Investigations of misconduct at Singapore need to be seen to be impartial

The saga of potential misconduct at the National University of Singapore continues to escalate with further questionable papers regularly being identified by “whistleblowers” to Abnormal Science (Joerg Zwirner).

But the investigations initiated by the University are not totally above criticism especially as Prof. Barry Haliwell the Vice President at the University and responsible for these investigations is himself facing allegations of self-plagiarism and is a co-author on some of the questionable papers. There is an urgent need for some outside participation in the investigations to ensure independence and impartiality. My current perception is that the objective of the investigation will over-ridingly be to save the reputation of the University (any by extension of the government of Singapore) and that the investigation committee will be heavily blinkered. Since the government has effectively been trying to short-cut its way to a scientific reputation by “buying in” researchers, there is little chance that the investigations – as they are set up now – will not be contaminated by government meddling.

As Abnormal Science comments:

A more stringent management of quality and integrity issues in experimental (medical ) research needs to take center stage at NUS. Vice president Prof. Halliwell  is in charge of the Office of Research and Technology at NUS,  and therefore responsible for driving the University’s research agenda. Unfortunately, he also appears to handle issues related to science integrity at NUS himself. This constellation constitutes an inacceptable accumulation of responsibilities and should be banned since it carries the potential for conflict of interest. Prof. Halliwell, you might want to take a leave of absence from your position as vice president until these issues (including the allegation of self-plagiarism) have been resolved.

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One Response to “Investigations of misconduct at Singapore need to be seen to be impartial”

  1. E A Stone Says:

    I am not sure if there is any reason to suspect fraud in some of the cases suspected in Halliwell’s publications. Perhaps these are cases of sloppiness or, as A Scientist in Singapore says (in the comments under Abnormal Science, SMS #6, Part 2), these are the results of pdf resolution. It is unfortunate that there is such a lack of confidence in the way the issues of fraud are handled that the situation has come to the present state.

    In my opinion, there is a strong case against Halliwell on the issue of, at least, self-plagiarism. Some may dismiss this as minor, but it is a matter of requiring ethics officers to be beyond reproach. His own Circular speaks against what he is being accused of. (Why didn’t he even cite the 1989 paper in the 1992 paper?)

    Second, he should not have inserted himself as a spokesman in the Melendez matter, especially since he is a coauthor of some papers. It appears that he does not understand that even an appearance of conflict of interest should be avoided.

    Third, I don’t understand administrators with serious administrative commitments “being active” in publishing – especially publishing to an extent that would require an enormous time commitment to research. In many cases, it appears that they are just guest authors, either because of their presumed expertise, established name, or administrative position. This situation does not bode well for promoting an ethical and professional environment.

    The bottom line: The blogs become the recourse for exposing fraud or suspicions of fraud or sloppy science.

    To a large extent, it appears that Halliwell has brought this on to himself, and it is hurting everyone. I think that Prof. Zwirner is absolutely right. Halliwell should step aside. Perhaps he should just go back to his lab.

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