Posts Tagged ‘Singapore’

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 So much so that 13 of his papers have been retracted and there be many more retractions to come.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Thirteen of those papers have now been retracted, and Melendez concedes that as corresponding author he is at fault for signing off the work without overseeing it adequately — a form of misconduct in itself.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.

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Investigations of misconduct at Singapore need to be seen to be impartial

November 7, 2011

The saga of potential misconduct at the National University of Singapore continues to escalate with further questionable papers regularly being identified by “whistleblowers” to Abnormal Science (Joerg Zwirner).

But the investigations initiated by the University are not totally above criticism especially as Prof. Barry Haliwell the Vice President at the University and responsible for these investigations is himself facing allegations of self-plagiarism and is a co-author on some of the questionable papers. There is an urgent need for some outside participation in the investigations to ensure independence and impartiality. My current perception is that the objective of the investigation will over-ridingly be to save the reputation of the University (any by extension of the government of Singapore) and that the investigation committee will be heavily blinkered. Since the government has effectively been trying to short-cut its way to a scientific reputation by “buying in” researchers, there is little chance that the investigations – as they are set up now – will not be contaminated by government meddling.

As Abnormal Science comments:

A more stringent management of quality and integrity issues in experimental (medical ) research needs to take center stage at NUS. Vice president Prof. Halliwell  is in charge of the Office of Research and Technology at NUS,  and therefore responsible for driving the University’s research agenda. Unfortunately, he also appears to handle issues related to science integrity at NUS himself. This constellation constitutes an inacceptable accumulation of responsibilities and should be banned since it carries the potential for conflict of interest. Prof. Halliwell, you might want to take a leave of absence from your position as vice president until these issues (including the allegation of self-plagiarism) have been resolved.

More dodgy papers for National University of Singapore to investigate

October 24, 2011

Update: 31st October 2011: Further dodgy papers are given in the next instalment from Abnormal Science.

Japanese Retraction Watch has also been on the case.

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Abnormal Science ( Joerg Zwirner) has 3 more examples of papers with some questionable images. This time the papers are from the Department of Physiology, National University of Singapore with 2 papers published in Blood and one in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

The three papers tagged are:

1. Pervaiz S, Seyed MA, Hirpara JL, Clément MV, Loh KW.
Purified photoproducts of merocyanine 540 trigger cytochrome C release and caspase 8-dependent apoptosis in human leukemia and melanoma cells.
Blood. 1999 Jun 15;93(12):4096-108.
Department of Physiology, National University of Singapore; and the Oncology Research Institute, NUMI, Singapore

2. Hirpara JL, Seyed MA, Loh KW, Dong H, Kini RM, Pervaiz S.
Induction of mitochondrial permeability transition and cytochrome C release in the absence of caspase activation is insufficient for effective apoptosis in human leukemia cells.
Blood. 2000 Mar 1;95(5):1773-80.
Department of Physiology, National University of Singapore, Singapore.

3. Hirpara JL, Clément MV, Pervaiz S.
Intracellular acidification triggered by mitochondrial-derived hydrogen peroxide is an effector mechanism for drug-induced apoptosis in tumor cells.
J Biol Chem. 2001 Jan 5;276(1):514-21.
Department of Physiology, National University of Singapore, Singapore

The two names common to all 3 papers are JL Hirpara and research supervisor Professor Shazib Pervaiz.

The NUS investigation committee has its work cut out with all the questionable papers they need to check out (See here and here).

As Abnormal Science puts it:

Their inquiry commissions might soon run out of unbiased members. NUS should consider to accept assistance from abroad to clean up the mess.

And it seems to be truly a mess covering a number of departments which indicates a prevailing culture and not just some isolated incident of wrongdoing.

Academic Pandora’s box in Singapore well and truly open as more allegations of misconduct surface

October 20, 2011

Skeletons seem to be tumbling out of the Singapore academic closet thick and fast as one allegation follows hot on the heels of the last. Previous revelations are here, and here.

1. Abnormal Science reports that another whistleblower has appeared and has pointed out image irregularities (image manipulations?) in two more publications, both from  the Department of Pharmacology, National University of Singapore. Abnormal Science.

2. From the Straits Times (h/t as pointed out by an Abnormal Science reader) it is reported that a famous cancer scientist in Singapore is having his work challenged. If Prof. Yoshiaki Ito’s work is found to be flawed then some 200 other publications based on his results would be thrown into doubt.

The Times article is behind a pay wall but Asia News Net  carries the article (more…)

Further shenanigans at Singapore’s Agency for Science Technology and Research (A*)

October 15, 2011

Singapore was recently rocked by the Melendez affair where a much vaunted scientist was found to have manipulated data and 70 of his scientific papers are now under investigation. An excellent summary of the situation is here at Retraction Watch. Alirio Melendez who is currently employed by the University of Liverpool has been suspended pending the results of the investigation. In the strait-laced Singapore society which is utterly convinced about its own excellence in all things, this has come as a rude shock and shattered the complacent view of the academic world that “misconduct does not happen here”. There is now some concern that the reputation of the academic world in Singapore may be seriously tarnished.

But the misconduct may be rather more widespread than they would like to think. The “rotten” core was revealed by an “anonymous whistleblower” but it may be just the opening of the lid of a Pandora’s box.

Joerg Zwirner, an immunologist and associate professor at Georg-August-Universität Göttingen reports further cases of misconduct at Abnormal Science. He reports – courtesy of the whistleblower again – on 3 further papers where image manipulation is apparent. This time the common author is Kong-Peng Lam, of  the Laboratory of Molecular and Cellular Immunology, Biomedical Sciences Institutes, Singapore Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR).

Singapore and scientific misconduct: No end in sight

The three papers where image manipulation is apparent are:

1. Ng CH, Xu S, Lam KP.
Dok-3 plays a nonredundant role in negative regulation of B-cell activation.
Blood. 2007; 110: 259-66.

2. Tan JE, Wong SC, Gan SK, Xu S, Lam KP.
The adaptor protein BLNK is required for b cell antigen receptor-induced activation of nuclear factor-kappa B and cell cycle entry and survival of B lymphocytes.
J Biol Chem. 2001; 276:20055-63.

3. Wong SC, Chew WK, Tan JE, Melendez AJ, Francis F, Lam KP.
Peritoneal CD5+ B-1 cells have signaling properties similar to tolerant B cells.
J Biol Chem. 2002; 277: 30707-15.

Prof. KP Lam’s profile at A* is here. He has Minnesota, Columbia and Stanford behind him and a long list of publications in major journals.

Dirty Football: Another corruption trail from Singapore to Finland

June 11, 2011

Dirty football

The corruption that is endemic at the highest levels with the FIFA administrators  is also evident at lower levels and with players involved in match fixing and the betting industry. The BBC reports:

Finnish football has been rocked by a match-fixing scandal which has implications across the world. Nine former members of one team and a Singapore national accused of organising the scams have been put on trial.

Meanwhile, a criminal investigation has begun into another club suspected of money-laundering. Betting syndicates have been said to make as much as $1.5m (£0.9m) from fixed games. The Finnish League, which began its new season in May, usually commands a low profile in the global game.

But events over the past few months have brought it to the attention of football’s world governing body, and its fight against corruption. Tampere, Finland’s former champions, have been suspended. The club received $435,000 from a Singapore company, but officials could not explain why they had been given such a large sum. Money-laundering is suspected.

Finnish police have said the case is linked to the trial of seven Zambians and two Georgians who used to play for a different club in the north of the country. They are accused of accepting bribes worth more than $750,000 to affect the outcome of matches.

In the same trial Wilson Raj Perumal, a Singaporean, is charged with arranging the payments. Fifa also want to speak to Mr Perumal about international friendly matches involving Asian and African teams that are suspected of being fixed.

Last month, two Zambian brothers who played for another Finnish side were convicted of taking bribes from Mr Perumal. The officer leading the investigation in Finland said there was serious speculation this was only the tip of the iceberg.

Meanwhile further details about the FIFA shenanigans continues. From The Guardian:

Another Caribbean football association has come forward to allege receiving $40,000 (£24,440) in cash at the meeting arranged by Fifa‘s presidential challenger Mohamed bin Hammam and one of its vice-presidents Jack Warner at the heart of the bribery scandal that has rocked the world football governing body.

Blatter: FIFA Corruption supervisor

The president of the Surinam FA has now claimed it received the cash in $100 bills in a brown paper envelope on arrival in Trinidad for the meeting with Bin Hammam on 10 May. …. 

The new evidence from Surinam appears to back up the version of events outlined by other CFU members in the evidence file compiled by the US lawyer John Collins at the behest of the Fifa executive committee member and Concacaf general secretary Chuck Blazer.

The civil war within Concacaf further intensified as Fifa imposed a worldwide ban on Lisle Austin, who claimed to be acting president of the federation in the wake of the suspension of Warner and attempted to fire Blazer.

The whistleblowers were led by the Bahamas FA president Anton Sealey and vice-president Fred Lunn, whose claims were backed by statements from the Bermuda, Cayman Islands and Turks and Caicos Islands FAs. According to Lunn’s affidavit, he was given $40,000 in cash and after photographing the notes he returned the money and set in train the bribery investigation.

A split has formed in the CFU between those who have backed the claims in the evidence file, which also includes text messages and email traffic, and those who insist no inducements were offered.

 

Singapore elections: A benevolent dictatorship has become a one-party authoritarian “democracy”

May 7, 2011

Lee Kwan Yew in 1963

Lee Kwan Yew built Singapore. He also put in place all the trappings of a multi-party democracy but was effectively the benevolent dictator who controlled every aspect of life for over 40 years (31 years officially as Prime Minister and for a decade afterwards).

But the institutions he set up for legislative representation and the judiciary are all somewhat nullified when the current reality is one of a single party, ruling in a quite authoritarian style under the cloak of a pluralistic democracy. The ruling party has been quite ruthless in using legalites and a compliant judiciary to exclude rival political parties as soon as they begin to show any signs of becoming popular.

Singaporean politics have been dominated by the People’s Action Party (PAP) since the 1959 general election when Lee Kuan Yew became Singapore’s first prime minister (Singapore was then a self-governing state within the British Empire). The PAP has been in government ever since. Singapore left the Commonwealth in 1963 to join the Federation of Malaysia, but was expelled from the Federation in 1965 after Lee Kuan Yew disagreed with the federal government in Kuala Lumpur. Foreign political analysts and several opposition parties including the Workers’ Party of Singaporeand the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) have argued that Singapore is a de facto one-party state.

The Economist Intelligence Unit classes Singapore as a “hybrid” country, with authoritarian and democratic elements. Freedom House does not consider Singapore an “electoral democracy” and ranks the country as “partly free”. Reporters Without Borders ranked Singapore 140th out of 167 countries in its 2005 Worldwide Press Freedom Index.

… The PAP employs censorship, gerrymandering and the filing of civil suits against the opposition for libel or slander to impede their success. Several former and present members of the opposition, includingFrancis Seow, J.B. Jeyaretnam and Chee Soon Juan perceive the Singaporean courts as favourable towards the government and the PAP due to a lack of separation of powers. …..

Jeyaretnam lost a series of suits to members of the PAP and was declared bankrupt in 2001, effectively disqualifying him from participating in future elections. Similar civil suits have been filed against Chee Soon Juan, leader of the Singapore Democratic Party. In 2005, filmmaker Martyn See shot a documentary on Chee called “Singapore Rebel” and was threatened with a lawsuit for making a “politically partisan” film, which is illegal in Singapore. In 2008, Chee Soon Juan along with his sister Chee Siok Chin were again sentenced to jail for testimony they provided in court. Both have been made bankrupt and are prohibited from leaving the country.

Singapore goes to the polls today and it is noticeable that the events in Tunisia and Egypt have aroused a yearning among many Singaporeans for the strangle-hold of the PAP to be at least weakened if not broken.

BBC:  Politics in the tiny but hugely wealthy state have been dominated by the current ruling party since independence in 1965. But a decision by opposition parties to co-ordinate more closely, and a huge rise in the use of social media, have created a greater sense of competition. The issue dominating discussion is the economy.

Singapore is one of the safest, cleanest and wealthiest countries on the planet – something which should bode well for any incumbent government. And in truth there is little doubt that the People’s Action Party, which has ruled since independence, will be returned to power.

But it is facing a tougher test in this election than ever before. The many parties of the traditionally fragmented opposition have adopted a co-ordinated strategy which has allowed them to challenge almost every seat.

In fact the only uncontested constituency is that of Singapore’s founding father, Lee Kuan Yew.

The challenges facing the country are being discussed. Old orthodoxies are tentatively being challenged. Which is why this election, in normally staid Singapore, is being hailed as the most exciting for a generation.

Whether the Arab spring or the Facebook revolution will be reflected in these elections remains to be seen. But there is no doubt that the PAP is more worried about the effect of the new social media sites than they have ever been. They have even apologised for errors they have made. But Lee Kwan Yew’s legacy will not be so easily  overturned when the majority perceive – as they do – that they have it “pretty good”  and maintaining the status quo is far better than the uncertain benefits of an increased level of freedom.


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