Archive for the 'Scientific Misconduct' category

Does it matter how the data are collected?

Commenter jmz4 made a fascinating comment on a prior post:


It is not the journals responsibility to mete out retractions as a form of punishment(&). Only someone that buys into papers as career accolades would accept that. The journal is there to disseminate accurate scientific information. If the journal has evidence that, despite the complaint, this information is accurate,(%) then it *absolutely* should take that into account when deciding to keep a paper out there.

(&) Otherwise we would retract papers from leches and embezzlers. We don't.

That prior post was focused on data fraud, but this set of comments suggest something a little broader.

I.e., that fact are facts and it doesn't matter how we have obtained them.

This, of course, brings up the little nagging matter of the treatment of research subjects. As you are mostly aware, Dear Readers, the conduct of biomedical experimentation that involves human or nonhuman animal subjects requires an approval process. Boards of people external to the immediate interests of the laboratory in question must review research protocols in advance and approve the use of human (Institutional Review Board; IRB) or nonhuman animal (Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee; IACUC) subjects.

The vast majority (ok, all) journals of my acquaintance require authors to assert that they have indeed conducted their research under approvals provided by IRB or IACUC as appropriate.

So what happens when and if it is determined that experiments have been conducted outside of IRB or IACUC approval?

The position expressed by jmz4 is that it shouldn't matter. The facts are as they are, the data have been collected so too bad, nothing to be done here. We may tut-tut quietly but the papers should not be retracted.

I say this is outrageous and nonsense. Of course we should apply punitive sanctions, including retracting the paper in question, if anyone is caught trying to publish research that was not collected under proper ethical approvals and procedures.

In making this decision, the evidence for whether the conclusions are likely to be correct or incorrect plays no role. The journal should retract the paper to remove the rewards and motivations for operating outside of the rules. Absolutely. Publishers are an integral part of the integrity of science.

The idea that journals are just there to report the facts as they become known is dangerous and wrong.

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Additional Reading: The whole board of Sweden's top-ranked university was just sacked because of the Macchiarini scandal

13 responses so far

No, Cell, the replication does not have bearing on the original fraud

Sep 12 2016 Published by under Scientific Misconduct, Scientific Publication

Via the usual relentless trolling of YHN from Comrade PhysioProffe, a note on a fraud investigation from the editors of Cell.

We, the editors of Cell, published an Editorial Expression of Concern (http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cell.2016.03.038) earlier this year regarding issues raised about Figures 2F, 2H, and 3G of the above article.
...
two labs have now completed their experiments, and their data largely confirm the central conclusions drawn from the original figures. Although this does not resolve the conflicting claims, based on the information available to us at this time, we will take no further action. We would like to thank the independent labs who invested significant time and effort in ensuring the accuracy of the scientific record.

Bad Cell. BAD!

We see this all the time, although usually it is the original authors aided and abetted by the journal Editors, rather than the journal itself, making this claim. No matter if it is a claim to replace an "erroneous placeholder figure", or a full on retraction by the "good" authors for fraud perpetrated by some [nonWestern] postdoc who cannot be located anymore, we see an attempt to maintain the priority claim. "Several labs have replicated and extended our work", is how it goes if the paper is an old one. "We've replicated the bad [nonWestern, can't be located] postdoc's work" if the paper is newer.

I say "aided and abetted" because the Editors have to approve the language of the authors' erratum, corrigendum or retraction notice. They permit this. Why? Well obviously because just as the authors need to protect their reputation, so does the journal.

So everyone plays this game that somehow proving the original claims were correct, reliable or true means that the original offense is lesser. And that the remaining "good" authors and the journal should get credited for publishing it.

I say this is wrong. If the data were faked, the finding was not supported. Or not supported to the degree that it would have been accepted for publication in that particular journal. And therefore there should be no credit for the work.

We all know that there is a priority and Impact Factor chase in certain types of science. Anything published in Cell quite obviously qualifies for the most cutthroat aspects of this particular game. Authors and editors alike are complicit.

If something is perceived to be hott stuff, both parties are motivated to get the finding published. First. Before those other guys. So...corners are occasionally cut. Authors and Editors both do this.

Rewarding the high risk behavior that leads to such retractions and frauds is not a good thing. While I think punishing proven fraudsters is important, it does not by any means go far enough.

We need to remove the positive reward environment. Look at it this way. If you intentionally fake data, or more likely subsets of the data, to get past that final review hurdle into a Cell acceptance, you are probably not very likely to get caught. If you are detected, it will often take years for this to come to light, particularly when it comes to a proven-beyond-doubt standard. In the mean time, you have enjoyed all the career benefits of that Glamour paper. Job offers for the postdocs. Grant awards for the PIs. Promotions. High $$ recruitment or retention packages. And generated even more Glam studies. So in the somewhat unlikely case of being busted for the original fake many of the beneficiaries, save the poor sucker nonWestern postdoc (who cannot be located), are able to defend and evade based on stature.

This gentleman's agreement to view faked results that happen to replicate as no-harm, no-foul is part of this process. It encourages faking and fraud. It should be stopped.

One more interesting part of this case. It was actually raised by the self-confessed cheater!

Yao-Yun Liang of the above article informed us, the Cell editors, that he manipulated the experiments to achieve predetermined results in Figures 2F, 2H, and 3G. The corresponding author of the paper, Xin-Hua Feng, has refuted the validity of Liang’s claims, citing concerns about Liang’s motives and credibility. In a continuing process, we have consulted with the authors, the corresponding author’s institution, and the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), and we have evaluated the available original data. The Committee on Scientific Integrity at the corresponding author’s institution, Baylor College of Medicine, conducted a preliminary inquiry that was inconclusive and recommended no further action. As the institution’s inquiry was inconclusive and it has been difficult to adjudicate the conflicting claims, we have provided the corresponding author an opportunity to arrange repetition of the experiments in question by independent labs.

Kind of reminiscent of the recent case where the trainee and lab head had counter claims against each other for a bit of fraudulent data, eh? I wonder if Liang was making a similar assertion to that of Dr. Cohn in the Mt. Sinai case, i.e., that the lab head created a culture of fraud or directly requested the fake? In the latter case, it looked like they probably only came down on the PI because of a smoking-gun email and the perceived credibility of the witnesses. Remember that ORI refused to take up the case so there probably was very little hard evidence on which to proceed. I'd bet that an inability to get beyond "he-said/he-said" is probably at the root of Baylor's "inconclusive" preliminary inquiry result for this Liang/Feng dispute.

33 responses so far

Professor fired for misconduct shoots Dean

From the NYT account of the shooting of Dennis Charney:

A former faculty member at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine... , Hengjun Chao, 49, of Tuckahoe, N.Y., was charged with attempted second-degree murder after he allegedly fired a shotgun and hit two men

why? Presumably revenge for :

In October 2002, Mr. Chao joined Mount Sinai as a research assistant professor. He stayed at Mount Sinai until May 2009, when he received a letter of termination from Dr. Charney for “research misconduct,” according to a lawsuit that Mr. Chao filed against the hospital and Dr. Charney, among other parties, in 2010. He went through an appeals process, and was officially terminated in March 2010.

As you might expect, the retraction watch blog has some more fascinating information on this case. One notable bit is the fact that ORI declined to pursue charges against Dr. Chao.

The Office of Research Integrity (ORI) decided not to pursue findings of research misconduct, according to material filed in the case and mentioned in a judge’s opinion on whether Chao could claim defamation by Mount Sinai. Part of Chao’s defamation claim was based on a letter from former ORI  investigator Alan Price calling Mount Sinai’s investigation report “inadequate, seriously flawed and grossly unfair in dealing with Dr. Chao.”

Interesting! The institution goes to the effort of firing the guy and manages to fight off a counter suit and ORI still doesn't have enough to go on? Retraction watch posted the report on the Mount Sinai misconduct investigation [PDF]. It makes the case a little more clear.

To briefly summarize: Dr. Chao first alleged that a postdoc, Dr. Cohn, fabricated research data. An investigation failed to support the charge and Dr. Chao withdrew his complaint. Perhaps (?) as part of that review, Dr. Cohn submitted an allegation that Dr. Chao had directed her to falsify data-this was supported by an email and a colleague third-party testimony. Mount Sinai mounted an investigation and interviewed a bunch of people with Dr. titles, some of whom are co-authors with Dr. Chao according to PubMed.

The case is said to hinge on credibility of the interviewees. "There was no 'smoking gun' direct evidence....the allegations..represent the classic 'he-said, she-said' dispute". The report notes that only the above mentioned email trail supports any of the allegations with hard evidence.

Ok, so that might be why ORI declined to pursue the case against Dr. Chao.

The panel found him to be "defensive, remarkably ignorant about the details of his protocol and the specifics of his raw data, and cavalier with his selective memory. ..he made several overbroad and speculative allegations of misconduct against Dr. Cohn without any substantiation"

One witness testified that Dr. Chao had said "[Dr. Cohn] is a young scientist [and] doesn't know how the experiments should come out, and I in my heart know how it should be."

This is kind of a classic sign of a PI who creates a lab culture that encourages data faking and fraud, if you ask me. Skip down to the end for more on this.

There are a number of other allegations of a specific nature. Dropping later timepoints of a study because they were counter to the hypothesis. Publishing data that dropped some of the mice for no apparent reason. Defending low-n (2!) data by saying he was never trained in statistics, but his postdoc mentor contradicted this claim. And finally, the committee decided that Dr. Chao's original complaint filed against Dr. Cohn was a retaliatory action stemming from an ongoing dispute over science, authorship, etc.

The final conclusion in the recommendations section deserves special attention:

"[Dr. Chao] promoted a laboratory culture of misconduct and authoritarianism by rewarding results consistent with his theories and berating his staff if the results were inconsistent with his expectations."

This, my friends, is the final frontier. Every time I see a lower-ling in a lab busted for serial faking, I wonder about this. Sure, any lab can be penetrated by a data faking sleaze. And it is very hard to both run a trusting collaborative scientific environment and still be 100 percent sure of preventing the committed scofflaws. But...but..... I am here to tell you. A lot of data fraud flows from PIs of just exactly this description.

If the PI does it right, their hands are entirely clean. Heck, in some cases they may have no idea whatsoever that they are encouraging their lab to fake data.

But the PI is still the one at fault.

I'd hope that every misconduct investigation against anyone below the PI level looks very hard into the culture that is encouraged and/or perpetrated by the PI of the lab in question.

28 responses so far

University attempts to rescind PhD awarded to alleged cheater

Mar 24 2016 Published by under Scientific Misconduct

at RetractionWatch:

After the University of Texas postponed a hearing to determine whether it should revoke a chemist’s PhD, her lawyer has filed a motion to stop the proceedings, and requested the school pay her $95,099 in lawyer fees and expenses.

We have discussed individuals convicted of scientific fraud in the course of doctoral studies before and wondered if a University could or would attempt to retract the doctoral award. Well, looks like this is one of those cases.

The Austin Statesman reports:

In Orr’s case, UT administrators moved to revoke her degree after finding that “scientific misconduct occurred in the production of your dissertation,” according to a letter to Orr from Judith Langlois, senior vice provost and dean of graduate studies.

The dissertation committee concluded that work related to “falsified and misreported data cannot be included in a dissertation and that the remaining work described in the dissertation is insufficient to support the award” of a Ph.D.,” Langlois wrote. Orr was invited to submit a new thesis summarizing other work to earn a master’s degree.

This is interesting because the justification is not that she is being punished for being a faker, otherwise why would they invite her to submit a master's thesis? The justification is that ignoring the allegedly falsified work leaves her short of a minimum qualification for the doctorate. Given the flexibility involved with doctoral committee requirements and the sheer scope of data usually involved in a thesis, my eyebrows are raising at this. Back to the RetractionWatch piece:

The motion for final summary judgment includes an affidavit from Phillip Magnus, a chemistry professor at UT, who argues that...

her dissertation consisted of two branches of work towards alkaloid natural products and a methodology project to generate novel structures. She characterized about 100 organic compounds in her dissertation. Even without completed syntheses of natural products, her research towards the natural products was significant, and provided her the training to become a skillful and passionate scientist. Being correct or incorrect is part of scientific research. Being correct, or synthesizing a particular molecule are not requirements for passing a course at the University, or obtaining a Ph D degree. Furthermore, the possibility of being wrong is not a justifiable reason to rescind a former student’s degree.

Yeah, this certainly points at a usual sticking point between the RetractionWatch types and me.

It is ESSENTIAL to differentiate between merely being wrong or mistaken (or even sloppy) and intentional fraud.

The Austin Statesman piece goes on to detail how the supervising PI and a subsequent postdoc wanted to build on Dr. Orr's work and she told them to re-do certain work. They didn't, published a paper (with her as author) and it was subsequently retracted for a chemical step being non-reproducible. Was her warning due to knowing she'd faked some results? Or was it due to her gut feeling that it just wasn't as nailed down as some other results and she'd like to see it replicated before publishing? Did her own subsequent work cast doubt on her prior (valid but perhaps mistaken) work? Etc.

23 responses so far

Priority

I am working up a serious antipathy to the notion of scientific priority, spurred most recently by the #ASAPbio conference and the associated fervent promotion of pre-print deposit of scientific manuscripts.

In science, the concept of priority refers to the fact that we think of the first person to [think up, discover, demonstrate, support, prove, find, establish] something as somehow special and deserving of credit.

For example, the first paleontologist to show that this odd collection of fossils over here belonged to a species of Megatyrannoteethdeath* not previously known to us gets a lot of street cred for a new discovery.

Watson and Crick, similarly, are famed for working out the double helical structure of DNA** because they provided the scientific community with convincing amounts of rationale and evidence first.

Etc.

Typically the most special thing about the scientists being respected is that they got there first. Someone else could have stumbled across the right bits of fossil. Many someones were hotly trying to determine how DNA was structured and how it worked.

This is the case for much of modern bioscience. There are typically many someones that have at least thought about a given issue, problem or puzzle. Many who have spent more than just a tiny bit of thought on it. Sometimes multiple scientists (or scientific groups, typically) are independently working on a given idea, concept, biological system, puzzle or whathaveyou.

As in much of life, to the victor go the spoils. Meaning the Nobel prize in some cases. Meaning critical grant funding in other cases- funding that not only pays the salary of the scientists with priority but that goes to support their pursuit of other "first" discoveries. Remember in the Jurassic Park movies how the sober paleontology work was so desperately in need of research funds? That. In addition, the priority of a finding might dictate which junior scientists get Professorial rank jobs, the all-important credit for publication in a desired rank of scientific journal and ultimately the incremental accumulation of citations to that paper. Finally, if there ends up being a commercial value angle, the ones who have this priority may profit from that fact.

It's all very American, right? Get there first, do something someone else has not done and you should profit from that accomplishment. yeeehaw***.

Problem is......****

The pursuit of priority holds back the progress of science in many ways. It keeps people from working on a topic because they figure that some other lab is way ahead of them and will beat them to the punch (science always can use a different take, no two labs come up with the exact same constellation of evidence). It unfairly keeps people from being able to get rewarded for their work (in a multi-year, multi-person, expensive pursuit of the same thing does it make sense that a 2 week difference in when a manuscript is submitted is all-critical to the credit?). It keeps people from collaborating or sharing their ideas lest someone else swoop in and score the credit by publishing first. It can fuel the inability to replicate findings (what if the group with priority was wrong and nobody else bothered to put the effort in because they couldn't get enough credit?).

These are the things I am pondering as we rush forward with the idea that pre-publication manuscripts should be publicized in a pre-print archive. One of the universally promoted reasons for this need is, in fact, scientific priority. Which has a very, very large downside to it.
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*I made that Genus up but if anyone wants to use it, feel free

**no, not for being dicks. that came later.

***NSFW

****NSFW

45 responses so far

Story boarding

When you "storyboard" the way a figure or figures for a scientific manuscript should look, or need to look, to make your point, you are on a very slippery slope.

It sets up a situation where you need the data to come out a particular way to fit the story you want to tell.

This leads to all kinds of bad shenanigans. From outright fakery to re-running experiments until you get it to look the way you want. 

Story boarding is for telling fictional stories. 

Science is for telling non-fiction stories. 

These are created after the fact. After the data are collected. With no need for storyboarding the narrative in advance.

32 responses so far

Placeholder figures

Honest scientists do not use "placeholder" images when creating manuscript figures. Period. 

See this nonsense from Cell

22 responses so far

Aha! It was about data faking after all.

I wrote a prior post about the bizarre disappearance of an Editor in Chief of a journal I suspected of being predatory.

The bio lists Raphael Pinaud as "an Associate Professor in the Department of Neurobiology at Northwestern University, USA" so let's look at the Department listing for Core Faculty and Research Faculty. Nothing. Courtesy faculty? Emeritus?

Ok, weird. No sign of the guy. Google search seems to turn up validation that he was once there.

There was an accusation of data fraud in the comments to that post.

Turns out that this is probably correct. The Journal of Neuroscience has issued a retraction.

The Journal of Neuroscience has received a report from Northwestern University that describes substantial data misrepresentation in the article “Mechanistic Basis and Functional Roles of Long-Term Plasticity in Auditory Neurons Induced by a Brain-Generated Estrogen” by Liisa A. Tremere, Ryan F. Kovaleski, Kalping Burrows, Jin Kwon Jeong, and Raphael Pinaud, which appeared on pages 16478–16495 of the November 14, 2012 issue. Because the results cannot be considered reliable, J Neurosci is retracting the paper.

No mention of any of the authors throwing one or more of the other authors under the bus, I will note. It's pretty clear that Tremere and Pinaud are probably in on the fraud together, since they appear to be a couple and are the ones that skipped town (country?). I wonder what the other three authors have to say about this situation?

h/t: PhysioProf

35 responses so far

Medical Experiments on Slaves

An article by Dan Vergano at Buzzfeed alerts us:

Electric shocks, brain surgery, amputations — these are just some of the medical experiments widely performed on American slaves in the mid-1800s, according to a new survey of medical journals published before the Civil War.

Previous work by historians had uncovered a handful of rogue physicians conducting medical experiments on slaves. But the new report, published in the latest issue of the journal Endeavour, suggests that a widespread network of medical colleges and doctors across the American South carried out and published slave experiments, for decades.
...
Savitt first reported in the 1970s that medical schools in Virginia had trafficked in slaves prior to the Civil War. But historians had seen medical experiments on slaves as a practice isolated to a few physicians — until now.

to the following paper.

Kenny, S.C. Power, opportunism, racism: Human experiments under American slavery. Endeavour,
Volume 39, Issue 1, March 2015, Pages 10–20[Publisher Link]

Kenny writes:

Medical science played a key role in manufacturing and deepening societal myths of racial difference from the earli- est years of North American colonisation. Reflecting the practice of anatomists and natural historians throughout the Atlantic world, North American physicians framed andinscribed the bodies, minds and behaviours of black subjects with scientific and medical notions of fundamental and inherent racial difference. These medical ideas racialised skin, bones, blood, diseases, with some theories specifically designed to justify and defend the institution of racial slavery, but they also manifested materially as differential treatment – seen in medical education, practice and research.

I dunno. Have we changed all that much?

12 responses so far

Another GlamourMag Data Faker is Busted by ORI

Apr 07 2015 Published by under Scientific Misconduct

In the Federal Register:

Ryousuke Fujita, Ph.D., Columbia University: Based on the report of an investigation conducted by Columbia University (CU) and additional analysis conducted by ORI in its oversight review, ORI found that Dr. Ryousuke Fujita, former Postdoctoral Scientist, Taub Institute for the Aging Brain, Departments of Pathology and Cell Biology and Neurology, CU Medical Center, engaged in research misconduct in research supported by National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), National Institutes of Health (NIH), grant R01 NS064433 and National Institute of Aging (NIA), NIH, grant R01 AG042317.

ORI found that Respondent engaged in research misconduct by falsifying and fabricating data for specific protein expressions in human-induced neuronal (hiN) cells derived skin fibroblasts of Alzheimer's disease patients and unaffected individuals in seventy-four (74) panels included in figures in the following two (2) publications and one (1) unpublished manuscript:

Wow. 74 panels faked in a mere three papers? One wonders how many valid panels could possibly be left.

So what are the papers?

Nature. 2013 Aug 1;500(7460):45-50. doi: 10.1038/nature12415. Epub 2013 Jul 24.
Integrative genomics identifies APOE ε4 effectors in Alzheimer's disease.
Rhinn H, Fujita R, Qiang L, Cheng R, Lee JH, Abeliovich A. [PubMed]

Nature eh? Glamour number one. And I note that this busy bee faker is listed-second with a co-equal symbol. No evidence on the publisher site that this has been retracted that I can see.

Cell. 2011 Aug 5;146(3):359-71. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2011.07.007.
Directed conversion of Alzheimer's disease patient skin fibroblasts into functional neurons.
Qiang L, Fujita R, Yamashita T, Angulo S, Rhinn H, Rhee D, Doege C, Chau L, Aubry L, Vanti WB, Moreno H, Abeliovich A. [PubMed]

Cell. Glamour two. In this case the retraction notices are all over the place. Once again, the faker is listed-second with a co-equal contributor symbol.

Fujita had a very impressive number of cheating techniques that were deployed. This seems slightly unusual...my memory suggests cheaters often focus on one or two strategies*.

Respondent inflated sample numbers and data, fabricated numbers for data sets, manipulated enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) analysis, mislabelled immunoflourescent confocal images, and manipulated and reused Western blot images.

h/t: Comradde PhysioProffe
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*I could be wrong about this.

20 responses so far

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