A culture of abuse, fraud, threats, cover-ups, coercion, and other improprieties at the Pompeu Fabra University
I have already shown how members at every level of the Universitat Pompeu Fabra (UPF) were involved in the illegal commercialization of my PhD work and the subsequent cover up of these activities. It reached from the administrators and software developers all the way to the head of the department. But many others at UPF have directly or indirectly supported the cover up of their crimes, having various motives. Some are simple evil and act through greed, others act to protect themselves or their colleagues and act out of fear of retaliation. Retaliation involves adverse action taken against an employee for reporting company misconducts or supporting a college with his or her complaint. Although in most countries employees are protected by law against retaliation, it is often hard to prove. It is therefore not surprising that many employees chose to look the other way when faced with illegal activities within their company, or university as is the case here. I previously told you about a researcher at UPF to whom Yves Martelly of Galgo Medical, confessed to having used my software for a commercial product. He was too afraid for his position to come forward as a witness and responded to me with the following email:
Sorry Tristan but given my current situation I cannot be involved in this. I hope you understand.
Unfortunately he was not the only person at UPF who turned a blind eye to clear and apparent crimes conducted in their line of sight.
Most large organisation and universities often employ a person who has been appointed to look into complaints and mediate in conflicts exactly like the one I am involved in. At the start of my conflict with UPF and Galgo Medical I appropriately wrote to the Ombudsman at UPF to ask for advice on how to proceed. The following was our email conversation:
I am not competent to answer the questions you do. I take this mail from you like information to follow the Dr. Frangi’s research.
May be your demand must go to email@example.com, in charge manager of the UPF research.
Paz Battaner Arias 2013-04-30
As you have seen it appears that we will not come to a resolution regarding the commercialization of my PhD work.
I would therefore like to file a formal complaint against Jose Jofre Santamaria, Ana Sagardoy, Oscar Camara, and Ludovic Humbert for illegal and unethical conduct. Could you please tell me the procedure for this.
I want to inform you that the issue posed 26th June at this office it’s not of my responsibility as Ombudswoman in the UPF by the external and commercial looks like now.
Paz Battaner Arias 2014-07-10
Could you please elaborate.
I would still appreciate an explanation as to why you are not responsible for processing a complaint against UPF members. If indeed you are not, could you please direct me to the appropriate department.
I reply to your message of 14 July.
The problem you set out is not of my competencies, because I have not responsibility to investigate on commercial and competition fields. I don’t know the appropriate way for your complaint.
Paz Battaner Arias 2014-07-15
Could you please check if there is a national organization which oversees the legal and ethical conducts of universities in Spain?
She didn’t… It was later suggested to me that this person was given orders from higher up in the chain of command at UPF. But this is now getting into the realm of conspiracy theories. So, until I get more evidence about that, let’s explain it as sheer incompetence for now.
Then there is Oscar Camara, an Associate Professor at UPF. Oscar attended my PhD defense and afterwards told my best friend how bad he thought my work was. One or two months later he was the principal investigator at UPF of the project on the illegal commercialization of my work with Galgo Medical and Diagnostic Medical Systems. His motivations are unclear, to this day. He never never answered my emails asking him to justify his actions.
When this conflict was well underway, I became aware that a newly appointed Prof. Miguel Ángel González Ballester, who created a research group called SIMBIOSYS at UPF, which had taken over much of the group of Prof. Frangi. I also noticed that there was a project on my thesis work with Galgo Medical (here). I assumed he was not made aware of the crimes by Galgo Medical and, perhaps somewhat naively, I thought he would immediately cease any activities with Galgo Medical upon seeing the evidence. Naively indeed. Prof. Ballester, apparent on a first name basis with Galgo Medical, denied any wrongdoings by stating:
Indeed, we have some collaborations with Galgo, involving on-going work along our research lines. This is all completely legitimate work and I hope that you are not implying in your email that we are somehow infringing your rights. As you know (or should know, if you did a thesis on the topic), I have been working on statistical shape modelling for many years, and in particular in 2D-3D reconstruction for orthopaedics mostly in my group in Bern and in particular with my postdoc Guoyan Zheng.
Otherwise, whatever conflicts you have with Galgo are none of our business.
Prof. Miguel Ángel González Ballester 2014-10-22
I recently met Guoyan Zheng in person and I assure you that Prof. Ballester was not using the software of Guoyan Zheng and he certainly did not write some software himself that produces exactly the same statistical model as mine. Clearly I had to keep my eye on him.
Prof. Ballester joined UPF after bailing from the sinking ship called Alma IT Systems in Barcelona. To get into the realm of conspiracy theories again, Galgo Medical recently named Jacobo Gil de Biedma (former CEO of ALMA IT Systems) as its new Director of Business Development. Let’s hope he does the same with Galgo Medical as he did with ALMA IT Systems!
By incredible coincidence, Prof. Ballester joined UPF right after Prof. Frangi had to move to Sheffield after a conflict with UPF. Also entirely opportunistic I’m sure, Prof. Ballester was able to snatch away most of Prof. Frangi’s students and immediately has a sizable research group. He gratefully allowed them to continue their topic while putting his name on resulting publications. This is exactly what happened with Alexis Bagué, who shortly after joining this group published a conference paper1 which followed my PhD work. As it happens, Ludovic Humbert then published the same study with a slightly different title and him as the first author at a different conference2. I was even told that he used the same poster, taped over the name of Alexis and replaced it with his own. This is scientific misconduct as it is the researcher that actually conducted most of the work who should be the first author, not the presenter at the conference. Shortly after, Alexis left the group. Good on him I say!
When searching for other scientific misconducts by UPF I came across Maruxa Martinez, Scientific editor and Community Manager at PRBB and Associate Professor at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra. She studied at Cambridge which gave me a bit more confidence in her ethics than anyone else at UPF. I decided to contact her in case she could help me with this situation and wrote her an email including the following:
… a research group at UPF (SIMBIOSYS) is now collaborating with Galgo Medical and has published my software without my permission, thus continuing the scientific misconduct at UPF. I now intend to go public with my experiences. However, before I do so I would like to ask you to have a look at my case and let me know if there are any other options for me to pursue. I have a great mistrust towards UPF but your background gives me the confidence to approach you. If you agree, I will sent you some additional background information.
Tristan Whitmarsh 2016-07-05
A month passed and suddenly I received another threatening email from Prof. Ballester which goes as follows:
I was just forwarded an email in which you accuse me of scientific misconduct!
As mentioned in our previous communication, your conflicts with Galgo are none of my business, and I’ve been very careful in making sure that it remains so. I have never had access to your code (not interested, either), and I don’t know what you mean by “a research group at UPF (SIMBIOSYS) […] has published my software without my permission” (what software have we published???). I think that you must clarify exactly what you are accusing me of, before we proceed with a full-blast war between us involving both our institutions.
I await your answer before taking further actions.
Prof. Miguel Ángel González Ballester 2016-08-02
Granted, I should have said “has published [with] my software” and I understand the confusion with the name of his research group, which of course is SIMBIOsys not SIMBIOSYS!
When I say threatening, I mean that he suggests the involvement of Cambridge, while suggesting he will be “taking further actions”. Remember this is a similar tactic that DMS-Apelem has used on me. It attempts to make me frightened about my position at my current employer. Of course our Cambridge lawyer said these threats are easily be dismissed and I should not at all be fazed about it. It does shows what kind of people we are dealing with, doesn’t it? Just because you did not have access to my software does not mean Galgo Medical hasn’t used it. At the very least you should facilitate a software comparison when confronted with so much evidence. There is no other way to ensure that you are not guilty by association.
The question that should be on your mind is why on earth would this guy, named after a Ninja Turtle, would want to work with a company that, beyond any doubt, is involved in illegal activities? I think the answer lies in the intense pressure to publish in academia, often described as “publish or perish”. Although he was able to grab a lot of students from Prof. Frangi, he still started from nothing and wanted to pretend he had a large and successful research group. To do this he employed some less than ethical measure. Evidence of this can be found in the publications list of SIMBIOsys. It includes publications of members of this group which go far back to when SIMBIOsys did not even exist. This suggests a very productive research group while it in fact is not. For instance, as soon as Karim Lekadir joined his group Prof. Ballester added all his past publication to his website, pretending this research was conducted in his group. He even identified conference papers as journal papers on his website. Which was also done with the publication of Alexis Bagué (here). Prof. Ballester, just because a conference paper is published in a supplementary journal edition, does not make this a journal paper. Although not illegal and technically not scientific misconduct, Com’on Prof. Ballester, have some dignity!
After contacting Maruxa Martinez she said that she forwarded my email to someone at UPF, I can only assume with the best intentions. This person apparently forwarded my email to Prof. Ballester, although I do not know the reason and context since Maruxa Martinez refuses to tell me who she forwarded my email to. I do believe this shows how the Pompeu Fabra University has a culture of hiding fraud, scientific misconduct and illegal activities, possibly due to a fear of retaliation and I fear this expands to much of academia and the MedTech industry. Be careful out there guys!
I’ll leave you with the following quote:
The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.
- Alexis Bagué, Luis Del Rio Barquero, Silvana Di Gregorio, Yves Martelli, Miguel A. González Ballester, Ludovic Humbert. Cortical and Trabecular Bone Analysis of Hip Fracture Patients using 3D-DXA. ASBMR 2015 Annual Meeting.
- Ludovic Humbert, Alexis Bagué, Silvana Di Gregorio, Yves Martelli, Miguel A. González Ballester, Luis M. Del Rio Barquero. Cortical and Trabecular Bone Analysis of Patients with Hip Fracture and Controls using 3D-DXA. WCO-IOF-ESCEO 2015.
- Bagué, Alexis; del Río, Luis; di Gregorio, Silvana; Martelli, Yves; González Ballester, Miguel Ángel; Humbert, Ludovic. Cortical and trabecular bone analysis of hip fracture patients using 3D-DXA. Journal of Bone and Mineral Research 2015; 30(S1): 0-0.