Weekend reads: A scientific impostor, Retraction Watch comments lead to retractions

booksHere at Retraction Watch, the week featured the revelations of the peer reviews of an early version of the STAP stem cell paper, and an announcement about a new partnership. Here’s what was happening elsewhere:

16 thoughts on “Weekend reads: A scientific impostor, Retraction Watch comments lead to retractions”

  1. Slavoj Žižek is one of my heroes. He has some adorable presentations on YouTube full of passages of his own often-recycled quirps, which often give him good presentation opportunities around the world, but I don’t ever see or read about those audeinces that embrace him squabbling about his “self-plagiarism”. He is just so anti-establishment and norm, that it is inspiring. And so raw in his anti-capitalistic ideologies. Given this story, it would be fascinating to see him in a public show-down about self-plagiarism with Miguel Roig. Could I suggest a public debate on the topic by these two very contrasting figures, and views?

    1. A very rarely read and analyzed piece by the Japan Times [1] points at other issues in the entire Obokata saga, and some of these may be sensationalist, but are aspects that are being actively suppressed, most likely to respect the family of the deceased:
      a) fiscal impropriety;
      b) alleged illegitimate use of ¥600 million in public funds, including a rotating laboratory chair billed at ¥246,000 to ¥840,000 for installation of special gas tubing and ¥293,000 for a new notebook PC;
      c) the apparent documented desire by Sasai, who moved to Riken from Kyoto Univ., “to use “Sasai gals” like Obokata to form a “harem” — and never mind whether they had any ability to do research”;
      d) “murky dealings of a Shinjuku-based company named CellSeed Inc., with ties to some of Obokata’s co-authors, and whose shares are alleged to have soared in value about the same time Obokata’s paper appeared in Nature. The company had been investigated previously for insider trading.”;
      e) possible fraudulent appropriation of research funds to pay for the >55 trips taken with Sasai for “research” purposes in which the two stayed in luxury hotels;
      f) The magazine Shuhan Gendai claims that “The magazine also examined the possibility of her facing either of two charges under the criminal code: One was use of deception to obstruct the business of a person, which stipulates punishment of up to three years’ imprisonment and/or a fine of up to ¥500,000. The other was criminal fraud, which provides for imprisonment of up to 10 years. A person found guilty may also be required to make financial restitution.”
      [1] http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2014/07/05/national/media-national/ongoing-obokata-story-seeks-scandal/#.VAVQdMiCjIU

      1. And on the issue of Japan and retractions, another scandal plagues a major newspaper giant, and “Japan PM’s liberal newspaper critic”, Asahi newspaper. It is planning to retract an article and apologise for the delayed retraction of others. The article states: “withdrawing a controversial article on the Fukushima nuclear crisis that it now said was erroneous. It was also apologising for belatedly retracting decades-old articles on wartime atrocities based on an account later found to be fictitious.”
        The problem is it does not actually state the exact original article, or provide a link to it. Society hopes that the retracted article will remain in public with a red stamp that states RETRACTED on it.

  2. I’m gratified to see the Anoop Shankar story, highlighting Retraction Watch, was your lead. The Charleston Gazette link you provided above mentions some of Anoop’s work on potential negative health effects of C8 (perfluoro-octanoic acid.) Anoop was an author of well over 100 papers when coauthorship is included. I believe it will be a challenge to determine whether any papers involve academic dishonesty. I have already alerted biostaticians Baggerly and Coombes at M.D. Anderson. Previously, Baggerly and Coombes called into question the research results of former Duke University researcher Anil Potti.

    A Google search on the four search terms Anoop Shankar M.D. Ph.D. reveals some of the breadth of his self-promotion. A Medline search for the author Shankar, Anoop shows publications associated with him. Curiously, a Medline search for the author Anoop, S seems to turn up more.

    Margaret Soltan offers excellent commentary in her 10 September University Diaries article, “Piling On: The Sociopath’s Undoing” http://www.margaretsoltan.com/?p=45503

    1. If Anoop Shankar refuses to make original data available, that should be grounds for retraction of his papers in the last five years. Let’s hope there were not too many honest if unwary collaborators to become collateral damage.

    2. Here are some additional articles regarding the Anoop Shankar story. Each article provides additional details.
      NUS probing work of ex-medicine faculty member 16 September 2014 http://yourhealth.asiaone.com/content/nus-probing-work-ex-medicine-faculty-member
      (RW) Blogger says ‘something slipped through the cracks’ on Shankar case 15 September 2014
      WVU silent on NBC claims school hired fraud professor 12 September 2014
      WVU’s academic embarrassment 12 September 2014
      WVU official addresses Shankar controversy 11 September 2014

      1. Here are more updates:

        Phony Ph.D. Fools West Virginia University, Many Others 16 September 2014

        Number of academic fraud cases on the rise 21 September 2014
        Photo caption: Anoop Shankar, a former National University of Singapore don, is accused of some of the most egregious acts of academic misconduct on record, including making up large chunks of his resume and falsifying data in his papers. – PHOTO: IAN ROCKETT
        By Jeremy Au Yong, US Bureau Chief In Washington The story of Mr. Anoop Shankar, a former National University of Singapore don accused of fraud, rocked academic circles in Singapore and the United States this month. The 39-year-old stands accused of some of the most egregious acts of academic misconduct on record, including making up large chunks of his resume and falsifying data in his papers. But while extreme, Mr. Shankar is far from being the only academic to have landed in trouble because of academic misconduct. One measure of the size of the problem is by tracking the number of retractions – the term for what is done when an academic paper is deemed so flawed that it must be removed from the literature….

        BACKGROUND STORY: Pressure cooker climate “The culture of science has become really intensified in terms of competitiveness because it is much less well-funded than it used to be, and scientists are much more in fear of not finding funding or jobs than they used to be.” DR FERRIC FANG, professor of laboratory medicine and microbiology at the University of Washington, on the competitive environment in academic circles (Remainder of article behind Straits Times “Paywall.” )

        (National University of Singapore) NUS relooks process of academic recruitment after reports of former faculty member Anoop Shankar faking credentials – Move comes after its former faculty member was found to have faked his credentials 21 September 2014

    3. Here are some more details and updates:

      “Shankar and Two Students Attempted to Discredit Rockett Via Sexual Assault Allegations” Written by Alex Wiederspiel, WDTV-5, September 11, 2014.
      The Anoop Shankar scandal sent shockwaves through the WVU community yesterday.

      According to Court documents, Dr. Ian Rockett was pursuing the investigation into Anoop Shankar’s credentials while Shankar was awaiting a promotion. Dr. Rockett found 11 fabricated publications, and when Shankar became aware of the situation he called Dr. Rockett. But Rockett would not discuss his investigation with Shankar, and that’s when two of Shankar’s students–Deeban Ganesan and Srinivas Teppala–met with Rockett in an unscheduled meeting. They claimed that Rockett sexually assaulted them.

      Shankar allegedly wanted to use these claims to discredit Rockett, and that’s when Rockett sued for defamation and won. The alleged meeting took place in August 2012, and Rockett was awarded over $230,000 in damages from the two students. Neither showed up for court or for the awarding of damages. Shankar and Rockett settled out of court for about $45,000.

      ” Gee on Shankar case: ‘The ball was dropped’ ” by Shauna Johnson, West Virginia Metro News, October 6, 2014.
      MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia University President E. Gordon Gee admits “the ball was dropped” when WVU hired Dr. Anoop Shankar, the former chair of epidemiology, who had — it was later learned — fictionalized much of his impressive resume.

      “We didn’t vet him carefully enough,” Gee said on Monday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”

      Gee said an internal WVU investigation, which has now been completed, showed Shankar’s credentials were not properly checked before he was hired and it took too long to finish an inquiry once discrepancies with his resume, also called a curriculum vitae, were discovered….

  3. The Cory Toth story is pretty outrageous.
    “Outside observers were, however, more thorough than the faculty in assessing the problems with Toth’s studies,”
    That’s an understatement. If not for Retraction Watch, he would have gotten away with it. Not that he really got punished in any significant way–apparently the technicians were blamed.
    And now he’s put this episode behind him and he’s practicing medicine, just like Anil Potti. How is integrity less relevant in medical practice than in science?

    1. Could you please elaborate what is your problem with him continuing patient care? Obtaining and keeping a medical license is a vastly different thing than messing around in the lab. His failure as a PI is beyond doubt, but this has nothing to do with his competence as a physician, the two things should be clearly separated!

      1. An interesting thought, BB. Would you trust your GP or your surgeon if you knew he did time for some serious financial crime? All this still has nothing to do with his medical skills, would you trust a person proven dishonest in an “unrelated”, yet serious matter, to really possess the medical skills and to apply them for your best as patient? But in this case, did not he harm patients or put them in harm’s way by producing and publishing fake results, which could have or even did led to inappropriate patient treatment?

    2. The comments at RW have surely been influential in many more than just the Toth case. Hopefully Ivan is keeping a tally.
      “If not for Retraction Watch, he would have gotten away with it.”
      And this is probably true. Here is where the sleuthing gets down to business
      RW comments were the only place with wide readership where folk reported dodgy figures in the period after the demise of Science-fraud.org and before PubPeer took off. So without RW, he might indeed have gotten away with it. Due acknowledgement should also be made to whoever spotted the Diabetes paper naughtiness that RW covered in that article.

  4. Thanks for linking to my tweet. And to the many people who said “but what about the word frequency for non-retracted papers”: thanks, I had thought about that and it’s on the to-do list. Obviously it’s rather more data to process.

  5. I miss Jens Försters new letter (Letter by Jens Förster, September 10, 2014) on his homepage in the weekend list.

    There, he mentions retractionwatch:
    “Internet pages like “retraction watch” that may have at least in the eyes of some people a scientific appearance should also be read with caution, because of the many mistakes they include. Bloggers can anonymously post whatever they have in mind. The only person that can lose here is the “accused”. ”

    Furthermore, he does not really answers any of the questions that remained open after his last letter…..

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