False allegations in the Stanford Daily

Members of the Stanford Community,

Earlier today the Stanford Daily published an article criticizing a paper I published in 2009 in Nature when I was at the biotechnology company Genentech. The Daily article is replete with falsehoods and betrays a misunderstanding of science and the scientific process.  

I must start by saying that I reject these allegations in the strongest possible terms.  

Some false allegations relate to the science, others to how I purportedly handled issues with the paper. I’ll take each in turn.

Let’s start with the science. A comprehensive discussion of the scientific background is provided in the attached document; I urge you to read it. Suffice it to say that in the 2009 paper we described a novel mechanism of neural degeneration, many tenets of which have been validated and withstood the test of time. In follow-on articles in 2012 and 2014, we revisited two aspects of the model. Subsequent papers have fully validated and extended our revised conclusions.

A first strand of the Daily’s criticism is, in essence, directed at the fact that we didn’t get all aspects of the model right in our very first publication. To anyone who knows how science works, this is a preposterous criticism. In science, more often than not, a first publication is not the final word, and science progresses by augmenting and revising the first version.  

In our case, we published initial findings, and when our subsequent experiments told us that we needed to revisit aspects of our models we did so and published those findings too. There is nothing nefarious about this. It is precisely how science is supposed to progress. Again, I hope you will have the opportunity to read the attached document, which walks through the science in detail.

Let’s turn to the other false allegations. The Daily claims that the 2009 paper was the subject of an internal review at Genentech that showed falsification of data and that I worked to suppress its findings. This is a breathtakingly outrageous set of claims that are completely and utterly false.  

In fact, I was not aware of any allegations of fraud until the Daily raised them and to this day I remain unaware of any evidence whatsoever of fabrication. And the Daily article itself includes a statement from Genentech that “we reviewed the records from that meeting and saw no allegations of fraud or wrongdoing.”
The article quotes from letters my attorney sent in response to the Daily’s questions. You can find those letters here and here, together with a separate letter that I wrote to the Daily. 

Let me state unequivocally: 

  • I have never submitted a paper without firmly believing that the data were correct and accurately presented. That is categorically true for the 2009 Nature paper, as it has been for every other paper on which I served as an author.  
  • I never heard claims that the 2009 paper contains fraudulent data, and I do not believe there is anything fraudulent in the paper.
  • Not only did I not try to prevent revision of the 2009 paper’s findings, it was my laboratory that worked diligently to revisit them and to publish the findings.

In closing, I reject in the strongest terms the accusation that I behaved improperly. I am confident that a full airing of the facts will vindicate my position.


Marc Tessier-Lavigne
President, Stanford University
Bing Presidential Professor and Head of the Tessier-Lavigne Laboratory at Stanford University