Tag Archives: peer review

Two anti-fracking/anti-oil industry environmental papers retracted

Thank goodness these were peer reviewed! Two environmental papers, one claiming increased air pollution near fracking sites and the second claiming that the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill caused air contamination, have now both been retracted because of “crucial mistakes.”

According to the corresponding author of both papers, Kim Anderson at Oregon State University, the journal plans to publish new versions of both papers in the next few days. In the case of the fracking paper, the conclusions have been reversed — the original paper stated pollution levels exceeded limits set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for lifetime cancer risk, but the corrected data set the risks below EPA levels.

The fracking paper received some media attention when it was released, as it tapped into long-standing concerns about the environmental dangers of hydraulic fracturing (fracking), which extracts natural gas from the earth. A press release that accompanied the paper quoted Anderson as warning: “Air pollution from fracking operations may pose an under-recognized health hazard to people living near them.”

Both papers, published in Environmental Science and Technology, were retracted on the same day (June 29), both due to mistakes in reported levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), pollutants released from burning oil, gas, and other organic matter.

They say that the errors were due to an “honest spreadsheet error.”

Fake images in biology research papers

The uncertainty of peer review: A new study has found that since 1995 as many as 5.5% of all biomedical research papers per year contain duplicate or faked images.

Bik, who is at Stanford University in California, spent two years looking at articles published from 1995 to 2014 in 40 different journals, hunting for instances in which identical images were used to represent different experiments within the same paper. She cross-checked the duplications that she found with her two co-authors, both microbiologists.

Overall, 4% of the inspected papers contained such images, the researchers found. But rates ranged from over 12% in the International Journal of Oncology, to 0.3% in the Journal of Cell Biology, which has since 2002 systematically scanned images in its accepted papers before publication. Journals with higher impact factors generally had lower rates of duplicated images.

…Many of the problems were probably sloppy mistakes where people selected the wrong photograph, says Bik. But half or more look deliberate — because images are flipped or rotated or the same features occur twice in the same photograph. [emphasis mine]

Essentially, a significant number of scientists in medical research are purposely faking data.

Science journal publishes fake study

The uncertainty of peer review: A science journal has published a fake study that supposedly proved that kissing a child’s “boo-boo” has no medicinal value.

In their study, the authors claim to be members of the Study of Maternal and Child Kissing (SMACK) Working Group, which they say is a subsidiary of Procter and Johnson, Inc., the maker of “Bac-Be-Gone ointment and Steri-Aids self-adhesive bandages.” Procter and Johnson, which is not a real consumer goods company, is an obvious mash-up of Procter & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson, two consumer packaged goods companies which sell health care items like bandages and ointments. The only contact information for the study’s authors disclosed in the research paper is a Gmail address. Bac-Be-Gone ointment and Steri-Aids also do not appear to be actual products available for sale. Additionally, many of the academic research references listed at the end of the study–including one article entitled “So what the hell is going on here?”–also appear to be fake.

The journal, the Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice, claims on its website that all papers published by it are copy-edited and peer-reviewed. In this case I suppose the reviewers worked for Comedy Central .

More than half of published psychology papers cannot be replicated

The uncertainty of science: An attempt to replicate 98 different psychological research studies has found that significantly less than half could be replicated.

In the biggest project of its kind, Brian Nosek, a social psychologist and head of the Center for Open Science in Charlottesville, Virginia, and 269 co-authors repeated work reported in 98 original papers from three psychology journals, to see if they independently came up with the same results. The studies they took on ranged from whether expressing insecurities perpetuates them to differences in how children and adults respond to fear stimuli, to effective ways to teach arithmetic.

According to the replicators’ qualitative assessments, as previously reported by Nature, only 39 of the 100 replication attempts were successful. … There is no way of knowing whether any individual paper is true or false from this work, says Nosek. Either the original or the replication work could be flawed, or crucial differences between the two might be unappreciated. Overall, however, the project points to widespread publication of work that does not stand up to scrutiny. [emphasis mine]

None of this surprises me. The focus of much science research, especially in the soft sciences like psychology, is statistical in nature and easily manipulated. In fact, most of it isn’t science at all, but an attempt to use mere statistics to prove a point. Science would instead try to find out why something happens, not just demonstrate through statistics that it does.

Another slew of science papers retracted because of fraud

The uncertainty of peer-review: A major scientific publisher has retracted 64 articles in 10 journals after discovering that the so-called independent peer reviewers for these articles were fabricated by the authors themselves.

The cull comes after similar discoveries of ‘fake peer review’ by several other major publishers, including London-based BioMed Central, an arm of Springer, which began retracting 43 articles in March citing “reviews from fabricated reviewers”. The practice can occur when researchers submitting a paper for publication suggest reviewers, but supply contact details for them that actually route requests for review back to the researchers themselves.

Overall, this indicates an incredible amount of sloppiness and laziness in the peer-review field. In total, more than a 100 papers have been retracted, simply because the journals relied on the authors to provide them contact information for their reviewers, never bothering to contact them directly.

I suspect that these retractions are merely the tip of the iceberg. Based on the garbage papers I see published in the climate field, I will not be surprised if even more peer-review fraud is eventually discovered.

$28 billion spent on poor biomedical research?

The uncertainty of science: A new study suggests that $28 billion is spent on biomedical research that no one can reproduce.

I have no doubt that a vast amount of medical research is so poorly done that no one else will ever be able to replicate the results. However, the article notes that the way the researchers came up with the $28 billion figure is quite questionable, reviewing only about two dozen studies and then extrapolating their numbers across the entire research field. This is highly uncertain and should be taken with a grain of salt.

Same-sex science paper retracted

Politics corrupts science, again: The journal Science has retracted a paper that had claimed opinions on homosexual marriage could be changed quickly during a short conversation.

As noted in the journal’s retraction statement:

The reasons for retracting the paper are as follows: (i) Survey incentives were misrepresented. To encourage participation in the survey, respondents were claimed to have been given cash payments to enroll, to refer family and friends, and to complete multiple surveys. In correspondence received from Michael J. LaCour’s attorney, he confirmed that no such payments were made. (ii) The statement on sponsorship was false. In the Report, LaCour acknowledged funding from the Williams Institute, the Ford Foundation, and the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund. Per correspondence from LaCour’s attorney, this statement was not true.

In addition to these known problems, independent researchers have noted certain statistical irregularities in the responses. LaCour has not produced the original survey data from which someone else could independently confirm the validity of the reported findings. [emphasis mine]

LaCour was the paper’s lead author. That he cannot provide the original data immediately discredits the work. It also discredits his only co-author, Donald Green of Columbia University, who apparently put his name on the paper without ever looking at the original data as well. When the above fraud was exposed, Green quickly called for the paper’s retraction, but I wonder how it was possible he allowed it to be published in the first place. Could it have been that he supports the idea of same-sex marriage, and wanted science to contribute its support as well, regardless of the facts?

Not being able to provide the original data is the same problem that Phil Jones of the Climate Research Unit had. Jones’ work documenting the global temperature for the past century has been the main source used by the entire climate field for decades, and when he couldn’t provide his original data, saying it was lost, his work should have received the same treatment as LaCour above — immediate retraction. Instead, Science protected him, as did the entire climate community.

Their willingness to cover-up Jones’ bad science is now coming back to bite them, with more examples of sloppy work getting into publication. Jones showed that it was all right to fake his results. LaCour decided to try it as well, and Green saw no reason to challenge the dishonesty. The result? Fake science done for the sake of homosexual politics.

The big difference now, however, is the willingness of Science to quickly retract the piece. It appears we are making some progress in re-establishing the rules of science to research and publication.

A minor side note: The author of the story above is John Bohannon, the same guy who just proved you can write a fake paper and get journalists to report it.

Got $500? You too can get a scientific paper published!

A Harvard scientist used a random text generator to create a fake science paper entitled “Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs?” and was able to get it accepted at 17 journals. [Note: the link includes an auto-download of the pdf of the scientist’s fake paper.]

Shrime decided to see how easy it would be to publish an article. So he made one up. Like, he literally made one up. He did it using www.randomtextgenerator.com. The article is entitled “Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs?” and its authors are the venerable Pinkerton A. LeBrain and Orson Welles. The subtitle reads: “The surgical and neoplastic role of cacao extract in breakfast cereals.” Shrime submitted it to 37 journals over two weeks and, so far, 17 of them have accepted it. (They have not “published” it, but say they will as soon as Shrime pays the $500. This is often referred to as a “processing fee.” Shrime has no plans to pay them.) Several have already typeset it and given him reviews, as you can see at the end of this article. One publication says his methods are “novel and innovative”!. But when Shrime looked up the physical locations of these publications, he discovered that many had very suspicious addresses; one was actually inside a strip club.

Essentially, these fake journals are scams to get $500 from scientists, generally from third world countries who can’t get their papers published in the bigger first world journals. (What does that tell us about those bigger first world journals?)

The best line of the article however was this: “Many of these publications sound legitimate. To someone who is not well-versed in a particular subfield of medicine—a journalist, for instance—it would be easy to mistake them for valid sources.” [emphasis mine] It seems to me that if you are a journalist writing about a particular field, you should be reasonably educated on that field and be able to spot a fake journal. I certainly can. That it is assumed that mainstream journalists who report on medicine cannot speaks volumes about the quality of the field.

Sixty science papers retracted

The uncertainty of peer review: An internal investigation has caused the retraction of sixty peer-reviewed scientific papers that were published by a single journal, the Journal of Vibration and Control (JVC).

The network of JVC papers that emerged was incestuous, with the same small group of authors reviewing each other’s work and appearing together as co-authors. By the end of the year, the investigators had a list of 130 e-mail addresses associated with 60 papers, with one scientist as co-author on all of them: Chen-Yuan Chen of NPUE, who goes by “Peter.” When SAGE sent an e-mail to all 130 e-mail addresses requesting that the authors confirm their identity, none responded. “The authors were contacted again by SAGE in May 2014 to inform them that their papers would be retracted in the July 2014 issue,” says Sherman, but again none responded. According to SAGE’s official statement, Chen resigned from NPUE in February. Neither Chen nor officials at NPUE responded to e-mails from ScienceInsider

How was it possible for a scientist to become the sole reviewer on dozens of his own papers? The answer appears to be that Chen was allowed to nominate his own reviewers, who were not vetted by JVC,

Chen apparently created fake gmail accounts for both real and non-existing scientists and then chose these scientists both as his co-authors as well as his peer-reviewers.

“I think peer review is hindering science. In fact, I think it has become a completely corrupt system.”

From a Nobel Prize winner: “I think peer review is hindering science. In fact, I think it has become a completely corrupt system.”

Read the whole interview. The scientist outlines problems not only with peer review journals but with the whole structure of modern academic science, which to his mind would have prevented him from doing his Nobel Prize winning research had this system existed then.

One of the publishers who had published fake peer-reviewed papers generated by a computer program has responded aggressively to fix the problem.

One of the publishers who had published numerous fake peer-reviewed papers generated by a computer program has responded aggressively to fix the problem.

And by aggressive I mean positively. They have removed the fake papers and are reviewing everything they’ve published, with the help of the guy who exposed the fakes, to make sure there aren’t any other fakes not yet identified. They also say they are reviewing their procedures to figure out how this happened and to prevent it from happening again.

Two publishers of scientific journals have withdrawn 120 papers which they have discovered were nothing more than computer-generated gibberish.

Layers and layers of peer-review: Two publishers of scientific journals have withdrawn 120 papers which they have discovered were nothing more than computer-generated gibberish.

Over the past two years, computer scientist Cyril Labbé of Joseph Fourier University in Grenoble, France, has catalogued computer-generated papers that made it into more than 30 published conference proceedings between 2008 and 2013. Sixteen appeared in publications by Springer, which is headquartered in Heidelberg, Germany, and more than 100 were published by the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE), based in New York. Both publishers, which were privately informed by Labbé, say that they are now removing the papers. …

Labbé developed a way to automatically detect manuscripts composed by a piece of software called SCIgen, which randomly combines strings of words to produce fake computer-science papers. SCIgen was invented in 2005 by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge to prove that conferences would accept meaningless papers — and, as they put it, “to maximize amusement” (see ‘Computer conference welcomes gobbledegook paper’). A related program generates random physics manuscript titles on the satirical website arXiv vs. snarXiv. SCIgen is free to download and use, and it is unclear how many people have done so, or for what purposes. SCIgen’s output has occasionally popped up at conferences, when researchers have submitted nonsense papers and then revealed the trick.

The real story here is that many of these gibberish papers were peer-reviewed by actual scientists who are supposedly experts in their fields and should have spotted the fakery immediately. That they didn’t suggests another level of corruption. Either they don’t really bother to peer review the papers they are asked to peer review, or they knew what was going on and were part of the game.

That this kind of stuff happens repeatedly in many fields of science should make us all very skeptical of any controversial scientific claim that carries with it any political component. This doesn’t mean that all published material is fake, only that we must not take anything on faith. Controversial results had better be bomb-proof before we accept them willingly.

A bogus scientific paper, with numerous errors, was accepted for publication by more than 150 peer-reviewed scientific journals.

A bogus scientific paper, with numerous errors, was accepted for publication by more than 150 peer-reviewed scientific journals.

The scientist purposely wrote a paper that should have been unacceptable for publication in order to see if peer-review would spot the problems. What he found was that more than half the journals to which he submitted didn’t notice or care, and accepted the paper as is.

The journals in this case were open-access, meaning that they are free to readers but charge authors money for publication. Thus, rejecting papers is against their financial interest. Nonetheless, the number of journals willing to be unethical is quite disturbing, and reveals a rottenness lurking in the heart of the science field that no one wants to talk about.

A new study has found that scientific misconduct and fraud is on the rise.

A new study has found that scientific misconduct and fraud is on the rise.

A review of retractions in medical and biological peer-reviewed journals finds the percentage of studies withdrawn because of fraud or suspected fraud has jumped substantially since the mid-1970s. In 1976, there were fewer than 10 fraud retractions for every 1 million studies published, compared with 96 retractions per million in 2007.

The study’s authors suggest that the high pressure of big science might be a cause, combined with an overall decline in our culture itself. I wonder if the influence of government money, granted not because of good science but in the service of a political agenda, might also be a contributing factor.

Another psychologist has resigned amid questions over the validity of his research.

Another psychologist has resigned amid questions over the validity of his research.

This and other recent cases (here, here, here, here, here, here) are more evidence that the peer review process in some fields is badly broken, that the reviewers are too often not doing the reviewing they are supposed to, and in some cases might very well be participating in scientific fraud themselves.

A investigation has found that Japanese anesthesiologist, Yoshitaka Fujii, fabricated a 172 scientific papers over the past 19 years.

A investigation has found that Japanese anesthesiologist, Yoshitaka Fujii, fabricated a 172 scientific papers over the past 19 years.

The panel focused on 212 of 249 known Fujii papers. It tried to review the raw data, laboratory notebooks, and records on the patients or animal subjects involved. Committee members also interviewed relevant people. Among the 172 papers judged bogus, the report claims that 126 studies of randomized, double-blind, controlled trials “were totally fabricated.” The committee identified only three valid papers. For another 37 papers, the panel could not conclusively determine if there had been fabrication. …

The panel said that the responsibility of those co-authors ranges from “serious” to “none at all.” The only one of Fujii’s co-authors specifically named in the summary is University of Tsukuba anesthesiologist Hidenori Toyooka. The report says Toyooka “was not involved in fabrication but bears significant responsibility” since he was Fujii’s supervising professor both at Tsukuba and when they both worked at Tokyo Medical and Dental University. Toyooka is listed as a co-author of many of the papers cited by the 23 journal editors. … At the same time, the investigation found that some scientists were unaware Fujii had included them as co-authors. In one case, two supposed co-authors told the panel their signatures on a submission cover letter were forged. [emphasis mine]

For a scientist to get that many fabricated papers published for that long in peer-reviewed journals strongly suggests that there is widespread corruption in his field, which in this case is anesthesiology.

Researchers have found that they cannot reproduce the results of 89 percent of 53 “landmark” cancer research papers.

More bad news for peer-reviewed science: Researchers have found that they cannot reproduce the results for almost ninety percent of the fifty-three “landmark” cancer research papers they reviewed.

It is worse than you think. Consider this quote:

Part way through his project to reproduce promising studies, Begley met for breakfast at a cancer conference with the lead scientist of one of the problematic studies. “We went through the paper line by line, figure by figure,” said Begley. “I explained that we re-did their experiment 50 times and never got their result. He said they’d done it six times and got this result once, but put it in the paper because it made the best story. It’s very disillusioning.”

A new report from the EPA Office of the Inspector General has said that EPA violated its own peer review process in determining that greenhouse gases endanger “the public health and welfare.”

A new report from the EPA Office of the Inspector General has said that EPA violated its own peer review process in determining that greenhouse gases endanger “the public health and welfare.”