar's letter was a shock to the organisations that had embraced Kouznetsov as a rising star in the ranks of creationist 'scientists'. He was subsequently disowned by the European, American and Australian creationist organisations. A tempest in a teacup, one might think, and apart from the embarrassment caused to the journal there was no impact on mainstream science. In most cases that would have been the end of it. "Those guilty of scientific fraud are banished for perpetuity from the corridors of science in a blaze of publicity' (Plimer 1994: 253).

However, with the financial assistance of a wealthy French creationist, Kouznetsov had been pursuing other lines--attempting to disprove the carbon-dating of the Turin Shroud and developing an alternative method of dating old textiles. In 1994 he succeeded in publishing a technical paper in Analytical Chemistry (Kouznetsov et al. 1994), and two modified versions were later published in other journals (Kouznetsov et al. 1996a, c). Also in 1994, Kouznetsov sent me a copy of one of his unpublished papers along with a handwritten letter with lots of doodles and funny-looking characters drawn in the margins. …