Have you been involved in scientific fraud? Grant Steen wants to hear from you

Regular Retraction Watch readers may find the name Grant Steen familiar. Steen has published a number of important papers on retractions, most recently in PNAS. Recently, he approached us for help with what sounds like another project that is likely to increase our understanding of misconduct in science: Steen wants to gather the stories of those involved in fraud. We’re happy to present his explanation of the project, and his requests:

Grant Steen

Why is there fraud in science?

Scientists believe—or at least profess to believe—that science is a process of iteratively approaching Truth.  Failed experiments are supposed to serve as fodder for successful experiments, so that clouded thinking can be clarified.  Observations that are fundamentally true are thought to find support, while observations that are flawed in some way are supplanted by better observations.

Why then would anyone think that scientific fraud can succeed?  Fraud would seem to be intellectual pyrotechnics; a dazzling light that leaves us in darkness.  If science truly is self-correcting, then why would people risk perpetrating fraud?  The notion of self-correction suggests that fraud is certain to be found out. Why risk it? Or are most scientists wrong?  Does science often fail to self-correct?  Is the literature full of misinformation, left behind like landmines in an abandoned battlefield?

What is the rationale for data fabrication and data falsification?  We invite anyone who has been involved in a scientific retraction due to fraud, or otherwise implicated in scientific misconduct, to write an essay for inclusion in a projected book about scientific fraud.  Essays are solicited from people who were involved as either a perpetrator or a co-author.  It is vital that this account be written from a personal perspective.  Please limit speculation and stick to verifiable facts insofar as possible, so that future historians can learn what actually happened.  Please do not discuss retractions that resulted from an honest scientific mistake, and do not dwell on transgressions such as plagiarism, duplicate publication, or co-author squabbles.  Discussion should focus primarily on data fabrication and data falsification.  We are especially interested in first-person accounts that relate to any (or all) of the following questions:

  • What actually happened?
  • What is the scientific story behind the transgression?
  • How did you (or a colleague) fabricate or falsify data?
  • What was the short- or long-term goal of the deception?
  • Did you perceive any significant obstacles to fabrication or falsification?
  • Did the research infrastructure fail in any way?
  • How was the fraud discovered?
  • Do you believe that the scientific enterprise was damaged?
  • What was the aftermath for you and for your collaborators?
  • What are your thoughts and perceptions now?

Please limit your essays to no more than 3,000 words and send them to G_Steen_MediCC@yahoo.com. Be prepared to prove that you are who you claim to be; we will try hard not be taken in by a scam.  However, it may be possible to publish the piece anonymously, though this would greatly lessen the impact.  If accepted for publication, your work will be edited for clarity only; there will be no censorship, no editorial intrusion, and no correction of what are claimed as facts.  However, these essays will become part of a multi-author dialogue about scientific fraud.  If a book contract can be secured, each essay will form a chapter in the book.  No profits are anticipated, so no financial gain can accrue from the project.  However, this is a chance to tell your story on a national stage.

66 thoughts on “Have you been involved in scientific fraud? Grant Steen wants to hear from you”

  1. No comment, just a question: Are you interested in stories that are the opposite of fraud; i.e. interesting negative results that were rejected by different journals because they were negative and a researcher obtaining a wonderful result that proved an interesting hypothesis on the role of cell volume in tubular water reabsorption and then reproducing his own results and did not publish his first results because he couldn’t replicate them?

  2. I wish Mr. Steen good luck with soliciting even a single essay when he is unable to guarantee anonymity and clearly prefers to publish the name of the fraudster or fraudster’s collaborator(s). Moreover, without the cover of anonymity, it is highly likely any narratives that are proffered will be highly self-serving and subject to first-person bias. This is a noble attempt to enlighten, but human nature, such as it is, will likely get in the way.

    1. DSS, I am more optimistic that something will come of this. All the contributions must be by people who had to retract a paper or were otherwise involved in an episode of known misconduct, so there won’t be any folks who have anonymity. The scientific public already knows that there was misconduct. I do agree, however, that the stories are likely to be self-serving. And I think they are likely to come from the co-authors, whether innocent or “innocent”. Still, it would be interesting to read the rationales that scientists give for what they did. It may be very helpful for suggesting ways that we could change the system to make fraud less attractive. And just the whole “what were they thinking?” insight would be interesting. When you find yourself saying, “I know how that experiment is going to turn out before we even do it,” or “The salaries of many people are riding on this being true, so we’ll just have to hope for the best and maybe we can get it sorted out before the grant ends,” beware — or something like that. Not that these are great moral revelations, but when you are in a bind it can be a good anchor to reality to be reminded that other scientists have rationalized these things to themselves and it’s always the wrong move. Much better to be honest about failure than to lie about success.

      1. That’s good, but really, what is the point? The sample will be too small to be anything beyond anecdotal. You will get the usual factors that lead people to cheat and lie including 1. Discrepancy between ambitions and skills; 2. Desire to be admired by peers; 3. Basic survival in a system that forces you out if you don’t produce a certain product. All this, exacerbated by the lack of adequate deterrents.

    1. I also wish Gary Steen good luck, since a study like his needs to be done — when I was a chief investigator in the Office of Research Integrity from 1989 to 2006, we often woncdered why the respondent committed the research misconduct (most investigation interviews and reports do not get to this point) and wondered what happened to the respondent after the case was closed and the sanctions imposed (did they continue in science and in what role, or go outside science). We in ORI asked permssion to fund a research survey to be done by a disguished survey institution whose professional staff would contact those found by ORI to have committed research misconduct and ask these questions – but the results would be kept anonmymous -however, a staffer at the federal Office of Management and Budget (which has to approve such federally funded surveys) refused to authorize ORI to do it. OMB did not believe many of the 100 respondents would participate, and that the results could not be really made anonymous (that ORI staff and knowledgable outsiders would recognize the facts from the case made public previously). So we were not allowed to even ask the questions, which was then and is now (with over 200 misconduct-respondents) disappointing.

  3. Absolutely, good luck! This is an interesting exercise. I would disagree with “DefendSmallScience!” that the outcome is necessarily apologias. This may be the case for PIs trying to salvage something, but how about the students or postdocs who figured a way to please their mentor or who were stuck in a morass of a research group, had to earn a living etc? I look forward to the outcome.

    One might also take a parallel look at:
    -Institutional investigators and the pressure put on them.
    -students and postdocs who realised something was not right, but for whom there was no “rigorous scientific debate” and whose awkward data were simply swept under the carpet and they were moved on.

  4. Well, we already have Stapel’s book on why he did what he did, but that also means he might not be so willing to contribute. He’s got a book to sell…

  5. The commenters raise critical points:

    I’m sure that Dr. Steen is a good man with honorable motives, but his solicitation is not unlike the flypaper used by institutions to collect, vex and destroy the career and reputation of honest researchers and scientists who wish to report misdeeds but fear retaliation within their respective institutions. After Congress defunded ORI (as Dr. Price alludes to), the institutions that routinely engage in – and profit from – corruption were charged with investigating it, which is exactly what industry lobbyists paid Congress to allow.

    Despite Dr. Steen’s credentials and reputation, there is no substitute for an a) independent, experienced and licensed investigator, b) attorney-client privilege, and c) the careful development of a well-executed investigation and prosecution of a case. (By independent, I mean that investigator does not rely on funding from – or relations with – government agencies, universities and industries it investigates.) If and when the retaliatory gears start to turn, honest scientists want a team that is prepared to break teeth.

    I founded OMSJ in 2009 during my own investigation into a minor case of medical and scientific corruption. With nearly 30 years and thousands of criminal, civil and military cases with the LAPD and as a private investigator, I was frustrated by local, state and federal officials who refused to pursue evidence of widespread fraud and corruption I discovered. When the NIH, CDC and NIH refused to answer my questions, I vetted and assembled a team of MDs, PhDs, investigators and attorneys, which has prevailed in an unprecedented 50 criminal and military cases in just over three years by forcing “The Experts” to testify under oath and under penalty of perjury in criminal cases. Despite the complete media blackout, more than 400 military and university servers downloaded 150 gigs of information from our website two weeks after our acquittal at Fort Bragg last May.

    We know that this is just the tip of the iceberg. As Ronald Burke (Crime and Corruption in Organizations [2009], William Black [The Best Way to Rob a Bank is to Own One (2005)] and others explain, the “criminogenic environment” rejects honesty in a variation of Gresham’s law.

    Former EPA scientist David Lewis explains that, today, government scientists are tasked with projects that support POLITICAL agendas – not unlike the way astrologers once defended Rome’s geocentric universe. The same holds true in universities. If, say, Los Alamos and Berkeley suddenly admitted as true what we’ve uncovered, the US government would withdraw well over $100 million they receive each year – funding that keeps these facilities open and their workers employed.

    Unlike ORI, OMSJ is not beholden to the government or the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries. OMSJ will welcome requests to protect the names and information from those who wish to come forward. But if I worked at Baylor, CalTech, Harvard or any other place that is funded by the government or industries, I’d keep my mouth shut. I’d also stay far away from whistleblower organizations that are funded, directly or indirectly, by government or industry – especially if they’re anywhere near K Street.


    Clark Baker
    CEO, Principal Investigator

      1. His views on HIV/AIDS are particularly relevant as well. I can only assume this is what his reference to Berkeley is about, since he is a prominent defender of Peter Duesberg. I think I’ll stick to trusting the ORI, thank you.

      2. Motard:

        There is a difference between science and consensus and the sort of theological obedience that breeds on university campuses today. The latter implies a BELIEF in both manmade global warming and vaccine efficacy.

        BELIEF and FAITH are theological attributes that have nothing to do with EVIDENCE or SCIENCE. I also use my real name, which is something that industry-funded activists and trolls rarely do.

        While I acknowledge my BELIEF in God, honest investigators and scientists require EVIDENCE from men. If, tomorrow, I received reproducible and verifiable evidence that manmade global warming was real or that certain vaccines actually prevent more injuries and deaths than they cause, I would close those investigations. But rather than delivering evidence, they deride.

        Science is as elegant as a gyroscope, as miraculous as mitochondria, and as gentle as a first kiss. Like love, science is not enforced with ridicule. Ridicule is an attribute of corruption, not science.

        Michael Crichton said it best:

        “(T)he work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world. In science consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results. The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus… There is no such thing as consensus science. If it’s consensus, it isn’t science. If it’s science, it isn’t consensus. Period.”


        Clark Baker

        1. Thats very interesting Clark.

          We want facts and science is a collection of facts. Whether Global warming (or is it climate change?) is real or not, you have indeed used your real name, asked questions, sometimes putting your head on the choppping block.

          I can respect that.

          As others have mentioned it will be interesting to see which groups have reproduced data shown to be fraudulent in another publication by another group, and which groups have questioned the “original” work.

          Sometimes science is controversial, and there are legitimate reasons why some data are not reproducible, but sometimes it is fraud.

          Ask away Clark, why not?

          1. I appreciate that, Stewart.

            Scientists and doctors commit fraud for many reasons but, within the criminogenic environment, coersion is the most compelling.

            Stanley Milgram and Solomon Asch not only illustrated how corrupt peers (the consensus) can get individuals to misrepresent facts to get along, but also how authority figures (esp. scientists and doctors) convince good people to do the unthinkable (fraud, bullying, torture, etc.). Unfortunately, their studies also taught industries and governments how to leverage our vulnerabilities to get people to do what their own humanity would ordinarily not.

            I don’t have a doctorate, but I have spent a few decades observing the rawest forms of human behavior. Good people are often forced to choose between acquiescing to corrupt employers and peers, or facing ridicule before losing their careers and their ability to pay off their student loans, mortgage, car payments, country club membership, etc. Those who acquesce (“just this once – until I find something else…”) soon discover that breaking free from their Faustian agreement is too painful to consider. But when payment is due, they invariably appear in venues like Oprah, where men like Lance Armstrong and Jack Abramoff present their carefully choreographed explanations.

            Armstrong was big enough to delay discovery, but wasn’t as big as healthcare and pharma, which owns and controls large swaths of the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government; academia, regulators and the media. That state-sponsored theocracy requires our unquestioning belief in its clerics or risk charges of heresy (now called denialism).

            It takes tremendous courage to risk one’s career and reputation to do the right thing. My little exercise provides a glimpse of the powerful forces at work.


            Clark Baker

          1. I think that psychiatry will eventually find its rightful place in the seedy corners of strip malls, next to astrologers, palm readers and peep shows; but that’s based only upon my reading of the DSM, reports like Kinsey, kickbacks they accept from drug companies, and the behavior of psychiatrists I’ve known and arrested.

            Aside from my empirical analysis about junk science, I’m curious – what part of Dr. Crichton’s 2003 Cal Tech speech do you disagree with and why? Do you really think that science and medicine can advance when everyone agrees about everything – or were you talking about his other books and observations?

          2. the problem with the bit of Crichton you quote is that he makes up a meaningless term (“consensus science”) and then pretends there’s something wrong with the particular aspect of science he’s chosen to denigrate (climate science I suspect) by pretending that it conforms to his misrepresentation.

            In any science there are elements about which the evidence is sufficiently strong that there is a consensus. That doesn’t mean that science somehow proceeds by “consensus”. That’s obvious wouldn’t you say? but Crichton is trying to pull the wool over our eyes by misusing the term “consensus”.

            You’re doing something similar “Do you really think that science and medicine can advance when everyone agrees about everything”. The point is that there are some things for which the evidence is sufficiently strong that everyone (at least those that have a command of the evidence) is likely to agree upon. Obviously the advance of scientific fields involves the exploration into those areas in which the evidence base is poor and thus where there is likely to be quite a bit of disagreement.

            To explore the nature of consensus in any particular field you need to be rather more specific about those particular aspects of the science you are talking about.

          3. Apples and oranges: Kuhn describes an imaginary world, while Crichton addresses the real one.

            In his utopian universe, Kuhn imagines a successful scientific community as “a consensus group possessing a paradigm with increasing professional acknowledgment,” but concludes with a Darwinian analogy (!) to “illustrate the process of choice between conflicting views of nature is evolutionary natural selection” – that Science is advanced through, “conflict within the scientific community of the fittest way to practice science.”

            In a vacuum absent political agendas, funding sources, compliance under threats to disclose existing corruption, human motives and moral weakness etc., Kuhn’s utopia seems wonderful. But to believe that such a place exists, one would have to ignore the endless reports of medical and scientific corruption and fraud that we’re deluged with each day from places like East Anglia and Baltimore. And like the Catholic Church, those scandals typically involve a few names that accept blame for acquiescent associates – and those that take the hit are often rewarded with more authority and funding (like Robert Gallo).

            Unfortunately, climatologists and virologists who ask awkward questions about global warming and HIV are not funded by government and corporate sources that support and promote the alchemy, while those whose work supports preconceived political views and agendas do. As a variant of Gresham’s Law predicts, malleable well-funded scientists will be “naturally selected,” while the rest are not.

            Applying Occam’s razor, Crichton’s clarity contrasts starkly against Kuhn’s contortionist rationale. As attractive as Kuhn’s magical world might seem, it is only a fantasy.

            Chris correctly states that, in science “there are elements about which the evidence is sufficiently strong that there is a consensus.” He misses the point:

            Crichton’s indictment stems not from “consensus” but that those of us who are silenced and derided for attempting to duplicate results that are “verifiable by reference to the real world.”

            If I claim to have invented cold fusion, it doesn’t matter how many people agree with me (consensus) – what matters is whether anyone (not just third-party believers) can duplicate my scheme. The first clue that such claims are false occurs when the angry well-funded consensus accuses non-believers of heresy (denialism), when it would be far easier to explain and duplicate their proof.

            OMSJ has money, time and expertise. Sinnce 2009, we’ve prevailed in 50 criminal cases by simply forcing experts to prove “consensus claims.” For that, we are derided as heretics. This “real-world” example demonstrates the folly of Kuhn’s imaginary world.

          4. Kuhn was not an “utopian” but was a physicist and one of the greatest historians of Science that posited numerous original ideas. These ideas infuriated Popper, among others, because Kuhn was an historical relativist as well as a relativist in the asymptotic approach to “truth” in the historical development of the Sciences. Kuhn never said that consensus “advances” Science but that consensus from the scientific community is pivotal in the shifting of scientific paradigms. For example, in 1847 Semmelweiss empirically showed that washing the hands of obstetricians with chlorinated solutions before delivering babies decreased the rate of the mortality by puerperal fever from 30% to an incidence of <1%. His perfectly reasonable hand-washing suggestions were ridiculed and rejected by his Viennese contemporaries. Semmelweis ideas took hold when years later the medical community "consented" that Semmeweis "experiments" were given credence by Pasteur's and Lister's findings on microbes and hygiene. And then, and only then, the paradigm shifted. You can find a similar idea on "consensus" in Freud's 1937 "Der Mann Moses und die monotheistische Religion" when he discusses the role of scientific consensus in the instauration of the Darwinian paradigm over other evolutionary hypotheses of the 19th century.
            Many people reject and deny scientific findings with dire consequences, like the death of more than 300,000 AIDS patients due to the HIV-denialism of Mbeki and his minions, or the worsening of meteorological disturbances due to the denialism of Greenhouse Effect by Tea Partiers and their minions. In spite of verification and consensus in these two areas deniers continue to persist.

          5. exlibBaker, What does this sentence mean?:

            Crichton’s indictment stems not from “consensus” but that those of us who are silenced and derided for attempting to duplicate results that are “verifiable by reference to the real world.”

            I can sort of see that you consider Crichton is suggesting something about individuals who are apparently “silenced” etc. for having non-standard viewpoints. Is that correct? If so you really need to give some specific examples. Please give some examples of individuals that you (or Crichton) consider are silenced/ridiculed because of their viewpoints, for example, on the subject of climate science.

          6. Marco:

            You write that Semmelweis’ “perfectly reasonable hand-washing suggestions were ridiculed and rejected by his Viennese contemporaries (why didn’t you call them the CONSENSUS?)… but that his ideas took hold when years later the medical community “consented”… and “then the paradigm shifted.”

            If not for the “CONSENSUS” of Semmelweis’ contemporaries (1845~1860), thousands – if not millions of women and babies might have lived. It wasn’t enough that the “CONSENSUS” disagreed – they had to attack, ridicule, harass and destroy the man and his credibility until he was sent to an asylum where he was allegedly beaten to death by guards.

            The most prominent example today is Peter Duesberg, who first mapped the retrovirus genome. The NIH produced millions of dollars in grants to him until he started asking embarrassing and unanswered questions about the HIV hypothesis of AIDS:


            His funding abruptly ended and, rather than answer his questions, they continue to harass and attack:


            Of the two co-discoverers of HIV, Gallo was found guilty of scientific misconduct during the 1990s. The other, Nobel Laureate Luc Montagnier MD, now admits that HIV can be easily cured within a few weeks, but that drug companies and governments push drugs and vaccines because they cannot make any money selling clean water and good food:


            He’s said much the same thing about vaccines.

            If the drug and healthcare industries didn’t own and control the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government, universities, and the media, people would hear these facts and a paradigm would shift. But by controlling the message with propaganda, these facts are suppressed, critics silenced, and the paradigm delayed.

            Marco and Chris want others to celebrate the “consensus” that surrenders when the paradigm shifts when, in fact, it is the consensus that delays the shift and progress.

            If Duesberg was wrong, we never would have won 50 cases in three years. Here’s a glimpse of just one of our criminal cases that the media refused to report:


    1. I thought the name and organization sounded familiar… it’s a collection point for conspiracy theories about drug companies and vaccines in particular, as well as global warming denialism. Of the eight items on its front page when I visited the site, one was verifiably true and the rest were prima facie absurd. The one true item was gleaned from the New York Times, and so you won’t have to click on the links, I’ll describe it.
      This one item was about the sweetheart deal Amgen got from Congress in the “fiscal cliff” legislation just passed. It is a prototype example of how the drug companies get huge amounts of money from the government, partly in the form of Medicare part D, and partly for kidney dialysis drugs.
      This is way off topic, but it should be clear to all of us that the reason medical care costs twice as much per capita in the US versus any European nation is that the insurance companies, drug companies, medical device companies, doctor’s associations, etc in this country are all overcharging…why? Because they can.

      Back to topic: I wish the editor the best of luck in collecting these stories. I do, however, feel that anonymity would be better even if it is not fully effective.

      1. Using the “DENIALISM” epithet the same way that religious sects condemn heretics and apostates dehumanizes those who expose medical incompetence as somehow denying the existence of AIDS itself. It is the academics’ favorite N-word – the word used to enforce “consensus.”

        Despite these often-repeated slurs, targets like Peter Duesberg do not question the existence of AIDS or HIV. Indeed, we’ve been photographing HIV with EM for several months now. That co-factors like malnutrition, septic water, disease, environmental conditions, drug use and self-destructive behavior can degrade a body’s ability to protect itself from infection and cause death is well understood by a majority of doctors, include HIV discoverer Luc Montagnier MD.

        When used by medical clerics, the “D-word” is intended to dehumanize skeptics as flat-earthers, ufologists, Klansmen, Eugenicists, racists, homophobes, and other socially-unacceptable groups. Because most people fear the stain that comes with those associations – and are often socially, politically, and professionally unprepared to defend themselves against the epithet – they tend to distance themselves, further isolating the intended target – the objective that some medical clerics are paid to perform under an academic pretext.

        Psychologist David Livingstone Smith writes:

        Dehumanization has the function of decommissioning our moral sentiments. In dehumanizing others, we exclude them from the circle of moral obligation. We can then kill, oppress, and enslave them with impunity. Taking the life of a dehumanized person becomes of no greater consequence than crushing an insect under one’s boot…

        This tactic is consistent with Rule 13 of Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals”:

        Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it… the opposition must be singled out as the target and “frozen.”…

        … any target can always say, “Why do you center on me when there are others to blame as well?” When you “freeze the target,” you disregard these [rational but distracting] arguments… Then, as you zero in and freeze your target and carry out your attack, all the “others” come out of the woodwork very soon. They become visible by their support of the target… One acts decisively only in the conviction that all the angels are on one side and all the devils on the other.” (pps.127-134)

        Like the astrologers who refused to peer through Galileo’s heretical little telescope, our critics prefer to decry the ostensible heresy. They are why I founded OMSJ – and why I take such joy at impeaching those who would poison healthy patients to preserve their precarious vanity.

  6. I am a psychiatrist who reviewed 146 ORI Reports with the question : Who did it and why?

    I categorized the Respondents ( ORI-speak for guilty) into the following categories:

    The desperate, whose fear of failure overcame a personal code of conduct

    The perfectionist, foe whom any failure was a catastrophe

    The ethically challenged, who succumbed to temptation

    The grandiose, who believed that his or her superior judgement did not require verificatiobn

    The sociopath , who was totally absent a conscience ( fortunately, rare)

    The non professional support staff staff, who were unconstrained by the ethics of science , unaware of the scientific consequences of their actions, and/or tempted by financial rewards.

    Don Kornfeld

    Kornfeld, DS, Research Misconduct: The Search for a Remedy, Acad.Med.,2012, 87: 887-892

    1. Were none of the professionals tempted by financial rewards in the form of tenure/promotion or grant money?

      Were some of the support staff influenced by the professionals to do the dirty work because the support staffers were not held to a high ethical standard?

  7. They most certainly were. Grant funding and publish or perish are the warp and woof of academic science.
    Therefore misconduct will always be with us. There will always be the grandiose, the sociopaths.and the ethically challenged.

    For them the only potential limiting factor would be the fear of detection and, in the most blatant cases, well publicized federal prosecution for fraud..There have been too few of those.

    Fear of detection could be made a more significant factor if whistleblowers were truly protected.
    Apparently institutions are not providing the protection required by law and should be a core principle of any respected academic institution.The fear of retaliation has been shown to have a significant deterrent effect on potential whistleblowers.

    Some support staff were definitely influenced by the professionals.who directly or indirectly made it clear what was expected of them.

    Don Kornfeld

    1. “Apparently institutions are not providing the protection required by law and should be a core principle of any respected academic institution.The fear of retaliation has been shown to have a significant deterrent effect on potential whistleblowers”

      Beautifully written. The science-fraudsters have probably moved up through the ranks of the institutions, based upon publications and grants, no doubt linked to their science-fraud, and now represent the institutions.

      Clearly, they do not wish to protect whistleblowers for obvious reasons. Are THEY breaking any laws?

      This is 2013.

      Retaliation directed towards whistleblowers whose only action was to expose science-fraud, and buy your own words, retaliation by “grandiose, the sociopaths.and the ethically challenged”

      Scary stuff.

      I may be wrong Don, but I get the impression that this may just be the tip of a very large ice-berg.

      1. Federal law does require that institutions provide whistleblowers with protection against retaliation in any project funded with federal dollars.Therefore you have asked the right question:, Why do so many whistleblowers report that they have suffered ill consequences ?.Do they not know the law or do they fear subtle forms of retaliation should they make their experience a “Federal case”.?.

        There are data to confirm your hunch that most cases of misconduct are not acted upon for fear of retaliation. Therefore there is a large iceberg.

        This will only change when institutions make whistleblowers heroes not traitors..



        1. Or perhaps not heroes but merely scientists acting in accordance with standard procedures. If there is a question about something, and there are some observations to back up that question, the matter should be looked into. There should be no ugly accusations against the person who raises the question. If the question can be answered in a reasonable way, great; it was a good question and there was a good answer for it. Otherwise, … well, the work needs to be redone correctly.

          Unfortunately, when there is $2.5 million in federal grant money at stake, some people viciously attack the questionner, because the money is more important than the truth.

          1. In reply to Judy H:, You are correct,,unfortunately, the whistleblower is often the victim of retaliation.
            In addition, a publicized false claim can continue to have detrimental effects on the
            falsely accused. Therefore, institutions should have an individual, a Research Integrity Officer, designated to initially receive all such charges.so both the accuser and the accused are protected. In some cases, other issues may underlie the accusation and hopefuly, can be sorted out.

            ORI has produced an excellent interactive video, The Lab,,which demonstrates how
            this process can, and should be handled.

            Don Kornfeld

    2. Dr. Kornfeld:

      Thank you for your report and comments.

      As for your comment about rare prosecutions: As political animals, prosecutors are reluctant to press cases where the accused is connected to threads that their bosses don’t want pulled. Unless misconduct can be tied exclusively to the target and a manageable group of politically-unconnected cohorts, the case will usually be resolved quietly.

      The criminogenic environment invites pilgrims to lie (or other scandalous activity), which binds them to the enterprise just as tightly as any crime family. If and when the bosses need a fall guy, they’ll have plenty of dirt to lay out their chump, whose possible claim that “everybody does it” will usually fall flat. This allows the organization to feign their willingness to “root out corruption,” thereby inoculating themselves with unearned innocence.

      Because retaliation is corruption’s “enforcement mechanism,” it’s unlikely that corporate lobbyists will permit legislators to pass any meaningful whistleblower protections: And because most honest employees believe that they can report things to bosses (who are poised to silence complaints), they usually don’t know they’re targeted until it’s too late.

      To be effectively protected, employees should retain an experienced attorney and investigator, who understand how to build a solid case before the disclosure is made. If the corporation retaliates, their responses can be used against them.

      1. I have wondered why there have not been more prosecutions of individuals who have obtained million of dollars of federal funds based on false data submitted in a grant request. That is fraud and is punishable by jail time and or a fine.I believe that more such well publicized prosecutions would have a deterrent effect.


        1. Indeed, Doctor – it is fraud. But when the industry owns and controls the legislature (lobbyists), executive branch (campaign contributions), and judiciary (indemnity, tort reform, vaccine courts), regulators (recruited from the industry), universities (grants), and the media (advertising revenues), it’s easy to see why prosecutors are reluctant to pursue cases from their own skeleton-filled closets.

          I retired from the LAPD for similar reasons. I formed OMSJ so that victims and witness would have someplace to turn.

  8. Really good. I would write if I had been retracted. However, I do not think it is going to ever happen, as few but I know where the issue is and none will disclaim. Maybe in the near future?

  9. I think that about 10 years ago I landed in the middle of scientific misconduct. This only struck me in the last 6 months. At that time you simply thought you were not trying hard enough if something didn’t work.
    In fact 2 projects didn’t work. One project with a compatriot of the PI who refused to tell me the sequence of the protein expression construct and wrote that I simply did not understand what I was doing. Another project about some popular at the time field of metabolism and cancer. More recently, on re-reading the publications from that time and since I have come to the conclusion that the work has severe flaws (you can see them in the figures) and is likely aided by image manipulation rather than reality . It is odd that the department secretary would say to me while blinking is a very obvious “South Park” way. “If you are ever unsure about somebody’s work look at all their papers”. She would emphasize all. The problem was that at that time I did not know what to look for. The emphasis on look.

    I think that in the past, and present, many junior people have been put in uncomfortable positions by senior people who are essentially not scientists at all.

    If you find yourself in such a situation do take the department secretary’s advice and look at all their papers. forget the narrative text, just the figures. You think you don’t have time, but with electronic versions now you should be able to go through 50 papers in a couple of days. Simple things like tilting the screen backwards, sometimes forwards, will show you things that you will never see on the printed page, or on the computer screen in the usual position (tilted back about10 to 15 degrees). No need for computer programs, just tilt and look.

    With the examples on RW, and the sleeping, but still working abnormalscience blog, people know more about what to look for.

    1. Fernando:

      Your experience with the department secretary (e.g. “If you are ever unsure about somebody’s work look at all their papers.”) made me laugh. It is a common tactic used specifically to frustrate and silence questions.

      Anyone who visits HHS websites (HHS, CDC, NIH) will find similar shell games:



  10. Dr. John Ioannidis “zoomed in on 49 of the most highly regarded research findings in medicine over the previous 13 years, as judged by the science community’s two standard measures: the papers had appeared in the journals most widely cited in research articles, and the 49 articles themselves were the most widely cited articles in these journals…

    “Of the 49 articles, 45 claimed to have uncovered effective interventions. Thirty-four of these claims had been retested, and 14 of these, or 41 percent, had been convincingly shown to be wrong or significantly exaggerated. If between a third and a half of the most acclaimed research in medicine was proving untrustworthy, the scope and impact of the problem were undeniable.”


    If the 49 “highly regarded research findings” were referenced in 100 subsequent reports, which are then referenced in 100 more, it’s easy to see how quickly an entire library – and its authors – can be compromised.

    I cannot imagine the disillusionment and betrayal endured by our best and brightest whose scholarship and college loans land them in one of these institutional cesspools.

      1. Mr. Pessoa, were you or are you now a researcher? Which research center were you affiliated with when you were “tilting computers” to assess figures, following the secretary’s suggestion? I have no idea which places you and “Mr. OMSJ” call cesspools. i would like to emphasize that the vast majority of the research centers in the USA and Europe are centers of excellence and in which honorable scientists toil day in and day out and from where outstanding results are constantly pouring out. Fraud in Science has been with us since the dawn of Science and continues today, but only a tiny fraction of scientists engage in it. I think, like everybody else does, that fraudulent Science should be denounced and their practitioners uprooted. Still, to call “cesspools” our R&D centers is certainly a distortion of reality. Our current knowledge, from the structure of the Universe to the architecture of nano-life, is the result of research in all those centers.

        1. Marcos Hardy wrote “Fraud in Science …….. only a tiny fraction of scientists engage in it”

          What evidence have you to corroborate your statement?

          Do you have a number for your “tiny fraction” comment?

        2. Dr. Hardy:

          Were you or are you now a researcher? Which research center were you affiliated with when you observed the culture of pharmaceutically-funded research scientists?

          You claim that “the vast majority of the research centers in the USA and Europe are centers of excellence…” where “only a tiny fraction of scientists engage in it.” Even if we believed that, how do you explain the “tiny minority’s” ability to generate the sloppy research that Ioannidis’ uncovered, under the noses of researchers who are trained to observe and report? What about the co-signers of those reports? Why didn’t ONE raise concerns? (No need to answer my rhetorical question.)

          By analogy, no one believes that all Catholic priests are pedophiles. However, a twenty-year drip-drip of documents reveal that the Catholic Church actively protected and defended the predators in their midst. Like you, they pointed their fingers at a few, even as they protected other active predators that they refused to identify for other congregations?

          Characterizing these undeniable facts as a “distortion of reality” distorts reality.

          BTW, as a graduate of the University of Buenos Aires, are you aware of the widespread corruption reported there?

          Last year, CONICET Researcher Eduardo R. Saguier, PhD described how WTO funding is wastefully distributed in Argentina, thereby crippling education and scientific progress. Like the proverbial canary in the cave, his report offers a warning to all people who live in the world’s gradually declining democracies. Despite the fact that he describes the events in another continent, the motives and culture look familiar.


        3. I feel compelled to make a stand for Mr Hardy here. And also for Mr Pessoa.
          From personal experience, our views about incidence and gravity of fraud are oriented by our whereabouts. I do think that some institutions are more prone and tolerant towards fraud than others, and a few much more so. Anyone (good) from one of these fraud-rich environments will be highly disgusted and likely to follow blogs like this one. These will perceive fraud are a frequent problem of their everyday routine. Maybe Mr Hardy belongs to a cleaner, better institution/group.

    1. Re: Ioannidis analysis. Remember that Ioannidis was assessing the reproducibility of a particular class of medical studies namely clinical trials (his 49 studies comprised 43 randomized trials, 4 prospective cohorts and 2 case series), of these 68% were either subsequently replicated or unchallenged (20/49 and 11/49, respectively). 7 were contradicted (16%) and 7 (16%) were found to have lesser effects in subsequent studies than initially reported.

      In all of the studies the initial published work stimulated follow up studies that were either larger or better controlled. This is rather as it should be I would have thought. 20 medical interventions were shown to be validated and thus presumably have the potential for improved therapeutic benefit. Analysis of 32% of the original findings using larger or better controlled cohorts showed that the potential for therapeutic benefit was significantly lesser or completely contradicted. These avenues towards potential therapeutic benefit presumably are therefore unrealized. Too bad…

      But this has very little to do with the progression of underpinning research in cellular/molecular biology pharmacology and physiology that dominates the research efforts in universities and medical research institutes, even if it is convenient for particular agendas to slur these as “cesspits”. OMSJ’s (and fernando’s) “cesspits” have made astonishing progress in areas that support what should be the next generation of therapeutics including:

      …sequencing the human genome, making strong progress in identifying the distribution of single nuclear polymorphisms and their linkages with diseases, nearing the completion of determining atomic resolution structures of all the protein domains that constitute the biological proteome, developing methodologies for computational analysis of drug protein interactions enabling rational design of drugs by pharmacophore analysis or direct docking of potential drug molecules to potential binding sites on protein targets, starting to resolve the complexity of cellular signalling pathways and so on.

      Almost none of the many hundreds of articles on RetractionWatch concern medical trials and therefore OMSJ’s handwringing over the apparently large sample of Ioannides studies that were followed up with larger or better controlled cohorts and subsequently shown to be unfounded or less beneficial that originally reported, doesn’t apply to the general progression of published academic and industrial science for which the retraction level is somewhere around 0.02% of published papers.

      I expect that almost without exception our “best and brightest” with a desire to make a positive contribution in science gravitate towards good universities, and the “disillusionment and betrayal” that you “cannot imagine” is likely not to exisit at a significant level. In fact we can assess this, at least in the UK throught the anonymized feedback that all final year students give about their university courses via the National Student Survey (which serves as a guide to prospective students and as an input to quality control on Uni courses).

      1. Chris:

        Dr. Ioannidis’ observations are consistent with long history of pharmaceutical corruption. For example:

        In 1957, the Upjohn Company launched the antibiotic Panalba. The drug was administered to thousands of Americans for more than a decade. By 1968, Panalba sales totaled $18 million. After years of complaints related to the drug, FDA Commissioner Herbert Ley Jr., reported that roughly one in five patients who received it suffered a serious allergic reaction – a blood reaction that killed twelve patients. Although several ten-year-old Upjohn-sponsored studies showed that other drugs were safer, they kept it on the market because it generated roughly 12 percent of Upjohn’s domestic gross income.

        In 1977, researchers at the Wharton School (U. Penn) wanted to know whether Upjohn’s social irresponsibility was unique within its corporate culture and, if not, how pervasive it was among US companies. Their report revealed that a “substantial proportion of managers may be expected to bring serious harm to others in situations where they feel it is proper behavior for their role…”


        Further evidence was provided by graduate students involved in the Panalba role-playing study, where 79% of the groups selected a highly irresponsible decision and none chose the decision that was free of irresponsibility. These results were due to the pressure of the role rather than to differences among individuals.


        Armstrong’s findings were consistent with Milgram’s obedience studies [42:6]:

        “… ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process. Moreover, even when the destructive effects of their work become patently clear, and they are asked to carry out actions incompatible with fundamental standards of morality, relatively few people have the resources needed to resist authority.”


        The fact that pharmaceutical industry has, since 2009, paid $10 billion to settle thousands of criminal and civil complaints related to the illegal marketing of drugs that kill or injure 2-4 million Americans, ANNUALLY – paying millions of dollars in kickbacks and bribes to clinicians that unnecessarily prescribe deadly drugs to healthy patients – is a fact far more compelling than the defense by someone who is reluctant to share his identity and agenda.

        1. Yup, the illegal marketing of drugs is pretty appalling and repellent. But we were discussing a series of published trials described by Dr Ioannides the results of some of which were subsequently contraindicated or found to be less favourable when examined within larger or better controlled cohorts. Thus for example, (quoting from Ioannides article) ” Another trial suggested a prime role for tissue plasminogen activator in acute ischemic stroke. However, subsequent evidence has narrowed indications and the intervention is considered effective mostly when given very early after symptom onset. Carotid endarterectomy was initially reported to achieve a 5.9% absolute risk reduction for stroke or death, projected at 5
          years, in patients with asymptomatic stenosis of the carotid artery exceeding 60%. A meta-analysis of several trials suggested a more modest benefit with 2% absolute risk reduction at 3.1 years…”
          ….and so on. There’s no suggestion that fraud as involved in any of these studies.

      2. “In fact we can assess this, at least in the UK throught the anonymized feedback that all final year students give about their university courses via the National Student Survey (which serves as a guide to prospective students and as an input to quality control on Uni courses).”

        So what does this anonymized feedback say and does it ask the right questions?
        I know anecdotally that many PhD students can be very disillusioned with science during the course of their studies. Many of them do say they want not to do research at the end of their degree. Unfortunately often the opportunities are not there.
        Some kind of selection process goes on at the boundary line between PhD and post-doc. Perhaps this is driven by selecting the best and brightest or perhaps it is driven by those who are able getting out – maybe a mixture of both.
        In my personal experience those PhD students who have been “persuaded” by their supervisor to commit fraud generally want to get out of research and try very hard to do so. That leaves the question of what was the psychology and career trajectory of the supervisor to whom it slid off like water from a duck’s back. We might be creating a system when those psychologically inclined to be indifferent to fraud prosper and everyone else wants to leave.

  11. In reply to Marcos Hardy February 1, 2013 at 11:04 pm
    “only a tiny fraction of scientists engage in it [fraud]” is your belief.
    Wel ive and learn.

  12. In 2005, graduate students at MIT’s PDOS research group attended the 9th World Multi-Conference of Systemics, Cybernetics, and Informatics and submitted their paper, Stribling, et al. “Rooter: A Methodology for the Typical Unification of Access Points and Redundancy” (1995):


    When their research paper was accepted, the submission wasn’t as important as its content; for the paper was nothing more than a randomly generated set of incomprehensible words organized to sound like something coherent and meaningful.

    The students’ intent was to challenge organizations that they suspect have low submission standards for academic content.


    1. To raise this example as an indictment of the current state of scientific research in academia is specious at best. There are many “World Conferences in X”-type meetings out there, many of which are total garbage in their content and entirely profit-driven, organized by no one with any recognized expertise. I have a special junk mail filter set up to catch the “invitations to speak” that I get through several of these entities. The acceptance of garbage content to a garbage meeting hardly reflects on the state of peer review existing at long-standing, scientifically rigorous international, national, or academic society meetings or well-regarded scientific journals. These students would have better spent their time learning their field instead of cheekily exposing the mediocrity already well-known to exist at the bottom rungs of the scientific academic-industrial complex.

  13. Getting back to the subject of this thread, This paragraph deserves comment:

    ”Why then would anyone think that scientific fraud can succeed? Fraud would seem to be intellectual pyrotechnics; a dazzling light that leaves us in darkness. If science truly is self-correcting, then why would people risk perpetrating fraud? The notion of self-correction suggests that fraud is certain to be found out. Why risk it? Or are most scientists wrong? Does science often fail to self-correct? Is the literature full of misinformation, left behind like landmines in an abandoned battlefield?”

    In my opinion this contains a misunderstanding about the nature of “self correction” in science, and it’s only in the context of that misunderstanding that the idea that “fraud is certain to be found out” exists.

    Experience tells us that science is self correcting, but what this means is something more like “science gets there in the end” or even “there is an external reality from which our observations and interpretations can usually only stray so far”. Self correction doesn’t mean that the body of scientific literature is continually purged of subsequently falsified work. It means that in any particular field incorrect ideas are ultimately left by the wayside due to their incompatibility with a more comprehensive /sophisticated set of methods, observations and deeper analysis. On a more prosaic level incorrect papers (these could be fraudulent but most likely aren’t) are ultimately ignored even if they might stimulate a certain amount of subsequent work that in itself helps establish the reliability of experiments, methods and interpretations which constitute the cutting edge in any field (so wrong work can actually contribute to the productive advance of a field). The notion of literature being “full of misinformation, left behind like landmines…” is a false analogy. Left behind landmines have an unfortunate tendency to blow up! Wrong work, however defined, simply moulders ultimately unnoticed except perhaps by philosophers/historians of science.

    So in reality there’s no expectation that fraud is certain to be found out. A fraudster might fabricate work, publish this, it might even cause some bemusement in the relevant research community, but if it is ultimately incompatible with subsequent observations it will likely be consigned to the “not helpful” category in the minds of other researchers and ultimately ignored. Or the fraudster might fabricate some “me too” type study that is entirely compatible with other work and so be unlikely to draw any particular attention to itself. The rare “super-fraudsters” like Jan Hendrik Schon who publish exciting but increasingly implausible papers apparently establishing profound breakthroughs in important research areas, are a another matter and probably correspond to a particular personality trait that is rare. Judging by the case studies published by the ORI or the examples in Donald Kornfeld’s article in Academic Medicine referred to on this thread, most scientific fraud is far more prosaic and sometimes rather pathetic, and one can imagine that the perpetrators might consider they wouldn’t be found out (or may feel that they aren’t actually doing very much wrong).

    1. “there is an external reality from which our observations and interpretations can usually only stray so far” most likely applies to physics.

      I don’t disagree with your initial analysis. I don’t disagree that “Self correction doesn’t mean that the body of scientific literature is continually purged of subsequently falsified work”.

      You are likely correct that “in any particular field incorrect ideas are ultimately left by the wayside due to their incompatibility with a more comprehensive /sophisticated set of methods, observations and deeper analysis.”
      Ultimately does cover all future time. In some fields the analysis may not be very deep.

      In out life times this may not be correct. When the fields become small, or the possible permutations and combinations become too large, this may not be the case.

      “Left behind landmines have an unfortunate tendency to blow up! Wrong work, however defined, simply moulders ultimately unnoticed except perhaps by philosophers/historians of science.”

      The first sentence is correct. The second sentence is an assertion. Everything before the present moment is history. I think your use of “philosophers/historians of science” is meant in a negative way.

      Your last paragraph is quite a good summary. I think that all of the things your mention occur.
      The problem is that what goes on is very damaging to people who have to survive in “science”.

      At present we do not know the size of the problem. The work by ORI is lagging, by its very nature, by several years.

      I think that your view is a rosy one and that kind of view can lead to inactivity.

  14. I agree with Fernando that Chris’ points are plausible – IF WE IGNORE THE COMPONENT OF TIME. Unfortunately, TIME is what the fraudsters typically use to perpetuate and cover up their schemes.

    In 2010, a handwringing Hillary Clinton and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius apologized for virologists who deliberately infected hundreds of men and women with syphilis and gonorrhea during Tuskegee-like experiments conducted in Guatemala between 1946-1948. Unfortunately, this fraud “self-corrected” long after the suspects and their victims had disappeared.


    Pyramid schemes are notoriously self-correcting. In 2000, Harry Markopolos warned the SEC in 2000 that Bernie Madoff’s reported profits were not legally possible. But while SEC regulators downloaded porn, investors like Michael Bienes deposited $454 million with Madoff, including several million of his own. When later asked about how Madoff commited his fraud, Bienes said, “Doubt Bernie Madoff? Doubt Bernie? No. You doubt God. You can doubt God, but you don’t doubt Bernie.”

    Chris claims that “super-fraudsters” are rare, claiming that “most scientific fraud is far more prosaic and sometimes rather pathetic…” As an example, Chris cites Dr. Schön. But compared to Robert Gallo and his collaborators, Schön can be characterized as, at best, quaint.

    In 1984, the journal SCIENCE published Gallo’s four reports before anyone had a chance to review them. Anyone who actually reads them can see that none describe exactly WHEN, WHERE, WHY, WHAT or WHO proved that HIV 1) attacks cells and 2) causes AIDS:


    Unlike Schön and other petty mischief-makers, Gallo’s work became the fruit of a poison tree that has squandered billions of dollars, generated thousands of worthless documents and resulted in the misdiagnosis of millions of people who are convinced to take black box drugs to treat a disease they probably never acquired.

    When I first began to ask questions, I was targeted with ID theft, my email deluged with spam and my witnesses intimidated – and the NIH refused to answer questions. Investigators usually characterize these kinds of events as “clues.”

    To get answers, I formed OMSJ and began to defend criminal HIV defendants in hopes to get answers from HIV experts called by prosecutors. As a result, OMSJ has forced prosecutors to plea-bargain, withdraw and dismiss scores of HIV cases since 2009 by simply forcing prosecution experts to prove that the defendants were infected. Now when “HIV experts” meet us in court, they recoil like vampires in church.


    Gallo could not have gotten away with any of this without the collaboration of universities and hospitals that continue to receive hundreds of millions of dollars from Anthony Fauci MD, whose position as NIAID Director was secured after collaborating with Gallo during the 1980s.

  15. Reblogged this on Threads of Science and commented:
    I’m pretty interested to see how this turns out. But still, seeing as it’s unlikely to be anonymous, I can only imagine that anyone who would submit will be writing to defend or excuse themselves. And almost certainly, no early-career researchers would take the risk of this being their most famous contribution.

  16. Maybe Dr. Steen can ask the editors of the journal SCIENCE why they refuse to retract the reports (1984, above) about Robert Gallo’s alleged discovery of HIV. Despite being forced out of the NCI, he continues to receive millions from Anthony Fauci at NIAID, while Prof. Duesberg – who never engaged in fraud – lost all funding after asking questions about Gallo’s discoveries. If Gallo can get away with this, and ethical scientists like Duesberg can be vilified by the US government for reporting it, the message is clear that anyone can get away with anything as long as they don’t tell.


  17. I think that student privacy laws will win out. I have had a student harass me for several years and I am not allowed to give the name of my harasser to law enforcement, as the issue he is harassing me over is academic misconduct. The talented agent I spoke with first told me to remember the privacy laws and keep them in mind as I told my story. Pretty amazing, but true. My personal safety does not trump his right to privacy. Good luck to you on your project.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.