Weekend reads: Most scientific fraudsters keep their jobs, random acts of academic kindness, and more

booksA bumper crop of material about misconduct, peer review, and related issues came to our attention this week, so without further ado:

20 thoughts on “Weekend reads: Most scientific fraudsters keep their jobs, random acts of academic kindness, and more”

    1. I agree. Why is the federal government wasting precious grant money on rehabilitation of fraudsters? Jail, or repayment of grant funds, is more suitable. We all know that there is an overabundance of scientists in the US right now; why waste money “repairing” the cheaters?

      1. Sometimes politician make policies based on an appeal to scientific authority. When those scientists are exposed for tweaking the data, it may the politicians sense of self survival to decide it is more prudent to quietly rehabilitate them than risk a PR brouhaha by firing them and exposing their policies to further ridicule.

  1. The RePair program is based on a false premise, that the factors which contributed to an individual’s act of misconduct can be remedied in a 3 day course.
    Acts of research misconduct are the results of individual character traits and the circumstances in which researchers find themselves.(1). A 3 day course cannot change either. They refer to recidivism yet ORI has never had such a case.
    Individual’s can acquire adequate knowledge of IRB and IACUC requirements and the components of adequate informed consent at their home institution. A 3 day program in Stress Management cannot prepare an investigator to deal with publish or perish and stress is not the psychopath’s problem.. ..

    Don K…

    1) Kornfeld, DS Academic Medicine, 87,(7) July 2012

    1. agree 100%, would we set up a training program for bank robbers to understand how 99.9% of the population
      deposits money in a bank and then withdraws their OWN money as needed—-they already know that!!!

  2. Regarding the subterranean war on science paper, take a look at the comments. It looks like the entire anti-science community zeroed in on this paper right away and continues it Fox-News-worthy attack on anyone who challenges their rather childish longing to be free from responsibility and accountability to anyone. Reading those comments makes me nauseous. The important thing for all of us who are concerned about getting science right and weeding out our own and others’ errors is to not cave in to those anti-scientific sentiments but take them head-on. If there’s a blog like retraction watch that takes care of science’s internal hygiene issues, I think there should also be a blog that tracks every outlandish claim out there about how scientists are generally wrong or try to force their agenda on libertarians, animists, and others and take it apart. By the way, there is a post on the German newsmagazine DER SPIEGEL’s website about how the US Republican Party has become increasingly anti-science of the past couple of years. This puts the responses to the war-on-science paper into context:


    Alas, it’s written in German. But perhaps the graphs can be deciphered even by non-German speakers. They show that the majority of Evangelical Christians, who have become the Tea Party’s main constituency and who thus have gained control over the Republican Party, deny that evolution has taken place. Instead, they favor the idea that god made humans, animals, and the rest of all the stuff that clutters reality.

    1. You’d have better luck talking to a wall. The folks who make those sorts of comments have generally already settled on their opinions, facts be damned.

  3. Oliver: it is *impossilbe* to track every silly claim, it takes too much time.
    That paper was guaranteed to be a magnet for such, given teh range of authors.
    Partiuclarly in the dismissve cliamte blogs, Lewandwosky and Mann are loahted, and people will blame *anything* on them. See for example, this dissection of a blog storm of ~1800 comments in 4 days.

    An atmospheric physicist, Mury Salby was dimissed from Macquaire Univeristy in SYdney, AU. After a few months, he wrotre a story dissemninated through various blogs, who immeidatrely dfecided he was Galileo, persecuted for disagreeing with manstream cliamte science, hadbeen the victim of a conspiracy to lure him to OA from U COlorado Boulderr (CO) so his dangerous work could be hidden. Some thought it was a plot by Mike Mann and his friends, and Lewandowksy was mentioned often, negatively as having had something to do with this.

    After 4 days, a few of us lowered the boom on information it took a littkle while to flesh out, but whose early hints were findable in jsut a few Google searches, for anyone who wanted to look. It turns out that Salby had left Boulder on the run from an oncoming misconduct investigation, was udner invesitgation by the NSF and later debarred for 3 years for long-time financial chicanery, had sued CU twice and the State of COlorado once, making vast claims … dismissed by the courts, and more, and more. Meanwhile, many had demanded withdrawl of duning to Macquarie, written insulting letters to them and generally makign comments that may rise ot defmaation,

    Some fought on, but most suddenly lost interest, without visible introspection.or the hint of apology.
    They just went on to the next topic.
    This goes on all the time, the records of just tha set of blgos is ~400 pages long, and it’s taken months to analyze, which I’ll only do once. But, if you want see a stream of analyses of one of the blogs, try this which excerpts from Watts Up With That.

    If desired, blogs can be great echo chambers for anti-science.

    1. When scientists begin to attack outsiders they will rarely do it openly because they are dissidents, but rather camouflage it behind more respectable but ultimately charges made in bad faith.

      Macquarie stated they fired him because he did not appear to teach a particular class. If I understand that correctly, this was because he was presenting at a conference in Paris.
      “Dr Chanin said she had attended earlier this year the Paris conference at which Dr Salby had presented his latest results. Macquarie had denied him permission to go.

      “I am a friend of Murry Salby and I appreciate his scientific work,” she said. “I attended his conference in Paris on results which are a case of debate now. I found his seminar excellent and well constructed and I could not find a problem in his reasoning.”

      Generally you would hope a University would be able to accommodate its academics doing this kind of activity.
      As for the previous charges they relate to events in 2002 and a report finalized in 2008 and have no bearing on his firing. Some of the charges look fairly trivial, one relating to shell companies might be serious or might not be. Most academics tend to be fairly imaginative when filling out compliance paper work, so the timesheet issue may not be that significant.
      Anyway, this is what academics attacking people holding unpopular views looks like. They don’t come straight out and say you hold views we disagree with so we are going to fire you.

      However, you seem genuinely convinced you are engaged in some kind of noble and high-minded endeavour, so I suppose you deserve praise – if for nothing more than the purity of your motivation.

      1. Ahh, I must thank LGR for providing more data for my next study of pseudoskepticism around the Salby affair. Morton’s Demon reigns supreme 🙂

        the link I gave, noted that Dr. Chanin had *totally* withdrawn her support after learning that Salby had been debarred by the NSF … (She’s at CNRS, where Salby had done a sabbatical ~1997, back when he was doing reasonable work and was well-regarded in his field.)

        At MQ, Salby wasn’t getting the grants, but was unwilling to teach, maybe jusy as well, given the misierable student rating he’d accumulated at U of Colorado.
        He was suspended without pay in February 2013, used a university credit card to bypass normal rules to buy airline tickets at an outside agency* to take an explicitly-non-approved trip to Europe.while he was supposed to be around for disciplinary hearings. LGR failed to mention that either.

        * An employment death-wish at most places, without a really, really good explanation.

        Perhaps worst of all, EITHER he diverted his PhD student from her legitimate dissertation work (started ~2010, so she was several years’; along, had couathored 2 papers and given 2 seminars) into helping him with totally-unrelated (and abysmally-bad, deceptive ) work, OR he just stuck her name on 2 poster session for Europe (that’s what he had, not orals). Although his 3 video presentations had never mentioned her once, suddenly, in July 2013, in his email, he said “our research” 5 times.

        It is bad enough for a student’s dissertation advisor to go weird after several years, but if he dragged her into the mess, that’s even worse … but Salby has form: In Colorado, he tried to blame the financial gimmickry on his junior coauthor of many years and he arranged a shell company where his 2 junior helpers were the officers, not him, making them legally responsible. Fortunately, the NSF wasn’t fooled.

        The NSF thought that Salby had cheated the US government on grants.
        False statements to US government fall under 18USC12001, which can rise to felony.
        CU hadn’t yet fired up the oncoming Conflict of Interest inquiry,
        There were potential IRS issues with the tax-exempt dealings at Salby’s shell company.
        The State of Colorado tried to find him to get $5K he owed it.
        and there were more potential problems, financial or legal.
        Salby ran to Australia just in time, and as far as I know, hasn’t been back (but if anyone hears of him making a public appearance in US, let me know. :-))

        1. I don’t have an opinion on Salby’s sacking, but what you are engaged it has every appearance of a coordinated smear campaign. Although doubtless from the best of motives.

          The question to ask if is would Salby and Macquarie have been able to resolve their differences if their Climate Chair had not rather publicly voiced disapproval of the current AGW consensus? Given the issues that Macquarie raised seemed rather trivial and quite consistent with a campaign of petty harrassment, then I would say yes they would have.

          It would be nice if every time an organisation decided to harass a dissident for their opinions they would issue an public statement firmly stating this to be their motivation. Oddly this very rarely happens.

          I don’t tend to follow climate science much, there are too few hours in the day to chase down every instance of human lunacy. But it seems fairly consistent with a normal trajectory of scientists coming up with very simplisitic solutions to complex problems before reality forces them to modify their positions. Unfortunately due to the time-frames intrinsic to the issue, it will be a while before the field has to face up to the wholesale failure of their models. Meanwhile Salby’s work looks quite interesting.

  4. One thing I’ve noticed in comments to Retraction Watch postings is a certain vigilantism in reactions to the postings, a String-em Up mentality (This characterisation is an exaggeration, but how else would you characterize the FU, FU comment above?) At least in the examples I’ve looked at, the central perpetrators have left their institutions and may not have worked as scientists again. Even those who receive some lesser sanction, their careers are likely to be severely damaged and they will to be under continuing scrutiny. There has to be natural justice, and that can include redemptive processes.

    1. It is also good for whistle-blowers if the sanctions are not extreme.
      In my view, although hard data will be missing, in most cases of fraud the whistleblower will be the one forced out and the charge will be dismissed as unproven. Obviously you can’t read up about these cases because the data is not collected.
      If the sanctions were not career ending, scientists and academics would be less inclined to link arms in solidarity with the offender.
      Unless a perpetrator does something overt and silly like photoshop they are generally pretty hard to catch. You will need a couple of people in the lab laying traps and actively keeping records.

      Hence in my view it is best to focus of introducing a system of random reproducibility spot-checks without formal cupability being assigned in the event of failure as a measurement of the health of scientific fields, rather than rely on individuals to bear the burden of proving charges in the teeth of institutional opposition or indifference.

      1. Very well said. At the end of the day, whistleblowers take the blame — at least once their name becomes known. This is why people are afraid to report scientific misconduct. The enormous risk inherent to whistleblowing provides an added layer of protection for the fraudsters.

      2. Dear littlegeyrabbit,

        There is a report on consequences for whistleblowers, written in 1995 already for the Office of Research Integrity, if you are looking for “hard data”. Here it is:


        It is a rather comprehensive one, but worth reading.

        1. The point I was making is the hard data that has been collected probably underestimates the problem because in order to be acknowledged as a whistle-blower usually you have to be successful in carrying through your charge.
          There will be a largish group of people who are either persuaded to withdraw their complaint or who are either dismissed or fobbed off and don’t get acknowledged as whistle-blowers.

    2. I can certainly understand this mentality as fraudsters enjoy an advantage in the competition for a scarce resource (tenure), so if we do not rigorously strip fraudsters of this advantage, scientific misconduct will become even more widespread because if you don’t commit it, you simply won’t get a job in academia (see also: professional cycling).

      And FWIW, the linked article suggests that even the case falsification, fabrication, or plagiarism, only a minority of culprits get sacked.

      1. Fabricate and falsify——-> publish innovative “research”
        ——–> get promotion and tenure———> Fraud exposed———>remediation program and you keep your tenure.

        Research day and night for 6 years——> no publishable data———> denied promotion and tenure—–> get sacked.

        Who wins?

        1. I suggest this order of events for someone who gets caught for ethical violations, fraud or misconduct. First, you fire them. Then, you make them pay back funds and a portion of the salary proportional to the profit they made based on the percentage assigned to the overall productivity assigned to that act or product of misconduct. Then you also demand that research grants be returned, also proportionally, including grants given for meetings, symposia, hotels, airline travel and other expenses related to getting that misconduct advertised. Once you have fairly taken back and stripped that which was “robbed”, then we are on a level playing field. If the crime is serious, strip the person of their PhD, too. That means that they have to start again with a fresh PhD after that, if they are foolish enough to stay in science after such an experience and regain a position in a lab or research institute. Or, if they are not willing to stand up to their faults (and pay its fair price), then go work in a research institute in a country that allows, promotes and/or encourages misconduct. Only when fair retribution has been made, then give them the opportunity of psychological counseling and reform programs like the RePair program. After all, isn’t such a program funded by tax payers? So why not also let them decide on the fate of the ethical violator? Soft talk and this nonsense of the rights of those who lack ethics (as if they are actually naively innocent!) is all just democratic &%#! just made to create a niche of lawyers who don’t know who else to defend because the field is awash with graduates (for example, http://www.globallegalpost.com/big-stories/american-graduates-blame-law-schools-for-rising-flood-of-job-applicants/#.UtRW2ZOCiM8). Don’t get me wrong, I think everyone and every situation is reformable. That’s not the point though. The point is that people who wrongdoing and are involved in research or publishing misconduct have benefitted from salaries, positions, tenures, grants, etc. So, why not take back that which was abused and not rightfully earned? Then give them assistance to reform, once they have seen that there is a serious price on abuse of the system, of ethics, and of public trust and resources. Call me a hawkish hard-liner, but this soft, pussy-cat approach is going to erode values even more (by not providing logical, sensical and realistic solutions in the frame-work of integrated punishment). Is there a FEMA camp planned for research and publishing violators (http://www.apfn.org/apfn/camps.htm)?

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