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Top Science Scandals of 2012

This year’s roundup of bad behavior in the life sciences and new initiatives to prevent misconduct

By | December 17, 2012

Eppendorf tubesFlickr, opiadoA widely discussed research study published this year showed that more than sloppy mistakes or accidental omissions, retracted papers are most likely to be withdrawn from publication because of scientific misconduct or knowlingly publishing false data. In fact, more than 65 percent of the 2,000 or so papers studied were retracted because of poor ethical judgment.  According to that report, high impact journals have been hardest hit by the increasing rate of retractions over the past decade.

In light of these findings, researchers and other observers have proposed several initiatives to help the scientific community with its apparent honesty issues. One suggestion was the creation a Retraction Index.  Unlike the Impact Factor, which is based on a journal’s citation rate, the Retraction Index would indicate the number of retractions a journal has for every 1,000 papers published.  Following suit, Adam Marcus and Ivan Oransky at Retraction Watch blog suggested creating a Transparency Index, which could include a score for how well a journal controls its manuscript review process, including how it conducts peer review, whether supporting data are also reviewed, whether the journal uses plagiarism detecting software, and a number of other measures. Finally, the lab-services start-up Science Exchange and the open access journal PLOS ONE have collaborated to suggest the Reproducibility Initiative, which would provide a platform for researchers to submit their studies for replication by other labs for a fee. Studies that are successfully reproduced will win a certificate of reproducibility.

Still, The Scientist found no shortage of stories to discuss in this year’s roundup of misconduct stories. Here are a few of the most glaring examples of scientific fraud in 2012:

10 years of fabrication

This year, University of Kentucky biomedical researcher Eric Smart was discovered to have falsified or fabricated 45 figures over the course of 10 years. His research on the molecular mechanisms behind cardiovascular disease and diabetes was well regarded, despite his having used data from knockout mouse models that never existed.  “Dr. Smart’s papers were highly cited in the specific caveolae/cardiovascular research field,” Philippe Frank of Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia told The Scientist. Smart resigned from his university post in 2011, when the investigation in his misconduct started, and agreed to exclude himself from federal grant applications for the next 7 years. He now teaches chemistry at a local school.

Record-setting retractions

Setting the record for the most publications up for retraction by a single author, Japanese anesthesiologist Yoshitaka Fujii fabricated data in a whopping 172 papers.  Beginning his career in falsification in 1993 while at the Tokyo Medical and Dental University, he continued it at the University of Tsukuba, and at Toho University in Tokyo, where he was finally dismissed in February 2012. According to investigations, Fujii never actually saw the patients he reported in his clinical studies, failed to get ethical review board approval for his research, and misled co-authors, sometimes including their names without their permission or knowledge.  Although the retractions are not expected to have a large impact on the field—many of them had low citation rates—Fujii used the publications to further his career, publishing a total of 249 papers.

False forensics

The results from roughly 34,000 criminal drug cases were put into question earlier this year, when forensic chemist Annie Dookhan at the shuttered Department of Public Health Lab in Massachusetts was discovered to have falsified records on samples she was assigned to process. Instead, she forged signatures and did not perform tests she recorded as complete, according to investigations.  Suspicions may have first arisen due to her impressive output—she claimed to have processed 9,000 samples in a year, whereas colleagues only averaged around 3,000. As a result of her actions, a number of defendants may have been wrongly imprisoned, while others who may have been rightly accused were freed.  This month, Boston police warned of an expected spike in crimes due to the large number of convicted drug offenders who will be released because of Dookhan’s misconduct.

Creative reviewing strategies

Rather than falsify data in order to get published, researchers have taken a new tack this year by writing glowing expert reviews for their own papers. When asked by journal editors to suggest names of experts in their field who were not involved in their research, at least four submitting authors suggested names and emails that then forwarded back to their own inboxes. The trend, first reported by Retraction Watch, was caught by one journal editor when author Hyung-In Moon, assistant professor at Dong-A University in Busan, South Korea, offered up names of reviewers with Google and Yahoo rather than university email accounts. “It should be a wake-up call to any journals that don’t have rigorous reviewer selection and screening in place,” Irene Hames, a member of the Committee on Publication Ethics, told The Chronicle of Higher Education.

 

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Comments

Avatar of: Shi V. Liu

Shi V. Liu

Posts: 7

December 17, 2012

The GM test on Chinese children should be considered as a top scandal in science.

Avatar of: Dave20640

Dave20640

Posts: 1

December 17, 2012

> 65% retracted due to poor ethical judgement. What a stunning number. What does this say about today's research community and process for fostering research?

Has the level always been so high, but undetected? Or have ethical standards risen dramatically in recent years? I doubt that.

Has the pressure to publish become so oppressive that researchers will "sell their soul" for professional advancement? Is "soul" a Life Sciences term? Hmmmm.

Avatar of: bill34543

bill34543

Posts: 1

December 17, 2012

To Dave20640, 65% is the proportion of the 2,000 retracted articles, not of all articles published. If 200,000 articles were published, that would be only 2/3 of one percent of all articles published; not a stunning number. I didn't see anything in the article (or the linked material) that indicated whether 2,000 was large or not, by comparison. What perplexes me is that these people think they are not going to get caught. That makes me wonder if there's a lot more going on than we know about, that they do know about. I then wonder why we don't see, in these reports, information that they were asked if, in their experience, this kind of behavior is widespread. Not that we would necessarily be confident about the veracity of their observations.

bill34543@yahoo.com

Avatar of: Bill Courtney

Bill Courtney

Posts: 2

December 18, 2012

Research fraud is evolving to evade the fraud busters.

The next evolutionary stage is likely to be “meta-fraud” where trusted research institutions start covering up fraud instead of exposing it. A promising contender for this category in 2013 makes a bid at www.cheshire-innovation.com/sali/pedsali.htm

Avatar of: Rekha

Rekha

Posts: 4

December 19, 2012

Science is no stranger a controversy. This year, some high profile scientists have been accused of widespread misconduct, while other headline-grabbing research has been retracted after technical errors or sloppy techniques were pointed out by critics.The scientific field may deal with the shocks of the retraction for years. Our Medical Blog has been initiated to cater medical individuals or medical companies and organizations across the globe alike.

 

Avatar of: mitodoc

mitodoc

Posts: 4

December 31, 2012

If you are interested in yet another whistleblowing story please visit www.helenezhill.com.

Avatar of: Eric1967

Eric1967

Posts: 1

January 2, 2013

Science is driven by funding. As with all else there's competition. This invites cheating and exaggerating one's work. This makes hard honest scientific study tainted by their dishonest peers.
Avatar of: mlerman

mlerman

Posts: 22

January 14, 2013

It's so sad I have no desire to comment

Avatar of: FJScientist

FJScientist

Posts: 24

January 14, 2013

We keep discussing these as 'ethical lapses'.  We have to get out of the mindset that scientific fraud is a momentary, somewhat involuntary moral failure by the perpetrator. These are, in fact, examples of fraud. They should be treated either as a criminal activity or, at a minimum, as a civil activity in which the perpetrator must pay back the misused funds, together with a penalty. In either event, they are to be tried in the court.

I just can not accept that a penalty of seven years of 'excluding oneself from federal grant applications' is appropriate for publishing papers over ten years that includes such things as making up knock-out mice that don't exist.

Avatar of: Howard A, Doughty

Howard A, Doughty

Posts: 11

January 14, 2013

At the risk of getting political, "ethical lapses" commonly come out of hyper-competitive situations where not only reputation but research funds are decided by institutions which have no inherent interest in science per se, but in potential "pay-offs". This not only means a bias toward "applied" science which connects research to potential economic rewards through the development of marketable products, but also an incentive for researchers to fabricate or distort data and results in order to win the next government grant or corporate contract.

One consequence is that a scientist's position and income may be judged according to the number of dollars she attracts, rather than the actual value of the work for the advancement of science, the well-being of our species, or both.

Short-term political advantage and corporate profit now drive the intellectual agenda in science and most other domains of human knowledge. Whether government or business is more culpable is debatable, but pointing at the moral culpability of individuals addresses the symptom, not the disease.

Avatar of: DrGeoff

DrGeoff

Posts: 1

January 14, 2013

The pressure to publish or perish and political manipulation within the academic community has created a serious problem in this area of science. This together with a constant struggle to get funds, not only for research but just to survive.

Bill Courtney made a comment that the next evolutionary step would be research institutions covering up fraud.

I know from experience, of at least one instance in which a prominent professor defrauded data and the institution closed ranks around her to cover it up. It cost a colleague and a Ph.D. student there careers when they tried to expose it (the Ph.D. student had performed the experiment that produced the data).

There is defiitely a need for something like the Reproducibility Index, however, it may be difficult to bring in to widespread use, due to the cost. It is hard enough just trying to get money to survive.

"It's all in the numbers"

Avatar of: Eric Charles

Eric Charles

Posts: 1

January 15, 2013

Don't forget the fun scandals that have happened over in Psychology this year... I do an Holiday Special each year on my blog. Here is the 2013 edition.

January 16, 2013

Don't forget about Dr. Wakefield's fraud.  He published a (now retracted) study claiming that the MMR vaccine causes autism.  As a result, children are going unvaccinated and dying from diseases that could have been prevented.  He has done so much harm and it's inexcusable.

Avatar of: Adrian H

Adrian H

Posts: 1

January 17, 2013

The names of the researchers and institutions of those retracted works ( as a result of fraudulent data) should be published ( with their explanations if they want to add).

It should not remain an issue of trail and error. The costs of review and verification is high and a penalty should be there . Not necesarry a penal one. 

Avatar of: DarioMF

DarioMF

Posts: 1

January 18, 2013

Naughty journalism, Edyta (really?). The phrase "more than 65 percent of the 2,000 or so papers studied" could not have been more ambiguous if you had tried. Reminds me of Dogbert claiming he had a magazine readership of between "1 and 2 billion", when what he actually meant was "3", which indeed falls between the stated range. 

Avatar of: DrJ

DrJ

Posts: 1

January 18, 2013

In my field, much of the stuff that passes for science is, at bottom, some sort of for-profit device or service.  Thus, another approach is to threaten scientific whistle-blowers with lawsuits.  Whether criticism is in print or from the podium, the threat of litigation has a chilling that allows bad/dangerous science to survive.

Avatar of: Eric John Diesel

Eric John Diesel

Posts: 1

January 21, 2013

“Antiscience and Pseudoscience in Medicine and Psychopharmacology" makes Discover Magazine Top 100 Science Stories of 2012

"Firestorm Over New Psychiatry Bible" - Discover Magazine top 100 science stories of 2012 - http://discovermagazine.com/2013/jan-feb/39-firestorm-over-new-psychiatry-bible

Here is the original story- "Bible of Psychiatry Faces Damning Criticism - From the Inside" -
http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/80beats/2012/07/13/the-bible-of-psychiatry-faces-damning-criticism-from-the-inside/

What does anyone expect? For at least six years, Antiscience in Psychiatry has openly been claimed to be "legitimate and necessary" by Am J Psychiatry folks, without a single critique of that claim published, even in the letters section - “… suggestions about where DSM-V might best be aligned… nonempirical aspects of classification are legitimate and necessary.” (Am J Psychiatry 2007; 164:557–565)

There are no "initiatives to prevent misconduct" for that one, since the money involved, and the psychotropic drugs industry itself, is mind boggling (bad pun?).

This antiscience will be released as being “science” when the new bible, DSM V, comes out. It is a new bible not just for psychiatrists, but also for all MDs and the entire medical profession.

 

Avatar of: Dov Henis

Dov Henis

Posts: 14

January 25, 2013

Top Science Scandal Of 20th Century

-----------------------------------

Since the early 1900’s ALL “science” has been taken over by the Technology Culture of the religious Americans, represented by the trade-union-church AAAS. Plain and simple. There has not been any science in the world since then except “religious-American-science”.

On the blissful religious science ignorance…:

--------------------------------------------

USA-World Science Hegemony Is Science Blind

Since the early 2000s I have been posting many articles on science items surveyed and analyzed by me, without religious background-concepts. I have been doing this because I was deeply disturbed by the religiosity of the 1848-founded AAAS trade-union and by the consequent religious background-tint of its extensive “scientific” publications and activities.

On my next birthday I’ll be 88-yrs old. I know that I’m deeply engaged in a Don Quixotic mission-war to extricate-free the USA and world Science from the clutches and consequences of the religious-trade-union-church AAAS, adopted strangely by the majority of scientifically ignorant religious god-trusting Americans and by their most other humanity following flocks…

But I am sincerely confident that only thus it is feasible and possible to embark on a new, rational, Human culture (Scientism) and on new more beneficial and effective technology courses for humanity…

Dov Henis (comments from 22nd century)

http://universe-life.com/

Avatar of: Dov Henis

Dov Henis

Posts: 14

January 25, 2013

Top Science Scandal Of 20th Century

-----------------------------------

Since the early 1900’s ALL “science” has been taken over by the Technology Culture of the religious Americans, represented by the trade-union-church AAAS. Plain and simple. There has not been any science in the world since then except “religious-American-science”.

On the blissful religious science ignorance…:

--------------------------------------------

USA-World Science Hegemony Is Science Blind

--------------------------------------------

Since the early 2000s I have been posting many articles on science items surveyed and analyzed by me, without religious background-concepts. I have been doing this because I was deeply disturbed by the religiosity of the 1848-founded AAAS trade-union and by the consequent religious background-tint of its extensive “scientific” publications and activities.

On my next birthday I’ll be 88-yrs old. I know that I’m deeply engaged in a Don Quixotic mission-war to extricate-free the USA and world Science from the clutches and consequences of the religious-trade-union-church AAAS, adopted strangely by the majority of scientifically ignorant religious god-trusting Americans and by their most other humanity following flocks…

But I am sincerely confident that only thus it is feasible and possible to embark on a new, rational, Human culture (Scientism) and on new more beneficial and effective technology courses for humanity…

Dov Henis (comments from 22nd century)

http://universe-life.com/

June 19, 2013

Thanks for the report I am just starting to write my disertation and the stories about the researchers' misconduct are sad, but an eye opener for students.  I would not want to be involved in any of these situations. 

What about if I am working with someone that does not mind deceiving the public.  How should I proceed in this case?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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