A scientist who was featured in a David Attenborough documentary has been accused of falsifying data in a major dinosaur study. A study published by paleontologist Robert DePalma in December last year concluded that dinosaurs went extinct during the springtime. But a former colleague, Melanie During at Uppsala University, asserts that DePalma created data to support the conclusion. To make things more complicated, During alleges that it was a conclusion she had already made.
During has formally complained to the University of Manchester about potential misconduct by both DePalma and his supervisor, Phillip Manning. Earlier this year, DePalma appeared on the BBC in the documentary Dinosaurs: The Final Day, hosted by David Attenborough. During and her supervisor, Per Ahlberg, shared their accusations with Science, who then broke the news to the public. It states that DePalma was desperate to take credit for the discovery that dinosaurs went extinct in spring. He wanted to beat her to it.
During took to her Twitter to share the interview with Science. “I thought getting my paper out was the hardest thing,” she wrote. “No, this was the hardest thing I have ever done. I’ve been asked to look away, to let it remain in the shadows, but I am happy I put my foot down.”
I thought getting my paper out was the hardest thing.— 🇺🇦Melanie During, MSc. ⛏🦖🇺🇦 (@MelanieDuring) December 7, 2022
No, this was the hardest thing I have ever done: https://t.co/a8eze12tLm
I’ve been asked to look away, to let it remain in the shadows, but I am happy I put my foot down.
Huge thanks go out to my supervisor @PerAhlberg1 !
Though they’re now academic rivals, they started out as collaborators in the dinosaur study
DePalma’s dinosaur study, published in Scientific Reports in December 2021, preceded During’s publication in Nature by a couple of months. The two papers came to the same conclusion – that the asteroid that caused the dinosaurs’ extinction hit Earth during spring. Both had also studied fossil deposits located at the Tanis fossil site in North Dakota. These fossils date back to the time of the impact. “The data consisted of low-resolution photographs of wrinkled printouts with no time and date stamps and illegible numbers and graphs with no values on the axes,” During claims in a post on PubPeer.
During told the MailOnline that, back in 2018 when the two were already collaborators, she had sent DePalma her thesis. He was so helpful that she originally credited him as a co-author on her manuscript. “Only after I sent him my thesis did he start saying that I was not supposed to study this, even though I answered the research question in my research proposal that he was aware of and had sent me exactly the right specimens for,” she explained. “He then proceeded to tell everyone that I had stolen the work, even to my very own supervisors who had seen me do the work.”
Additionally, DePalma never told her that he submitted his own manuscript concerning the dinosaur study. “Once I saw he scooped us, it was clear that there was a conflict of interest and therefore we moved DePalma from the author list to the acknowledgments,” she recalled. During insists she has facts backing up her claims. “This is not a he-said, she-said, this is faking data,” she said.