Archive for the ‘Scientific Fraud’ Category

Social psychology falls from grace

July 3, 2012

It is not only scientists in social psychology who indulge in fraud.  Anthropology for example has had its share of frauds. While corporations – such as Glaxo Smith Kline– can be held liable and sanctioned for fraud, it is very rare for individual academics who fake data in pursuit of their own agendas to be held liable. Why cannot a concept of tort or “product liability”apply to scientists? The members of the medical profession who aided and abetted GSK are unlikely to face any sanctions. But the recent scandals of social psychologists faking data to show statistical correlations between sets of propositions and then inferring causal relationships have demonstrated two things which I think apply in many more so-called “scientific” disciplines  than just social psychology. :

  1. The ease with which sampled data can be faked or cherry picked by workers from reputed institutions to show apparent correlations can then be provided a stamp of authority through the publication of “peer-reviewed” papers, and
  2. that there is a need to return to the scientific method of focusing on propositions that are falsifiable and to avoid the temptation of concluding that any positive statistical correlation provides proof of a causal relationship.


145 counts of data fabrication against University of Connecticut Director of Cardiovascular Research: 11 Journals informed

January 11, 2012

Deepak Das

Another massive case of misconduct by an established  scientist – not a humble post doc but a Director of Cardiovascular Research!! Once again a scientist of Indian origin in the US is involved – Prof. Deepak Das!

This time there are also clear commercial motives which takes scientific misconduct into the realms of criminal fraud!!!

Hartford Business:The University of Connecticut is rejecting nearly $1 million in federal grants awarded to one of its scientists found to have falsified many of his findings on the health benefits of wine.


Diederik Stapel faked at least 30 papers

October 31, 2011

Social psychology is going to take a beating over the Diederik Stapel fraud. It provides ample fuel for the view that social psychology is no science but merely the half-baked opinions of narcissists and charlatans. Ego trips and TV appearances have governed the field rather than any scientific rigour.

The interim report of the investigation being carried out by the of Universities of Tilburg and Groningen which started in mid September is now out.

Diederik Stapel

The interim report (in Dutch) is here:

pdf Stapel interim-rapport

The extent of the fraud is breathtaking and the investigation is far from over. At least 30 papers have been found to contain fraudulent data, at least 14 doctoral theses that he supervised are compromised for using fabricated data and in all about 150 papers going back to 2004 are being investigated. Legal action is to be taken. This one is going down in the history books.

(Update! 1st November: Science Insider carries the story here)

Dutch News writes:


Rossi and his cold fusion E-Cat still smells like a fraud

October 31, 2011

Rossi & Co. announced their nickel-hydrogen fusion reactor back in January and have made regular press releases since then to keep the interest alive. They seem to have gathered a tail of staunch believers and, of course, there is a large body of dis-believers and a smaller group of sceptics.

But they are getting some attention even in business media as with this Forbes article:

On October 28th the biggest test of Rossi’s system, which is called the E-Cat, was conducted in Italy and some results were made public ….. Rossi’s E-Cat is claimed to use a secret catalyst to react hydrogen with nickel and, in the process, transmute the nickel into copper producing considerable heat. Whether this reaction works or not and if it does, exactly how it works, has been enormously contentious and the subject of numerous learned and amateur debates.


Wikileaks cable reveals the fraud that is the Kyoto protocol

October 1, 2011

Prof. Dr. Ottmar Edenhofer is the Co-Chair of Working Group III of the IPCC – deputy director and chief economist of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Researck (PIK). PIK is somewhat notorious for being a scientific institution where all their results are governed and constrained by political correctness. Only results which support global warming dogma are ever published by PIK. It is also the institution which is home for the sea level alarmist Stefan Rahmstorf.

But last year even a high priest such as Ottmar Edenhoffer was forced to admit:

“But one must say clearly that we redistribute de facto the world’s wealth by climate policy.  Obviously, the owners of coal and oil will not be enthusiastic about this.  One has to free oneself from the illusion that international climate policy is environmental policy.  This has almost nothing to do with environmental policy anymore.”

It becomes increasingly apparent that climate policy has very little to do with science and everything to do with creating and tapping into vast flows of money. And now courtesy of the Wikileaks cable releases we learn:


S. Korea acts to recover from Hwang Woo-suk stem-cell debacle

September 19, 2011

Hwang Woo-suk “is a South Korean veterinarian and researcher. He was a professor of theriogenology and biotechnology at Seoul National University (dismissed on March 20, 2006) who became infamous for fabricating a series of experiments, which appeared in high-profile journals, in the field of stem cell research. Until November 2005, he was considered one of the pioneering experts in the field, best known for two articles published in the journal Science in 2004 and 2005 where he reported to have succeeded in creating human embryonic stem cells by cloning”.

Now the S. Korean government has introduced new regulations and is pumping more money into stem-cell research in an effort to rebuild the pre-eminent position that the country once had. The potential  for financial benefits for the technology leaders in  stem-cell based medical treatment is enormous and the government is responding to pressure from the country’s health care industry. The government sees potential for revenues for the country from stem-cell based treatments equalling or surpassing even that from its IT industry.

FCB-Pharmicell is a leading Korean company trying to use stem-cell based techniques for medical treatments and in July their Hearticellgram-AMI treatment was approved by the Korean Food and Drug Administration for the clinical treatment of heart-attack victims.

InvestorStemCell: More than five years after South Korea’s scientific reputation was shattered by a cloning research scandal, the country has approved stem cell medication in the form of a treatment for heart attack victims for the world’s first clinical use. …. Unlike embryonic stem cells, the use of somatic — or adult — stem cells, as in this case, is not controversial as they are derived from adult tissue samples and not destroyed human embryos. ….

Countries such as the United States and Germany are using this radical form of treatment in a ‘research’ capacity. What puts the South Korean team ahead is that it has shown the treatment as being good enough to win regulatory approval and make it available for clinical use.

…. After six years of clinical trials, the KFDA said it had finalized all procedures needed to permit the sale of Hearticellgram-AMI, a stem cell therapy for acute myocardial infarction, commonly known as heart attack.

Now the government is taking regulatory action to strengthen the oversight provisions but also to simplify licencing. The objective is to try and regain the reputation and credibility of the S. Korean researchers and the companies poised to commercialise the new techniques:

Reuters: South Korea’s president vowed on Monday a series of regulatory reforms to help regain its place as a stem cell research powerhouse, trying to reclaim momentum five years after a cloning scandal. President Lee Myung-bak said that by breathing new life into the industry, it could become “core new growth engine” for Asia’s fourth biggest economy along the same lines as its lucrative IT sector.

“Just a decade ago, Korea took the lead in stem cell research in the world along with the United States,” Lee said in a bi-weekly radio address. “Unfortunately, there was a disappointing incident, which caused inevitable damage to the entire stem-cell research community in Korea,” Lee said, referring to the scandal involving the pre-eminent scientist, Hwang Woo-suk. … As a result of the scandal, South Korea all but put stem cell research into the deep freeze. Lee said the lapse had allowed other countries such as the United States, Japan, Britain and China to get the jump on South Korea, depriving the country of valuable revenue. “While we were faltering in our quest for stem cell research, other nations streamlined their regulations and aggressively expanded their investments in research,” he said.

Lee said the government would invest nearly 100 billion won ($90 million) in stem cell research next year and that it would reform related regulations to make clinical and licensing procedures easier. He said the reforms would help the Korea Food and Drug Administration (KFDA) and other agencies “to ensure that they proactively adapt to the changes in the international environment”. 

“The government has decided to foster the stem cell industry as a core new growth engine following the footsteps of the IT industry,” he said.



Dutch social psychologist sacked for faking data over a “prolonged period”

September 12, 2011

On September 7th, Tilburg University officially suspended Diederik Stapel, who heads the Tilburg Institute for Behavioral Economics Research. University Rector Philip Eijlander said that Stapel had admitted to using faked data and said that he would not be allowed to return.

Diederik Stapel

Stapel’s homepage on the Tilburg University website has been removed “by the administrator”.

Mark van Vugt is a Netherlands evolutionary psychologist who currently holds a professorship in psychology at the VU University (Vrije Universiteit) Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and has affiliate positions at the Institute for Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology at University of Oxford, UK, and the University of Kent, UK. Mark van Vugt writes about his colleague Diederik Stapel in Psychology Today:

After the high profile case of Marc Hauser, the Harvard psychologist found guilty of serious scientific misconduct there is the recent case of my colleague, Diederik Stapel, a social psychology professor in the Netherlands who has been suspended by his university after admitting to have fabricated experimental data over a prolonged period.

The extent of his fraud is yet unclear but it has produced shock waves among the international social psychology community.

Stapel was the poster boy of Dutch social psychology, having published in the major psychology journals, and receiving various grants and prestigious awards for his research on social cognition and stereotyping. In a recent article published in Science, he and his colleagues showed that in a messy environment (a dirty railway station) White participants were more prejudiced against a Black person. The authenticity of these results is now being investigated…

The Science article that is being investigated is Coping with Chaos: How Disordered Contexts Promote Stereotyping and Discrimination by Diederik A. Stapel and Siegwart Lindenberg, Science 8 April 2011: Vol. 332 no. 6026 pp. 251-253 DOI: 10.1126/science.1201068

But this is not the only article being investigated and there may be a rash of retractions to come.

Science Insider writes:

A Dutch social psychologist whose eye-catching studies about human behavior were fodder for columnists and policy makers has lost his job after his university concluded that some of the data in those studies were fabricated.

Tilburg University today officially suspended Diederik Stapel, who heads the Tilburg Institute for Behavioral Economics Research. But in a TV interview today, university Rector Philip Eijlander said that Stapel had admitted to using faked data and said that he would not be allowed to return.

Stapel has worked at the university, located in southern Netherlands, since 2006. He is known as a prolific researcher and a successful fundraiser. His studies appeared to offer new insights into the workings of the human mind; for instance, a Science paper published in April showed that people are more likely to stereotype or discriminate in messy environments.

In the TV interview, Eijlander says he was first contacted on 27 August by “junior researchers” in Stapel’s lab who alleged that his conduct was fraudulent. Stapel immediately admitted that there was “something strange” in his papers, Eijlander says, and “yesterday, he told me that there are faked data.” The university has asked Willem Levelt, a psycholinguist and former president of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, to lead a panel investigating the extent of the alleged fraud. Eijlander says that all “tainted papers” will be retracted.

As to the whistleblowers, Eijlander told the television interviewer that “I have a lot of respect for them, because they found it very difficult.”

Just last week, Stapel made headlines with a press release claiming that thinking of eating meat makes people “more boorish” and less social. The announcement, which said that “meat brings out the worst in people,” raised eyebrows because the study hadn’t yet been written up, let alone published.

Roos Vonk, a psychologist at Radboud University Nijmegen and a collaborator on the study, wrote on her blog today that she believes the latest study is likely among those based on fabricated data. She writes that her conclusion is based on the fact that, although the results had been collected by Stapel’s group, “when we discussed [them], I thought it was odd that Diederik didn’t mention the name of his assistant.” But at the time, she writes, the possibility of fraud didn’t occur to her.

Roos Vonk writes further as she apologises on her blog

I regret very much that this has happened and I will do everything what I can so that trust in the scientific work within social psychology will recover. It is conceivable that this extensive lapse of a few colleagues effects the reputation of our entire profession. I understand that this way can work, but I want to stress that this is a single exception  probably much more shocking and shameful for me and my colleagues than for outsiders, because we all in our education are imbued with the importance of integrity.

An interesting UPDATE from Retraction Watch:

An alert Retraction Watch reader has pointed us to a 1999 paper by Stapel with the impossibly ironic title: Framed and misfortuned: identity salience and the whiff of scandal.”

In the article, which appeared in the European Journal of Social Psychology, Stapel and two colleagues reported the results of survey they’d conducted of Dutch psychologists in the wake of a major plagiarism scandal involving an unidentified Dutch clinical psychologist (“we decided to use neither the name of the person who was accused of plagiarism nor the university to which he was affiliated,” they wrote).

Put briefly, the researchers claimed to have found (rather unsurprisingly) that hows psychologists identified themselves professionally dictated how strongly they were affected personally by the scandal. Money quote:

Whether social psychologists view an article about a plagiarist clinical psychologist as relevant or irrelevant to the self may thus be determined by whether their social identity is narrowly defined (‘social  psychologists’), so as to exclude the plagiarist, or broadly define (‘psychologists’) to include the plagiarist.

Stapel’s group also showed that psychologists from the accused’s own university felt the shame of his alleged misdeeds more than those from other institutions.

And from what Roos Vonk has written it would seem that his collaborators indeed feel a stronger sense of shame than others.

It would seem that much of the research by Diederik Stapel will now be investigated and a number of his papers are likely to be retracted. In addition to the Science paper which is already under investigation some of his other earlier publications are:

I wonder whether cognitive psychology is particularly subject to the faking of data – possibly because faking is relatively easy when the data are so often subjective and so little of it is required to be reproducible or quantitative.

Columbia University maintains a wall of silence around the Sezen – Sames case

August 15, 2011

The Bengü Sezen – Dalibor Sames scandal rumbles on while Columbia maintains a wall of silence around the case. But the silence raises suspicions. Sezen has been painted as and has appeared clearly as the villain in the piece but Dalibor Sames  – her supervisor – seems to be getting away with very little censure. What is especially disturbing is that three of his subordinates lost their positions for raising doubts about her work while he was rewarded with tenure during the same period. To that extent it does seem that some of the extreme rhetoric now being used against Sezen and the scathing “official” criticism of Sezen is “designed” – at least partially – to deflect questions and blame away from Sames. It seems inexplicable to me that Dalibor Sames can escape any responsibility or censure and is not to be held accountable for his part in the affaire. To take away his tenure would of course be an unacceptable precedent for Columbia and would be quite unthinkable! But even assuming – in the best case – that he had no part in the deception he does come across as being not only incompetent to supervise research by others but also as eminently gullible. In the worst case he could have been her Svengali.

Chemical & Engineering News carries a new comprehensive article by William Schulz about the case and Rudy Baum posts about Sezen, Sames and Columbia  in the Editors blog.

This week’s lead Science & Technology Department story by C&EN News Editor William G. Schulz is a devastating account of systematic scientific fraud committed by former Columbia University chemistry graduate student Bengü Sezen. Schulz has been following the Sezen case since her work was called into question and Columbia began an investigation of it in 2006.

Sezen worked under the direction of Dalibor Sames from 2000 to 2005. Sames was an assistant chemistry professor when Sezen joined his group; he received tenure at Columbia in 2003. During her time in Sames’ lab, Sezen was the lead author on three papers published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, all of which Sames retracted in 2006 after the results reported in the papers were called into question because no one could reproduce them (J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2006, 128, 8364). Sezen received her Ph.D. in 2005; Columbia revoked it earlier this year. …

But what of Sames? Questions about Sezen’s research were raised by other members of Sames’ group as early as 2002, Schulz reports. Those questions weren’t just ignored by Sames; those who raised them were punished. “At least three unnamed subordinates left or were dismissed from the Sames lab, for example, for stepping forward and raising concerns about Sezen’s irreproducible research results,” Schulz writes. As the report makes clear, these whistle-blowers were sacrificed in order to maintain her favored status in the research group. Sames acted, in fact, only after a member of his group specifically set Sezen up and presented irrefutable evidence of her misconduct.

Columbia’s investigation focused exclusively on Sezen’s misconduct.  From the ORI report obtained by C&EN, it appears that Columbia has not made any attempt to probe whether Sames was guilty of scientific misconduct himself during Sezen’s time in his lab. 

Schulz writes in his excellent article:

Questions about the massive Bengü Sezen scientific fraud case at Columbia University linger in the August heat. But many of them will likely never be answered—especially the question, Why? Columbia in 2005 awarded her a Ph.D. degree in chemistry with distinction; however, it was based in large part on her fraudulent work. Details of the case make clear that Sezen, at the very least, has a sophisticated understanding of chemical principles. The effort she put into faking it and covering her tracks, say many people who have reviewed the case, easily match that required for legitimate doctoral work in science……. Sezen left Columbia shortly after receiving her chemistry degree and enrolled at Germany’s Heidelberg University, where she picked up another doctoral degree in molecular biology. But, with mounting questions about her chemistry thesis and published work—eventually to include retraction of research papers she coauthored with her professor, Dalibor Sames, on C–H bond functionalization—Columbia assembled an investigative committee to probe deeper. ….

As the evidence of her misconduct began to pile up, however, her attempts to explain away her actions became increasingly implausible. …. And then she was gone. Sezen’s whereabouts today are unknown. ……..

Columbia has erected a wall of silence around Sezen, her brazen fakery, and the consequences for those who had the misfortune of working with her. Aside from the few spare and prepared statements about her doctoral degree and the status of its misconduct investigation, the university has blotted out any mention of what happened inside the Sames laboratory between 2000 and 2005, when Sezen was a Ph.D. candidate. During this period, however, Sames was granted tenure.

Columbia has expressly forbidden Sames or any of its other employees from speaking publicly about the Sezen case. ……..

But it’s unclear what, if any, consequences Sames has suffered because of his failure to find out what might be going on with Sezen, especially when red flags about her work were raised so early on. A visit to the Sames group website today includes a photo of Sames and a slideshow of many young, enthusiastic, and smiling lab group members.

From the comments on the blog ChemBark it would seem that one of the commenters is Sezen herself and that she is still in Germany (or operating through an IP address from Germany). 

Related: The Sezen Files: Part1, Part2 and Part3

The Spine Journal takes on Medtronic and publication of questionable research

August 12, 2011

When medical researchers have financial ties – running into millions of dollars – with pharmaceutical or medical equipment companies, and then publish scientific, peer-reviewed papers which are to the financial benefit of these companies,  questions of scientific misconduct escalate to become questions of scientific fraud.

Medtronic is the world’s largest medical device company and Minnesota’s seventh-largest public company based on revenue, which totaled $15.93 billion for the fiscal year that ended April 29. Medtronic’s Infuse product is a bioengineered bone-growth protein that has been used in spinal fusion procedures for the past nine years and is used in about half of the 80,000 anterior lumbar fusion procedures performed every year in the United States.

According to Twin Cities Business, The Spine Journal recently published two articles about the product, one that claims the product may increase the risk of sterility in men, and another that claims that the product’s adverse effects were not reported in clinical research. Those effects reportedly include inflammation, back pain, infections, and potentially life-threatening complications. The Journal pointed out that researchers for 12 of the product’s 13 industry-sponsored studies had multimillion-dollar “financial associations” with Medtronic.

The Spine Journal seems to be on a crusade:

From the Nature News Blog:

The Spine Journal devoted its entire June issue – two clinical studies, two reviews, two commentaries and a scathing editorial – to picking apart Medtronic’s controversial bone growth treatment, Infuse. The drug, which is a recombinant form of the protein BMP-2, is used in some kinds of spinal fusion surgeries and racked up $900 million in sales last fiscal year, according to the New York Times.

Company-sponsored clinical trials for Infuse found no side effects directly linked to the drug. But a review and reanalysis of these studies published in Spine Journal found that the incidence of adverse events ranged from 10 to 50 percent, depending on the use. What’s more, the same review study, led by Eugene Carragee, of Stanford University School of Medicine in California, reports that the authors of the supporting studies had financial ties to Medtronic ranging from $560,000 to $23,500,000, with a median of $12 million to $16 million. In some cases, the authors of these studies did not disclose the full extent of their financial relationships with Medtronic.

“A consistent number of people involved with these studies got extraordinary sums,” Carragee told the Times.

Side effects of the drug include cancer, fertility problems, infections, dissolving bone, and leg and back pain. According to the Times, Medtronic reported the side effects to the US Food and Drug Administration, as required.

In response to the Spine Journal articles, Medtronic CEO Omar Ishrak issued a  statement  that said: “While the Spine Journal articles raise questions about researchers’ conclusions in their published peer-reviewed literature, the articles do not raise questions about the data Medtronic submitted to the FDA in the approval process or the information available to physicians today through the instructions for use brochure attached to each product sold.”

The US Justice Department is conducting a criminal investigation into whether Medtronic illegally promoted Infuse for “off-label” applications not approved by the FDA, the Times reports.


The American Society of Business Publication Editors have acknowledged the efforts of the Spine Journal and awarded them the 2011 “Journalism That Matters” award. From the New York Times Media Decoder blog:

In June, the publication, The Spine Journal, devoted an entire issue to editorials and reports that challenged previous medical studies supporting the safety and effectiveness of Infuse, a bone-growth product sold by Medtronic. The product, a bioengineered material, is used mainly in spinal fusions.

The Spine Journal charged that academic experts paid by Medtronic to conduct earlier research about Infuse had issued biased and misleading results that overstated the product’s benefits and claimed that it did not pose risks.

On Friday, the American Society of Business Publication Editors celebrated the journal’s effort by presenting it with its 2011 “Journalism That Matters” award, an honor given in recognition of coverage that causes change by government or industry.

It is highly unusual for one group of researchers to publicly repudiate the work of professional colleagues. And by throwing down its challenge, the special issue of The Spine Journal, which is the official journal of the North American Spine Society, was something of a turning point in the debate over conflicts of interest in research paid for by makers of medical products.

Medtronic is on the defensive and is conducting a damage limitation exercise:

But there is little doubt that The Spine Journal’s coverage has had an effect. Last week, Medtronic took the unusual step of announcing that it was giving a $2.5 million grant to Yale so that independent researchers could conduct a broad review of all Infuse studies in order to determine the facts. 



Medical ghostwriters and scientists guilty of misconduct should be liable

August 3, 2011

I have long thought that scientific publications (and scientific endeavour in general) cannot be exempt from liability for scientific misconduct – at least a civil liability even if  any criminal liability would depend upon the extent of any fraud involved in a publication or in the performance of scientific activity. The liability would obviously start with the scientists/authors but the entire publishing chain including reviewers, editors and publishers and those who commission the science or the ghost writing must carry their share of responsibility and cannot be exempt.

In a scientific context I think ghostwriting – of itself – is tantamount to fraud.

Why cannot a concept of tort or “product liability”apply to scientists?  

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.

Ghostwriting and guest authoring in industry-controlled research raise “serious ethical and legal concerns, bearing on integrity of medical research and scientific evidence used in legal disputes,”  say two University of Toronto law professors:

Legal Remedies for Medical Ghostwriting: Imposing Fraud Liability on Guest Authors of Ghostwritten Articles

by Simon Stern, Trudo Lemmens PLoS Med 8(8): e1001070. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001070

Summary Points

  • Ghostwriting of medical journal articles raises serious ethical and legal concerns, bearing on the integrity of medical research and scientific evidence used in legal disputes.
  • Medical journals, academic institutions, and professional disciplinary bodies have thus far failed to enforce effective sanctions.
  • The practice of ghostwriting could be deterred more effectively through the imposition of legal liability on the “guest authors” who lend their names to ghostwritten articles.
  • We argue that a guest author’s claim for credit of an article written by someone else constitutes legal fraud, and may give rise to claims that could be pursued in a class action based on the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).
  • The same fraud could support claims of “fraud on the court” against a pharmaceutical company that has used ghostwritten articles in litigation. This claim also appropriately reflects the negative impact of ghostwriting on the legal system.

CTV News says:

Academics who lend their names to medical and scientific articles that they didn’t actually write are doing little more than prostituting themselves, according to two law professors at the University of Toronto. …. 

Academic ghostwriting is a little-known practice that finally came to the public’s attention after some popular drugs like the now-discontinued painkiller Vioxx started showing serious problems.

Lawsuits revealed that studies that suggested the drugs were safe and effective were often not written by the scientists listed as the authors. Instead, they were ghostwritten by writers working for the drug companies that make the medications. The scientists listed as authors were offered payment in return for attaching their names.

The problem of course is that doctors rely on information in the medical literature to make treatment decisions. That’s when “ghostwritten” articles can have devastating effects: by swaying doctors to give patients improper and even harmful treatment. ….

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