Posts Tagged ‘Nature’

Insurance Companies and alarmism

February 24, 2012

Insurance companies are in the business of making perceived risks seem much larger than actual risk. Their profits are directly impacted by increasing the risk perceptions of  the party seeking insurance. It is not surprising that they exaggerate the dangers of whatever is being insured against. To be “alarmist” for an insurance company is just good marketing. However much of their marketing and publicity is presented under the cloak of “scientific research”. Any report from an insurance company about future risks and purporting to be an “objective” or “scientific” study needs to be discounted and taken with a very large shovel of salt. Yet, the media often swallow such publicity and merely reproduce their reports with little effort to see through the conflicts of interest.

I have posted earlier about Munich Re and their attempts to suggest that global warming will increase the frequency of natural disasters.  Anything to increase the perceptions of risk.

Now JunkScience reports on the case of Kerry Emanuel and his alarmist positions and his connections to Insurance companies:

 Based on a request for investigation from, Nature has forced MIT’s Kerry Emanuel to disclose his employment with insurance companies as a conflict of interest.

In the Feb. 14 Nature Climate Change study “Physically based assessment of hurricane surge threat under climate change,” of which Emanuel is a co-author, the “Additional Interests” section disclosed:

The authors declare no competing financial interests. However, in the interests of transparency we confirm that one of us, Kerry Emanuel, is on the boards of two property and casualty companies: Homesite and Bunker Hill, and also on the board of the AlphaCat Fund, an investment fund dealing with re-insurance transactions. In all three cases, Dr Emanuel receives fixed fees but owns no stocks or shares. Dr Emanuel does not stand to make any personal financial gain through these directorships as a consequence of the reported findings.

There was obvious reluctance in the disclosure from the wording (“no competing financial interests” even though insurance companies are gaming global warming alarmism) to the fact that, despite our asking, we had to find out about the disclosure on our own initiative — i.e., after our initial exchange with Nature, the journal editors stopped communicating with us.

JunkScience also reported that the Consumer Federation of America says in a new report:

…. Although insurers have become adept at shifting the cost of catastrophe losses to others, they still use catastrophic weather events to advocate for measures that would shift risk even more, such as higher rates, or putting more policyholders in pools or created taxpayer-supported entities. Thus, many consumers exposed to catastrophe weather risk are also vulnerable to insurer attempts to unjustifiably increase rates or hollow out coverage…

Scientific retractions increasing sharply but is it due to better detection or increased misconduct?

October 5, 2011

Retractions of scientific papers is increasing sharply.

I am a strong believer in the Rule of the Iceberg where “whatever becomes visible is only 10% of all that exists”. And while I do not know if the number of retractions of scientific papers is increasing because detection methods are improved or because scientific misconduct is increasing, I am quite sure that the misconduct that is indicated by retractions is only a small part of all the misconduct that goes on.

What is clear however is that the world wide web provides a powerful new forum for the exercising of a check and a balance. It provides a hitherto unavailable method for mobilising resources from a wide and disparate group of individuals. The success of web sites such as Retraction Watch and Vroniplag are testimony to this. And the investigative power of the on-line community is particularly evident with Vroniplag as has been described by Prof.  Debora Weber-Wulff’s blog. And this investigative power – even if made up of “amateurs” in the on-line community – can bring to bear a vast and varying experience of techniques and expertise which – if harnessed towards a particular target – can function extremely rapidly. The recent on-line investigation and disclosure that an award winning nature photographer had been photo-shopping a great number of photographs of lynxes, wolves and raccoons and had invented stories about his encounters was entirely due to “amateurs” on the Flashback Forum in Sweden who very quickly created a web site to disclose all his trangressions and exactly how he had manipulated his images.

Nature addresses the subject of retractions today:

This week, some 27,000 freshly published research articles will pour into the Web of Science, Thomson Reuters’ vast online database of scientific publications. Almost all of these papers will stay there forever, a fixed contribution to the research literature. But 200 or so will eventually be flagged with a note of alteration such as a correction. And a handful — maybe five or six — will one day receive science’s ultimate post-publication punishment: retraction, the official declaration that a paper is so flawed that it must be withdrawn from the literature. … But retraction notices are increasing rapidly. In the early 2000s, only about 30 retraction notices appeared annually. This year, the Web of Science is on track to index more than 400 (see ‘Rise of the retractions’) — even though the total number of papers published has risen by only 44% over the past decade. …. 

…… When the UK-based Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) surveyed editors’ attitudes to retraction two years ago, it found huge inconsistencies in policies and practices between journals, says Elizabeth Wager, a medical writer in Princes Risborough, UK, who is chair of COPE. That survey led to retraction guidelines that COPE published in 2009. But it’s still the case, says Wager, that “editors often have to be pushed to retract”. …… 

In surveys, around 1–2% of scientists admit to having fabricated, falsified or modified data or results at least once (D. Fanelli PLoS ONE4, e5738; 2009). But over the past decade, retraction notices for published papers have increased from 0.001% of the total to only about 0.02%. And, Ioannidis says, that subset of papers is “the tip of the iceberg” — too small and fragmentary for any useful conclusions to be drawn about the overall rates of sloppiness or misconduct.

Instead, it is more probable that the growth in retractions has come from an increased awareness of research misconduct, says Steneck. That’s thanks in part to the setting up of regulatory bodies such as the US Office of Research Integrity in the Department of Health and Human Services. These ensure greater accountability for the research institutions, which, along with researchers, are responsible for detecting mistakes.

The growth also owes a lot to the emergence of software for easily detecting plagiarism and image manipulation, combined with the greater number of readers that the Internet brings to research papers. In the future, wider use of such software could cause the rate of retraction notices to dip as fast as it spiked, simply because more of the problematic papers will be screened out before they reach publication. On the other hand, editors’ newfound comfort with talking about retraction may lead to notices coming at an even greater rate. …… 

Read the article

A graphic of retractions is here.

The academic and scientific community will – perforce – mirror the surrounding society it is embedded in. Standards of ethics and instances of misconduct will follow those of the surrounding environment. But the scientific community is somewhat protected in terms of not often having to bear liability for what they have published. Having to bear some responsibility and face liability for the quality of what they produce can be a force which will improve ethical standards immensely. Bringing incompetent or cheating scientists to book is not an attack on science. And it is what science needs to regain some of the reputation that has been tarnished in recent times. With the spotlight that is now available in the form of the world wide web, I expect the level of scrutiny to increase and this too can only be a force for the good.

A second Mayack paper gives cause for concern

October 14, 2010

Earlier today I posted about the retraction of a Nature paper due to doubts about the work done by the lead author Shane R. Mayack.

The Journal “Blood” has now posted a Notice of concern for: Mayack and Wagers:
Blood, 1 August 2008, Vol. 112, No. 3, pp. 519-531. Prepublished online as a Blood First Edition Paper on May 2, 2008; DOI 10.1182/blood-2008-01-133710.

Based on information provided by the corresponding author, Amy J. Wagers, Blood wishes to post a Notice of Concern for this August 1, 2008 article.

As a result of an internal review by the corresponding author, serious concerns with some of the reported data were raised, specifically regarding the osteolineage differentiation of small numbers of sorted osteopontin+ niche cells. This matter is currently under further review. Blood will inform the readers of the outcomes.

It seems that Mayack’s employment at  the Joslin Diabetes Center of Harvard Medical School which started on 1st March 2005 ended on 1st October 2010.

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