Retractions arrive for former Wash U neuroscience grad student found to have committed misconduct

Adam Savine
Adam Savine

Two studies by Adam Savine, the former Washington University neuroscience graduate student found by the Office of Research Integrity to have falsified data, have been retracted.

Here’s the notice for one:

The Journal of Neuroscience has received the findings of the Office of Research Integrity of the Department of Health and Human Services, which report substantial data misrepresentation in the article “Motivated Cognitive Control: Reward Incentives Modulate Preparatory Neural Activity during Task-Switching” by Adam C. Savine and Todd S. Braver, which appeared on pages 10294–10305 of the August 4, 2010 issue. Because the results cannot be considered reliable, The Journal is retracting the paper.

The paper has been cited 36 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge.

And the other, from Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience:

CABN wishes to announce the retraction of the following article: “Local and global effects of motivation on cognitive control.,” Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience, 12(4): 692–718, 2012. As is detailed on the Web site of the Health and Human Services Office of Research Integrity (ORI), Adam Savine, the first author, has admitted to falsifying data contained in this report. The other authors of the manuscript were cleared of any involvement in this data falsification. Specifically, according to the ORI Web site, Adam Savine admitted that he “falsified data in Cogn Affect Behav Neurosci. 2012 to show an unambiguous dissociation between local and global motivational effects. Specifically, Respondent exaggerated (1) the effect of incentive context on response times and error rates in Table 1 and Figures 1 and 3 for experiment 1 and (2) the effect of incentive cue timing on response times and error rates in Table 2 and in Figures 6, 9, and S2 for experiment 2.” The other authors of this article are now undertaking a complete reanalysis of the raw data collected for this study and will pursue publication of the correct results as warranted.

That paper has yet to be cited.

The ORI found that Savine falsified results in a third paper, in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, which does not appear to be retracted yet.

Hat tip: Rolf Degen

13 thoughts on “Retractions arrive for former Wash U neuroscience grad student found to have committed misconduct”

  1. It’s always kind of amusing to see the glamor photos accompanying the story. That dude’s really beaming. “I just made up a boatload of data! Wooooooo!!!”

    1. Because it looked like a hotel room, my interpretation was “I just presented a poster of my fake data at the Neuroscience Meeting!!! Wooohooo!”

  2. Just a huge tragedy. I know some of the folks who worked with this guy. You have to be crazy to think that you can get away with this. Someone is going to find out, and then all of the career is in the dumper.

  3. I think for every one who is caught and admits wrongdoing after a proper investigation, how many others are successfully practicing science this way due to complicit PIs and questionable whitewash institutional investigations? I note that it states exaggeration and falsification of data. Not even fabrication. How often do we see evidence of this in papers that are vigorously defended and even litigation against those who question it? Is the ‘Adam Savine’ lesson for cheats (specifically) that, if you get caught, do not do the honorable thing and admit wrongdoing. If Adam had feigned/claimed incompetence and honest error like most, it may have cast a very different light and influenced the outcomes for him. The PI does merit praise in his handling of this. How easy and tempting would it have been for him to ignore this?

    1. “The PI does merit praise in his handling of this.”
      Yes, well, we only have his word for how he handled it. The University and the ORI have been silent on his role (if any).

      1. In science, as in everything else, the rule is “innocent until proven guilty”. What evidence do you have that the PI was guilty?

        1. Is that a question directed at me? I didn’t express an opinion on his culpability or otherwise – simply that his claim to have been instrumental in the fraud coming to light is not supported by anything else in the public domain, nor is it contradicted.

          In general, I would observe that there is a massive power imbalence between a graduate student and a member of faculty that the potential for scapegoating is particularly high. Even when whistleblowing an graduate student is likely to come off second best against an academic, so I imagine the odds would be even more dire in a situation of co-culpability.

          What accentuates the problem is that there is either no culture or no understanding of transparency in the United States. So it is virtually impossible to get any insight beyond a few terse summaries from the ORI – and in this instance I believe the ORI simply picked up the University’s own investigations. To get an idea of what transparency looks like I would invite you to read a report from ETH concerning Prof. Peter Chen

          I am not saying it wasn’t a whitewash – some of the reasoning used to exonerate Peter Chen was fairly specious – but the process was excellent. Everyone was given a chance to put forward their accounts and their views were summarised fairly and transparently, lab records were reproduced, statements from bystanders were obtained, experiments were repeated. And everything made available for anyone to read and form a judgment.

          Can you point out a single instance of something like this being made available in the US?

          1. Well, you could always submit a Freedom of Information request to obtain the report of this case from ORI, though it will most likely be heavily redacted. This report will no doubt highlight how the particular fraud came to light, and will no doubt detail the complainant’s accusations (with redaction of course).

            I also don’t think that ORI ‘picks up’ any investigation from universities (if I am understanding your usage of ‘picks up’ as in ‘[ORI]..picked up [where] the University’s own investigations [left off].’ ORI performs oversight: they review a University’s report for thoroughness and whatnot, and may perform additional analyses, but they don’t finish an incomplete University investigation. I believe federal laws require the Universities to submit finished reports on investigations to ORI.

          2. I’ve got bigger fish to fry.

            When I said “picked up”, I meant they “picked up” the report of the University and based their own summary around it rather than did their own investigation. I don’t think there is much of an incentive for the University to try and find anything other than it was all the fault of the grad student, do you? Which, of course, might be absolutely true. In the absence of transparency we just have to form our judgments on our own experiences of University ethics investigations. And in my experience University ethics are generally an oxymoron.

          3. Why would the university only want to blame the grad student if there are obvious others also to blame? Investigators know quite well that if the problem is higher up, the problem is not solved by blaming the grad student, and may thus likely return.

    2. Biotech prof wrote ‘I think for every one who is caught and admits wrongdoing after a proper investigation, how many others are successfully practicing science this way due to complicit PIs and questionable whitewash institutional investigations?’

      I know several. I hope it is nor repeated everywhere, but fear it may well be. It usually begins with a shoddy statistical test used to prove significance. Perhaps a spliced blot, a duplicated FACs profile, a mixed up image. It all adds up. A rigged ‘investigation’ by a colleague.

      Do we have an epidemic of science-fraud?

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