Scientific Frauds

Wanted: Fraud-buster with political antennae
A mild-mannered man’s fiery resignation leaves a troubling vacancy at the world’s largest office for investigating scientific fraud, says Colin Macilwain. ... ae-1.14893
19 March 2014

When David Wright leaves the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) at the US Public Health Service later this month, everyone will know just why he is walking out of the door. Wright’s resignation letter to the assistant secretary of health, leaked last week, is unusually direct. “I’m offended as an American taxpayer that the federal bureaucracy — at least the part I’ve labored in — is so profoundly dysfunctional,” he tells his former boss, in a note decorated with choice cuts of bureaucratic hubris. In one example, Wright says, he sought an evaluation of the support services available to the ORI, only to be told that “that had been tried a few years ago and the results were so negative that no further evaluations have been conducted”.

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Wright, a science historian and former research-integrity officer at Michigan State University in East Lansing, signs off with a cheery promise to publish a version of the daily log he kept at the ORI, “to share my experience and observations with my colleagues in government and with members of the regulated research community”. That would be you, dear reader.

Anyone who has dealt with Wright professionally will be taken aback to see the guy nailing his colours to the mast in this way. He just isn’t the rocking-the-boat type: a more courteous and polite official it would be difficult to meet. There is a profound feeling in circles interested in research misconduct that he is one of the good guys.

“A lot of us are wondering where we go from here,” says Mark Frankel, head of the Scientific Responsibility, Human Rights and Law Program at the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington DC. As well one might, when the directorship of the world’s largest and best-established research-misconduct office — which lacked a permanent director for two years before Wright’s appointment in 2012 — has just imploded.

The ORI was established 22 years ago in the wake of the David Baltimore case, in which allegations of fraud (later dismissed) rocked the laboratory of one of America’s most eminent biologists. The agency’s 25 staff are supposed to educate tens of thousands of researchers on proper research conduct, as well as overseeing investigations into misconduct by researchers funded by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH), the world’s largest research agency. But it was built to deal with the handful of cases that it was assumed would arise. According to research published last December by Daniele Fanelli at the University of Edinburgh, UK (D. Fanelli PLoS Med.10, e1001563; 2013), the proportion of allegations the ORI receives that are investigated and closed has halved over 20 years. Wright’s resignation letter blows wide open long-standing doubts about its capacity to deal with a caseload that, the available evidence suggests, should have expanded with the growth of the NIH itself.

“The position must be filled promptly by someone respected by both ethicists and health researchers.”
The administration of US President Barack Obama needs to get a grip on this before an explosive high-profile case — such as that of Andrew Wakefield and MMR vaccines in the United Kingdom — turns up and the ORI can’t cope. If the administration doesn’t do this, Congress just might. Senator Chuck Grassley (Republican, Iowa) demanded in February that the ORI explain its lenient treatment of Dong-Pyou Han, a physician at Iowa State University in Ames, who was banned from seeking NIH funding for three years after falsifying data in AIDS vaccine trials that cost the agency US$19 million.

It is not known how much Grassley’s strident demand for answers contributed to Wright’s departure. But attention from one of the most feared and respected voices on Capitol Hill can only intensify the political hot-house atmosphere that his resignation letter blames for the ORI’s troubles.

These troubles go back a long way. The ORI sits under the assistant health secretary, instead of being properly independent like the inspector generals who keep an eye (imperfectly) on scientific fraud at the National Science Foundation (NSF) and other agencies. Its enforcement remit (of fabrication, falsification and plagiarism, or FFP) is too narrow, and its budget too small.

Canada has already shown the way. In 2011, it set up the Tri-Agency Framework: Responsible Conduct of Research. It has a relatively large staff of eight, for a research system one-tenth the size of that of the United States, a remit that reaches far beyond FFP, and it is led by Susan Zimmerman, a tough lawyer unlikely to put up with dodgy academics whimpering about their “creativity”.

Wright’s resignation comes as a panel chaired by Robert Nerem, a bioengineer at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, is in the final stages of the first National Academy of Sciences study on research integrity in 20 years. The report may recommend beefing up the ORI, broadening its remit beyond FFP and aligning its approach with that of the NSF and other agencies. But with the ORI leaderless, the academy report may be even more prone than usual to gathering dust.

I have been an optimist on misconduct: some 18 months ago, I wrote that the global community was starting to get a handle on it. Wright’s appointment was progress, and his departure is a setback. His position must be filled promptly by someone respected by both ethicists and health researchers. They will also need the skills to build bridges with Congress: a peripatetic master, perhaps, but one who can prevent the ORI from getting kicked around.

Nature 507, 275 (20 March 2014) doi:10.1038/507275a
This has to be our most corrupt and inept govt. ever. Especially bad for the working poor. It should make everyone feel ill.
tonyblair11 said:
This has to be our most corrupt and inept govt. ever.

...Says a man calling himself Tony Blair... :lol:
Embattled Psychologist Addresses New Challenge

AMSTERDAM—Facing accusations of misconduct, social psychologist Jens Förster has written another long open letter to defend himself, this time against fresh questions raised last week in a story in Science. In the statement, posted on his own website today, Förster says Science has misunderstood an e-mail conversation with a research assistant and suggests some people may be trumping up accusations against him for monetary gain.

At issue are three papers published in 2009, 2011, and 2012. In a previous response to questions that an anonymous critic has raised about the studies, Förster asserted that these studies took place in Germany between 1999 and 2008, most of them at Jacobs University Bremen. But e-mails exchanged in 2009 between him and Pieter Verhoeven, a former University of Amsterdam (UvA) research assistant, cast doubt on that timeline. In the e-mails, obtained by Science, Verhoeven and Förster appear to be discussing how to set up some of the studies.

In one exchange, Förster initially proposed telling subjects that a fake poem used as a stimulus in one experiment was "Malaysian." Verhoeven responded that this would not be credible and added: "I think it'll work when we use a Eastern European language, like telling that it's a Moldovian poem." The 2011 paper, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, indeed describes the use of "an alleged Moldavian poem."

Förster, who recently resigned from UvA, did not respond to multiple requests for comment on the Science story. But in his new defense, he says that his accusers err in concluding from the e-mails that he had not previously done the experiments. He says he had already called the nonsense poem "Moldavian" when he did the work in Germany, well before the e-mail exchange. After he came to Amsterdam in 2007, he wanted to do "similar studies at UvA that included both replications and extensions." But he felt that Moldavian might be associated with negative stereotypes in the Netherlands and that Malaysian might be "both more neutral and more believable." However, "after discussions with the research assistant I decided to take again Moldavian, among others because the poem sounded also to Dutch students more East European than Malaysian, and students considered Moldavians a rather neutral group."

"I wonder why people publish doubts about my studies that are so obviously unwarranted and that do certainly harm my reputation," Förster continues. Some of the allegations may stem from a lack of expertise, he concludes, but "please also note that for some people my case could be profitable."

Based on a statistical analysis of Förster's data, the Dutch National Board for Research Integrity has concluded that the 2012 paper, which was published in Social Psychological and Personality Science, can only be the result of data manipulation and constitutes a violation of academic integrity. It has not publicly addressed the other two papers, and UvA says it doesn't intend to investigate them further. Förster was supposed to start a new professorship at Ruhr University Bochum this month with a €5 million grant from Germany’s Alexander von Humboldt Foundation; that position has been shelved while the university and the foundation look into the allegations. ... -challenge
The fraud may be exposed but the papers have an afterlife.

Alison Avenell spent years collecting evidence that Yoshihiro Sato, a now-deceased nutritional researcher in Japan, was among the most prolific fraudsters known to science.

After journals investigated the findings by Avenell, a clinical nutritionist at the University of Aberdeen, and her colleagues, they retracted more than two dozen papers Sato had co-authored. Many had reported findings from clinical trials that could have led physicians to incorrectly treat patients suffering from osteoporosis and other disorders.

But the retractions, which began in 2015, didn’t mean the papers were gone for good, or that their influence waned.

Avenell noticed many journal articles that cited one or more of the 27 retracted papers did not warn readers that they referenced tainted work. Worse, she and colleagues report in a recently published study, 88 of the articles that cited the retracted papers were systematic reviews and clinical guidelines—potentially influential publications that often help guide medical treatments. Avenell wondered: Would the authors and editors of these papers take action if alerted to the retractions of Sato’s work?

For the most part, she found, the answer was no.

Her team contacted the authors of 86 of the citing papers—and sometimes the editors, too. After a year, however, journals had posted notices or letters for just eight of those papers informing readers that they cited retracted work, the researchers reported in late May in Accountability in Research. In five of those cases the announcement wasn’t linked to the paper, leaving readers in the dark. (A ninth review was itself retracted.)

The saga provides an unusually methodical case study of what some call “zombie papers.” Even after they are retracted—publishing’s death sentence—these papers live on thanks to citations. And that could have real-world consequences, the study suggests. It found 39 of the 88 citing papers had drawn conclusions that, if the retracted papers were left out of the analysis, were likely to be substantially weaker. Journals flagged just four of the weakened studies for citing retracted papers. ...