Bad Scientists: Lacking Credentials; Biased / Criminal Research


Aug 19, 2003
Irish Times - Chief archaeologist only has basic degree
Frank McDonald, Environmental Editor, 5th December 2005
Brian Duffy, chief archaeologist of the Department of the Environment, was
appointed to his post even though he has only a general BA degree in archaeology
and no track record of archaeological excavations or publications, The Irish
Times has established.

Mr Duffy got the job in July 2003, ahead of candidates with superior
qualifications and professional experience - notably Dr Ann Lynch, who holds a
PhD in archaeology and has led excavations at sensitive sites such as
Poulnabrone in Co Clare and Tintern Abbey, Co Wexford.

The job specification for chief archaeologist requires, among other things, a
person with "strong leadership qualities, management skills and sound judgment"
who would motivate and manage a staff of 40 and provide "expert professional
advice on archaeology as required".

Competition for the post was confined to senior archaeologists in the
department's heritage section. None of the three eligible applicants was
interviewed; they were merely invited to submit a form describing their work,
previous experience and other relevant information.

These written applications were reviewed by Mary Moylan, assistant secretary at
the department's planning division, and Michael Canny, assistant secretary,
corporate services. Eight days later, they recommended that Mr Duffy should be
appointed by Martin Cullen.

Prof John Waddell, head of the department of archaeology at NUI Galway, from
where Mr Duffy graduated in 1971, said his appointment caused surprise because
people were aware of his lack of qualifications and experience of excavation work.

"He has no post-graduate qualifications and, to the best of my knowledge, he has
never written anything or published anything on mainstream archaeology, in
contrast to most of his colleagues in the department, some of whom have PhDs and
many of whom have master's degrees.

"He has never directed an archaeological excavation and has no experience in
that area whatsoever, though he might have participated in one as a student 30
years ago. He also got his BA long before landscape archaeology became an
important area of research."

Prof Waddell said Mr Duffy's "incomprehensible lack of knowledge of what
constitutes an archaeological landscape" was evident in the advice he gave
Minister for the Environment Dick Roche on the plan to route the M3 motorway
through the Tara-Skryne valley in Co Meath. "In failing to address the question
that the Tara landscape constitutes an archaeological area . . . the chief
archaeologist, the department and the Minister failed in their duty of care in
respect of the country's heritage," he said in an affidavit for the High Court
case on the M3.

Mr Duffy's qualifications were also called into question during a recent Circuit
Court case in which his predecessor, David Sweetman, successfully sued
Associated Newspapers, publishers of Ireland on Sunday, for libel over an
article on the Carrickmines case.

When his counsel, Garrett Cooney SC, noted that Mr Duffy was involved in
Carrickmines and commented that he was "a well-known and well-qualified
archaeologist", Mr Sweetman said: "Well, actually, Brian Duffy isn't well-known
and, in my opinion, not well-qualified."

In the Tara case, Mr Duffy expressed the view that the M3 motorway "will be a
monument of major significance in the future". And in dealing with the Woodstown
Viking site in Waterford, he argued that it could be "preserved in situ" by
rolling the N25 Waterford bypass over it.

But Dr Pat Wallace, director of the National Museum, insisted that the site was
of such importance that it would have to be excavated. Without naming Mr Duffy,
he challenged the view of those "who for some inexplicable reason seem to think
it would be better covered over".

Two months after becoming chief archaeologist, Mr Duffy dismissed the view that
Woodstown was a Viking longphort - which is what it turned out to be - as a
"speculative notion of the site's nature, with absolutely no archaeological
evidence to support it".

In response to a request under the Freedom of Information Act, the department
refused to release any details of Mr Duffy's academic qualifications, his
professional career, what archaeological excavations he has carried out and what
publications he has to his credit, if any.

The department cited section 28 of the Freedom of Information Act, which covers
the disclosure of personal information, saying it considered "on balance [ that]
the public interest in protecting the privacy of the individual in this case
outweighs the public interest in releasing the information".

Personnel officer Dave Fadden recently informed the Institute of Archaeologists
of Ireland that the process used to appoint Mr Duffy was "in line with the
department's policy on filling internal positions at this level" and that the
"most suitable candidate" had been selected.

In a statement, the department said Mr Duffy was a qualified archaeologist who
has served in the National Monuments Service since 1976 "dealing with a wide
range of archaeological issues including the Archaeological Survey of Ireland,
conservation programmes at national monuments and all aspects of
development-related archaeology".

Though the statement confirmed that the three candidates for the post had been
"rated" based on written submissions, it said an arrangement has now been
introduced that senior professional posts in the department "are filled on the
basis of competitive interview".
If the charges are valid then he's dodgier then the lot above even if his credentials are valid.

A prominent geoscientist in Argentina is facing criminal charges over accusations that he manipulated a government survey of Patagonian glaciers at the behest of mining interests.

On 27 November, a federal judge in Buenos Aires charged Ricardo Villalba, the former director of the Argentinian Institute of Snow, Ice and Environmental Research (IANIGLA) in Mendoza, with abusing his authority and violating his duty as a civil servant. Villalba appealed against his indictment on 4 December — but if he loses, the case will go to trial. In the meantime, the court has ordered Villalba to stay in the country, and has authorized the seizure of his assets up to 5 million pesos (US$289,000).

The case hinges on the definition of a glacier as viewed from space. When Villalba began the government survey in 2011, he determined that it would include glaciers of 1 hectare or larger — following international norms for satellite analyses. But environmental activists in Argentina’s San Juan province argue that he excluded some smaller glaciers to prevent tougher regulation of adjacent mines operated by the Barrick Gold Corporation of Toronto, Canada. Villalba’s scientific colleagues in Argentina and abroad say the charges against him are baseless and political. ...
This guy could be a bit of a creepy-crawly.

Embattled spider biologist seeks to delay additional retractions of problematic papers

After many colleagues recently raised concerns in blogs and tweets that behavioral ecologist Jonathan Pruitt had fabricated the data behind a slew of provocative results regarding animal personalities and social spiders, he denied the charges, saying any problems were inadvertent mistakes. Now the biologist’s lawyer has sent letters to some co-authors and journal editors, cautioning them to let misconduct investigations at Pruitt’s current and former universities play out before retracting any more of his papers. In addition, an online spreadsheet quickly established to track analyses of the integrity of the scientist’s 160 papers has been taken offline.

The two actions have effectively shut down the once very public discussion of the situation and put in limbo further clarification of the reliability of papers co-authored by Pruitt, now at McMaster University. Boston University’s James Traniello, editor-in-chief of Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, where Pruitt co-authored nine papers, says that as a scientist he is not used to dealing with legal issues and he feels “stuck between a rock and a hard place” in sorting out the best course of action.

In late January, while Pruitt was doing fieldwork in Australia, one of his co-authors tweeted and blogged about irregularities in spider behavior observations given to her by Pruitt. Those data concerns had led to the retractions of two of their papers, a step Pruitt approved. Many other Pruitt co-authors began expressing concerns and contacting him to ask what was going on. Pruitt, who 2 years ago was given a celebrated endowed research position by Canada, initially responded to some people and journals but says he was then overwhelmed. Between all the emails and social media comments, “There are so many voices, and they are so loud and so diverse, there’s no way to address it,” Pruitt said in an interview with Science insider at the time. ...
Ongoing upheavals and coonfusion at the Max Planck Institute

For a second time, archaeologist Nicole Boivin has been removed as director of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History (MPI-SHH), following a vote on 25 March by a governing board of the Max Planck Society (MPG).

The decision is another twist in a case that has drawn wide attention in Germany and has become a headache for MPG, the country’s premier basic science organization. It has also created an atmosphere of uncertainty for dozens of researchers at MPI-SHH, a leading center for archaeology and archaeogenetics. “The feeling at the institute is one of confusion, not a sense that things have been righted or that anyone has trust in the process,” one MPI-SHH researcher says.

Boivin was first removed from her directorship by the MPG president in October 2021, following an investigation that lasted nearly 3 years and found evidence of bullying and scientific misconduct. The Canadian archaeologist sued the society, and a Berlin court reinstated her barely 1 month later, ruling that MPG’s president hadn’t followed the society’s own rules in removing her and that she should be able to continue in her position while her case was being decided.

According to MPG bylaws, its Senate—a panel of prominent scientists, government officials, and industry representatives—is the ultimate arbiter of a director’s contract. And so, on 25 March, following a 32-to-1 vote with three abstentions, Boivin was once again demoted and stripped of leadership responsibilities. She remains a researcher at MPG.

Boivin plans to continue her legal efforts to reclaim her directorship. “It is extremely disappointing that the MPG would not agree to repeated calls over the last months for an external review of this highly problematic case, or leave me in my position while matters were resolved in court,” she wrote in an email to Science. “The case urgently highlights the need for independent tribunals that can examine deeply contested cases like mine.”

The MPG Senate’s vote was based on a summary of the findings of a commission led by Ulrich Sieber, director emeritus of the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Crime, Security and Law, and University of Freiburg law professor Silja Vöneky. The commission said it found evidence of scientific misconduct by Boivin, including claiming credit for the work of others, and workplace bullying of institute staff and younger researchers. Boivin has denied the allegations. The commission did not share details of the report with the MPG Senate “because it contained confidential personnel information … and not all witnesses were willing to have their identity disclosed,” says MPG spokesperson Christina Beck.

MPG Senate member Ulrike Beisiegel, a former president of the University of Göettingen, voted against the demotion. She says she wasn’t given enough information to make an informed decision, nor was Boivin given a chance to make her case. “The Senate waved it through,” Beisiegel says. “There were two sides to the story, and that is reason enough to have an independent investigation.” Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Biology and a nonvoting member of the MPG Senate, is critical of the way the case has played out. “The Senate should have voted before she was demoted the first time,” she says. “There were obvious mistakes in how they handled the whole thing. I think it has really damaged the society.” ...
Would mad Scientists make the cut?

From Halo to The Simpsons, would fictional mad scientists pass ethical review?​

Members of research oversight committees put some of pop culture’s most infamous innovators under the microscope​

Cave Johnson is almost ready to start a new study in his secret underground facility. The founder of the Michigan-based technology company Aperture Science, he’s invented a portal gun that allows people to teleport to various locations. Now, he and his colleagues want to see whether they can make portals appear on previously unfit surfaces with a new “conversion gel” containing moon dust. “It may be toxic. We are unsure,” he wrote in a recent research proposal.

To test the gel, Johnson plans to recruit orphans, homeless people, and the elderly. They’ll get 60 bucks—compensation he feels is well worth the risk of their skin potentially peeling off, death due to an artificial intelligence guide becoming sentient, or worse.

None of this is real, of course—Johnson is the villain of the popular video game Portal—but the makeshift ethical review board that evaluated his study was. At a Public Responsibility in Medicine and Research conference conducted online last month, attendees of the session “Mad Science on Trial: The Real Ethical Problems With Fictional Scientists” had some serious concerns with Johnson’s research. Would the participants’ data be secure and anonymized? Would the team of henchmen include some henchwomen as well? And, most importantly, would there be cake?

The moderators of the session didn’t just target Johnson. They asked their audience of 450 virtual attendees to evaluate other fictional mad scientists as well, voting on whether an institutional review board (IRB)—a body of experts that a research institution uses to evaluate whether proposals are ethically sound—should approve their protocols.

Science sat down with two of the panelists—operations manager Lisa Rigtrup at the University of Utah’s IRB, and compliance analyst Amanda Sly of the U.S. Office for Human Research Protections, which evaluates the ethics of federally funded research involving human subjects—to talk about what fictional mad scientists can teach us about real research ethics.

Q: Why hold this “mad scientist” panel?​

Lisa Rigtrup: I’m kind of the Chandler [from Friends] of my group because everybody knows I have a job but they don’t know what I do. I’ve explained it multiple times and they still don’t understand it. This “mad scientist” concept is something that you can explain to just about everybody to some degree.

To work out the kinks, I went to my local comic convention and put on this fake IRB panel for the folks that were attending. It was received pretty well. I think this format is good for making the IRB ethics world fun and doing it in a way that kind of stretches people’s minds.

Amanda Sly: I think the pop culture side of things is the hook. This format could be used to really reach just about any age group, especially if you wanted to go into an elementary school and teach them a little bit about research ethics.

Q: Do you actually see these kinds of crazy proposals in your day jobs?​

L.R.: For most investigators, it’s pretty rare that you get somebody that’s completely naïve and wants to take on a research study. There’s a lot of training that happens before you can even submit a proposal to us. But I’ve seen protocols where a researcher wants to do fake injections for no real reason or cut someone’s skin as part of a placebo group. Sometimes these forms have pages and pages of risks—with no clear benefits. I just go, “Who would sign up for this?”

A.S.: Occasionally we do see the ones that you’re like, “You’re not quite a mad scientist, but there’s some hubris there.” ...