Laboratory sabotoge. Magdalena Koziol was baffled about why her zebrafish experiments were all failing: the fish were all dying, every time. So she did a simple experiment, setting up some fish labeled with her initials, and others without the label. The fish with her initials all died, the others were fine, proving that the initials “MK” carry a curse.
No, wait, that’s not it. She put in hidden cameras and revealed the true cause of the dead fish.
The experiment was a key step in proving that someone was tampering with her experiments, according to a lawsuit Koziol filed with the Superior Court in New Haven on 7 February. When hidden cameras were installed in the lab, they revealed a fellow postdoc poisoning her fish, the complaint says. Now, Koziol is suing the alleged perpetrator, Polloneal Jymmiel Ocbina. According to the complaint, he left Yale after he was caught on video.
Ocbina is now working at a communications company in New York. He was clearly ethically unsuited to work in biology, that’s for sure. Heck, he shouldn’t be working in science, period.
All’s well now, though, right? Villain caught, sent shuffling off in disgrace, etc.? Nope. Her advisor seems to have resented losing the rascally Ocbina.
From then on, Koziol’s relationship with her boss deteriorated. The complaint says he refused to provide her with a letter about the sabotage, which presumably would have helped explain her lack of data to future employers. Koziol alleges that he criticized her work and character, didn’t help her make up for the lost time, gave her "angry looks when passing in the lab," didn’t list her as a contributor to a Nature article, and threatened to fire and "destroy" her. Koziol became depressed, suffered from sleeplessness, and gained weight; when she and Giraldez talked for 3 hours in August 2012, Koziol "cried throughout the meeting," the complaint says.
Koziol filed a grievance procedure against Giraldez, which she lost; Yale, in its statement to Science, calls her allegations against Giraldez and the university "factually distorted and legally baseless."
It would have been so easy to do the right thing here — Koziol was the victim, and she was treated like the bad guy.
But some good things have come out of it; she’s left Yale, she’s gone back to the UK, and she has an appointment in the lab of John Gurdon (The John Gurdon, I should say, and definitely a step upwards), who is wonderfully supportive.
Koziol left Yale in March 2013 and returned to the lab of Nobel laureate John Gurdon in Cambridge, where she had done her doctoral work. “I was very happy to have her back,” Gurdon says, “because her work is excellent. She was a model student.” Gurdon helped secure a small grant for Koziol and donated some of his personal money to keep her going. He’s optimistic about her chances against Yale. “They wrote her a letter promising her circumstances in which she could conduct her research,” he says. “And they quite clearly did not provide even remotely adequate circumstances.”
We can tell who the good guys are in this story, at least.
I’m just wondering how Ocbina could escape so lightly. Any student in my lab who dared to both do harm to a colleague and to do willful harm to laboratory animals would face some fearsome wrath. There would be criminal proceedings, not mere expulsion.