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Posted in Uncategorized

PubPeer Appears to Peer Properly

Last October, the science community was all agog by the announcement that Fazlul H Sarkar, PhD, was suing PubPeer, demanding that they release the names of the anonymous commenters who had criticized numerous papers that had come from his laboratory at Wayne State University in Detroit (retraction watch: http://retractionwatch.com/category/by-author/fazlul-sarkar/). PubPeer is a website that appeared several years ago that encourages comments and critiques of almost any scientific paper that has appeared in the literature, most of which are available on the website PubMed. Sarkar is (was) distinguished Prof. of Pathology at Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit. I say “is” as he still appears on the list of faculty of the Wayne State Pathology Department. According to his page on the Wayne State website, Sarkar received a PhD from Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi, India in 1978 and was a postdoctoral fellow from1978 to 1984 at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York, NY. He is or has been Principal Investigator on eight R01 grants supported by The National Institutes of health (NIH), dating back as early as 1993 and totaling more than $10 million in support. R01 grants are investigator initiated grants, the most prestigious and desirable grants obtainable from the NIH (NIH RePorter: http://projectreporter.nih.gov/reporter_SearchResults). PubMed, the website for The National Library of Medicine, lists over 500 articles on which FH Sarkar appears as an author. He has obviously been an impressive and productive researcher.

The problem, it seems, is that Sarkar had been recruited by the University of Mississippi with promises of extensive laboratory space and financial support, including a munificent salary. As a result of this magnificent offer, Sarkar sold his house in the Detroit area, resigned his position at Wayne State and prepared to move south. Before actually uprooting his family, the University of Mississippi rescinded its offer, leaving Sarkar high and dry and totally in limbo. The reason for the rejection was apparently the postings on PubPeer that questioned the scientific integrity of many of the papers. Having cut his ties with Wayne State, they were unwilling to take him back. Sarkar blamed his dilemma on the PubPeer whistleblowers. The comments on PubPeer call attention to potential image manipulation in approximately 100 of the 500 or so articles co-authored by Dr. Sarkar.

An interesting in-depth article appeared on the kinja website on January 16, 2015: http://sciencemadeeasy.kinja.com/the-case-against-pubpeer-1679940590, written by a certain Faz Alam. I have not been able to obtain much information about this individual, except that he/she (I assume he) appears to hark from India, claims to have a degree in microbiology and may have attended Gannon University, Erie, Pennsylvania. He has made comments on a number of scientific blogs, and may be a reporter of sorts. In the article on the Kinja.com website, Alam summarizes an exhaustive study that he made of the citations that were listed on PubPeer as containing derogatory information. He graded each analysis as either fair (PubPeer questioning was justified), unfair (Alam disagrees with the PubPeer comment) or neutral (Alam neither agrees nor disagrees). Alam judged 89 as fair, 20 as unfair and seven as neutral. In his blog, Alam asks the rhetorical question “does this mean Dr. Sarkar is guilty of misconduct?”. To which he replies “I don’t think so. If you read all of the papers, you’ll find one repeated sentence “all authors contributed to this article equally”…. The truth is that we don’t know, and we may never know for sure.” Alam then quotes Ushma S Neill, Editor at Large, Journal of Clinical Investigation, Editorial Consultant, Molecular Metabolism and Director, Office of the President, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, as saying “… If the paper goes out with your name on it, you should be able to verify every single piece of data in it and take responsibility for it.

As a result of this posting, I did a little research on my own. There are 538 citations on PubMed that list Sarkar as an author or co-author. When I access PubMed I can look at 200 citations per page. PubMed makes a notation on some papers if there are comments about them on PubPeer. I found that PubMed’s PubPeer list is not the least bit exhaustive and that only 44 of Sarkar’s papers have been singled out. On my first page of 200 citations, I found 22 that had also been cited on PubPeer. I examined each one to determine whether Dr. Sarkar had been the corresponding author and/or had supported the studies with his grants. I determined that he had been either corresponding author, grantee or both on 16 of these 22 citations. Therefore, even though all authors contributed equally, I hold Dr. Sarkar to be the principal who is most at fault because, as corresponding author, he was responsible for the data that was presented and as the grantee, he took further responsibility to make certain that the reports were accurate and complete. I agree with Ushma S Neill.

There is no way of knowing whether Dr. Sarkar himself knew that the images in these papers had been manipulated. However, it was his job to verify those images. I can attest that spotting manipulated images is not difficult. In many cases the alterations stick out like sore thumbs. Dr. Sarkar will probably never stand before a court of law but I believe the punishment that he has endured: loss of his professorship and his job is eminently justified. He does not merit any professorships anywhere. It is time for him to find employment elsewhere, outside of the University and outside of science.

Posted in ethical concerns, news item, possible fraud

The Franzen Case. Nanochemistry In Fantasy Land Or All That Glitters Is Not Palladium

Last month (October), I had the pleasure of attending a lecture at New York University (NYU) given by a fellow whistle blower, Stefan Franzen, who was hosted by another fellow whistle blower, Bart Kahr. Stefan, who hails from the North Carolina State University (NCSU) in Raleigh, is a lively, intense chemistry professor with a bulldog determination to dig out the truth. He had the misfortune to become involved with colleagues who believed they were on to something really hot, and Stefan, for a while, thought so, too. The research led to support by a million dollar grant from the Keck Foundation and $700,000 from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the US Department of Energy (DOE).

The brouhaha was all about nanoparticles. So what are they? Stefan introduced them in his talk as the modern manifestation of what we used to call colloids – particles that are too small to form precipitates and too big to be dissolved. They have become a hot item in recent times because of their properties as carriers of good and bad things into small spaces in and around our bodies. They can, for example, deliver drugs to the brain, activate signaling pathways and track macromolecules. They can broadcast subcellular chemical behavior, inhibit or enhance biomolecular reactions and generally serve as supermolecular helpers, inhibitors or participants. The excitement in the Chemistry department at NCSU was all about the construction of nanoparticles that used RNA, that quintessential nucleic acid that may well have been the primordial nucleic acid, to build nanoparticles that contained palladium, a precious metal in a class with silver, gold and platinum that has many uses as a catalyst. The nanoparticles so constructed had class – they appeared in the form of tiny hexagons. And not only was RNA the builder, only specific sequences of RNA would work. How good does it get? Good enough to get the paper published in the journal Science, along with Nature, the most prestigious of prestigious scientific journals. Publishing in Science is tantamount to obtaining grants, awards, accolades, prestigious job offers. The discoverers of this phenomenon dubbed it “Evolutionary Chemistry”, a catchy sobriquet that was bound to attract venture capital.

But, no. There is Stefan Franzen who says it isn’t true. The work was sloppy, poorly described, inadequately controlled and failed to stand up to the necessary tests. Franzen told us in his talk that the particles which should have been as solid as gold did not stand the test of time and disintegrated. Chemical analysis led him and others to believe that they were mainly composed of carbon, not precious palladium. They were described as forming in aqueous solutions, but, alas, the paper neglected to mention that they had actually been formed in 50% tetrahydrofuran (THF), a widely used but noxious and highly carcinogenic industrial solvent. The work in the Science paper was that of PhD candidate, Lina Gugliotti, who, among other things, had failed to calibrate the microscope that was instrumental in identifying and analyzing the particles.

Shortly after the landmark paper was published, the key opposition players, Professors Bruce Eaton and Dan Feldstein, moved to the University of Colorado as Professors of Chemistry where they continue to pursue research on nanoparticles. On his website, Eaton describes the “new type of RNA catalysis [that] revealed that Pd (palladium) particle formation could be mediated by specific selected sequences”. Seems he is still stuck on the “discovery” or maybe it does really work but just not as told in the Science paper. Eaton is very much of a go-getter and is said in the first of 3 articles that appeared in the NewsObserver.com, to have founded 2 biotech companies and is named on 70 patents. Feldheim, on the other hand, appears to be somewhat less flamboyant.

Since the publication of the Science paper in 2004, the fur has been flying with acrimonious accusations and stubborn grandstanding. NCSU investigated the conduct of the experiments in the Science paper and filed a lukewarm report in June of 2008 that, while agreeing that the paper contained serious flaws, stated that scientific misconduct had not occurred and they urged “the Respondents to either publish new conclusive data or to publish a clarification/reexamination of their previously reported data” which, of course, has not yet been done. One member of the 5 member committee disagreed that Feldheim was not guilty of scientific misconduct. The University of Colorado, which, after all, was really hors de combat, chose to accept the judgment of NCSU and declined to conduct its own investigation.

Next in line came the National Science Foundation. Their report, if completed, has not been made public, but they summarized their findings to Congress in September, 2013 by saying “We concluded that collectively the coauthors recklessly falsified their work in the original article. We recommended that NSF require retraction of the article and three years of certifications and assurances for each author, and bar each author as an NSF reviewer, advisor, or consultant for three years.” As far as is known, these sanctions have not been implemented, the paper still stands and Franzen still fumes.

But now, let’s take a look at the stake holders in this sorry tale and what they stand to lose.

The 2 senior investigators: they stand to lose (may have lost) the respect of their colleagues and of their students, to alienate grantors, to lose face, to admit that they were wrong

The graduate student: could (perhaps should) have her degree rescinded, by being at the center of this controversy could have trouble find a job, could lose out on her future (I favor rescinding her degree – what good to the world is the worthless information therein contained? But give her a second chance. Let her return to the laboratory and work on some other project. She was not properly supervised the first time around – but then, she was a doctoral candidate – wasn’t it her responsibility to find out how to use that microscope?)

NCSU could be required to return the grant money, could lose face and competitiveness in this cutthroat scientific world, especially when it comes to attracting grant support and graduate students

NSF (also DOE) depends on Congress for its funding. Support of fantasy research could jeopardize its standing and fund-raising competitiveness in these tight times

Franzen’s colleagues and detractors may see him as beating a dead horse. And he stands to gain nothing in the material sense. But let us hope that there is an increase in respect and admiration for such a person with such unassailable integrity. Let us hope that, by his example, his students will see that honesty is the best policy and will follow his light. He spent 3 years in the Peace Corps in Africa to make the world a better place. Let us hope that he has done that for the world of science, as well.

Sources for this blog are

Wikipedia: article on nanoparticles

A series of articles by Joseph Neff that appeared on NewObserver.com in January, 2014 with a follow-up on July 17, 2014

A post on Retraction Watch of January 30, 2014 by Ivan Oransky

Letter from Representatives Paul C Brown, MD and Dan Maffei of the Subcommittee on Oversight of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee to Dr W Randolph Woodson, Chancellor, NCSU, dated July 15, 2014

The NSF Semi-Annual Report to Congress in September 2013

The Report of the NCSU Investigation Committee regarding Allegations of Possible Misconduct in Research of 6/30/08

Bruce E. Eaton’s and Daniel L Feldheim’s pages on the University of Colorado website

Posted in ethical concerns, journal problems, news item, possible fraud, whistleblower report

Stapel got ahold of the hammer again (but not for long) and other stories

Wednesday, October 15, 2014.

Diedrick Stapel hits the nail on the head: seems that Diedrick Stapel, the kitchen table data creator, cannot lose for winning. It was reported on the Retraction Watch recently (remember he has racked up 54 retractions – not a record though) that he had a new job teaching psychology at a college in the Netherlands. There are more detailed posts about this on the K2P blog and Retraction Watch. Fortunately for his young students, he had to resign, but true to form, the truth is still a problem for him: at least for a while, as he used a fake name “Paul” in comments on RW defending himself. Once uncovered, he was not above excusing himself for this additional bit of fakery.

In a recent article in the Annals of Internal Medicine, AG Dunn, D Arachi, et al. conclude that reviewers of scientific articles who have financial conflicts of interest are more likely to recommend the pharmaceuticals in question in a favorable manner compared to reviewers who have no conflict of interest. It’s all about the money. Are we surprised? (At least they must have admitted to the conflicts.)

Tom Siegfried comments in www.sciencenews.org/blog/context that reproducing experiments is more complicated than it seems, pointing out that it is rarely possible to duplicate a complicated experiment perfectly. “No two laboratories are identical”. He notes that Ruth Heller has tried to devise a statistic he calls the R-value as a way of approaching the problem of replication. We can add the R-value to the Impact Factor and the Interest Index (see my earlier blog), perhaps just another way of increasing our conclusions and/or our confusions?

An article in The Scientist on October 1 by Daniel Cossins discusses the increasing use of social media to critique scientific publications. The article focuses on the extremely hot STAP (stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency) papers that led to retractions and a suicide in Japan. He quotes one scientist as saying “without social media…the STAP papers wouldn’t have been retracted” and notes that “many scientist bloggers first engaged in the activity specifically to counter misleading information being peddled by the media”. At last, almost everyone has or can have a voice! And there is also PubPeer.

Probably a backlash in Japan to the STAP scandal has led to tighter research integrity guidelines. Scientists found guilty of research misconduct will have their institutions’ budgets cut if they have not taken appropriate measures against the miscreant(s), as reported in Nature, 2 October. An editorial in the same issue points out the difficulties of cleaning up the literature: fear of lawsuits, threats to reputations, but winds up saying “whatever the obstacles, the duty to retract a demonstrably false paper remains paramount”!

The NewScientist on 11 October reported on the global fight against fake malaria medications noting that 30% of anti-malarials failed quality tests and of these, 39% were actually fakes produced by criminals aiming to deceive healthcare workers and patients. A serious effect is the development of resistance if the doctored drugs contain a small amount of an effective drug. Steps to counteract these deceptive practices by WHO have been woefully inadequate.

The K2P blog is one of my favorites because it is full of interesting and timely information. However, I take issue with the blogger on the topic of climate change which I believe is happening and is the result, at least in part, of human activity. As a subscriber to Science I was the recipient of a treatise entitled “What We Know the reality, risks, and response to climate change” written by a panel of 13 experts. The document is available for download at www.whatweknow.aaas.org. It claims that 97% of climate scientists agree.

Posted in ethical concerns, fraud, news item, retractions

Cheating in Science: Who Cares?

Last week I went to the annual meeting of the Radiation Research Society in Las Vegas.  I had a poster on display during the entire meeting in the poster room and was scheduled to stand by and explain it during a 1.5 hour period.  My poster can be viewed by going to my website (www.helenezhill.com), go to the Publishing tab and click on the link in the 1st paragraph.  The poster asks, regarding scientific misconduct (falsification, fabrication and plagiarism), “How much is there? Who does it? How much does it cost? and What to do about it?”  I tacked an envelope to the bottom of the poster containing 22 copies of my recently published on-line article with Joel Pitt: (HZ Hill, JH Pitt. Failure to Replicate: A Sign of Scientific Misconduct? Publications 2014, 2, 71-82; doi:10.3390/publications2030071).  When the meeting was over, 5 copies of the paper had been taken from the envelope.  During my 1.5 hour for standing at my poster, I talked with 2 people.  One was an old friend, the other was a radiation scientist with the same surname as mine.  There were 700 radiation scientists in attendance at the meeting.  Looks like my presentation garnered an interest index of 0.007.

The article in Publications raises some serious statistical questions about the data in 2 previously published articles in Radiation Research, the official journal of the Society (Bishayee A, Rao DV, Howell RW. Evidence for pronounced bystander effects caused by nonuniform distributions of radioactivity using a novel three-dimensional tissue culture model. Radiat. Res. 1999152, 88-97 and Bishayee A, Hill HZ, Stein D, Rao DV, Howell RW. Free-radical-initiated and gap-junction-mediated bystander effect due to nonuniform distribution of incorporated radioactivity in a three-dimensional tissue culture model. Radiat. Res. 2001, 155, 335-344).  I had sent the Publications article to the Editor of the journal, the president and the president-elect of the society requesting that the possibility of retraction of the 2 papers be discussed at the meeting of the Council of the society which would take place at the annual meeting.  I do not know whether this occurred and the minutes are not made available to the members.  Of the 3, only the President-Elect (now the President) has acknowledged any concern.

I had the opportunity to speak with the Editor, Mark Mendonca, and with another person (who does not wish to be quoted) who is prominent in the leadership of the Society.  Both of them urged me to give up my quest.  Mendonca told me that it would be illegal for him to retract the papers (not that I was asking him to do it — just that it be presented and considered by the Council).  I would like very much to see that law that he would be breaking.  They both emphasized that I had failed to convince two university committees, the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) of the US Public Health Service and that I had lost a qui tam case in the federal courts and that was enough for them.  Mendonca averred that he agreed with the judge’s decision — which, by the way, had nothing to do with the science (the Appeals Court judge stated “we are just judges, I never took a science course in my life”).  The data in the 2 papers were never considered by the 2 committees, the ORI or the judge so the stance of these 2 learned gentlemen, Mendonca and Dr Anonymous,  was clearly off the mark.  Dr Anonymous gave me an angry lecture during which it was impossible for me to get a word in edgewise.  I wanted to show him a spreadsheet demonstrating that 16 out of 18 graphs in the grant application and renewal that had supported the research were backed by very suspicious data but he refused to look at our statistical analysis.

The Retraction Watch keeps track of journal articles that have been retracted and has by now it has about 35,000 followers.  The Ithenticate website estimates that there are about 7,000,000 scientists throughout the world, so the global interest index in scientific misconduct is about0.005, pretty close to the interest index of members of the Radiation Research Society.

Posted in ethical concerns, journal problems, possible fraud, retractions, Uncategorized

Week’s Happenings 9/14/14

On the 16th, Nathan S Blow, Editor-in-Chief of BioTechniques wrote a piece about the Materials and Methods section of scientific papers.  He points out that most authors do not provide enough detail for the reader to repeat the experiments.  On the other hand, some authors tend to say too much or repeat methods in figure legends unnecessarily.  He advocates specifying the vendors of various chemicals and supplies as these can vary in effectiveness.  Being complete and specific in Materials and Methods can go a long way to preventing others from floundering and failing to replicate results for no other reason than the the protocols could not be appropriately reconstructed.  And that can get you into trouble.

In his piece, he cites “a commentary in the journal Nature by Begley and Ellis that found that the results of 47 out of 53 studies could not be replicated. These preclinical studies formed the basis for other research studies and in some instances were the starting points for costly drug studies.”  And further, he cites the Global Biological Standards Institute report that states “In interviews with 60 key figures in the life science community, nearly 75% of those interviewed described having to deal with irreproducible data and/or results”.

Blow’s current essay is a follow-up of a thoughtful editorial he wrote last January (A Simple Question of Reproducibility, BioTechniques 56:8 doi 10.2144/000114117) and is well worth the read.

From those intrepid bloggers, Adam Marcus and Ivan Oransky of The Retraction Watch, we have an opinion piece in LabTimes 5: 39 entitled “Time for a Retraction Penalty?”  They point out that journals with high impact factors (e.g. Science, Nature, Cell, for example) also have high retraction rates.  “What if journals earned impact reputation points for clear retraction notices?  What if they earned similar points for responding quickly to questions about papers they’d published, instead of dragging their feet?”

As a crusader who has been trying to get several papers that contain, to my mind, unsustainable information, retracted without success, I would be happy to see journals face up to the fact that not every paper is absolutely true.  We are all human, after all.  And some false information is innocent error and other is out and out fraud.

Of greater interest to us all are the Ig Nobel Prizes in Medicine awarded recently at Harvard and reported on Medpage Today (www.medpagetoday.com).  The top winner discovered that “strips of pork can be used to stop nosebleeds”.  My husband claims that everyone when he was growing up in Iowa knew about that.  Runners-up were rewarded for discovering that dogs orient themselves with the earth’s magnetic field when they poop (that may actually be true for our little Ripken or it may have to do with the directions the streets run on our morning walk.  He does manage to drop them in a row: north to south or East to west, depending on which street we are on).  Other studies were rewarded for analyzing people who see images of Jesus in pieces of toast and for finding that people who stay up late are more narcissistic than those who rise early.

Things seem to be going well in court for Marie DiFiore, a whistleblower in the pharmaceutical industry who suffered retaliation and termination for ratting on her company CSL Behring.  Right on, Marie!  And good luck!

In an Opinion article in the New Scientist, Richard Smith, formerly on editor of the BMJ and a founding member of COPE (Committee on Publication Ethics) says that he believes that researc misconduct should be illegal remarking on the failure of scientists to deal with it themselves.  He acknowledges that detecting fraud is not easy, but you can sometimes detect it statistically “because if you invent data you tend to come up with a recurrent pattern”.  Don’t we know about that!  (New Scientist, 13 September 2014|27.)

In another Opinion article in the same issue, by S. Alexander Haslam (pages 28-31) argues that the notion that atrocities can be rationalized because of “following orders” is no longer tenable.  Atrocities “always involve a choice of engagements, and we are always accountable for our choices”.

And now our favorite athletic director has done it again.  Julie Hermann, the Rutgers AD who pulls a salary of $450,000.  Last week she berated a few rude Rutgers fans for dissing Penn State about Jerry Sandusky and this week she urged her staff during the season kick off to reach out and touch donors but not in a Sandusky way.  Is that a variation of the pot calling the kettle black?



Posted in discrimination and harassment, ethical concerns, fraud, journal problems, news item, retractions

The cost of retractions, another fascinating charlatan and Mt Holyoke, but not Smith, does the right thing

Tracy Vance reported in the Scientist (Monday, 9/8)) on the cost of retractions.  They can reduce related citations and impact on future funding.  Best to do it right in the first place.  Even unintentional errors can cost.

From Morning Break Medpage Today (Wednesday, 9/10) Anoop Shankar, who held an endowed chair at the West Virginia University School of Public Health, co-author of two papers in JAMA, and collaborator on a third has been discredited for falsifying PhD, membership in the Royal College of Physicians, and MD credentials, NBC News reported.  The NBC news item is well-worth the read.  This fellow is absolutely amazing with his chutzpa.  He is as fascinating (and dismaying) as Frank Abagnale, the hero (?) of “Catch Me If You Can”.  Will Shankar continue to surface in scientific circles?  How can administrators, college and university presidents and the like, be so gullible?

Smart Brief for Higher Education reported that Mt Holyoke accepts transgender (self-identified) women, but, alas, following the links, Smith does not — but I am sure will in the future.

Posted in discrimination and harassment, ethical concerns, fraud, news item, retractions


Wonderful Labor Day weekend in WV visiting granddaughter and 3 rambunctious great grand kids.  Only problem was getting out of Parkersburg.  Spent the whole day Sunday in the airport looking at our plane which could not fly in the rain (it was raining off and on).  United finally gave up at around 6 PM and we went to the Blennerhassett Hotel, a hotel like old times.  Had a delicious dinner and short night.  Up at 4 AM to go back to the airport.  Mechanics still working on the plane — got it fixed and we were off.  Learned they only had 3 of these aircraft and the other 2 had been in use elsewhere so could not come to Parkersburg where only a handful of passengers were waiting (not worth the expense).  Where have the old times gone when the airlines really cared about their passengers, gave them reading material, snacks, room for their legs (as opposed to “leg room” which by definition is too small for anyone with legs).

So what has been happening on the scientific integrity front while we were out of commission?  A lot.  But one thing that I have realized is that The Retraction Watch and especially their weekend reads is really on top of a lot of the integrity news that I was planning to cover.  So I recommend it to all who stumble on to my website.  I will continue to comment on things that strike me as important and I hope to post stories from whistleblowers and other mistreated individuals.  Your stories are important so please send them along.

My big news is that my statistician colleague, Joel Pitt, and I have finally published a paper on our analysis of data that at the very least we would call anomalous.  Here is the link (http://www.mdpi.com/2304-6775/2/3/71).  The citation is Hill HZ, Pitt JH. Failure to replicate: A sign of scientific misconduct? Publications 2014, 2, 71-82.  It has been mentioned on Retraction Watch and comments have already started to arrive.

A recent article on Medium reports that 7 of Italy’s top scientists were convicted of manslaughter for under-estimating the threat of an impending earthquake in an earthquake-prone region on April 5, 2009.  297 people were killed and 1000 were injured.  How could they be held accountable? What a terrible price to pay for an error in judgment.

Retraction Watch reported on August 27 that 2 scientists at Cornell University were able to detect language quirks in 24 retracted papers by Diederik Stapel, the infamous Dutch data inventor, that were not present in 25 of his (presumed) legitimate papers.  A cautionary note to all would-be data falsifiers – “watch your language”.

On August 27, Tracy Vance of The Scientist reported that readers queried on Twitter as to how long it took for journals to respond to questions raised about articles answered anywhere from one year to 3 years.  One respondent quipped “the longest I’ve waited for action from a journal is forever, and the shortest time to real action–also forever.”  Interesting.  I am still waiting to hear from an Elsevier journal editor regarding a question that I raised over a year ago.  Elsevier has a very explicit policy about the handling of questions of misconduct.  Hmmm…

It was all over the news on August 28 that humans (and primates, in general) are not the only mammals that engage in deceptive practices.  Pandas in China have been observed to fake pregnancy in order to get more elite accommodations and better treats and food.  What ever is the world coming to.

Science on August 29 reported that of 221 experiments in a particular survey only 21% of those with iffy results were ever published, while 62% of those with strong results did reach the light of day.  The authors called for a registry for all experimental results, good or bad, to avoid duplication and expense.



Posted in ethical concerns, news item, Uncategorized


I am having trouble keeping up with all the news that I would like to talk about in this blog!  Stay with me, I am doing my best!

Retraction Watch is running about 2 posts a day since last I wrote.

The Ithenticate website estimates that the cost in the US of investigating a single case of scientific fraud is about $500,000.  Well, I think that that is a gross under estimate and my case (that I lost — go to my website to learn more: www.helenezhill.com) is a case in point.  My legal fees and expenses came to about $200,000.  I had one lawyer who gave me a discount.  The university had 2 lawyers whose fees were probably at least twice mine, so, let’s say that it cost the university about $500,000.  The grants in question amounted to $2,500,000 and then there was (and still is) my salary (I would have retired long ago, but for my case — 10, 11 years, maybe), let’s put that at another $1,500,000.  Then there is the lost time paying the salary for a post-doctoral fellow to produce the questioned data –let’s put that at about $100,000.  Then there is the wasted time the Principal Investigator spent supervising the production of the questioned data.  Let’s put that at $200,000.  And then there is the time that was spent by other investigators to review the papers that contain the questioned data.  Let’s put that at another $50,000.  That all comes to $5,050,000.  Of (yours and my) hard earned tax money.

Sigma Xi, a scientific research society, has just revised and updated its website — very much for the better.  And it has (no surprise) a blog.  In a recent post, one member asked if fraud, deception and sloppy work more prevalent now than in the past?  As of today, there have been 9 responses and I wish I could say that there is a consensus.  The 9 savants (and I am one) don’t even agree that bad science is more prevalent than in the past.  What I think is that yes, it is more prevalent because the money is tighter, research support is harder to get and that makes it a bit easier to massage the data and make it look better.  On the other hand, surveillance has gotten better and fear of getting caught is a pretty good deterrent.  The greatest boon to the field is Retraction Watch which has only been around for a couple of years but by now has more than 34,000 followers.

I am always interested in whistle blower stories and there was one in the NY Times on August 19.  This was a WB at Massachusetts Mutual Financial Group who saw a glitch in the way the company was disbursing funds to its subscribers.  He tried to get the company to shape up but they dug in their heels.  He is quoted as saying “People started treating me like a leper…They would see me coming and turn around and walk in the other direction”.  What whistle blower does not know what that is like?  He did win his case and an award of $400,000.  Hooray!

The Newark Star Ledger reported this morning (8/27) that Rehan Zuberi and 12 associates have been accused in a multimillion dollar scheme of paying doctors to send patients to their offices for scans and tests that they did not need.  Zuberi is an electrical engineer graduate of the City College of New York.  But who are the doctors?  Unfortunately, they, too, will go down with the others.

Posted in discrimination and harassment, ethical concerns, news item, possible fraud, whistleblower report

News 8/19-20/14

There were 2 retractions yesterday and 2 more today on Retraction Watch.

The big news of the day today (8/20) was the notice on The Scientist Daily post that PubPeer is in danger of being sued.  For those of you who don’t know, PubPeer is a website on which are available (as far as I can tell) all the articles that are and have been listed on PubMed, the National Library of Medicine’s posting of scientific articles from almost all the world’s scientific journals since the beginning of time.  Anyone can call up any PubMed article on PubPeer and comment on it — essentially post-publication review.  This is really a great opportunity.  However, it has also turned in to a site where people can note any discrepancies in the data in the various articles — in other words, a way of finding and noting data manipulation — dare I say fraud.  And the great thing about it is that the commenter can be anonymous, known only to the PubPeer management.  Those who post comments are cautioned to be discreet and to choose their words carefully.  To my mind, PubPeer is a great service and will go a long way to reducing scientific fraud.  So we had better pray that all of this will come to naught.

Posted in Uncategorized

New today

On Ted Talks Clint Smith has a thoughtful message about the danger of silence.  He says that “silence is the residue of fear…who has to have a soap box when all you ever needed was your voice?”  So what does this say to me and to any other hesitant whistle blowers out there?  We have to speak up, our voice has to be heard and we need to support each other to conquer that “residue of fear”.

Prisons were prominent in another 2 presentations on the web this morning.  Dan Pacholke gave a moving presentation also on Ted Talks about the necessity of giving prisoners meaningful lives.  Even though incarcerated, there are constructive things that can be done.  In some prisons, prisoners are participating in scientific experiments, in others, they are involved in gardening.  There was a time when prisoners were not allowed to work because that was considered some kind of coercion, so they had to sit around and contemplate their navels.  Recidivism is bound to be reduced if prisoners have a meaningful skill when they get out (and most of them do).  Is this something for the integrity watch to be concerned about?  Well, yes.  Ex-offenders that don’t have meaningful lives wind up re-committing, wind up shooting people who wind up in hospitals, wind up getting shot themselves.  What goes on in our prisons impacts on all of us.

Even more moving was the blog on Medpage Today by Joel Zivot, MD, an anaesthesiologist who had the unsettling experience of witnessing an execution by lethal injection.  The event itself would turn the stomach of almost every caring individual but what bothered Dr Zivot the most was that 2 physicians were on duty in the arena itself.  An attendant fainted and, rather than rushing to his/her aid as any doctor is trained to do, they held back.  In our Core Curriculum at the New Jersey Medical School, we have a module entitled “Ethics, Humanism and Professionalism”.  There are 4 tenets for Ethics: 1. Autonomy 2. Beneficence 3. non-maleficence and 4. justice.  In that death chamber, autonomy had been lost to our prisoner long ago.  He was permitted a few last words of apology but that was all; and justice, well, justice was justice, not for medical doctors to decide.  These 2 were out of the hands of the 2 physicians standing by.  But what of beneficence and non-maleficence?  The very core of what medicine is all about?  Dr Zivot questions the appropriateness of the presence of physicians in that  chamber of horrors.  Have they violated their oath?

Posted in ethical concerns, news item, Uncategorized

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