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Fraudster Blog Author Outed and Comes Clean

The anonymous author of a popular Web site that claimed to identify manipulated images—and the scientists behind them—confirmed his identify this afternoon, a day after he removed previous posts and announced that he would suspend posting on the site following threats of legal action. The man behind is Paul Brookes, a 40-year-old associate professor who studies cardiac mitochondrial function at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York. In a statement posted on his blog that was subsequently taken down, Brookes said he was "aided by dozens of helpers, who both submitted material to the site and helped in analyzing suspected data, a triage system of sorts was developed, such that only the most egregious examples were posted." Since it went live 6 months ago, the site "documented over 500 problematic images in over 300 publications."

Brookes had considered some of the possible legal ramifications of accusing prominent scientists of fraud. The site pointed out that "cease-and-desist letters from individuals whose work I report on will be ignored, because I'm only highlighting what's already out there and allowing readers to draw their own conclusions." Genuine legal concerns, however, would be taken seriously, and "I will be happy to discuss editing or removal."

But over the past week or so, Brookes says that he received threats from lawyers "acting on behalf of individuals whose science was openly discussed on the site." One lawyer, Brookes wrote on his blog, managed to subpoena his personal contact information from the Web hosting company and sent an e-mail to dozens of scientists whose findings had been questioned on, along with deans and journal editors. The e-mail (whose author did not respond to an e-mail from ScienceInsider for comment, and which was also posted on Brookes's blog and then removed) listed Brookes' work address and said, "his hate website is a menace to scientific society." The author continued, "Please forward this email to your institutions and ask for legal representation."

In his statement, Brookes said the e-mail correctly identified him but added that he wanted to "set the record straight" about his Web site. He did admit that his strident language and accusations of fraud may have been a mistake. Nonetheless, he has plenty of fans. "Keep up the good fight!" wrote one commenter on Brookes says he hopes to do just that on a new Web site, now with his real name behind it.