Archive for the ‘Fraud’ Category

“Nigerian” scam letters – why do they continue?

June 26, 2017

The first time I saw a “Nigerian” scam letter was probably around 25 years ago – on paper and delivered by regular post. Since then they have proliferated on emails and paper copies which require some real expenditure for postage are probably obsolete. The stories they present are just as ridiculous now as they ever were and these days such emails hardly ever get past my spam filter.

This morning I noticed two scam letters as I was clearing out my spam folder and I looked at them out of sheer curiosity. One was a very “traditional” Nigerian letter and the other apparently from Brazil. It surprises me that anybody still falls for these but presumably they do since such letters continue. If anything the Nigerian letter is even more inane than those of 25 years ago.

Nigerian letter:

This purports to be from the FBI  in Washington (.jp email address) advising me that together with the IMF they have discovered that $8 million owing to me is lying in an escrow account at the Central Bank of Nigeria. The money has been approved for release to me but a Mrs. Joan B Melvin of New York has claimed to be acting on my behalf because I am ill. I am therefore warned to shun all other contacts and to reconfirm all my personal details to a Mr. Godwin Emefiele at a Nigerian address but an aol email address!!!!! The author of the letter purports to be an Andrew Mccabe of the FBI in Washington  with an aol email address!

Godwin Emefiele is actually the Governor of the real Central Bank of Nigeria but he certainly does not use an aol email address.

Brazilian letter:

Here a certain Robert Phillip (with a .br email address) writes “I have a High Profile Client who has $68million to invest. This client of mine has mandated me to source for someone with wealth of experience in Financial Management that can have her funds invested judiciously with excellent Return on Investment. Therefore if this offer falls within your areas of specialization, you are hereby advised to respond with your Telephone Number and your Personal Profile so we can discuss further.” I am to get in touch  immediately to roph at a gmail address!!!!!

 They do have a certain amusement value though it is the amusement reserved for very bad clowns.(The letters are attached below for the amusement of all). But if it is so that some people are still gullible enough to fall for these, it would be evidence that the world is dumbing down.

The Central Bank of Nigeria, as a central bank of a sovereign country, does not have personal or company accounts. It has this notice on its site:

  • Do you intend to claim an inheritance or lottery?
    The CBN is the apex bank in Nigeria – much like other central banks and reserve banks in other countries. CBN does not maintain accounts for individuals or private companies. If you have received memos, faxes, telephone calls, e-mails, etc in respect of any inheritance claim or lottery win purporting to emanate from the CBN, you must have been contacted by fraudulent scammers. CBN does not keep account of any inheritance or conduct any form of Lottery nor engage in transfers of winnings of any lottery in Nigeria or any other country.

Couldn’t the scamsters at least have tried to make their letters the tiniest bit plausible. They ought to be thrown out of the Scamsters Union for incompetence.

Nigerian letter

Brazilian scam letter



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.


Carbon credits used for “printing money”

August 25, 2015

I first realised that the “carbon credit” schemes were essentially money-making scams sheltering under the “environmental” umbrellas of the UN and the EU in the mid 1990s. The misguided and meaningless Kyoto protocol was established in 1992 and fuelled a whole raft of “environmental entrepreneurs” who soon became expert at milking the funds available. I was visiting some of the former Soviet countries to discuss their power generation needs (with a view to selling power plant equipment) and soon realised that all the discussions had nothing whatever to do with meeting energy needs, but were for bureaucrats and politicians to find ways to tap into the carbon credits available via UN and EU schemes for – ostensibly – reducing carbon emissions that didn’t exist. Sometimes the discussions were quite openly about how to show that carbon emissions were much higher than they actually were and then claiming credits for running quite normally. As an example, a district heating scheme actually using Russian gas had combustion equipment capable of burning heavy fuel oil or even coal. “Normal” emissions were then “certified” by the Ministry of Energy as being from the use of the worst possible fuel, and then carbon credits were claimed for “emissions reductions” by “switching” to gas.

The “cost of carbon” as reflected in carbon taxes and carbon credits have nothing really to do with reduction of emissions and even less to do with climate. They have all been schemes for milking very many taxpayers for the benefit of a few “environmental entrepreneurs”. Carbon credits have achieved little beyond promoting fraud.

Now, finally, 20 years after the event, the truth about carbon credits is beginning to surface:

BBC:Carbon Credits like “printing money”

The vast majority of carbon credits generated by Russia and Ukraine did not represent cuts in emissions, according to a new study. The authors say that offsets created under a UN scheme “significantly undermined” efforts to tackle climate change.

The credits may have increased emissions by 600 million tonnes. In some projects, chemicals known to warm the climate were created and then destroyed to claim cash.

As a result of political horse trading at UN negotiations on climate change, countries like Russia and the Ukraine were allowed to create carbon credits from activities like curbing coal waste fires, or restricting gas emissions from petroleum production.

Under the UN scheme, called Joint Implementation, they then were able to sell those credits to the European Union’s carbon market. Companies bought the offsets rather than making their own more expensive, emissions cuts.

But this study, from the Stockholm Environment Institute, says the vast majority of Russian and Ukrainian credits were in fact, “hot air” – no actual emissions were reduced.

They looked at a random sample of 60 projects and found that 73% of the offsets generated didn’t meet the key criteria of “additionality”. This means that these projects would have happened anyway without any carbon credit finance.

It is not just Russia and Ukraine of course.

And the fraud continues. No carbon tax or carbon credit scheme has ever been monitored for effect. No scheme has ever had any impact on climate. Every carbon credit or carbon tax scheme has only put general taxpayers’ money into the pockets of a few “environmental entrepreneurs”. And that applies to virtually every country in Europe and every former Soviet Republic.

When the models fail, just “homogenise” the data

August 13, 2015

Jennifer Marohasy has another example from Australia of how climate data is changed under the guise of “homogenisation” or “adjustments” or “corrections”. Raw temperature data showing a cooling trend are “fixed” to match the religious beliefs of the global warming crowd (or should it be the global warming mob?)


More recently, the Bureau has been claiming that it had to change the temperatures at Rutherglen because they were different from temperatures at near-by locations.  Of course, a real scientist wouldn’t tamper with data because it showed an unusual trend.   Rather the unusual result might be investigated.

But not the Bureau.  It changes the trend at Rutherglen so it matches neighboring stations, but only after first changing the trend at neighboring stations so it matches the global warming trend.

In protest I’ve sent an email to the CEO, Vicki Middleton.

Dear Ms Middleton,

Re: Deniliquin shows statistically significant cooling, Rutherglen just shows cooling

I am writing to request that you correct a Bureau of Meteorology fact sheet*, which shows remodelled (homogenized) data for Wagga, Deniliquin and Kerang with actual physical temperature measurements (raw data) for Rutherglen.

Several members of the public, seeking clarification regarding adjustments to the temperature record for Rutherglen, have been advised by you in recent correspondence that the adjustments at Rutherglen are necessary to make temperature trends at Rutherglen more consistent with neighboring sites.   In particular, you have directed them to this fact sheet* that shows minimum temperatures at Rutherglen cooling, while temperatures at Wagga, Deniliquin and Kerang are warming.  What you have failed to point out, however, is that the Wagga, Deniliquin and Kerang series represent homogenized time series.   That is, the data have been substantially remodelled.



There is no single, long, continuous, raw minimum temperature record from the same site for either Kerang or Wagga.   Recordings were made at Wilkinson Street, Deniliquin, from February 1867 to June 2003, providing a record comparable in length to the raw series from Rutherglen.

I have plotted the raw temperature series for three Deniliquin locations below, including the data from Wilkinson Street from 1913, which is when the Rutherglen series begins.


The top green squiggly line represents data from Wilkinson Street, Deniliquin, the short purple squiggle is data from the airport at Deniliquin, and the mustard-colored squiggle is from a site referred to as Falkiner Memorial, Deniliquin.

Also shown in this chart are both homogenized and raw data for Rutherglen, as the red and blue squiggly lines, respectively.

The three dotted-lines represent the linear trends from Wilkinson Street (green), the raw (blue) series for Rutherglen, and the homogenized (red) series for Rutherglen.

The cooling trend in the Wilkinson Street, Deniliquin series of 0.6 degree Celsius per century is statistically significant (p<0.05).

I appreciate that you may have been misled by your employees into believing that the cooling trend at Rutherglen (represented by the blue line in the above chart) is erroneous.   This is not the case.

I recognize that this cooling trend evident in the minimum temperature record for much of the twentieth century at many rural locations in south eastern Australia is inconsistent with official Australian and also global trends.   Nevertheless, it does appear to be real, and is statistically significant for some locations.   Of course, real scientists are concerned with the interpretation of real data, rather than remodeling to generate constructs that fit popular political agendas.

Yours sincerely,
Jennifer Marohasy BSc PhD
Independent Scientist

9th August, 2015

Copy Maurice Newman, chairman of the Prime Minister’s Business Advisory Council.

*The following document is cited in Bureau correspondence as a Fact Sheet:

Bureau of Meteorology, 2014. ACORN-SAT station adjustment summary – Rutherglen (as at 24 September 2014), Accessed 8 August 2015.

Pachauri feels the heat

February 27, 2015

The Pachauri train wreck continues – a harbinger of what is to come with the global warming orthodoxy. It is now becoming clear that “much of the supposed “global warming” is due to the use of “adjusted” temperatures to cool the past!” He has been asked to resign from the Prime Minister’s Council on Climate Change, barred from entering his own offices and directed not to leave the country.

The sooner the IPCC is disbanded the better.

TOITERI chief R K Pachauri, accused in a sexual harassment case, is learnt to have been asked by the Centre to resign from the Prime Minister’s Council on Climate Change.
Sources said if Pachauri doesn’t leave the council on his own, the PMO would have to replace him by reconstituting the body.
Pachauri, who stepped down from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in the wake of allegations of sexual harassment levelled by a junior woman colleague, has taken leave from the Delhi-based renewable energy and sustainable development thinktank TERI.
He was on Thursday barred from entering his office premises by a Delhi court which granted him interim protection from arrest till March 27. He was also restrained from contacting TERI’s staff, witnesses in the case and the complainant and directed not to leave the country without prior permission of the court.
Pachauri’s anticipatory bail application will be taken up on March 27.

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!

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.

AIDS scientist charged with fraud

June 25, 2014

I have long held that scientists, like many other professionals, should be subject to a sort of “product liability”, if they employ fraud, engage in some other misconduct or in some way fail to meet the standards to be reasonably expected.

If a scientist is to be considered “responsible” for his work then this must be mirrored by a corresponding “liability”. In my experience a lack of liability is always accompanied by the absence of responsibility.

The product that researchers and scientists produce is publications – mainly as papers published in scientific journals and as books. Scientific misconduct (whether plagiarism or faking data or inventing data or cherry picking data) leads occasionally to dismissals (but not always) and generally very little else. It seems to me that the concept of tort or “product liability” should be applicable to the work of scientists and researchers where their work is the result of faking data, fraud or other misconduct since it would be work that “had not been done in good faith”. Tort would apply because the ramifications of their misconduct would extend far beyond their employment contracts with their employers.

Now an AIDS scientist who faked his data is being charged with criminal offences.

Responding to a major case of research misconduct, federal prosecutors have taken the rare step of filing charges against a scientist after he admitted falsifying data that led to millions in grants and hopes of a breakthrough in AIDS vaccine research.

Investigators say former Iowa State University laboratory manager Dong-Pyou Han has confessed to spiking samples of rabbit blood with human antibodies to make an experimental HIV vaccine appear to have great promise. After years of work and millions in National Institutes of Health grants, another laboratory uncovered irregularities that suggested the results – once hailed as groundbreaking – were bogus. 

Han was indicted last week on four counts of making false statements, each of which carries up to five years in prison. He was set to be arraigned Tuesday in Des Moines, but he didn’t show up due to an apparent paperwork mix-up. A prosecutor said Han will be given another chance to appear next week. …….

Experts said the fraud was extraordinary and that charges are rarely brought in such cases. The National Institutes of Health said it’s reviewing what impact the case has had on the research it funds.

…… Oransky, a journalist who also has a medical degree, said there have been only a handful of similar prosecutions in the last 30 years.

He said Han’s case was “particularly brazen” and noted that charges are rarely brought because the U.S. Office of Research Integrity, which investigates misconduct, doesn’t have prosecution authority, and most cases involve smaller amounts of money. …… 

According to the indictment, Han’s misconduct caused colleagues to make false statements in a federal grant application and progress reports to NIH. The NIH paid out $5 million under that grant as of earlier this month. Iowa State has agreed to pay back NIH nearly $500,000 for the cost of Han’s salary.

Han’s misconduct dates to when he worked at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland under Michael Cho, who was leading a team testing an experimental HIV vaccine on rabbits. Starting in 2008, Cho’s team received initial NIH funding for the work. Cho reported soon that his vaccine was causing rabbits to develop antibodies to HIV, which left NIH officials “flabbergasted,” according to a criminal complaint against Han. Cho’s team sent blood samples in 2009 to Duke University researchers, who verified the apparent positive impact on the vaccinated rabbits. The confirmation was seen as “a major breakthrough in HIV/AIDS vaccine research,” according to the complaint.

Iowa State recruited Cho in 2009, and with his team – including Han – he soon received a five-year NIH grant to continue the research. The team kept reporting progress. But in January 2013, a team at Harvard University found the promising results had been achieved with rabbit blood spiked with human antibodies.

An investigation by Iowa State pinpointed Han, after he was caught sending more spiked samples to Duke University. In a Sept. 30, 2013 confession letter, Han said he started the fraud in 2009 “because he wanted (results) to look better” and that he acted alone.

Individual researchers are unlikely to have the means to make restitution for all the financial waste they may have caused by their misconduct. Universities and Institutions have  some possibility of being forced to repay grants obtained by fraud but are rarely asked to do so. Careers of other researchers could also have been compromised.

It should still be possible for someone damaged by scientific misconduct to make a civil case for damages even if criminal charges are not brought.  But what that needs is that the output be considered “product” and that the scientist and his institution have then some “product liability”. That implies a duty of good faith and of application of some reasonable level of competence. Misconduct and even gross negligence on the part of the institution or the scientist could then give rise to a claim for damages. Even the journals, their editors and reviewers  ought to have some responsibility and potential liability.

If every published paper carried some product liability, the rush to publish nonsense and lies may reduce even if the publications industry would not be pleased. But it would improve the quality of publications no end.

Retraction Watch covers the story and has a discussion about the criminalisation of scientific fraud.

An existentialist problem for virtual Bitcoins

February 26, 2014

“Virtual” has no connotations of having any virtues. As long as things “virtual” remain in the abstract world they work.

Virtual books can be read. Virtual commerce is fine for recording transactions. But virtual foods are indigestible and unsatisfying. A virtual house doesn’t keep out the rain. And virtual currencies are useless if they cannot be translated into the real world.

I am not convinced that virtual currency offers me anything more than I get with electronic transactions with real money. At least the real currency has a value which is somewhat connected to things happening on the ground (even if speculation does occur). The Bitcoin however has an exchange value solely dependent upon somebody’s imagination.

(Reuters)Mt. Gox, once the world’s biggest bitcoin exchange, abruptly stopped trading on Tuesday and its chief executive said the business was at “a turning point,” sparking concerns about the future of the unregulated virtual currency. ……. The website of Mt. Gox suddenly went dark on Tuesday with no explanation, and the company’s Tokyo office was empty – the only activity was outside, where a handful of protesters said they had lost money investing in the virtual currency. …

…. Investors deposit their bitcoins in digital wallets at specific exchanges, so the Mt. Gox shutdown is similar to a bank closing its doors – people cannot retrieve their funds.

A document circulating on the Internet purporting to be a crisis plan for Mt. Gox, said more than 744,000 bitcoins were “missing due to malleability-related theft”, and noted Mt. Gox had $174 million in liabilities against $32.75 million in assets. It was not possible to verify the document or the exchange’s financial situation. If accurate, that would mean approximately 6 percent of the 12.4 million bitcoins minted would be considered missing. ……. The digital currency has caught the eye of regulators concerned with consumer protections and bitcoin’s use in money laundering. ….

…… Mt. Gox halted withdrawals earlier this month after it said it detected “unusual activity on its bitcoin wallets and performed investigations during the past weeks.” The move pushed bitcoin prices down to their lowest level in nearly two months.

Even with the halt on February 7, Mt. Gox still handled more transactions than any other in the past month. Over the last 30 days, Mt. Gox has handled more than one million bitcoin transactions denominated in dollars, or about 34 percent of activity, according to Bitcoincharts, which provides data and charts for the bitcoin network.

Critics of the exchange, from rivals to burned investors, said the digital marketplace operator had long been lax over its security. Investors in bitcoin, who have endured a volatile ride in the value of the unregulated cyber-tender, said they still had faith in the currency despite the problems at Mt. Gox.

“Mt. Gox is one of several exchanges, and their exit, while unfortunate, opens a door of opportunity,” The Bitcoin Foundation, the digital currency’s trade group, said in a statement. “This incident demonstrates the need for responsible individuals and members of the bitcoin community to lead in providing reliable services.” …….

Bitcoin value Feb 2014

Bitcoin value Feb 2014

The exchange rate applying is entirely speculative and – it seems to me – purely a result of manipulation. It is not anchored to anything real  – but why would it be?

After all it is only virtual.

Was Diana Nyad’s Cuba to Florida swim a hoax?

September 8, 2013

Oh dear.

I have the same sense of disappointment as when I read that yet another top athlete has been found to have been using drugs. I suppose we are all  looking for the stories of individuals who exemplify the ever stretching limits of human endurance and achievement. I was thrilled and I had only admiration a few days ago when the publicity machine exploded on 64 year old Diana Nyad having completed a 110 mile swim from Cuba to Florida. It made me feel good to be human. But it may all have been too good to be true.

Yet another “feel-good” bubble may be bursting.

Could the glare of the spotlight be so alluring and so lucrative as to lead to such an elaborate hoax?

CBS News:

Diana Nyad’s 110-mile swim from Cuba to Florida has generated positive publicity and adoration for the 64-year-old endurance athlete — along with skepticism from some members of the small community of marathon swimmers who are questioning whether she accomplished the feat honestly.

… long-distance swimmers have been debating whether Nyad got a boost from the boat that was accompanying her — either by getting in it or holding onto it — during a particularly speedy stretch of her swim. They also question whether she violated the traditions of her sport — many follow strict guidelines known as the English Channel rules — by using a specialized mask and wetsuit to protect herself from jellyfish. ……

 It was her fifth try, an endeavor apparently free from the boat troubles, bad weather, illnesses and jellyfish encounters that have bedeviled Nyad and other swimmers in recent years.

Nyad’s progress was tracked online via GPS by her team, and some critics say they think information is missing. 

Many wonder about a roughly seven-hour stretch when Nyad apparently didn’t stop to eat or drink, recalling her 2012 attempt when she got onto the boat for hours during rough weather. Nyad eventually got back into the water to try finishing, but her team was criticized for delaying the release of that information to the public. 

Malinak said the hours-long spike in Nyad’s speed after 27 hours of swimming is particularly questionable — she went from her normal pace of roughly 1.5 mph to more than 3 mph, then slowed down again as she approached Key West.

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