Weekend reads: DIY peer review, wildly exaggerated breakthroughs, and how to commit fraud without being caught

booksAnother busy week at Retraction Watch. Here’s what was happening elsewhere:

24 thoughts on “Weekend reads: DIY peer review, wildly exaggerated breakthroughs, and how to commit fraud without being caught”

      1. 1) The SEC is paying whistleblowers? This is without a doubt the best way to keep tabs on them. Equivalent analogies: Big Brother extended or the fox guarding the chicken-house.
        2) PubMed Commons must not be (ab)used to increase one’s citations.
        3) PubPeer should have a “notice” or “warning” system in place that sends out an e-mail to the editor-in-chief and main contacts of a journal when a post appears about that journal’s paper. That way, journals would not have any excuse about not knowing about PubPeer. Quite simple, really. After such a system is in place, e-mails should be sent to all journals whose papers were listed on PubPeer prior to the “notice” system coming into effect. That way, editors, journals and publishers will no longer be able to scape-goat their responsibility of looking into academic claims. It’s time to hold those who hold power more accountable.
        4) WRT the Neuroskeptic story, it would benefit science more if editors and EICs of journals with problematic papers would come out in defense of their policies. Currently, rather than open, public and frank defense, all we get is a closed-minded attitude and silence (at least in plant science journals).
        5) Kent Anderson is correct: the instuctions for authors (IFA) is no longer a guideline. It is a bural ground for flexibility, author’s rights and whistle-blowing. It’s justa brain-dead list of things to do. Anybody please show me an IFA that indicates a) what plagiarism-detection software is in place; b) the level of plagiarism or self-plagiarism (or similarity) that is acceptable before a manuscript is rejected; c) the exact policies in place to deal with whistle-blowers, how to report a fraud, misconduct or any other PPPR case; d) the exact processes in place by the journal to deal with complaints by the public. In plant science, there are ZERO journals that discuss this issue on their web-pages, including in the IFA.
        6) One of Obokata’s co-authors, Niwa, has repeated the same experiment 22 times, used over 75 million Jpn Yen (about 75,000 US$) of tax payer’s money to do it, and shown that the experiment doesn’t work. Obokata is expected to complete the “repetitions” by November, when the case comes to a close. So, why has Niwa not faced any disciplinary action or scrutiny given the fact that he was, like Sasai, Obokata’s senior advisor? Should he not be sacked because his method, which was reported to Nature, does not work and cannot be reproduced?

        1. Hi Jaime,
          instead of closing RIKEN CDB down and sacking the responsible, the article says they reorganize it a bit, redistribute the people to other institutes and.. wait till the things blow over. Smart approach indeed.

          1. Leonid, the CDB page reveals alot: http://www.cdb.riken.jp/en/ (not about the truth of the background dealings, but about how maybe it got to where it is). Notice how all news updates stopped suddenly after June 24, 2014. The words of the CDB Director, Masatoshi Takeichi, are almost fateful/fatal: “It has been my goal as director of the Center for Developmental Biology to develop a new, open model for research organizations within Japan, with an emphasis on providing the freedom and independence to envision new directions of research, and the organizational and material support to make those visions real. Three years have now passed since the birth of the CDB as a concept, and the investment of time and money has already begun to bear fruit in the form of solid, innovative research into the mechanisms of development, regeneration and the academic bases for regenerative medicine. The years ahead hold the promise of ushering in new conceptual insights regarding the biological processes of development, and of translating those insights into applications with the potential to revolutionize the way we think about aging, disease and medical therapy. In line with that great promise, the CDB sees its mission as twofold: to shed light and offer hope. These are the goals of responsible scientists everywhere, goals that we share and hope will direct our work toward deciphering some of life’s greatest mysteries.” It will be very interesting to see which groups and/or individuals they are going to trash: http://www.cdb.riken.jp/en/01_about/0102_organization01.html (I cannot see this downsizing taking place peacefully, especially if scientists are going to be laid off, sacked, or displaced, rather than re-assigned elsewhere). And, they plan to change the name from Center for Developmental Biology to what? There are only so many ways one can call a spade.

        2. Just to be sure you understand how PubPeer works. It’s a private non-profit foundation, run by a small group of people who are paid NOTHING at all. No government support, no money from publishers or other big donors. So, while your proposal that they “should” simply email all editors automatically is a good idea, let’s not forget the enormous amount of work required to actually accomplish that feat… build a database of editor email addresses (assuming such information is actually available for all journals); keep the database up-to-date; cross reference it with every post that comes in; pay for the programming and automated email server to send out all the links (thousands of outgoing emails every month).

          This is a pretty huge task, and considering what PubPeer has done so far with essentially zero financial resources, it’s unreasonable to ask for more at this point. It’s very easy (because the site looks so professional) to assume that PubPeer is a huge corporation whose job is to serve the public. On the contrary, it’s a side-project for a few scientists, and they have no obligation whatsoever to do what people think they “should” do.

          1. Agreed. There is a large gap between the rational JATdS’s idea and the working script (anyone who has tried to configure an Apache e-mail sender will understand what I mean !!!). Most important: any reliable editor MUST check from time to time the PubPeer flow and other related sites. The “PubPeer journal activity” menu is working well, and if no (new) entry appears for a given journal, I suppose the editors will consider that as a good point. Now, if comments have been posted, it is their duty to take a look at the comments. Any action (or no action) beyond this point is another matter, but editors cannot simply ignore the existence of PubPeer.

          2. Dear Paul and Sylvain, I know all too well the pain and sacrifice of creating something out of nothing using limited or no financial resources and limited human power. The small size of PubPeer enhances its weaknesses, however, as this can make it vulnerable to attacks. It is also relatively young, and thus still has a relatively tiny track record, which will not convince editors to look at it with confidence, or as a trust-worthy source of criticism, simply because moderation is not moderated (due to limited resources). Although my idea was hypothetical, it could also be achieved by volunteers. In my case, for example, I want to post comments about errors in many plant science journals’ papers, but I am so overwhelmed with my own activities, it is almost impossible to find the time to invest in posting these critiques at PubPeer, although I recognize that a centralized repository is most likely the way to go. With a formal repository, linked to a DOI (which is an establishment I have been battling for years now because of its links to the top commercial publishers and CrossRef), and also links to PubMed Commons and read by Google (I think), it makes for a strong case to present to editors. In my case, however, in which I am most likely one of the few publically and vocally active plant scientists speaking out about the problems and fraud in plant science literature, it is going to be extremely hard to convince the editors of leading plant science journals, who are the front-line defenders of the corporate publishing establishment, that this is something god for them. They will simply perceive PubPeer as a headache, an irritant and a nuisance. However, I am thinking of how to hold them accountable by making sure that they are aware of the presence of PubPeer entries. One of my not-too-distant projects is to establish a data-base of the editors of most of the leading plant science journals and have that at hand for flash notices, for example, related to errors, retractions, etc. I have noticed in some cases where the editor-in-chief tends to ignore such notices, but if the entire editor board is notified, it is then difficult for the editor-in-chief to remain passive. The great and serious problem with the editor boards of several leading plant science journals is that the information is out-of-date and in many cases incorrect, as I already proved with Elsevier’s Scientia Horticulturae and its editor board. So, trust me, I know the limitations at PubPeer, and understand them, from personal experience. It is frustrating, but sharing an idea is not the same as expecting PubPeer to act upon all public suggestions.

    1. I have previously called for the retraction of the Nobel Peace Prize from Barack Hussein Obama. Now, I am calling for the retraction of the ‘philanthropist of the year’ award that was given to Tony Blair [1], for the following 7 reasons:
      a) Blair covers up a pedophile scandal [2].
      b) His scandalous role as the Middle East envoy [3].
      c) The “Malawi” scandal [4].
      d) The Murdoch-Blair alliance and the bitter end caused by allegations of an affair with Wendy Deng [5], and the later involvement with Rebekah Brooks [6], nicely summarized in a less-than-appealing way by the Gawker [7]. Brooks was later cleared of bribery and hacking charges [8].
      e) Blair’s involvement with the Egyptian dictatorship [9].
      f) Dubbed the “phantom”, Blair represents the spokesperson for the military-industrial complex to set foot in war-ravaged countries [10].
      g) The Blair-Bush collusion [11] and his direct role in initiating what has now become a massive tragedy in the Middle East [12].

      Why is this important to RW, and its relevance to science, you may ask? Simply:
      i) Between 1997 and 2009, while serving as Prime Minister, what positive policies did he introduce related to science, research and publishing?
      ii) A philanthropist is defined as someone who makes an active effort to promote human welfare (Merriam-Webster dictionary). This is something his track record shows he is not.

      A delightful mock-up here [13].

      [1] http://www.gq-magazine.co.uk/men-of-the-year/home/moty-2014/tony-blair-philanthropist-gq-awards-2014
      [2] http://www.tpuc.org/blair-covering-up-paedophile-scandal/
      [3] http://thetruthnews.info/Tony_Blair_Scandal.html (beware the horrible website music)
      [4] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/tony-blair/10470359/Tony-Blair-faces-questions-over-Malawi-scandal.html
      [5] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2552140/Sexy-legs-piercing-blue-eyes-Wendi-Dengs-explosive-note-Tony-Blair-revealed-magazine-marriage-Rupert-Murdoch-collapsed-amid-rumours-crush-former-prime-minister.html
      [6] http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/feb/19/tony-blair-rebekah-brooks-phone-hacking
      [7] http://gawker.com/rupert-murdoch-gave-tony-blair-100-000-then-blair-fuc-1531707995
      [8] http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-06-24/rebekah-brooks-found-not-guilty-of-hacking-bribery-charges.html
      [9] http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/jul/02/tony-blair-advise-egypt-president-sisi-economic-reform
      [10] http://rt.com/op-edge/166632-blair-killer-blamed-middle-east/
      [11] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/tony-blair/10747166/Tony-Blair-knew-all-about-CIA-secret-kidnap-programme.html
      [12] http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/jun/15/tony-blair-west-intervene-iraq-isis-military-options
      [13] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2741779/Humanitarian-year-Kim-Jong-Un-Mocked-GQ-winners-list-circulated-Twitter-disbelief-Tony-Blair-s-jaw-dropping-philanthropist-year-title-escalates.html

  1. Can anybody access the National Law Journal article that is linked from “Whistleblowing pays”? I only get some sign-up window, which I cannot get to disappear. I probably have to sign up…

    1. I suspect that anyone who tries to access that site or that article will have some link or little black dot next to their name somewhere on NSA’s WWW.

      1. Related to this control of whistle-blowers by the very same powers that want to crush the power of whistle-blowing, please take note of the ongoing The Minerva Research Initiative [1], a DoD-sponsored programme. Science movements are considered to be one type of “social contagion” and thus this is of concern to all those who are seeing justice, through peaceful protest against other scientists or publishers, corporations, or other publishing-related institutes like COPE, Thomson Reuters, etc., all of which have tremendous “ethical” and economic prowess on the global economic stage, by whistle-blowing. A scary number of universities play a very central role ([2], please observe the projects VERY closely), showing this increasing blurry limit between state and science. Should we examine the papers that are being published by this “initiative” in more detail?
        [1] http://minerva.dtic.mil/overview.html
        [2] http://minerva.dtic.mil/funded.html

  2. With respect to the article on people proving their own hypotheses with astounding frequency, the author seems to neglect one of the most important reasons – that most hypotheses are generated backwards out of the data but presented as clever a priori theories due to the gamesmanship of publication.

    1. Hi David,
      it is often even better: a successful PI designs a priori an outline of a future paper, complete with the main finding. Loyal postdocs and PhD students creatively fill in the data. Not really that uncommon, and one is welcome to opine, whether this really is how science should be done.

    2. I’m not sure I’ve even seen a paper with an explicit hypothesis. Aren’t hypotheses just for grade-school science projects? I’ve certainly gone into projects with a hypothesis or two, but I don’t think I’ve ever actual said “We have hypothesis X” in a paper, whether the hypothesis was right, wrong, or the results weren’t conclusive.

  3. What is the end-game for PETA here? Do they want fewer regulations for animal research? Finally, something we can agree on!

    1. Even if animal tests produced a cure for AIDS, we’d be against it. – – Attributed to Ingrid Newkirk, Founder of PETA and animal rights “activist”

      Sorta says it all about PETA and what they want they eventually want to happen to all animal research.

      They simply don’t want animal experimentation on any level.

      Hope you change your mind about agreeing with PETA.

      1. If I remember correctly, this is not quite what she said. Rather, in response to a question about animal experiments and potential cures for serious diseases, she asked a counter question about how the interviewer would consider experiments on her daughter if it could save 50 million people.

        This is not a far-fetched example. Would you enroll your child in a clinical trial? Think about this carefully. I am not just talking about a clinical trial for a new drug that may help your child’s disease, but also to assess safety.

      2. I was just being silly. Of course, PETA dislikes all animal research. As an animal researcher, I definitely do not see eye-to-eye with them. It’s just kind of a funny article if you take it at face value -more regulation may not equal better animal protection.

        Of course, what animal research regulators never seem to realize is that animal research comes with a very strong built-in incentive to not abuse your animals, and to avoid using too many: the animals cost money. When you pay $25 per mouse to purchase (to say nothing of KO or transgenic mice, or more expensive species) and another $20 per mouse in housing per diem fees to store them for a couple of weeks, you definitely don’t want to waste them. A simple experiment with ten WT mice receiving an acute treatment will cost you $400-$500. Add more animals, chronic treatment, some KO mice, and now you’re well into the thousands for just one experiment. Believe me, no one is paying this much just to torture some rodents.

        1. Mitch, there are three journals that could be of interest to PETA advocates, or to those who seek alternatives to animals for testing / experiments:
          1) ALTEX: Alternatives to Animal Experimentation (Swiss)
          2) ATLA: Alternatives to Lab Animals (UK)
          3) AATEX: Alternatives to Animal Testing and Experimentation (Japan)

          Some of the articles in the latter journal concern me, though, so I hope that this link allows some specialists to analyze the papers in more detail.

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