Posts Tagged ‘academic misconduct’

Melendez challenges murky process at National University of Singapore

October 24, 2013

Alirio Melendez has not distinguished himself by his less than rigorous supervision of research carried out under him. So much so that 13 of his papers have been retracted and there be many more retractions to come. But the National University of Singapore has also shown itself to be less than transparent in handling cases of alleged misconduct. And now Melendez, while acknowledging his failings in supervising research, challenges the NUS on two counts; first for not being specifically able to detail any misconduct directly by him and secondly for its “unfair” process of investigation which ignored his submissions. Retraction Watch has been following the case(s).

Now the murky story reaches the Nature News Blog. The National University of Singapore does not come out of all this very well. When there is muck – they first try to hide it. If that doesn’t work they carry out opaque investigations and political considerations and protecting the “reputation” of the University seem to take priority.

An immunologist accused last year by the National University of Singapore (NUS) of “serious scientific misconduct” relating to 21 research papers says that he refutes the accusations and is calling on the university to make public its report into the matter.

“I categorically deny having been party to any fraudulent or scientific misconduct,” Alirio Melendez, who worked at NUS before joining the University of Glasgow and the University of Liverpool in the UK, wrote on a new website on 16 October, and at the site Retraction Watch, which has been tracking the case.

Melendez has maintained for two years that he is not to blame for the problems found in papers that he co-authored. Yet in December 2012, NUS said that a committee report had found fabrication, falsification or plagiarism associated with 21 papers, and no evidence indicating that other co-authors were involved in the misconduct. Or as Melendez sees it: “without showing any proof whatsoever that I am the guilty party for scientific fraud”.

Thirteen of those papers have now been retracted, and Melendez concedes that as corresponding author he is at fault for signing off the work without overseeing it adequately — a form of misconduct in itself. But in seven of the papers in which NUS found irregularities, he stated last week, he did not contribute data generation, analysis or any part of the manuscript writing.

So far, Melendez’s counterclaims have lacked convincing detail. That is, in part, because neither Melendez nor NUS would provide details of the papers, nor the committee report. Now, Melendez tells Nature that he will shortly post a “paper-by-paper response” on his website, but that it will be his “personal statement” on the papers, not the whole report. “Since this report is confidential I cannot publish it myself without NUS permission,” he claims. ……. 

……. There is also dispute about whether Melendez’s concerns have been given a fair confidential hearing by  NUS. The university says that it “conducted interviews with as many authors as possible” and that Melendez declined responses when a committee visited the United Kingdom in 2011 (which Melendez puts down to ill health).

Melendez says that last year, he did send two replies to the NUS investigation, but that they did not take these responses into consideration for their final report. The NUS spokesperson agrees, and says that Melendez’s responses in 2012 did not address the irregularities that NUS found and were also not sent in time for the deadlines that the university allowed, as guided by its research integrity code. Therefore, they “were not considered part of the record of the inquiry”. But Melendez says he was never made aware of this.

There would seem to be a whole lot of muck hiding under the carpets of the National University of Singapore and while the dirt may be invisible, the smell is spreading.

Citation stacking rife in Brazil

September 3, 2013

The impact factor of an academic journal is a measure of the average number of citations for articles in the journal. In the academic world it is always better to have your papers published by a “high impact” journal. For editors and publishing houses, impact factor is directly related to revenues earned. Over the years the methods of increasing the number of citations (not self citations, by articles in other journals and preferably from a different publishing house) and the impact factors of journals have become increasingly sophisticated.

Citation stacking has been the method that has developed where editors of journals – sometimes even from quite different publishing houses – have colluded to see to it that articles in their journals cited articles in the others. This has been going on for some time and a year ago THE reported that Thomson Reuters had suspended 26 journals for citation stacking.

“Anomalous citation patterns” is a euphemism for excessive citation of other articles published in the same journal. It is generally assumed to be a ruse to boost a journal’s impact factor, which is a measure of the average number of citations garnered by articles in the journal over the previous two years.

Impact factors are often used, controversially, as a proxy for journal quality and, even more contentiously, for the quality of individual papers published in the journal and even of the people who write them.

When Thomson Reuters discovers that anomalous citation has had a significant effect on a journal’s impact factor, it bans the journal for two years from its annual Journal Citation Reports (JCR), which publishes up-to-date impact factors.

In Brazil the Ministry of Education is obsessed by impact factor. In consequence publishing in high impact factor journals has become a matter of survival in academia.  Journals have been caught in a vicious cycle where nobody wants to publish in their pages because their impact factor is too low and their impact factor falls further because they have insufficient citations.

“By 2009, editors of eight Brazilian journals decided to take measures into their own hands”. 

Ciencia Brasil has been pointing out dubious cases in Brazilian journals for some time. The Brazilian scam has now reached the pages of Nature as Thomson Reuters suspends some Brazilian journals from its rankings for ‘citation stacking:

Brazilian citation scheme outed

Mauricio Rocha-e-Silva thought that he had spotted an easy way to raise the profiles of Brazilian journals. From 2009, he and several other editors published articles containing hundreds of references to papers in each others’ journals — in order, he says, to elevate the journals’ impact factors.

Because each article avoided citing papers published by its own journal, the agreement flew under the radar of analyses that spot extremes in self-citation — until 19 June, when the pattern was discovered. Thomson Reuters, the firm that calculates and publishes the impact factor, revealed that it had designed a program to spot concentrated bursts of citations from one journal to another, a practice that it has dubbed ‘citation stacking’. Four Brazilian journals were among 14 to have their impact factors suspended for a year for such stacking. And in July, Rocha-e-Silva was fired from his position as editor of one of them, the journal Clinics, based in São Paulo.

…. Editors have tried before to artificially boost impact factors, usually by encouraging the citation of a journal’s own papers. Each year, Thomson Reuters detects and cracks down on excessive self-citation. This year alone, it red-flagged 23 more journals for the wearily familiar practice. But the revelation that journals have gained excessively from citations elsewhere suggests that some editors may be searching for less detectable ways to boost their journals’ profiles. In some cases, authors may be responsible for stacking, perhaps trying to boost citations of their own papers.

The journals flagged by the new algorithm extend beyond Brazil — but only in that case has an explanation for the results emerged. Rocha-e-Silva says the agreement grew out of frustration with his country’s fixation on impact factor. In Brazil, an agency in the education ministry, called CAPES, evaluates graduate programmes in part by the impact factors of the journals in which students publish research. As emerging Brazilian journals are in the lowest ranks, few graduates want to publish in them. This vicious cycle, in his view, prevents local journals improving.

Abel Packer, who coordinates Brazil’s system of free government-sponsored journals, known as SciELO, says that the citation-stacking venture was “unfortunate and unacceptable”. But he adds that many editors have long been similarly critical of the CAPES policy because it encourages local researchers to publish in high-impact journals, increasing the temptation for editors to artificially boost their own impact factors, he says.

Nature 500, 510–511 (29 August 2013) 

Read the articledoi:10.1038/500510a

Another headline chasing psychologist is censured

August 7, 2013

What is it about social psychology and psychologists that causes them particularly to chase notoriety and public attention even to the extent of faking data? Diedrik Stapel and Marc Hauser being recent high profile cases. Could it just be that they are all suffer from a narcissism which can only be satisfied by generating headlines and generally being in the limelight?

Now a certain Geoffrey Miller – supposedly an “evolutionary psychologist” – has been publicly censured by New York University  for essentially behaving like an idiot and then lying about it. After tweeting a stupid and offensive remark he then tried to pass it off as part of a research project! He has now apologised – a bit late – and deleted the tweet. But his self-promotional intentions were recognised. Apparently he researches into how the human mind evolved. (Or as is pretty obvious –  didn’t evolve for some).

“The Tweeting activities of associate professor Geoffrey Miller did not rise to the level of research,” said a statement from the IRB on the university’s website.

“The board concluded that Miller’s Tweets were self-promotional in nature and did not follow research criteria which require specific research questions or hypotheses, systematic methods for collection quantitative and/or qualitative data and criteria for selecting respondents.”

He is an Associate Professor at the University of New Mexico and visiting NYU

The Times Higher Education covers the developments:

A US professor who Tweeted that if overweight PhD applicants “didn’t have the willpower to stop eating carbs” then they “won’t have the willpower to do a dissertation” has been formally censured by his university.

Geoffrey Miller Twitter page

Geoffrey Miller Twitter page

Geoffrey Miller, associate professor of psychology at the University of New Mexico, apologised after sending the Tweet, which he subsequently deleted. He later told UNM it had been part of a research project – a claim dismissed by the university

The institution has now formally censured Professor Miller for “misrepresenting to his department chair and colleagues the motivation for a Tweet”. 

“Miller at first claimed his Tweet was part of a research project, but investigations by the Institutional Review Board at New York University where he was a visiting professor, and the IRB at UNM where he is a tenured professor, concluded that was not correct,” a statement from his university read. 

As part of the censure, Professor Miller will be required to develop “a plan for sensitivity training as it pertains to obesity” in cooperation with the UNM psychology department, and apologise to colleagues for his behavior. 

Professor Miller, who can appeal the censure, will also have his work monitored by the chair of the psychology department, and will be assigned a faculty mentor for three years, with whom he will meet on a regular basis to discuss potential problems.

Closure for Stapel perhaps but social psychology remains “on probation”

June 28, 2013

Another Chapter in the Diedrik Stapel saga comes to an end as he reaches a deal with prosecutors but the exposure of his behaviour has revealed much that is not so uncommon in the field of social psychology. Social psychologists now need to be on their best behaviour to dispell the notion that “fraud” and confirmation bias are their stock-in-trade. Social  Psychology remains on probation and must avoid any hint of misconduct if it is not to lose further ground as an academic discipline ( but it will be quite some time before this discipline becomes a science).

Associated Press (via The Republic): 

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — A disgraced Dutch social psychologist who admitted faking or manipulating data in dozens of publications has agreed to do 120 hours of community service work and forfeit welfare benefits equivalent to 18 months’ salary in exchange for not being prosecuted for fraud.

Prosecutors announced the deal Friday, calling it “a fitting conclusion” to a case of scientific fraud that sent shockwaves through Dutch academia.

Diederik Stapel who formerly worked at universities in the cities of Groningen and Tilburg, acknowledged the fraud in 2011 and issued a public apology last November, saying he had “failed as a scientist.”

He once claimed to have shown that the very act of thinking about eating meat makes people behave more selfishly.

When hockey sticks are not robust …

April 1, 2013

I had almost got the 1st of April out of my system but I could not resist noting that when things are not “robust” they break and the broken pieces don’t stay put.

This gets classified as misconduct.

The Marcott Filibuster

Marcott et al:  ” … 20th century portion of our paleotemperature stack is not statistically robust, cannot be considered representative of global temperature changes, and therefore is not the basis of any of our conclusions”.

Not robust

Not robust

Dark and mysterious ways of Turkish academia

March 7, 2013

Professor Debora Weber-Wulff addresses some of the dark and mysterious ways of Turkish academia on her blog. Academic misconduct is apparently wide-spread, largely ignored and is condoned making for a culture with very dubious ethics which has become self-perpetuating . It does not paint a very pretty picture but it is noteworthy that the picture is coming to light only because of the work of a group of other academics. But to break out of the vicious circle will not be so easy.

The Dark Alleys of Turkish Academia

I published a short note in September 2012 about the work of a group of academics in Turkey. A. Murat Eren has now organized a translation of their work into English so that a wider group of scientists can take a peek into the very dark alleys of Turkish academia. …..

….. And then there is the list of academics in Turkey with the most retractions to their name — and their current occupation. Let me quote these here, because it is so shocking:

Only one of the authors with multiple retracted papers is not affiliated with academia. Anyone who knows how difficult it is to get a paper retracted will understand the depth of concern here. How can these people teach at university and mentor doctoral students when they themselves have multiple retractions to their names?

The same chapter also reports on the Sezen case, one that I blogged about in June 2012.

Eren’s conclusions:

  • Turkey’s bad academia is self-perpetuating.
  • People who have committed ethical violations in their dissertations and publications are allowed to become thesis supervisors. Students who are misguided by these create dissertations that equally violate ethics, publish insignificant or duplicated papers, and some of them become the new academic generation, in turn completing the cycle.
  • One of the major problems that perpetuates this cycle is the difficulty of access to dissertations. University libraries limit access with arbitrary reasons, and improvements in YÖK Thesis Archive are far from solving the problem in practice.
  • Even when a dissertation is accessed and plagiarism is seen, penalties are far from being deterrent, due to legal and executive roadblocks.
  • While advanced societies take science theft very seriously, actors of science theft in Turkey silently go on with their duties, thus deleteriously undermining the credibility of the field.
  • Even though today’s scientists in Turkey are not proactive, and they are mostly mute unless they have to defend themselves, I believe that self-criticism will become a way to reveal and eventually eradicate academical problems in Turkey in the future.

I am indebted to the Turkish scientists who have worked on this. I have corresponded with them and did some proofreading on the English version. I hope that this will shine a bright light down the dark alleys

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.


Karachi University decides that plagiarism is not misconduct – drops charges

May 8, 2012

It does seem that plagiarism is not considered a very serious matter at Universities in Pakistan.

Karachi University has found a novel way to drop plagiarism charges against 4 academics against whom plagiarism charges were established by an independent committee. They charged the academics with misconduct, took up the matter formally at a Syndicate meeting and then dismissed their own charges since misconduct does not apparently include plagiarism under the University Act!

Karachi University was founded in 1951 and is considered one of the top 3 universities in Pakistan.


Indian PM’s science advisor admits plagiarism but Indian Institute of Science takes no action

February 22, 2012

The apparent over-representation of scientists of Indian origin in cases of scientific misconduct ought to be exercising the minds of the Indian scientific community – both in India and abroad. But any efforts to stamp out plagiarism in India – and many are trying – are completely undermined when eminent scientists from the most prestigious Indian institutions start trivialising or making excuses for plagiarism.

S. B. Krupanidhi

The Prime Minister’s Science Advisor Professor CNR Rao has admitted and apologised for his plagiarism but has gotten away without the paper written under his supervision being retracted. The apology should have been accompanied by highly-visible measures to stamp out the increasing incidence of “cut-and-paste” artists posing as scientists. Instead the nonchalant attitude of a co-author, SB Krupanidhi (Professor and Chairman, Materials Research Centre, Indian Institute of Science) gives me little confidence that there is much value being given to the integrity of scientific research. He blames the student he was supposed to be supervising but will take no action as the Indian Institute of Science tries to brush everything under the carpet.  “People make mistakes. There will be no action taken against the student, ” he said.

TOI reports:

India’s top scientist and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s adviser CNR Rao had to apologise to a leading scientific journal for reproducing text of other scientists in his research paper.


Here we go again – Climategate 2.0

November 22, 2011

Update 2100 CET: This has finally reached the Nature News Blog and the bits they quote are telling – especially in the light of the IPCC having to acknowledge that for the next few decades the global warming signal may be much smaller than the signals due to natural climate variation.

“I find myself in the strange position of being very skeptical of the quality of all present [climate] reconstructions,” one researcher is quoted as having allegedly remarked.

Another remark reads: “What if climate change appears to be just mainly a multidecadal natural fluctuation? They’ll kill us probably.



The Global Warming Climate Change scam.

When it reads like a scam, talks like a scam and sings like a scam — it is most definitely a scam!

From the Air Vent:

It happened again.I woke up to find a link from on a thread.   Thousands of emails unlocked with 220,000 more hidden behind a password.  Despite the smaller size of the Air Vent due to my lack of time, there were twenty five downloads before I saw it once.  As before, there are some  very nice quotes and clarifications from the consensus.  Below is a guest post in the form of a readme file from the group. – Jeff

/// FOIA 2011 — Background and Context ///

“Over 2.5 billion people live on less than $2 a day.”

“Every day nearly 16.000 children die from hunger and related causes.”

“One dollar can save a life” — the opposite must also be true.

“Poverty is a death sentence.”

“Nations must invest $37 trillion in energy technologies by 2030 to stabilize
greenhouse gas emissions at sustainable levels.”

Today’s decisions should be based on all the information we can get, not on
hiding the decline.

This archive contains some 5.000 emails picked from keyword searches.  A few
remarks and redactions are marked with triple brackets.

The rest, some 220.000, are encrypted for various reasons.  We are not planning
to publicly release the passphrase.

We could not read every one, but tried to cover the most relevant topics such


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