Posts Tagged ‘science fraud’

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

US scientists more likely to publish fake research

November 16, 2010

A new on-line paper in the Journal of Medical Ethics has studied the PubMed database for all scientific research papers that had been retracted between 2000 and 2010.

Retractions in the scientific literature: do authors deliberately commit research fraud? by R Grant Steen J Med Ethics doi:10.1136/jme.2010.038125


Background Papers retracted for fraud (data fabrication or data falsification) may represent a deliberate effort to deceive, a motivation fundamentally different from papers retracted for error. It is hypothesised that fraudulent authors target journals with a high impact factor (IF), have other fraudulent publications, diffuse responsibility across many co-authors, delay retracting fraudulent papers and publish from countries with a weak research infrastructure.

Methods All 788 English language research papers retracted from the PubMed database between 2000 and 2010 were evaluated. Data pertinent to each retracted paper were abstracted from the paper and the reasons for retraction were derived from the retraction notice and dichotomised as fraud or error. Data for each retracted article were entered in an Excel spreadsheet for analysis.

Results Journal IF was higher for fraudulent papers (p<0.001). Roughly 53% of fraudulent papers were written by a first author who had written other retracted papers (‘repeat offender’), whereas only 18% of erroneous papers were written by a repeat offender (χ=88.40; p<0.0001). Fraudulent papers had more authors (p<0.001) and were retracted more slowly than erroneous papers (p<0.005). Surprisingly, there was significantly more fraud than error among retracted papers from the USA (χ2=8.71; p<0.05) compared with the rest of the world.

Conclusions This study reports evidence consistent with the ‘deliberate fraud’ hypothesis. The results suggest that papers retracted because of data fabrication or falsification represent a calculated effort to deceive. It is inferred that such behaviour is neither naïve, feckless nor inadvertent.

PhysOrg summarises the paper:

The study author searched the PubMed database for every scientific research paper that had been withdrawn—and therefore officially expunged from the public record—between 2000 and 2010. A total of 788 papers had been retracted during this period. Around three quarters of these papers had been withdrawn because of a serious error (545); the rest of the retractions were attributed to fraud (data fabrication or falsification).

The highest number of retracted papers were written by US first authors (260), accounting for a third of the total. One in three of these was attributed to fraud.

The UK, India, Japan, and China each had more than 40 papers withdrawn during the decade. Asian nations, including South Korea, accounted for 30% of retractions. Of these, one in four was attributed to fraud.

The fakes were more likely to appear in leading publications with a high “impact factor.” This is a measure of how often research is cited in other peer reviewed journals. More than half (53%) of the faked research papers had been written by a first author who was a “repeat offender.” This was the case in only one in five (18%) of the erroneous papers.

The average number of authors on all retracted papers was three, but some had 10 or more. Faked research papers were significantly more likely to have multiple authors. Each first author who was a repeat fraudster had an average of six co-authors, each of whom had had another three retractions.

“The duplicity of some authors is cause for concern,” comments the author. Retraction is the strongest sanction that can be applied to published research, but currently, “[it] is a very blunt instrument used for offences both gravely serious and trivial.”

American Geophysical Union backs away from the “Warriors of the faith”

November 9, 2010

Wattsupwiththat has the story.

The American Geophysical Union has issued a press release backing away from a broad campaign to push back against congressional conservatives who have threatened prominent researchers with investigations and vowed to kill regulations to rein in man-made greenhouse gases” which was widely reported yesterday: See Warriors of the Faith”: Global warming zealots declare jehad”

The Press Release is available at


AGU Logo


Inaccurate news reports misrepresent a climate-science initiative of the American Geophysical Union

WASHINGTON—An article appearing in the Los Angeles Times, and then picked up by media outlets far and wide, misrepresents the American Geophysical Union (AGU) and a climate science project the AGU is about to relaunch. The project, called Climate Q&A Service, aims simply to provide accurate scientific answers to questions from journalists about climate science.

“In contrast to what has been reported in the LA Times and elsewhere, there is no campaign by AGU against climate skeptics or congressional conservatives,” says Christine McEntee, Executive Director and CEO of the American Geophysical Union. “AGU will continue to provide accurate scientific information on Earth and space topics to inform the general public and to support sound public policy development.”..

“AGU is a scientific society, not an advocacy organization,” says climate scientist and AGU President Michael J. McPhaden. “The organization is committed to promoting scientific discovery and to disseminating to the scientific community, policy makers, the media, and the public, peer-reviewed scientific findings across a broad range of Earth and space sciences.”…….

The Army of the Warriors of the Faith has gone from 700 to 39 to zero in one day.

“Warriors of the Faith”: Global warming zealots declare jehad

November 8, 2010

The Chicago Tribune runs with the latest example of faith-based zealots declaring war!

Warriors of the Faith: image Jesus Christ Superstar


Faced with rising political attacks, hundreds of climate scientists are joining a broad campaign to push back against congressional conservatives who have threatened prominent researchers with investigations and vowed to kill regulations to rein in man-made greenhouse gas emissions.

The still-evolving efforts reveal a shift among climate scientists, many of whom have traditionally stayed out of politics and avoided the news media. Many now say they are willing to go toe-to-toe with their critics, some of whom gained new power after the Republicans won control of the House in Tuesday’s election.

On Monday, the American Geophysical Union, the country’s largest association of climate scientists, plans to announce that 700 climate scientists have agreed to speak out as experts on questions about global warming and the role of man-made air pollution.

John Abraham of St. Thomas University in Minnesota, who last May wrote a widely disseminated response to climate change skeptics, is also pulling together a “climate rapid response team,” which includes scientists prepared to go before what they consider potentially hostile audiences on conservative talk radio and television shows.

“This group feels strongly that science and politics can’t be divorced and that we need to take bold measures to not only communicate science but also to aggressively engage the denialists and politicians who attack climate science and its scientists,” said Scott Mandia, professor of physical sciences at Suffolk County Community College in New York.

This new Rapid Response Team has so far recruited 39 Warriors of the Faith!!!

A rapid-response team, however, is willing to delve into politics. In the week that Abraham and others have been marshaling the team, 39 scientists agreed to participate, including Richard Feely, senior scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; Kevin Trenberth, head of the Climate Analysis Section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research; and Michael Oppenheimer, professor of geosciences and international affairs at Princeton University.

“People who’ve already dug their heels in, we’re not going to change their opinions,” Mandia said. “We’re trying to reach people who may not have an opinion or opinion based on limited information.”

It is difficult to take any Global Warming “Science” or “Scientists” seriously as long they continue the shenanigans revealed in Climategate and behave like a bunch of religious fanatics. It remains to be seen how many real scientists will join these religious fanatics in committing scientific and political suicide.

Biodiversity 100 – another 10.10 crisis?

October 4, 2010

The Guardian today (and they have yet to distance themselves from their support for their 10: 10 partners):

Talk has not halted biodiversity loss – now it’s time for action

Guillaume Chapron and George Monbiot: “Help us compile a list of 100 tasks (that’s 10.10 to the rest of us) that G20 governments should undertake to prove their commitment to tackling the biodiversity crisis”.

Lurching from one crisis to the next

This comes a day after such headlines  as:

Oceans could contain 750,000 undiscovered species

The world’s oceans are teeming with far greater diversity of life than was previously thought, according to the first Census of Marine Life.

This plethora of manufactured crises is becoming farcical.

Mr. Monbiot has been silent regarding the 10:10 fiasco.

The Guardian is busy positioning itself for the next crisis when biodiversity becomes less fashionable.

The water footprint

Onwards and upwards.

Update: Two more papers retracted by Mount Sinai

September 24, 2010
Mount Sinai School of Medicine logo.png

Image via Wikipedia

There is an epidemic of retractions.

Retraction Watch reports that Gene therapy researcher Savio Woo has retracted two more papers in addition to the 4 retracted earlier.

Mount Sinai School of Medicine researcher Savio Woo, whom Retraction Watch reported last week has already retracted four papers from major journals as two postdocs have been fired from his lab, has retracted two more from Molecular Therapy: The Journal of the American Society of Gene Therapy.

The two papers, both from 2007, were “Metabolic Basis of Sexual Dimorphism in PKU Mice After Genome-targeted PAH Gene Therapy” and “Correction in Female PKU Mice by Repeated Administration of mPAH cDNA Using phiBT1 Integration System.” As Nature noted in its coverage of the other retractions, the papers apparently followed from a now-retracted paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that, as we noted in a previous post, “claimed to have discovered a possible cure for phenylketonuria, or PKU, in mice.”

Li Chen and Zhiyu Li were the pot-docs implicated.

Harvard President says Hauser could lose tenure

September 22, 2010
Statue of John Harvard, founder of Harvard Uni...

John Harvard: Wikipedia

The Boston Globe reports on an interview of Harvard’s President Drew Gilpin Faust by former ABC correspondent Charlie Gibson.

The discussion, billed as a start-of-the-school year address, was held at Sanders Theatre and broadcast over the Internet. In response to Gibson’s question about why Marc Hauser remained on the faculty even after the university found him guilty of eight instances of scientific misconduct, Faust said Harvard is addressing the issue. “Integrity is absolutely fundamental in everything we do,’’ Faust said. “We have a process we have undertaken, and that process still has some part to continue because it involves federal funds.’’ Cases of scientific misconduct could result in a loss of tenure, Faust said.

Gibson said the silence from the university has been “somewhat deafening,’’ and raised the possibility that the lack of response could call into question Harvard’s research integrity and have financial implications. But Faust replied that Harvard has moved to depart somewhat from its normally confidential proceedings, in order to correct the scientific record, though it remains mindful of ongoing federal investigations. “Announcing that there were indeed findings, that was unprecedented,’’ she said.

Whether the Harvard President is actually trying to maintain and protect integrity or merely engaging in damage control is unclear. The second part of the Boston Globe article is about the honouring of Martin Peretz and how Harvard is swallowing its principles and seems to show that there is a price at which Harvard is prepared to compromise integrity.

But meanwhile the wagons continue to circle.

Bert Vaux who is a former Professor of Linguistics at Harvard University and Jeffrey Watumull who is a PhD student in Linguistics and a member of Hauser’s lab have rushed to his defence in The Harvard Crimson.

“In our experience, Marc Hauser is the consummate scientist—the most disinterested, the most rational, the most ethical. We are proud to be his colleagues. However, we are less than proud of those in the cognitive sciences reacting publicly to Hauser’s case with irresponsible impatience (disrespect for due process), unjustified slurs, and half-baked conjectures. All are interested in the truth, but as scientists we ought to consider the case reasonably and measuredly, with objectivity and fairness”.

But they forget that his nonsense started at least as long ago as 1995. One wonders whether Hauser’s defenders are part of a concerted damage control exercise. Methinks they do protest too much.

The onus of proof has shifted.

Harvard reviews Hauser’s work – but is the purpose investigation or vindication?

September 17, 2010
Harvard is reviewing all “relevant” work by Marc Hauser . But there is a large element of “damage control” and “vindication” of Hauser’s co-workers which is mixed in with the investigation. It is to be hoped that they will be able to resist the temptation to stand on the position that if further misconduct by others cannot be rigorously proven then these others can be acquitted. Now that Hauser’s misconduct has been established the onus of proof shifts – and must do so. The default position must be that all his work is now tainted unless shown beyond reasonable doubt to be otherwise.

The focus must be on investigation and not on a pre-planned vindication or on “rescuing” the money spent if the work is suspect.

With a federal investigation now underway, much of Hauser’s research has been called into question—and with it, the annals of literature that have grown out of it. In response, the Psychology Department at Harvard has set in motion a project to review Hauser’s work and to determine the areas of his groundbreaking research that can be salvaged.

Cotton-top tamarind

In the last 10 years alone, Hauser has published 143 articles and four books, work that has helped form the foundation for an entirely new field of science. “It creates a lot of uncertainty for people in those fields,” said a Harvard psychology professor who asked to remain anonymous, stating that the situation is still evolving. “They may begin to worry about whether they can trust other findings from that lab.”

The department established a committee to begin a process that could include combing through decades of research. “We are starting a process in collaboration with the animal cognition community about how to deal with this,” Carey said. “Clearing the record is the way you deal with the integrity of the science.” Carey said that the department has also assumed the responsibility of vindicating any department members—students and colleagues alike—who may have worked with Hauser in the past.

According to his curriculum vitae, Hauser has advised 24 Ph.D. students and overseen 15 post doctoral students. The CV lists 221 published papers authored or co-authored by him. And in an academic web of peer research, hundreds of published articles cite and work off of Hauser’s research. And in an academic web of peer research, hundreds of published articles cite and work off of Hauser’s research.

Hauser has made a name for himself by executing novel research techniques in the field of animal cognition. His work with primates and cotton-top tamarinds—the subject of Hauser’s only article to have been retracted—has involved a unique set of research skills and costly access to the animals.

“You don’t want to throw out about two decades of groundbreaking work, but you also don’t want to build a science on shaky ground,” said the psychology professor. “How do we rescue millions of dollars of research?” the individual added.

Hausergate: An utter lack of ethics

August 19, 2010

Fiction passed of as science

Further revelations in The Chronicle of Higher Education provides sordid details about the Hauser paper published in 2002 in Cognition and which is now being retracted. But the pattern of behaviour described is that of an accomplished liar well-versed in creating bogus data. To become such an accomplished inventor of data must have taken years of practice.

For how long has Hauser been passing off works of fiction as works of science?

Hauser’s hectoring tone towards his research assistants to try and force his false interpretations on them are also very revealing. The author of Moral Minds exhibits an utter lack of ethics.

Rather than getting a year off to write another work of fiction should he not be required to return all the salary and grant money he has enjoyed as the fruits of his inventiveness?

Where are all the peers who have recommended his being published?

Document Sheds Light on Investigation at Harvard 1

An internal document, however, sheds light on what was going on in Mr. Hauser’s lab. It tells the story of how research assistants became convinced that the professor was reporting bogus data and how he aggressively pushed back against those who questioned his findings or asked for verification.


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