Archive for the ‘Academic misconduct’ Category

Microplastic misconduct: Swedish paper about fish larvae eating microplastics was fabricated

April 28, 2017

A paper claiming evidence about fish larvae eating micro-plastics to their detriment was fabricated. To be published, any paper about the impact of humans on the environment must always be negative. Exaggerated and even fabricated data are rarely questioned. Studies which are positive about human impact are – by definition of “political correctness” – never publishable. There is clearly “politically incorrect” and “politically correct” science.

This is another case of made up work being passed off as “politically correct”science.

Swedish Radio reports today that

A study about fish larvae eating micro-plastics contains such serious flaws that it should be retracted from Science, where it was published says Sweden’s Central Ethics Review Board’s expert panel for misconduct in research.

The panel believes that two researchers at Uppsala University are guilty of misconduct. It is a remarkable study from last year, which deals with the fact that perch young seem to prefer to eat micro-plastics to regular fish food.

After criticism by external researchers, an investigation was made by the Central Ethics Review Board, which today delivered an opinion. The researchers have been found guilty of misconduct in several cases.

“The most serious is the lack of original data,” says Jörgen Svidén, Department Head at the Central Ethics Review Board.

The study was published in the journal Science last year. The Central Ethics Review Board writes in its opinion that it is remarkable that the article was ever accepted. The opinion has been sent to Uppsala University, which must now make a decision on the matter. 

The researcher’s claimed that a laptop containing the data had been stolen. Really? And this was not backed up? Uppsala University had rejected claims of misconduct by its staff in the wake of serious allegations in 2015. How gullible can a University be?

ScienceMag wrote then:

When Fredrik Jutfelt and Josefin Sundin read a paper on a hot environmental issue in the 3 June issue of Science, the two researchers immediately felt that something was very wrong. Both knew Oona Lönnstedt,  the research fellow at Sweden’s Uppsala University (UU) who had conducted the study, and both had been at the Ar research station on the island of Gotland around the time that Lönnstedt says she carried out the experiments, which showed that tiny particles called microplastics can harm fish larvae. Jutfelt, an associate professor at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, and Sundin, a UU postdoc, believed there was no way that Lönnstedt had been able to carry out the elaborate study.

Less than 3 weeks later, the duo wrote UU that they had “a strong suspicion of research misconduct” and asked for an investigation. Their letter, initially reported by Retraction Watch in August, was cosigned by five scientists from Canada, Switzerland, and Australia, who hadn’t been at the research station but also had severe misgivings about the paper and who helped Sundin and Jutfelt build their case. 

This week, Science is publishing an “Editorial expression of concern” about the paper, because Lönnstedt and her supervisor at UU, Peter Eklöv, have been unable to produce all of the raw data behind their results. Lönnstedt says the data were stored on a laptop computer that was stolen from her husband’s car 10 days after the paper was published, and that no backups exist. ……

…… The paper, which received a lot of press attention, focused on plastic fragments of less than half a millimeter in size that result from the mechanical breakdown of bags and other products. There’s increasing evidence that these microplastics collect in rivers, lakes, and oceans around the world, but so far, little is known about their effects on aquatic organisms and ecosystems. What Lönnstedt and Eklöv reported was alarming: They had exposed larvae of European perch maintained in aquaria at the research station to microplastics and found that they had decreased growth and altered feeding and behavior. Microplastics made the larvae less responsive to chemical warning signals and more likely to be eaten by pike in a series of predation experiments, the pair further reported. In an accompanying Perspective, Chelsea Rochman of the University of Toronto in Canada wrote that the study “marks an important step toward understanding of microplastics” and was relevant to policymakers. ……

….. In the report of its “preliminary investigation,” the UU panel sided with Lönnstedt. She and Eklöv had explained everything “in a satisfactory and credible manner,” wrote the panel, which asked UU to “take diligent steps to restore the reputation of the accused.” But the panel’s report didn’t provide detailed rebuttals of the long list of problems provided by Sundin and Jutfelt, who say that the investigation was superficial. ….. 

Much may now depend on the conclusions of an expert group on misconduct at Sweden’s Central Ethical Board, which is doing its own, independent investigation. Jutfelt says he’s hopeful because it appears that the group is “doing a more thorough job.” Lönnstedt says she’s not worried about the outcome. A spokesperson for the board says it is not clear when it will wrap up the inquiry. 

Microplastic misconduct Foto: Uppsala universitet

The Ethics Review Board has now reported and it is clear that this “politically correct” paper was fabricated. Uppsala University’s so-called investigation is also shown to have been less than serious and merely carried out a whitewash of their own staff.


Just infantile, girlish humour?

January 25, 2016

These are seniors from  the Desert Vista High School in Phoenix, Arizona at a photoshoot for their year-book.

Probably nothing more than the infantile humour that 18-19 year-olds are so fond of. The “seniors” tag hardly seems appropriate. Yet, nothing that a good spanking or a day in some public stocks wouldn’t cure.

But then, that would be sexist.

high school seniors image

high school seniors image

Of course it could be, that these girls are just so dumb (hardly innocent or naive), in spite of being “seniors” at a “high” school, that they don’t even understand that white girls spelling out “NI**ER” is more sinister than just stupid.


Another case of promoting a drug with “incorrect reporting and distorted data”

September 17, 2015

There is a Catch 22 situation here.

Clinical trials for new drugs are all funded – of necessity – by the pharmaceutical companies. It is only to be expected that negative results are downplayed and positive results are highlighted. Positive results get published. Negative results for drugs not yet approved are rarely published. Those conducting clinical trials are looking to enhance their lists of publications. Furthermore there is an incentive to invent “medical conditions” which can be “treated” by otherwise useless – or even damaging – compounds. My perception is that the pharmaceutical companies sometimes discover compounds unintentionally or by accident or as a compound which fails its originally intended purpose. Then – by defining (or inventing) new medical disabilities – they try and find a use for these compounds.

So how many of the new, psychiatric drugs are really of no benefit? And how many of the supposed “illnesses” – which can only be diagnosed by subjective methods – and which these new drugs are supposed to to treat – are really medical conditions?

A University of Adelaide led study has found that a psychiatric drug – paroxetine – which was claimed to be a safe and effective treatment for depression in adolescents is actually ineffective and associated with serious side effects is published today in the BMJ.

Joanna Le Noury, John M Nardo, David Healy, Jon Jureidini, Melissa Raven, Catalin Tufanaru, Elia Abi-Jaoude. Restoring Study 329: efficacy and harms of paroxetine and imipramine in treatment of major depression in adolescence. BMJ, 2015 DOI: 10.1136/bmj.h4320

there is also an editorial in the BMJ:

No correction, no retraction, no apology, no comment: paroxetine trial reanalysis raises questions about institutional responsibility

UofAdelaide press releaseProfessor Jon Jureidini, from the University of Adelaide’s newly created Critical and Ethical Mental Health Research Group (CEMH) at the Robinson Research Institute, led a team of international researchers who re-examined Study 329, a randomised controlled trial which evaluated the efficacy and safety of paroxetine (Aropax, Paxil, Seroxat) compared with a placebo for adolescents diagnosed with major depression.

Study 329, which was funded by SmithKline Beecham (now GlaxoSmithKline), was reported in 2001 as having found that paroxetine was effective and safe for depression in adolescents. However, Professor Jureidini’s reanalysis showed no advantages associated with taking paroxetine and demonstrated worrying adverse effects.

“Although concerns had already been raised about Study 329, and the way it was reported, the data was not previously made available so researchers and clinicians weren’t able to identify all of the errors in the published report,” says Professor Jureidini. “It wasn’t until the data was made available for re-examination that it became apparent that paroxetine was linked to serious adverse reactions, with 11 of the patients taking paroxetine engaging in suicidal or self-harming behaviours compared to only one person in the group of patients who took the placebo,” he says. “Our study also revealed that paroxetine was no more effective at relieving the symptoms of depression than a placebo.”  ……

……. “Study 329 was one of the trials identified as in need of restoration, and because the original funder was not interested in revisiting the trial, our research group took on the task. 
“Our reanalysis of Study 329 came to very different conclusions to those in the original paper,” he says. “We also learnt a lot about incorrect reporting and the considerable fall out that can be associated with distorted data.”

If all doctors treating patients were truly independent the system would be self-correcting. Overhyped and unnecessary drugs would wither away. But many doctors have a vested interest in the continued use of the drugs they prescribe. (And note that even some members of the WHO panels who recommend mass vaccination programs have been found to have vested interests).

As the editorial in the BMJ writes:

But in the case of Study 329 no epistemological acrobatics would seem able to reconcile the differences between the 2001 JAACAP paper and the RIAT republication. They cannot both be right. …

Such stark differences between the original paper and the rewrite are bound to put particular pressure on Andrés Martin, Yale University professor and current editor in chief of JAACAP. Martin has been under pressure to retract the paper for years, including from within his own society. Last October, Martin was compelled to address the academy’s assembly about Study 329. According to the minutes, members heard how Martin had investigated the matter thoroughly by consultation with the authors, the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), clinical experts, “a whole range of attorneys, and more.” Martin’s assessment, completed in July 2010, concluded that no further action was necessary. A follow-up inquiry, again by Martin, in 2012, after GSK was fined $3bn, similarly concluded “no basis found for editorial action against the article.” ……

It has proved no easier to get the professional society to talk. Several of the authors of the JAACAP paper are members of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP). The BMJ sent four requests for comment to the academy’s president, Paramjit Joshi, and past president Martin Drell, but received no response.

Scientists behaving badly and psychiatrists behaving very badly. A can of worms no doubt.

Plastic in the oceans grossly exaggerated: How the UN spreads bad science

April 30, 2015

It is widely assumed that about 10% of annual plastic production ends up in the oceans. That would mean that about 30 million tonnes end up in our seas every year. But this is just a myth and has been spread by a UN mistake as reported by Nordic Science. The actual number is 2 – 4%. The UN knows it is a mistake but it serves their “political” goals to go slow with any correction. I would go so far as to say that the UN mistake (by a consultant – of course) was quite deliberate. Which advocacy group did that consultant come from – I wonder?

It is tempting to beat our largest drums when fighting pollution. … One of science’s cardinal virtues is accuracy. Despite that, scientists are contributing to the dissemination of numbers with rather nebulous sources.

When ScienceNordic’s Norwegian partner recently wrote about new calculations quantifying the plastic debris in the sea, we wondered why the new figures were so much lower than previous findings.

A number of researchers stated that the new calculation methods were the best they had seen to date. So we tried to find out how other scientists had ended up with a much higher figure –ten percent of the world’s plastic output. This was no easy task. The one-tenth figure cropped up ubiquitously, but no one could say what research it was based on. Apparently it didn’t come from research at all.

Some still claim that ten percent of the plastic produced annually ends up in marine environments. In 2013 alone that would equate to 30 million tonnes. This is a staggering amount of plastic for the oceans of the world and the marine life in these seas to cope with.

The latest calculations decrease this share of plastic debris to two to four percent of annual output.

We started searching for the source of the ten-percent figure.

Each reference pointed to another, which in turn referred to another article or paper in an apparent endless chain. Where was the original source?

A UN document for a workshop of international experts on marine debris also referred to a scientific paper. But when we checked that paper there we found no trace of this ten percent estimate.

We contacted the Secretariat of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, which had commissioned the document from the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). They would not put us in touch with the author of the document, but Jihyun Lee in the Secretariat sent us an e-mail:

“Our consultant quoted the reference in good faith as it was cited in a peer-reviewed paper as being the source of the information. A robust review of this paper by the consultant when he quoted this information could have avoided this mistake. Unfortunately he did not go back to the source reference in this case to double-check the original source.”

The UN document was a draft. The mistake had already been pointed out by a scientist at the workshop and checked out. Jihyun Lee explains that the number will now be deleted from the final report.

But the number had already spread internationally, including to Norway, where the expert on plastics Geir Wing Gabrielsen of the Norwegian Polar Institute quoted it in the media.

“When I read a scientific article or a UN report, I expect the references made to be correct and they should be possible to confirm. It is unfortunate when, as in this case, numbers are impossible to track down,” he writes in an e-mail.

Read the whole article finally traced the 10% number through many a false citation to a non-peer-reviewed conference presentation by a Professor Richard Thompson of Plymouth University who now admits he had no basis for the number but says it was based on “grey” literature. Which advocacy group did his “respected source” come from?

“ It was from a respected source, it seemed credible and I believed it as did others,” he writes in an e-mail to But he doesn’t answer the question of why he neglected to investigate the reference which the number comes from.

Thompson writes that he relied on grey literature, in other words, information from the authorities, organisations or academics who have not been peer reviewed through formal scientific publications. Typically, this could be a report, a work note or a presentation. 

“On further digging there is no substance to them – they were guesses and I should not have used them. I have not used the quote again,” he writes.

No doubt the consultant and the grey literature were from some advocacy group, such as Greenpeace, who have no qualms about making up information when it suits their purpose. Lies are justified as necessary because their “ends are good”. I note that the UN bureaucracy believe that the end justifies the means and their means include disseminating “grey information” as if it was gospel. It is not so surprising then that the UN IPCC reports on climate are full of highly dubious grey literature.

The UN’s scientific panels are little better than advocacy groups. Accuracy and truth have just become collateral damage in the furthering of their political goals. And the IPCC leads all the rest.

Adjusted (fiddled) data showing global warming to be investigated

April 26, 2015

“Global” temperature is necessarily a construct. It is “calculated” by taking raw temperature data as measured at particular locations, massaging this data according to algorithms devised by those calculating the “global temperature, applied to areas where there are no measurements by some other algorithms (oceans, poles, forests and deserts), adjusting past data and then coming up with a “global” temperature.

Raw data is never used without “adjustment”. Remarkably the adjustments invariably cool the past. Every year, data from the past is further adjusted! The trends and results presented represent more the adjustment algorithms used rather than the parameters themselves. As this example of “adjustment” of raw data from Puerto Casada to convert an actually measured cooling trend into an adjusted warming trend illustrates

Cooling the past: Puerto Casada From raw to adjusted data

Cooling the past: Puerto Casada From raw to adjusted data

Studies have already shown that, in the US, Australia, New Zealand, the Arctic and South America, in far too many cases, temperatures have been adjusted to show a stronger and clearer warming trend than is justified by the raw data.

As RealScience shows with this more dramatic example from Vestmanneyja


An investigation now to be carried out by an international team is to establish a full and accurate picture of just how much of the published record has been adjusted in a way which gives the impression that temperatures have been rising faster and further than was indicated by the raw measured data.

Christopher Booker writes in the Daily Telegraph:

…. something very odd has been going on with those official surface temperature records, all of which ultimately rely on data compiled by NOAA’s GHCN. Careful analysts have come up with hundreds of examples of how the original data recorded by 3,000-odd weather stations has been “adjusted”, to exaggerate the degree to which the Earth has actually been warming. Figures from earlier decades have repeatedly been adjusted downwards and more recent data adjusted upwards, to show the Earth having warmed much more dramatically than the original data justified.

So strong is the evidence that all this calls for proper investigation ………  The Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) has enlisted an international team of five distinguished scientists to carry out a full inquiry into just how far these manipulations of the data may have distorted our picture of what is really happening to global temperatures. 

The panel is chaired by Terence Kealey, until recently vice-chancellor of the University of Buckingham. His team, all respected experts in their field with many peer-reviewed papers to their name, includes Dr Peter Chylek, a physicist from the National Los Alamos Laboratory; Richard McNider, an emeritus professor who founded the Atmospheric Sciences Programme at the University of Alabama; Professor Roman Mureika from Canada, an expert in identifying errors in statistical methodology; Professor Roger Pielke Sr, a noted climatologist from the University of Colorado, and Professor William van Wijngaarden, a physicist whose many papers on climatology have included studies in the use of “homogenisation” in data records.

Their inquiry’s central aim will be to establish a comprehensive view of just how far the original data has been “adjusted” by the three main surface records: those published by the Goddard Institute for Space Studies (Giss), the US National Climate Data Center and Hadcrut, that compiled by the East Anglia Climatic Research Unit (Cru), in conjunction with the UK Met Office’s Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction. All of them are run by committed believers in man-made global warming.

Since “global” temperature – by definition – is a calculated construct it is inevitable that data must be “applied” in some way to make this calculation.

But no matter what the calculation method, rewriting history is suspect. When the data of the past keeps being adjusted, and adjusted again, and always systematically downwards, and when all the adjustments invariably cool the past more than the present, then the apparent trend in global temperature has little to do with any definition of global temperature and is merely a trend of the adjustments.

Pseudo-science and religious loonies: Modi needs to purge the riff-raff he attracts

January 7, 2015

Narendra Modi’s new BJP government in India has been a breath of fresh air after the stagnant, smelly and stale environment in which the previous Congress government had got itself stuck in. It is still early days yet but Narendra Modi will need to get to grips with his idiot fringe before they leach away all his gains. The loony, religious Hindu right feel empowered and and are making fools of themselves. The sad part is that they elevate bigotry and prejudice and religious violence as being justified for their “holy cause”.

The idiot fringe consists  – among others – of supposedly pious people (men and women) who claim that “goodness” is implicit in being a “Hindu”. They bask in the reflected glory of the supposedly great days of Rama but their grasp of history is a little less than zero and is mostly imagined. Their use of pseudoscience and their interpretation of ancient scriptures sounds like those who manage to read every current event into the soothsayings of Nostradamus. They threaten to make Modi’s government a laughing stock. Before too long Modi will need to purge the BJP of the lunatic fringe.

They usually make up history whenever – and wherever – they lack knowledge. They have started a campaign of reconverting people they claim were converted to Islam or Christianity in the first place. They are not averse to using violence in their self-defined “just causes”.  They include idiots who are Members of Parliament calling for every good Hindu woman to have 5 children each! The same MP called Gandhi’s assassin a “patriot”. They also tend to be the same people who inculcate the culture of feudal fiefdoms and accord themselves and their followers the right of “droit du seigneur”. The so-called “god-men” are perhaps the worst sexual predators around.  They not only allow but they sanctify the rape culture that is endemic in all of urban India.

They also include those who would claim that ancient Hindu culture was responsible for all the major inventions and discoveries of the last 2,000 years. This has led to a wave of pseudo-science which is perceived by the loony right as being “politically correct” and fashionable under the new government. Unfortunately many academics are too cowed down by their own perceptions of career and government patronage to resist the nonsense. Even the Indian Science Congress currently going on feels that it must give space to the the pseudo-scientists and the charlatans. Allowing pseudo-science is academic misconduct which is just as bad as faking data.

One entire session of the current program (Indian Science Congress 2015 program) is devoted to “Ancient Sciences through Sanskrit”.

Pseudo-science at the Indian Science Congress 2015

Pseudo-science at the Indian Science Congress 2015

The nonsense claims range from the origin of hominids being in India to Vedic nanoscience and elephant urine as fuel for powered flight.

Indian Express: The paper on aviation is part of a symposium on “ancient Indian sciences through Sanskrit”, and will be presented by Captain Anand Bodas, retired principal of a pilot training centre, and Ameya Jadhav, lecturer at Mumbai’s Swami Vivekanand International School and Junior College. ……. The abstract of the Bodas-Jadhav paper says: “Aviation technology in ancient India is not a tale of mythology, but it is a total historical document giving technical details and specifications. Ancient Sanskrit literature is full of descriptions of flying machines, Vimanas. “From the many documents found, it is evident that the scientist-sages Agastya and Bharadwaja had developed the lore of aircraft construction. Aeronautics or Vaimaanikashastra is a part of Yantra Sarvasva of Bharadwaja. This is also known as Brihadvimaana Shastra. Vaimaanikashastra deals with aeronautics, including the design of aircraft, the way they can be used for transportation and other applications, in detail.” According to the abstract, the knowledge of aeronautics is described in Sanskrit in 100 sections, eight chapters, 500 principles and 3000 slokas. “Great sage Bharadwaja explained the construction of aircraft and way to fly it in air, on land, on water and use the same aircraft like a submarine,” the abstract says.

“He also described the construction of war planes and fighter aircraft. This paper will deal with manufacturing an alloy for making aeroplanes, the specialised dress material being virus proof, waterproof and shock proof for the pilots. This was given by Bhardwaja sage in Brihatvimanshashtra. He had mentioned 97 reference books for aviation.”

According to the abstract, the paper will provide a short account of the special diet for aviators, and on “emergency food” for times when regular “fooding facility was not available or possible”, as recommended in the Aharadhikaran. “Bharadwaja has considered the climatic changes in the atmospheric levels while considering the dressing of the pilot. He has mentioned 25 types of viruses in the atmosphere which attack the human skin, bones and the body… In Vastradhikaran, he has given the reason for special clothing and the process of making fabric. After studying all above points, which are mentioned in Brihatvimanshashtra, we came to know that ancient Indian sciences and specially aviation technology was so advanced. The most interesting thing about the Indian science of aeronautics and Bharadwaja’s research was that they were successfully tested in actual practice by an Indian over hundred years ago. In 21st century, we should study and spread the achievements of our sages,” says the abstract.

Basking in a past and imagined glory!

Academics, not journalists, responsible for hyping press releases

December 10, 2014

A new paper in the British Medical Journal seems to add substance to the view that many academics and their universities put far too much emphasis on self-promotion by means of exaggeration, sensationalism and alarmism. Science by press release seems to be the new paradigm. Rather than journalists it is the supposedly objective academics themselves who “talk up” their own work.

Sumner P, et al. The association between exaggeration in health related science news and academic press releases: retrospective observational study. BMJ 2014; 349: g7015

Results 40% (95% confidence interval 33% to 46%) of the press releases contained exaggerated advice, 33% (26% to 40%) contained exaggerated causal claims, and 36% (28% to 46%) contained exaggerated inference to humans from animal research. When press releases contained such exaggeration, 58% (95% confidence interval 48% to 68%), 81% (70% to 93%), and 86% (77% to 95%) of news stories, respectively, contained similar exaggeration, compared with exaggeration rates of 17% (10% to 24%), 18% (9% to 27%), and 10% (0% to 19%) in news when the press releases were not exaggerated. Odds ratios for each category of analysis were 6.5 (95% confidence interval 3.5 to 12), 20 (7.6 to 51), and 56 (15 to 211). At the same time, there was little evidence that exaggeration in press releases increased the uptake of news.

Conclusions Exaggeration in news is strongly associated with exaggeration in press releases. Improving the accuracy of academic press releases could represent a key opportunity for reducing misleading health related news.

Bern Goldacre has an editorial in the same issue of the BMJ. He argues that academics must be made accountable for exaggerations about their own work.

I would go much farther than Goldacre. Merely being accountable is not enough – it is liability that is required. I have long had a “thing” about this lack of liability for scientific misconduct Why cannot a concept of tort or “product liability”apply to scientists?.

Goldacre writes:

For anyone with medical training, mainstream media coverage of science can be an uncomfortable read. It is common to find correlational findings misrepresented as denoting causation, for example, or findings in animal studies confidently exaggerated to make claims about treatment for humans. But who is responsible for these misrepresentations?

In the linked paper (doi:10.1136/bmj.g7015) Sumner and colleagues found that much of the exaggeration in mainstream media coverage of health research—statements that went beyond findings in the academic paper—was already present in the press release sent out to journalists by the academic institution itself.

Sumner and colleagues identified all 462 press releases on health research from 20 leading UK universities over one year. They traced 668 associated news stories and the original academic papers that reported the scientific findings. Finally, they assessed the press releases and the news articles for exaggeration, defined as claims going beyond those in the peer reviewed paper. ……. 

Over a third of press releases contained exaggerated advice, causal claims, or inference to humans. When press releases contained exaggeration, 58% to 86% of derived news stories contained similar exaggeration, compared with exaggeration rates of 10% to 18% in news articles when the press releases were not exaggerated.

Academics and their institutions are surrounded and protected by a shield of supposed objectivity and good faith. But in the unprincipled hunt for funding between institutions and for academic advancement among researchers, there is a significant amount of falsified and manufactured research results. And then the shield protects them from having any liability. Accountability – if found out – leads to relatively mild consequences. If liability for the scientific “product” is introduced, then the taking of responsibility and accountability will automatically follow.

Professor at Imperial College driven to his death?

December 8, 2014

This is sad and rather depressing.

On his blog, Professor David Colquhoun, FRS reports on the case of Professor Stefan Grimm of Imperial College who seems to have been bullied to his death.

Publish and perish at Imperial College London: the death of Stefan Grimm

This week’s Times Higher Education carried a report of the death, at age 51, of Professor Stefan Grimm: Imperial College London to ‘review procedures’ after death of academic. He was professor of toxicology in the Faculty of Medicine at Imperial.

Now Stefan Grimm is dead. Despite having a good publication record, he failed to do sufficiently expensive research, so he was fired (or at least threatened with being fired).

“Speaking to Times Higher Education on condition of anonymity, two academics who knew Professor Grimm, who was 51, said that he had complained of being placed under undue pressure by the university in the months leading up to his death, and that he had been placed on performance review.”

Having had cause to report before on bullying at Imperial’s Department of Medicine, I was curious to know more. 

Martin Wilkins wrote to Grimm on 10 March 2014. ………

……. It didn’t take long to get hold of an email from Grimm that has been widely circulated within Imperial. The mail is dated a month after his death. It isn’t known whether it was pre-set by Grimm himself or whether it was sent by someone else. It’s even possible that it wasn’t written by Grimm himself, though if it is an accurate description of what happened, that’s not crucial.

No doubt any Imperial staff member would be in great danger if they were to publish the mail. So, as a public service, I shall do so. ……

Read the rest at DC’s Improbable Science

Academic progress and goodness of research are not necessarily connected.


Diederik Stapel markets himself (anonymously) on Retraction Watch

October 13, 2014

Diedrick Stapel

In June last year it disturbed me that the New York Times was complicit in helping Diedrik Stapel market his “diary” about his transgressions. There is something very unsatisfactory and distasteful when we allow wrong-doers to cash in on their wrong-doing or their notoriety. I had a similar sense of distaste when I read that the Fontys Academy for Creative Industries offered him a job to teach social psychology – almost as a reward for being a failed, but notorius, social psychologist.

Retraction Watch carried a post about the new job. And Diedrik Stapel was shameless enough to show up in the comments (first anonymously) but finally under his own name when he was exposed by Retraction Watch. The comments were all gratuitously self-serving. Perhaps he was carrying out a social experiment?

But this was noticed also by Professor Janet Stemwedel writing in the Scientific American:

You’re not rehabilitated if you keep deceiving

…… But I think a non-negotiable prerequisite for rehabilitation is demonstrating that you really understand how what you did was wrong. This understanding needs to be more than simply recognizing that what you did was technically against the rules. Rather, you need to grasp the harms that your actions did, the harms that may continue as a result of those actions, the harms that may not be quickly or easily repaired. You need to acknowledge those harms, not minimize them or make excuses for your actions that caused the harms. ….

….. Now, there’s no prima facie reason Diederik Stapel might not be able to make a productive contribution to a discussion about Diederik Stapel. However, Diederik Stapel was posting his comments not as Diederik Stapel but as “Paul”.

I hope it is obvious why posting comments that are supportive of yourself while making it appear that this support is coming from someone else is deceptive. Moreover, the comments seem to suggest that Stapel is not really fully responsible for the frauds he committed.

“Paul” writes:

Help! Let’s not change anything. Science is a flawless institution. Yes. And only the past two days I read about medical scientists who tampered with data to please the firm that sponsored their work and about the start of a new investigation into the work of a psychologist who produced data “too good to be true.” Mistakes abound. On a daily basis. Sure, there is nothing to reform here. Science works just fine. I think it is time for the “Men in Black” to move in to start an outside-invesigation of science and academia. The Stapel case and other, similar cases teach us that scientists themselves are able to clean-up their act.

Later, he writes (sic throughout):

Stapel was punished, he did his community service (as he writes in his latest book), he is not on welfare, he is trying to make money with being a writer, a cab driver, a motivational speaker, but not very successfully, and .. it is totally unclear whether he gets paid for his teaching (no research) an extra-curricular hobby course (2 hours a week, not more, not less) and if he gets paid, how much.

Moreover and more importantly, we do not know WHAT he teaches exactly, we have not seen his syllabus. How can people write things like “this will only inspire kids to not get caught”, without knowing what the guy is teaching his students? Will he reach his students how to become fraudsters? Really? When you have read the two books he wrote after his demise, you cannot be conclude that this is very unlikely? Will he teach his students about all the other fakes and frauds and terrible things that happen in science? Perhaps. Is that bad? Perhaps. I think it is better to postpone our judgment about the CONTENT of all this as long as we do not know WHAT he is actually teaching. That would be a Popper-like, open-minded, rationalistic, democratic, scientific attitude. Suppose a terrible criminal comes up with a great insight, an interesting analysis, a new perspective, an amazing discovery, suppose (think Genet, think Gramsci, think Feyerabend).

Is it smart to look away from potentially interesting information, because the messenger of that information stinks?

Perhaps, God forbid, Stapel is able to teach his students valuable lessons and insights no one else is willing to teach them for a 2-hour-a-week temporary, adjunct position that probably doesn’t pay much and perhaps doesn’t pay at all. The man is a failure, yes, but he is one of the few people out there who admitted to his fraud, who helped the investigation into his fraud (no computer crashes…., no questionnaires that suddenly disappeared, no data files that were “lost while moving office”, see Sanna, Smeesters, and …. Foerster). Nowhere it is written that failures cannot be great teachers. Perhaps he points his students to other frauds, failures, and ridiculous mistakes in psychological science we do not know of yet. That would be cool (and not unlikely).

Is it possible? Is it possible that Stapel has something interesting to say, to teach, to comment on?

To my eye, these comments read as saying that Stapel has paid his debt to society and thus ought not to be subject to heightened scrutiny. They seem to assert that Stapel is reformable. …. …… behind the scenes, the Retraction Watch editors accumulated clues that “Paul” was not an uninvolved party but rather Diederik Stapel portraying himself as an uninvolved party. After they contacted him to let him know that such behavior did not comport with their comment policy, Diederik Stapel posted under his real name:

Hello, my name is Diederik Stapel. I thought that in an internet environment where many people are writing about me (a real person) using nicknames it is okay to also write about me (a real person) using a nickname. ! have learned that apparently that was —in this particular case— a misjudgment. I think did not dare to use my real name (and I still wonder why). I feel that when it concerns person-to-person communication, the “in vivo” format is to be preferred over and above a blog where some people use their real name and some do not. In the future, I will use my real name. I have learned that and I understand that I –for one– am not somebody who can use a nickname where others can. Sincerely, Diederik Stapel.

He portrays this as a misunderstanding about how online communication works — other people are posting without using their real names, so I thought it was OK for me to do the same. However, to my eye it conveys that he also misunderstands how rebuilding trust works. Posting to support the person at the center of the discussion without first acknowledging that you are that person is deceptive. Arguing that that person ought to be granted more trust while dishonestly portraying yourself as someone other than that person is a really bad strategy. When you’re caught doing it, those arguments for more trust are undermined by the fact that they are themselves further instances of the deceptive behavior that broke trust in the first place.

Stapel will surely become a case study for future social psychologists. If he truly wishes rehabilitation he needs to move into a different field. Self-serving, anonymous comments in his own favour will not provide the new trust with his peers and his surroundings that he needs to build up. Just as his diary is “tainted goods”, anything he now does in the field of social psychology starts by being tainted with the onus of proof on him to show that it is not.

Effects of influensa medicines exaggerated by sponsored research

October 8, 2014

I have posted earlier about how flu vaccines tend to be over-hyped and over-promoted. A new study confirms that research sponsored by pharmaceutical companies were much more positive than those by independent researchers.

The manufacture and sale of flu vaccines is enormously lucrative. Just in the UK the program costs £120 million every year. Worldwide just influensa vaccine sales are an estimated $4 – 5 billion. The total vaccines market is expected to grow from about $30 billion in 2012 to about $40 billion in 2015! For adult vaccines the biggest growth comes from public health programs pushing influensa vaccines:

Moreover in public health programs

The names of the members of the committees which recommend wholesale flu vaccinations are often shrouded in secrecy and often  – when revealed – are found to have unhealthy ties to the manufacturers of the vaccines.

Swedish Radio reports:

In the world of research meta-analyses, reviews of research studies available, act as a quality assurance. But when Australian researchers reviewed 26 meta-analyses of so-called neuraminidase inhibitors it was apparent that researchers sponsored by pharmaceutical companies had made more positive conclusions than their independent counterparts.

The study is published in Annals of Internal Medicine, writes The Guardian.

But the phenomenon is not new in the scientific community.

“There are lots of examples of how corrupt the system has been” said Björn Beermann, former professor at the MPA.

Last spring, it was revealed through the research network Cochrane that Tamiflu in principle was ineffective and that the pharmaceutical company Roche had regularly concealed “negative” research findings. It caused a debate about Sweden’s decision to buy into a giant stock of Tamiflu for a quarter of a billion kronor. Globally the bill amounted to nearly seven billion kronor ($1 billion).

In recent years it has become more difficult to conceal studies with undesirable results. Now, all the studies that seek publication have to be notified in advance of the study being conducted.

%d bloggers like this: