Archive for the 'Scientific Misconduct' category

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

30 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 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
*I could be wrong about this.

20 responses so far

Data faker happily employed by the US Patent Office

via retraction watch we learn:

A Bijan Ahvazi has been working at the USPTO since at least 2008, and today a source confirmed that it was the same person who was the subject of last October’s ORI report. Ahvazi was found to have faked five different images in three different papers, two of which have been retracted.

The Notice of ORI finding appeared in October of 2014.

Based on the report of an investigation conducted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and additional analysis by ORI in its oversight review, ORI found that Dr. Bijan Ahvazi, former Director of the Laboratory of X-ray Crystallography, National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS), NIH, engaged in research misconduct in research supported by the Intramural Program at NIAMS, NIH.

The Notice shows that the offenses for which Ahvazi was convicted date to 2004 and 2006. One doesn't have to assume that much to figure out that he was busted and then had to look for a new job somewhere between 2006 and 2008. It took until 2014 for his fraud to come to light via the official ORI mechanisms. Presumably, although we don't know for sure, the investigation was confidential up until it reached its formal conclusions which may have permitted him to avoid telling the US Patent and Trade Office about his little whoopsie? I dunno, do you think the USPTO would hire a data fraud as a patent examiner if they knew about it? One thinks not.

p.s. apparently a co-author of this data faker died under bizarre circumstances in 2003.

11 responses so far

It isn't the fraud witchhunt, it's the Glamour culture of science

Aug 05 2014 Published by under Scientific Misconduct

The Sesai suicide has been deemed the result of an anti-fraud witch hunt by well respected biomedical ethics / conduct of science / publishing / open science dude Michael Eisen.

I disagree that this is the proper frame for what happened.

First, while I am no fan of the sort of lynch mob behavior that tends to emerge in the comments at the retractionwatch blog these days, scientific fraud still needs to be rooted out and exposed wherever it occurs. Blaming a suicide on the "witch hunt", as if rooting out fraud is not a valid or significant concern, is a problem to me. We already have enough enabling behavior in the Academy. Enough excusing, enough looking the other way and enough failing to convict a pattern of behavior because we can't lay beyond-reasonable-doubt gloves on the perpetrator. Dismissing all vigorous attempts to get to the bottom of a paper fraud situation as if they are baseless (i.e., witches do not exist) is counterproductive.

Second, data fabrication and fraud has victims. And all too often we frame scientific fraud ONLY through the lens of scientific understanding. Which, let us be honest, is fairly robust against claims that turn out to be wrong. Sure, time and money are lost, but the scientific understanding wins out in the end. Peoples' careers, however, often suffer irretrievable harm. When a job is won by a data faker like Marc Hauser or Michael Miller then someone else lost that job. When a research grant is awarded based on faked publications or preliminary data, another investigator doesn't get those funds [even the grants themselves are rarely pulled from the University, a new PI is frequently substituted]. These are serious harms, there are victims and turning a blind eye to scientific misconduct ensures more harms in the future.

Third, this was a Japanese investigator who decided to take ultimate responsibility by killing himself. I've been around a few decades and have noticed that middle and top level managers in Japan occasionally commit suicide over work-related matters that are inexplicably strange and unjustified to most Western (and certainly USian) eyes. It strikes me that there are cultural factors at play here that explain this event far more truthily than some analysis of the effects of a "witch hunt" about data fraud.

Nevertheless, if you absolutely insist that there is some thing about the current culture of science that resulted in this suicide of a research scientist, rxnm has some thoughts which seem much more related to me.

And what about everyone else? Journals, colleagues, scientists, journalists? Do we really need hero narratives? The splashy results that will “change everything”? The hype machine it is out of fucking control. We are adopting the language of biz-speak bullshit and starting to buy into these empty non-values about techno-utopian revolutionaries and lone geniuses. We all participate in the culture of valuing glam, prestige, prizes. Who gets the 8-figure grants while everyone else struggles to stay afloat? Who can I get a selfie with at SfN? Who gets to stamp their name all over the culmination of decades of work by hundreds or thousands? We’ve become cultish: around people, journals, technologies, institutions. As if these are things that matter more than the colleagues around us, or our own integrity. It’s pathetic, and we can be better.

Without the need for Glamourous results, there is less need to fake data. Without the hero and lone-genius narrative, PIs would feel less desire to appear always-correct and fear the overturning of their pet story or hypothesis much less. Without this intensely competitive fight to publish in the right limited subset of journals.... etc.

ps. Graduate students suicide occasionally too. Guess which culture change would have the greater effect- anti-fraud alleged witch hunts or dismantling the hypercompetitive, Glamour-humping prestige-seeking?

40 responses so far

The only way to survive is to fake data

Oct 08 2013 Published by under Academics, Anger, Scientific Misconduct

I hope this commenter was being facetious.

With paylines around 5-percentile, the only way to have a shot at having a proposal approved is to quite simply fake data.

and I hope this other commenter was just wising off in frustration.

Certainly in my field the proportion of cheaters at the top venues seems to have increased the harder it is to get in. In fact, in one specific venue that shall remain nameless in my estimation over half of the papers contain some fake data.

Don't get me wrong. I am concerned about cheating in science. I am convinced that the contingencies that affect the careers of individuals scientists is a significant motivating factor in data fraud. I am not naive.

but for today, I wish to object to this normalization behavior. It is not normal to cheat in science. Data faking is NOT standard old stuff that everybody is doing.

"Everybody does it."

This is one of the standard defenses of the cheater pants. It is the easy justification we have seen time and time again in the revelations of performance-enhancing drug use in professional sports. It is the excuse of the data faker as well.

Consequently it is imperative that we do not leave the impression of normalcy unchallenged.

It is not the norm. Faking is not endemic to science. It may be more common than we would like. It may be more common than we estimate. But it is not normal.

Despite claims, it is not necessary. I have more than one grant score that was better than the 5th percentile and I didn't have to fake any data to get those. So that first claim is wrong for sure. It is not required to fake data.

83 responses so far

Why we should not try to rehabilitate cheaters and frauds. They will never take responsibility and therefore never change.

Sep 09 2013 Published by under Academics, Anger, Scientific Misconduct

exhibit a:

h/t retractionwatch blog and PhysioProffe.

9 responses so far

Another weird authorship shenanigan for your consideration

This is, vaguely, related to an ongoing argument we have around here with respect to the proper treatment of authors who are listed as contributing "co-equally" to a given published paper. My position is that if we are to take this seriously, then it is perfectly fine* for the person listed second, third or eighth in the list of allegedly equal contributors to re-order the list on his or her CV. When I say this, my dear friend and ex-coblogger Comrade PhysioProffe loses his marbles and rants about how it is falsifying the AcademicRecord to do so. This plays into the story I have for you.

Up for your consideration today is an obscure paper on muramyl peptides and sleep (80 PubMed hits).

I ran across Muramyl peptides and the functions of sleep authored by one Richard Brown from The University of Newcastle in what appears to be a special issue of Behavioural Brain Research on The Function of Sleep (Volume 69, Issues 1–2, July–August 1995, Pages 85–90). The Preface to the issue indicates these Research Reports (on the original PDFs; termed Original Research Article on the online issue list; remember that now) arise from The Ravello Symposium on 'The Function of Sleep' held May 28-31, 1994.

So far so good. I actually ran across this article by clicking on an Addendum in the Jan 1997 issue. This Addendum indicates:

In the above paper an acknowledgement of unpublished data was omitted from the text during preparation. This omission could affect the future publication of the full set of data. Thus the author, Dr. Richard Brown, has agreed to share the authorship of the paper with the following persons: J. Andren, K. Andrews, L. Brown, J. Chidgey, N. Geary, M.G. King and T.K. Roberts.

So I tried to Pubmed Brown R and a few of the co-authors to see if there was any subsequent publication of the "full set of data" and....nothing. Hmmm. Not even the original offending article? So I looked for Brown R and sleep, muramyl, etc. Nada. Wow, well maybe for some reason the journal wasn't indexed? No, because the first other article I looked for was there. Ok, weird. Next I searched for the journal date and month. Fascinatingly, PubMed lists these as "Review". When the print PDFs say "Research Report" and the journal's online materials list them as "Original Research Articles".

But it gets better....scanning down the screen and .....Whoa!

Behav Brain Res. 1995 Jul-Aug;69(1-2):85-90. Muramyl peptides and the functions of sleep. Andren J, Andrews K, Brown L, Chidgey J, Geary N, King MG, Roberts TK. Department of Psychology, University of Newcastle, Australia.

Now this Richard Brown guy has been disappeared altogether from the author line! Without any obvious indication of this on the ScienceDirect access to the journal issue or article.

The PubMed record indicates there is an Erratum in Behav Brain Res 1997 Jan;82(2):245, but this is the Addendum I quoted above. Searching ScienceDirect for "muramyl peptides pulls up the original article and Addendum but no further indication of Erratum or correction or retraction.

Wow. So speaking to PP's usual point about falsifying the academic record, this whole thing has been a clusterbork of re-arranging the "academic record".

Moving along, the Web of Science indicates that the original, credited solely to Brown has been cited 9 times. First by the Addendum and then 8 more times after the correction...including one in 2011 and one in 2012. Who knows when the PubMed record was changed but clearly the original Addendum indicating credit should be shared was ignored by ISI and these citing authors alike.

The new version, with the R. Brown-less author line, has been cited 4 times. There are ones published in Jan 2008 and Sept 2008 and they indeed cite the R. Brown-less author list. So the two and possibly three most-recent citations of the R. Brown version have minimal excuse.

Okay, okay, obviously one would have to have done a recent database search for the article (perhaps with a reference management software tool) to figure out there was something wrong. But even so, who the heck would try to figure out why EndNote wasn't finding it rather than just typing this single-author reference in by hand. After all, the pdf is right there in front of you.....clearly the damn thing exists.

This is quite possibly the weirdest thing I've seen yet. There must have been some determination of fraud or something to justify altering the Medline/PubMed record, right? There must have been some buyin from the journal Publisher (Elsevier) that this was the right thing to do.

So why didn't they bother to fix their ScienceDirect listing and the actual PDF itself with some sort of indication as to what occurred and why these folks were given author credit and why Richard Brown was removed entirely?


*The fact that nobody seems to agree with me points to the fact that nobody really views these as equal contributions one little bit.

h/t: EvilMonkey who used to blog at Neurotopia.

22 responses so far

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