Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Weekend reads: Gay canvassing study redux; editors fired; how the world’s biggest faker was caught

with 13 comments

booksThis week at Retraction Watch was dominated by the Science same-sex marriage study, after we broke the news Wednesday morning that one of its authors had requested its retraction. (And crashed our servers in the process.) So the first section of this Weekend Reads will focus on pieces following up on that story:

But there was plenty more happening this week:

There was so much going on elsewhere, in fact, that we’ll have a second batch of Weekend Reads posted on Monday, which is a national holiday here in the U.S. (and elsewhere).

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Written by Ivan Oransky

May 23rd, 2015 at 9:48 am

Posted in weekend reads

  • BR May 24, 2015 at 6:42 am

    I would like to perhaps have some opinion from other RW readers, if I may please post this here?

    I recently received a very unusual email, from a researcher (no names/affiliations/gender here) who is also chief editor of a small journal. I did not know this person before. According with online repositories, this person exists and has dozens of papers published, particularly from the last few years. The email apparently departed from this person’s institutional email account.

    This researcher was claiming to have read several papers of mine, and to have now just prepared a manuscript from his/her own lab results. (Note: the topic of which was actually not quite within my sphere of expertise). Then he/she invited me to revise and correct the manuscript, include myself as a co-author, and submit it to any journal I please. I have never seen this.

    My doubts are: i) how common could this be? Did anyone here ever get such an email? ii) I am amazed to see this person has dozens of papers, some even coauthored with established researchers. Do I take it from that these researchers accepted the “offer”? Or worse, perhaps they are not aware of these manuscripts? iii) Should I contact someone else about this?

    Sorry for using this space, and thanks in advance.

    • Tony Mitchell May 24, 2015 at 12:18 pm

      My first thought would be to insure that the e-mail address was a valid address and the address of the individual in question. I have a friend who received an e-mail inviting them to present a message at a religious meeting in England that have every appearance of being genuine. But when you examined the reply e-mail addresses, it was obvious that they were not the same addresses as the purported individuals sending the invitation. The follow-up to this is that had my friend accepted the invitation, there would have been request from the organizers for funds to facilitate the processing of the visa and other documents. And that was the scam – the receiver sends funds to the scammer.

      One has to really look at what is going on in this process to know what is happening. How many of the manuscripts cited were actually published?

      • BR May 25, 2015 at 9:42 am

        Thanks, the paper does seem to be an actual paper coming from an actual person with real affiliation/funding/students/peers. However I think maybe the best to do is to live and let die as Vladimir pointed out below; digging into this could generate more problems than solutions. I am very disappointed at the extent science has been growing into a facade, very quickly.

    • The Watcher May 25, 2015 at 6:05 am

      Dear BR, this kind of request to co-author was exactly what Ayden Jacob aka Benjamin Jacob Hayempour (and editor of his own journal at the time did) c.f.

      Who wrote on his LinkedIn page : “Radiologist or neuroscientist needed: we have a publishable manuscript on frontal lobe dysfunction and violent behaviour. We need 1 more coauthor to help finish this manuscript. It will get published. Email me for details.”

      You could see that several “co-authors” appear to fall for this.

      • BR May 25, 2015 at 9:43 am

        Yes, indeed! Scary, isnt it? As someone looking for ways of getting a job in the academia, I get very disappointed at seeing this kind of behavior spreading and becoming the rule… Thanks for pointing out!

  • Vladimir Svetlov May 24, 2015 at 10:30 am

    It should be considered extremely irregular to get an authorship on a paper – well, manuscript – for revising it. You have no idea how data was obtained and you can’t vouch for its validity. My advice would be to add the email address to the list of blocked/junk emails and forget about it. Doesn’t matter if it’s an offer of an authorship or a claim to some Nigerian moneys – don’t waste your time. It ain’t how science works.

    • BR May 25, 2015 at 5:29 am

      Yes thanks, I totally agree, however note I was not wondering whether not I should accept the offer. I am worried if I should do sth else than just ignoring it. It can actually have become “how science works” to a greater extension than we think. These people are apparently publishing a lot and getting funding and jobs, and god knows what the data comes from.

      • Vladimir Svetlov May 25, 2015 at 8:27 am

        My bad. Didn’t want to imply that you were gullible enough to go through with this, just providing a generic advice what to do when stuff like this hits one’s mailbox. Unfortunately there isn’t much else one can do nowadays but ignore it. We ain’t got academic Interpol.

        It’s not what science has become; the problem is that we have science and what successfully masquerades as science. PhD – of sorts – check. Academic affiliation – of sorts – check. Publication in peer-reviewed journal – of sorts – check. And there is so much of this, and it’s growing with every new day. Personally I can barely keep to not contributing to this – e.g. not accepting offers of Guest-Lead-Editor for some predatory journal. Fighting this – where would I get the time?..

  • Vladimir Svetlov May 24, 2015 at 11:14 am

    Ivan and Adam, I have read your piece in NYT – an exchange program of sorts (“Look, your Will Shortz made it to the Sports pages” – “Here, your Retraction Watch guys have an op-ed”). A thoughtful but limited perspective. Limited probably by NYT space allocations. So here is my 2 cents. The trend for sensationalism in subject and absolutism in statements in the top journals is nothing new. And the “incentives” for academic publishing – top journal publication=recognition, appreciation, one’s own lab, R01, HHMI, etc – ain’t gonna change any time soon. But the problem isn’t that the “incentives” force _good_ scientist to “cut corners” – maybe just a little bit. It’s the bad ones we have to worry about.
    In my opinion it is the massive influx of “scientists” with little to no abilities who are trying to advance their careers by clinging to the expectations of genius who has a Cell paper in the second year of the graduate school and a Science paper half-way into the first year of the postdoc tenure. Pressure is immense while acumen isn’t. Who is there to stop you mis-labeling the lanes on a Western blot?
    Another thing to consider is that although it might appear that the manuscript A having been corresponded by a Nobel prize winner N has been reviewed in a top-ranked journal by another prize-winning PI – let’s call him/her M – we should consider the reality. Manuscript A is most likely written by a post-doc or a grad student from N’s lab and the reviewing was done by a similarly placed underling in M’s lab. Often with little intervention from M or N. ORI more often than not finds faults in postdocs and grad students, not PIs. Add to this the fact that Editors rarely exercise their right to demand raw data being made available to reviewers – for a good reason: seriously, is any reviewer going to try to re-check X-ray structure solution or recalculate some -omics data on 10-day notice? – and you’ve got yourself a battle of grad students mediated by an Editor, usually a former postdoc who at some point got disenchanted with climbing the academic pyramid (scheme).

  • Robert Arvanitis May 24, 2015 at 12:17 pm

    Perhaps you might indulge a basic question – is there a way to recognize those whose work is replicating results?
    In the time of Newton and Leibniz, publication was so little and egos so vast that Darwinian pressure worked.
    Today, it’s like the early internet, where commenters strove to type “First!”
    If there is no way to recognize those who replicate or debunk, then I suppose you get what you pay for.

  • grey rabbit May 25, 2015 at 11:57 am

    Having listened to This America Life on the same-sex marriage study I didn’t find the results particularly surprising.

    You had a gay person going out of his way to be empathetic to someone who was not a hard-core bigot but had some reluctance regarding same-sex marriage, what is less surprising he should be better at persuading them to change their mind than someone who did not have a personal investment in the issue? It helps if you have heard the recordings of a sample of these interactions to see how likely they were to be effective.

    I didn’t find the magnitude of the effect reported that too surprising either. Clearly there is some issue with the documentation that needs to be looked into, but at the moment I would be looking at sloppy and/or inappropriate research practice/documentation rather than deliberation de novo falsification of a non-existent effect.

    Not sure it was interesting enough to justify a paper in Science

  • Masked Avenger May 26, 2015 at 4:48 pm

    Urologist warns against removing PSA data from SEER because it will affect ongoing research with that data?

    Sure, just go ahead and keep crunching faulty data and then publishing it… And people wonder why CMS is turning its back on prostate cancer screening.

    Gee, is here a Financial Conflict of Interest in that statement? The same Financial Conflict of Interest that has uro-oncology surgeons swearing up and down that the daVinci provides so many benefits to treatment… when the numbers do not support the statement, and while urologists sell a service with an elevated cost. And they’re screaming bloody murder when CMS whispers about discontinuing payment for those comparable services with elevated costs.

    And in a related note… Will Urology Departments survive the transition from fee-for-service to fee-for-quality?

  • Narad May 27, 2015 at 12:38 am

    I see that the NYT item has sent AoA’s “Media Editor,” Anne Dachel – also known as the “Dachelbot,” by virtue of her hit-and-run, copy-paste comment flooding of news stories – into an incoherent frenzy.

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