The Danish Committees for Scientific Dishonesty (DCSD) is calling for the retraction of a politically sensitive article by Helmuth Nyborg, a controversial Danish psychologist, over concerns about referencing and authorship.
The 2011 paper, “The Decay of Western Civilization: Double Relaxed Darwinian Selection,” appeared in Personality and Individual Differences, a prestigious journal in the field, and quickly aroused the ire of a group of Danish scientists. As first reported in the Danish press, an inquiry by the DCSD concluded late last month that:
The DCSD found that the defendant had committed scientific dishonesty by appearing as the sole author of an article and by including a reference which did not support the data it indicated to support.
Nyborg, formerly of Aarhus University (and an Olympic canoeist), is no stranger to the DCSD — which we note has also been subject to criticism recently. He found himself under investigation for misconduct after publishing an article some years earlier in the same journal in which he purported to show that men on average have higher IQs than women and that the difference is biological. In that case — which Nyborg called part of a “global witch hunt” against academics interested in question of IQ, sex and race — the DCSD did not find grounds for action.
Nyborg, who, not surprisingly, is a darling academic among the extreme right, has strenuously protested the case against him as politically motivated “censure” of unpopular research. In a lengthy appeal to colleagues Nyborg writes:
the verdict is based on flawed premises (The Case), and the governmental committee was exploited as a useful tool in a long-standing systematic, goal-directed, politically motivated left-oriented attempt to censure psychometric and differential psychology
Nyborg, for his part, acknowledges the referencing issue as “an error of omission.”
I made an error of omission, when I failed in the methodology section to describe a proportional parameter transformation. This transformation was needed, because the UN Fertility Rates at the correctly referenced data source could be used as input in the mathematical projection model only, if transformed to Crude Birth Rates.
And regarding the ghost author, Nyborg says he asked the researcher multiple times if he wanted to be named on the paper but that the person refused.
I wanted to appreciate JEV’s contribution to the analysis, so I wrote twice (documentable) to him, and invited him to co-author the paper. By so doing I unknowingly deviated from the qualifications of the Vancouver Protocol for authorship. This protocol states that in order to be credited as an author, each and every author on a publication needs to have been involved in the:
1. Conception and design, or analysis and interpretation of data
2. Drafting the article or revising it critically for important intellectual content
3. Final approval of the version to be published.
I informed DCSD that JEV did qualify only on the first of these points – analysis and interpretation of data. However, DCSD did not consider it relevant that JEV twice declined my invitation for co-authorship, and that he had not written one word in the paper. To the contrary, the majority finds that HN’s “… reference to the Vancouver-rules does not change [their] evaluation, because the Vancouver-rules were not followed”.
In other words, if a paid data consultant declines an invitation to appear as co-author, the DCSD decision leaves a scientist with three choices: 1. To physically force him to put his name on the paper (as co-author or in an acknowledgement), which I believe is against the laws, 2. To not publish it, which I believe is against the interest of science, or 3. To respect his decision to leave out his name, publish the paper, and risk being accused of scientific misconduct.
DCSD decided that I had deliberately left out JEV’s name and wrongfully brought myself in the role as sole author of the paper.
We don’t have a position on whether this paper should be retracted, nor on Nyborg’s work. We’re interested in the retraction process, as we say in our tagline. We have, however, received several emails about this case and have seen comments within them supporting Nyborg from both ends of the spectrum — Charles Murray, of the Bell Curve, for example, but another from an avowedly liberal scholar — decrying what they view as the heavy hand of political correctness.
For the moment, the article has yet to be retracted. We’ve contacted the journal for more on the paper and will update this post if we hear back.
We will, however, take issue with one thing Nyborg states in his defense:
Science is self-correcting. When a paper on an important matter is published with invalid methods or questionable conclusions, other researcher will soon correct this, and science moves on.
As the history of this blog shows pretty clearly, we believe, that Platonic ideal very often — perhaps more often than not — fails to exist in nature, certainly in the “soon” time frame Nyborg seems to be describing.
Update, 2:45 p.m. Eastern, 11/14/13: Tony Vernon, editor of the journal where the paper appeared, tells us he will be looking into the matter.