Posts Tagged ‘Scientific misconduct’

Fifty shades of fraud in Flanders

May 3, 2013

Following on from the publicity surrounding the Diedrik Stapel case, a new survey of medical researchers in Flanders confirms that fraud is fairly prevalent. This takes the form of making up data, manipulating data to make it match a hypothesis, plagiarism, double publishing (self-plagiarism), withholding undesirable research results, undeserved authorships or dividing research into as many separate science articles as possible (salami slicing). The article by Reinout Verbeke and Joeri Tijdink was produced with the support of the Pascal Decroos Fund for Investigative Journalism. One in twelve medical scientists admits to making up or ‘massaging’ data in order for it to match a hypothesis. And almost six in twelve see such fraudulent practices happening around them. They identify high publication pressure as one of the causes. Ivan Oransky of Retraction Watch points out that for the medical research fraternity the high rewards from pharmaceutical companies can also play a role.

In November and December 2012 Belgian  science journalist Reinout Verbeke (editor of Eos Magazine) spread an anonymous survey on fraud and pressure to publish among scientists of the Medical Science faculties of all Flemish universities. ……..  Psychiatrist and researcher Joeri Tijdink (VU University Medical Center Amsterdam) collaborated on the survey. He did another sounding in 2011 in the Netherlands, before the scandal surrounding Diederik Stapel had broken out – the social psychologist who had made up data and experiments. For years nobody had been on to him. Stapel and his unsuspecting doctoral students and co-authors even made top magazines with their fictitious studies. Luckily though, such large-scale fraud is rather rare. ……..

Fifty shades of fraud

Fifty shades of fraud

The results of the Flemish survey are striking. Of the 315 participating scientists, four (1.3%) admit to having made up data at least once in the last three years. If what they say is true, this probably concerns fraud that is still undiscovered. 23 respondents (7.3%) admit to having selectively removed data or results to make research match a hypothesis, so-called ‘data massaging’. Overall, about 8% of the Flemish medical scientists admits to recently having made up and/or massaged data. The figures are worse than the international average. A meta-analysis of 18 scientific studies on fraud by Daniele Fanelli showed that on average 2% of all scientists (from different fields of study) admitted to having done similar practices at least once (PloS ONE, 2009). Why are the results among Flemish respondents even worse? “That doesn’t surprise me, because we are talking about medical scientists”, says American journalist and fraud expert Ivan Oransky from RetractionWatch. com. “Cooperating with the pharmaceutical industry gains researchers financial rewards. That could pressurise scientists to cut corners.” André Van Steirteghem, a pioneer in reproductive medicine and secretary of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), thinks there is something else at play. “There’s is a significant lack of openness on fraud and malpractice at Flemish universities. This survey asked scientists about their perceptions for the very first time. They were able to vent their feelings. I think that explains the high figures in Flanders.” We can even suspect malpractices in Flanders to be more wide-spread still. “Surveys have their limits”, says Daniele Fanelli. “Many cheaters won’t admit to having done it, or will falsely assume they have a clean conscience.” …… 

Scientific American reports on this story here.

Resentment and charges of misconduct and bias at the Delhi component of the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB)

April 30, 2013

It is not so easy to judge if the charges of bias and misconduct at the New Delhi component of the International Centre for Genetic Engineering (ICGEB) and Biotechnology are just because

  • some disgruntled junior researchers are envious about the much higher salaries of their seniors, or
  • it is because of resentment by mediocre scientists when their work is not considered of a quality and significance sufficient to earn them authorship of scientific papers, or
  • because senior scientists are exploiting junior post-doctoral researchers

The ICGEB is part of the United Nations System where of course officials tend to take care of their own.

But whatever the real reason a “scientific institution” which establishes and perpetuates  two classes of scientists where salary scales of the one are double that of the other seems a particularly ill thought-out scheme and – at best – just plain stupid. It not only invites resentment but also implies that the quality of the research done is judged by the salary paid to the researcher.


New Delhi Component of the ICGEB

The ICGEB is an international, nonprofit research organization. Established as a special project of UNIDO, it became fully autonomous in 1994 and now counts over 60 Member States. … With Components in Trieste, Italy, New Delhi, India and Cape Town, South Africa, the Centre forms an interactive network with Affiliated Centres in ICGEB Member States. The New Delhi component of the International Centre for Genetic Engineering (ICGEB) and Biotechnology is dedicated to advanced research and training in molecular biology, infectious disease biology, and biotechnology.

The Calcutta Telegraph reports: 

Allegations of discrimination, academic misconduct and lack of transparency over dramatic differences in researchers’ salaries have tainted a 25-year-old international research centre here that is hailed for its excellence in science.

Indian and foreign scientists are trying to resolve what they say is a dual crisis gripping the New Delhi component of the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB): loss of foreign funding and discontent among researchers.

A panel of Indian scientists set up by the department of biotechnology is examining options to resolve the issue of future funding. ICGEB director-general Francisco Baralle from Italy is expected to meet department of biotechnology secretary Krishnaswamy VijayRaghavan and the research institution’s staff here on April 30. ……

Twenty-four of the 30 senior scientists at the ICGEB, New Delhi, have asked Baralle to remove the Delhi director, Virander Chauhan, correspondence between the scientists and Baralle between September 2012 and February 2013 shows.

Also, a grievance committee report from within the ICGEB shows that two former researchers have complained that a senior scientist at the institution, Kanury Venkata Subba Rao, denied them authorship on a research paper.

Both Chauhan and Rao have denied any wrongdoing. ……. 

……. Some of the discontent appears to stem from differences in the salaries of scientists. The ICGEB has a two-tier pay structure — an international scale where a post-doctoral scientist could start at Rs 150,000 per month, paid in US dollars, and a national scale where a similarly qualified scientist would begin at about Rs 75,000 a month.

“The original idea at the ICGEB’s creation in 1988 was to draw the best from international faculty,” said a senior Indian scientist involved in the efforts to resolve the crisis.

“But all the 10 international-grade scientists’ positions there are now held by Indians. There seems to be discord now because sections of scientists feel there should not be huge salary differences between similarly performing and similarly qualified researchers.” ……

US Interior Department clears itself of misconduct

April 11, 2013

Internal inquiries set up to look into alleged misdeeds of any organisation always have a vested interest in protecting the organisation. Even those which have “independent members” but who are “hired” by the organisation are never truly independent. But what is often forgotten is that no internal inquiry about wrong-doing can ever in fact prove innocence by proving the negative – that wrong-doing did not take place. The only two options that are open as conclusions are that “wrong-doing did take place” or “no evidence of wrong-doing was found”. The latter is not a declaration of innocence.

Internal inquiries are usually the result of specific allegations and such inquiries are established mainly as a political ploy and to deflect criticism. Most such inquiries take the default position as being that no wrong-doing has occurred and require wrong-doing to be proven. But this is exactly the opposite of what they ought to be doing. They should – and maybe this should be mandatory for all internal inquiries – use the null hypothesis “that the alleged wrong-doing did take place” and the task is to see if there is evidence that this hypothesis is false. The presumption, I think must be that of guilt and cannot take the comfortable and rather cozy position of presumed innocence. Especially so in cases of alleged scientific misconduct. The onus should be on the impugned researcher to demonstrate the integrity of his evidence or data or images and not the other way around.

And therefore I take the findings of this internal inquiry conducted by the US Department of the Interior about alleged misconduct with a very large bushel of salt. Ironically the complaint was made by their own Integrity Officer. And considering that they have introduced new policies about integrity and have thereafter rejected all allegations of misconduct, it could be thought that the new standards are more about protecting the organisation rather than of protecting integrity.

The Record Searchlight:  

The U.S. Department of the Interior has rejected complaints of scientific misconduct made by its former scientific integrity officer, who accused the department of skewing information in favor removing dams on the Klamath River.

A panel hired by the department did not agree with Paul Houser’s claims that officials falsified scientific materials and circumvented policy on scientific integrity to garner public support for dam removal.

Houser filed a complaint last year, claiming a press release announcing the release of a draft environmental analysis cherry-picked facts to garner public support for removing four dams on the Klamath River. The press release also included a summary of key findings in the report that Houser said failed to include possible uncertainties about the information.

The panel’s report, titled “Independent evaluation of the scientific record pertaining to the allegations of Dr. Paul Houser,” says there was nothing unusual about the press release and key findings.

“It (the press release) was not intended as document on which to base a secretarial decision or to announce to the public such a decision,” says the report, which was written in August 2012, but not released to the public until this month.

Houser issued a rebuttal to the report blasting the department’s scientific integrity policy and the panel, claiming it was not independent, that its members were not qualified to investigate his claims and that the probe was inadequate. …….


The Interior Department has a web page listing the findings from all of its closed scientific integrity cases over the past two years. The findings on the 12 complaints say they were without basis.

“We seem to be getting more and more excuses why there was no misconduct,” Ruch said.

Prior to the department’s press release being issued in September 2011, Houser took his complaints to Interior Department officials, who changed it. But two weeks after raising issues over the release, Houser was placed on probation within the department.

Houser’s position was abolished last year and he was told he was “not a good fit” for the job of scientific integrity officer, PEER said. After losing his job, Houser filed a whistleblower complaint with the government.

Houser and the government “resolved” the whistleblower complaint last year. The resolution included an agreement that neither Houser or the department would comment on it. The department’s panel did not consider Houser’s claims of retaliation during its investigation.

“If Interior’s own scientific integrity officers are not shielded from reprisal for doing their jobs, how in heaven’s name could one expect a staff scientist to push back against political shenanigans?” Ruch said.

Prolific Cardiff Professor cleared of misconduct

April 11, 2013

The Shenanigans at Cardiff University led to an investigation by the University  into alleged research misconduct in the laboratory of its dean of medicine, Prof. BP Morgan. He has now been cleared of any misconduct but one of his former co-workers, Rossen Donev,  has been singled out for the manipulation of images. ( Dr. Donev is listed as a lecturer at Swansea University’s College of Medicine). The investigation seems to have found that Prof. Morgan could not have known about his co-worker’s image manipulation even though he was a co-author. Some 40 papers were investigated and image manipulation was found in 4 instances all by the former researcher. Some of the papers have been retracted.

It is laudable that the source of the misconduct has been identified though there is a tiny hint of  a whitewash and some scapegoating when the only guilty person is no longer at the University and every body else is completely exonerated. Does Prof. Morgan have no responsibility at all for misconduct conducted within his group?  The ubiquitous practice of the head of a lab or research group automatically being included as a co-author is not quite satisfactory when the “leader” takes no responsibility for his soldiers. There is something not quite right when there are lots and lots of papers published by the Dean, Professor B P Morgan, (172 papers and 35 review articles or chapters since 1998 – giving 207 publications in about 180 months!)”. You can’t just take the credit for authorship of more than a paper a month and then not take any responsibility for any wrongdoing. Apart from Dr. Donev, everybody else seems to have “had Doctor’s papers”!

BBC: The dean of Cardiff University’s school of medicine has been cleared of research misconduct after claims images were manipulated in academic articles. Professor Paul Morgan and other members of his research group were cleared by a formal investigation panel.

But four allegations of image manipulation in articles were upheld against a former staff member. Prof Morgan, who researches diseases, said the actions of one individual had a “profound effect” on his reputation. A clinical academic, the professor heads a team which Cardiff University’s website said is “internationally recognised for its expertise and contribution to the field of complement biology”. He remained in his post during the investigation by the panel, which was chaired by a former Cardiff circuit judge. …. 

…. The inquiry rejected all allegations against Prof Morgan and members of his research team, but upheld four allegations of misconduct against the former university employee.

The panel also said that Prof Morgan – the co-author of the four articles in question – would not have been aware that the individual had included manipulated images in the articles.

Cardiff University said it took allegations of academic research misconduct against staff extremely seriously. “The panel did find that allegations of data manipulation against a former member of university staff were substantiated and recommends that protocols are put in place to ensure that data and original image files are in future viewed and assessed prior to submission for publication,” a spokesperson said. “Cardiff University accepts these findings and recommendations and will now take action to put in place procedures to ensure that incidents of this sort do not recur.” …

The McIntyre – The Bane of Climate Dogma and Mighty Slayer of Hockey Sticks

March 17, 2013

Steve McIntyre is

known in particular for his statistical critique, with economist Ross McKitrick, of the controversial hockey stick graph, which shows a sharp, and arguably unprecedented, increase in late 20th century global temperature.

He is at his sleuthing best again and Science will soon have to retract this new “hockey stick” paper

A Reconstruction of Regional and Global Temperature for the Past 11,300 Years, by Shaun A. Marcott, Jeremy D. Shakun, Peter U. Clark and Alan C. Mix, Science 8 March 2013: Vol. 339 no. 6124 pp. 1198-1201 DOI: 10.1126/science.1228026

This paper is apparently based on Marcott’s PhD thesis but the thesis contains no hockey stick!

By the time the paper was published a hockey stick had appeared.  In the most generous interpretation  the paper was “modified” to fit in with global warming dogma before being published in Science. A less generous – but more likely –  interpretation is that this is just fraud instigated probably by the global warming pundits who were the reviewers of the Science paper.

McIntyre’s latest post is a breathtaking indictment of the paper:

Marcott, Shakun, Clark and Mix did not use the published dates for ocean cores, instead substituting their own dates. The validity of Marcott-Shakun re-dating will be discussed below, but first, to show that the re-dating “matters” (TM-climate science), here is a graph showing reconstructions using alkenones (31 of 73 proxies) in Marcott style, comparing the results with published dates (red) to results with Marcott-Shakun dates (black). As you see, there is a persistent decline in the alkenone reconstruction in the 20th century using published dates, but a 20th century increase using Marcott-Shakun dates. (It is taking all my will power not to make an obvious comment at this point.)
Figure 1. Reconstructions from alkenone proxies in Marcott style. Red– using published dates; black– using Marcott-Shakun dates.

Read More

The media went bonkers in reporting the Marcott paper  and this diagram will now go down in infamy:

marcott et al

This scandal is causing much attention ( here and here) but there is a deafening silence from the authors, from Science and from the – no doubt – anonymous reviewers.

I cannot draw but I have a clear image of a lone McIntyre battling against the Hockey Sticks. Perhaps a Josh can do justice to the image in my head.

The McIntyre slaying the Hockey Stick

The McIntyre slaying the Hockey Stick

Shocking gender inequality in scientific misconduct

January 22, 2013

Apparently men are more likely than women to commit scientific fraud according to a new study. Of course the study only deals with misconduct and frauds that have been found out.

Important areas that the study does not address are – for example – :

  1. Whether women are being denied the same opportunities to cheat that their males colleagues obviously have and if so how this can be rectified, or
  2. Whether women cheat as much as men but are better able to conceal their misconduct and avoid being found out and if so what training or ability their male colleagues lack, or
  3. Whether this behaviour is due to the more aggressive nature of the male species and whether all male research should be subjected to greater scrutiny.

Whatever the reasons this kind of gender inequality should not to be tolerated in a modern society. Further study is clearly needed and I think there is plenty of room here for a number of PhD theses in social psychology. That is not to say that immediate actions to promote gender equality should be delayed. For a start quotas for women found to be committing misconduct could be introduced at all research institutions.

Male scientists are far more likely to commit fraud than females and the fraud occurs across the career spectrum, from trainees to senior faculty. The analysis of professional misconduct was co-led by a researcher at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University and was published today in the online journal mBio.

“The fact that misconduct occurs across all stages of career development suggests that attention to ethical aspects of scientific conduct should not be limited to those in training, as is the current practice,” said senior author Arturo Casadevall, M.D., Ph.D., professor and chair of microbiology & immunology and professor of medicine at Einstein, as well as editor-in-chief of mBio.

He added, “Our other finding – that males are overrepresented among those committing misconduct – implies a gender difference we need to better understand in any effort to promote the integrity of research.”

In a previous study, Dr. Casadevall found that misconduct is responsible for two-thirds of all retractions of scientific papers. The finding was unexpected, since earlier research had suggested that errors account for the majority of retracted scientific papers.

Researchers embarked on the current study to better understand those who are guilty of scientific fraud. They reviewed 228 individual cases of misconduct reported by the United States Office of Research Integrity (ORI) from 1994 through 2012. ORI promotes the responsible conduct of research and investigates charges of misconduct involving research supported by the Department of Health and Human Services.

An analysis determined that fraud was involved in 215 (94 percent) of the 228 cases reported by the ORI. Of these, 40 percent involved trainees, 32 percent involved faculty members, and 28 percent involved other research personnel (research scientists, technicians, study coordinators, and interviewers).

Overall, 65 percent of the fraud cases were committed by males, but the percentage varied among the academic ranks: 88 percent of faculty members who committed misconduct were male, compared with 69 percent of postdoctoral fellows, 58 percent of students, and 43 percent of other research personnel. In each career category, the proportion of males committing misconduct was greater than would have been predicted from the gender distribution of scientists. The gender difference was surprisingly large among faculty, said Dr. Casadevall, who also holds the Leo and Julia Forchheimer Chair in/of Microbiology & Immunology. Of the 72 faculty who committed fraud, just 9 were female – one-third of the expected 27 if females had committed fraud at the same rate as males.



“Serious scientific misconduct” but NUS tries to brush it all under the carpet

December 21, 2012

The National University of Singapore is not going to win any prizes for transparency.

It is perfectly understandable that they would like that the massive “serious scientific misconduct” by Alirio Menendez had never occurred but they would seem still be in a state of denial when they refuse to reveal any details. Some 70 of his papers were suspect  and the NUS admits that more than 20 papers are involved but say little else. The NUS – which is desperately trying to buy its way to a reputation – would do better to take a lead in being transparent and – as Retraction Watch points out – follow the example of  “University of ConnecticutErasmus Medical CenterTilburg University, and others who’ve been involved in high-profile misconduct cases”.

Retraction Watch has this update on the Melendez saga:

Alirio Melendez, a former National University of Singapore immunologist whose story we’ve been following here since a retraction in September of last year, committed misconduct on an “unprecedented” scale, according to the university, involving more than 20 papers.

Nature’s Richard van Noorden has the scoop:

After a 19-month investigation, the National University of Singapore (NUS) today says that it has determined that one of its former scientists, the immunologist Alirio Melendez, has committed “serious scientific misconduct”.  The university found fabrication, falsification or plagiarism associated with 21 papers, and no evidence indicating that other co-authors were involved in the misconduct, it says.

Melendez has retracted five papers so far, as we’ve reported, but NUS wouldn’t give the whole list. They tell Nature:

“It’s standard procedure that for research-misconduct investigations such a report and the list of papers would be kept confidential,” an NUS spokesperson explained to Nature. She said that the university is now contacting journal editors and co-authors about each of the papers involved, and added that normally the university would not make a public statement at all, but in this case “the scientific misconduct uncovered was unprecedented”. When asked whether the report would remain permanently under wraps, she added: “I don’t think it will be released at a later date.”

Translation: Well, there you have it, folks, please move along, nothing to see here. It’s “standard procedure” to sweep misconduct investigations under the carpet, so we’ll just keep doing things our way, thank you very much. We released a statement this time because the misconduct was “unprecedented.” But misconduct with precedent? We’re not going to release reports about that.

Shenanigans at Cardiff University – “There were all those doctor’s papers and they all said just the same”

September 29, 2012

I have the most wonderful memories of my time as a post-doc at University College Cardiff in the mid-70’s. This was where I was educated into the intricacies of the rules of rugby and the tribal rituals surrounding the game. Pubs and real ale and rugby grounds and rugby songs and – of course – Max Boyce.

So I was a little sad to read about the strange goings-on at the laboratory of the Dean of Medicine at what is now Cardiff University.  Lots and lots and lots of papers published by the Dean, Professor B P Morgan, (172 papers and 35 review articles or chapters since 1998 – giving 207 publications in about 180 months!) and now a retraction and a formal investigation into apparent image manipulation and duplication. A case of

 “There were all those doctor’s papers and they all said just the same”

(with apologies to Max Boyce and his great  lyrics to “We all had Doctor’s papers”)


Cardiff University has confirmed that it is to launch a formal investigation into alleged research misconduct in the laboratory of its dean of medicine.


Another warming hockey stick is withdrawn/”put-on-hold” for bad data

June 9, 2012

One would think that after Climategate, climate scientists would be a little more careful with their “trickery”.

When a supposedly peer reviewed paper in the American Meteorological Society Journal  is withdrawn / “put on hold” after publication when the on-line community (Jean S / Steve McIntyre) find the authors to have cherry picked and improperly “massaged their data, it says 2 things:

  1. that the peer review process at the AMS is either incompetent or corrupt (in that it is especially friendly to papers propounding the global warming orthodoxy), and
  2. that the “tricks” revealed by Climategate are still being actively used by so-called climate scientists  to support their beliefs

That one of the authors – probably responsible for this cock-up – a Joelle Gergis from the University of Melbourne, is more an “activist” than a “scientist” does not help matters . Going through the abstracts of her list of publications suggests that she often decides on her conclusions first and then selects data and writes her papers to fit the conclusions. Cherry picking data is bad enough but when it is done because of confirmation bias it is perhaps the most insidious form of scientific misconduct there is.

Interestingly is no longer available.

The authors have deleted this blog.

The AMS Journal “peers” who reviewed this paper don’t come out of this very well either. But of course they will receive no strictures for a job done badly.


Gergis et al “Put on Hold”

American Meteorological Society disappears withdraws Gergis et al paper on proxy temperature reconstruction after post peer review finds fatal flaws

Gergis paper disappears

Another Hockey Stick broken

Chinese Government tries to get to grips with science misconduct. When will India follow?

March 15, 2012

It was high time and even though they have tried before, the new measures just announced by the Chinese Education Ministry will hopefully begin to curb the widespread plagiarism, data manipulation and even data fakery that allegedly goes on.

India needs to institutionalise something similar. The Society of Scientific Values in India is an independent body and tries valiantly to act as a watch-dog but it has no teeth and no official standing. Of course in India the danger with creating institutions under a Ministry – and therefore under a Minister – is that the institution will very quickly become politicised. And Indian politicians are perhaps not the best choice when it comes to monitoring and establishing ethical standards. Nevertheless a start has to be made and the Ministry of Science and Technology in India is the natural home of an institution to promote ethical standards in scientific research and at institutes of higher education. The key will be to provide the backing of the Ministry to give it sufficient weight but to maintain its independence from party political influences. Giving such an institution semi-judicial status is one way but could be very heavy handed.

China Daily reports:

China’s Ministry of Education on Wednesday issued new rules to supervise universities’ scientific research and academic activities in order to “effectively prevent and curb academic misconduct.”


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