Tag Archives: science fraud

Fraud detected in science research that suggested genetically modified crops were harmful

The uncertainty of peer review: Three science papers that had suggested that genetically modified crops were harmful to animals and have been used by activist groups to argue for their ban have been found to contain manipulated and possibly falsified data

Papers that describe harmful effects to animals fed genetically modified (GM) crops are under scrutiny for alleged data manipulation. The leaked findings of an ongoing investigation at the University of Naples in Italy suggest that images in the papers may have been intentionally altered. The leader of the lab that carried out the work there says that there is no substance to this claim.

The papers’ findings run counter to those of numerous safety tests carried out by food and drug agencies around the world, which indicate that there are no dangers associated with eating GM food. But the work has been widely cited on anti-GM websites — and results of the experiments that the papers describe were referenced in an Italian Senate hearing last July on whether the country should allow cultivation of safety-approved GM crops. “The case is very important also because these papers have been used politically in the debate on GM crops,” says Italian senator Elena Cattaneo, a neuroscientist at the University of Milan whose concerns about the work triggered the investigation.

I know I am generalizing here and have not actually researched this, but I would bet that many of those same anti-GM websites and the people who support them are also firm believers in human-caused global warming. Similarly, I would guess that if you asked these scientists above who wrote the anti-GM papers they also would be firm believers in human-caused global warming. I know this is a guess, but based on years of watching these political battles I think a very safe guess.


A journalist and filmmaking team fake a study and the press buys it

The uncertainty of science journalism: How a science journalist and two documentary filmmakers fooled millions (and many science journalists) into thinking that eating chocolate will help you lose weight.

My colleagues and I recruited actual human subjects in Germany. We ran an actual clinical trial, with subjects randomly assigned to different diet regimes. And the statistically significant benefits of chocolate that we reported are based on the actual data. It was, in fact, a fairly typical study for the field of diet research. Which is to say: It was terrible science. The results are meaningless, and the health claims that the media blasted out to millions of people around the world are utterly unfounded.

He then describes step by step how they did it. They even got their “research” published in a journal that claimed it did peer review but did not change one word of their submitted manuscript and published it less than two weeks after submission and the receipt of their money (science journals traditionally require authors to pay them for the honor of publication). In the end,

We landed big fish before we even knew they were biting. Bild rushed their story out—”Those who eat chocolate stay slim!”—without contacting me at all. Soon we were in the Daily Star, the Irish Examiner, Cosmopolitan’s German website, the Times of India, both the German and Indian site of the Huffington Post, and even television news in Texas and an Australian morning talk show.

The American women’s magazine Shape also fell for the fraud.

To me, the main reason the fraud worked was because none of the journalists involved ever bothered to actually read the science paper. They saw the press release, thought the story was cool, and simply rewrote the release. This is what happens repeatedly in the science field, and is why so much crap about climate science gets published. Too many reporters accept verbatim the claims of the scientists, doing no research to check the facts on which those claims were based.

I should mention also that John Bohannon, the man who played the scientist in this prank, also ran a sting operation against peer review journals in October 2013, creating a bogus paper and getting 157 journals to accept it for publication.


More fraud in peer-reviewed science

The science journal Nature today announced the retraction of two controversial stem cell papers.

The two papers reporting the stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency (STAP) phenomenon appeared online on 29 January. Questions about the papers arose almost immediately, leading to an investigation by RIKEN, the headquarters of the network of the nationally funded laboratories that is based in Wako near Tokyo. Investigators documented several instances of fabrication and falsification in the papers and concluded that some of these constituted research misconduct on the part of [Haruko] Obokata [the lead author].

Japanese media recently reported that authors had agreed to retract the papers but were discussing the wording of the notice. In the note that appeared today, the authors point to errors previously identified by RIKEN investigations in supplementary documents. They also identify additional errors in both papers, including mix-ups in images, mislabeling, faulty descriptions, and “inexplicable discrepancies in genetic background and transgene insertion sites between the donor mice and the reported” STAP cells. [emphasis mine]

The list of errors now documented sound astonishing. In fact, I can’t see how any serious review by any competent specialist in this field could have missed them all, which suggests that for this research at least the peer-review process is mostly a sham. In fact, in the article Nature admits that its
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A scientist whistleblower has found that publicly questioning bad science papers vs privately notifying the publisher significantly increases the chances of getting them retracted.

Surprise, surprise! A scientist whistleblower has found that publicly questioning bad science papers vs privately notifying the publisher significantly increases the chances of getting them retracted.

[Paul] Brookes ran the blog Science Fraud from July 2012 to January 2013, before closing it down in response to threats of legal action. For the PeerJ study, Brookes compared the outcomes of two sets of papers — 274 whose alleged data problems he chronicled on his blog, and 223 that he was e-mailed about but did not post before he shut the site down. Those private e-mails, he says, were also copied to the relevant journals, funding agencies and authors’ research institutions, so authorities would also have had the opportunity to review the allegations.

Of the 274 papers Brookes blogged about, 16 were retracted and 47 corrected by December 2013, he reports, meaning that action was taken in 23% of the cases. But of the 223 unpublicized papers, only two were retracted and five corrected — a rate of 3%.

As always, the more freedom and openness we have, the better. The only people who suffer in such a situation are the incompetent and dishonest ones.


The University of Connecticut has found the chief of its biology lab — an expert on the health benefits of drinking wine — guilty of falsifying and fabricating data on more than two dozen papers and grant applications.

More science fraud: The University of Connecticut has found the chief of its biology lab — an expert on the health benefits of drinking wine — guilty of falsifying and fabricating data on more than two dozen papers and grant applications.

A 60,000-page report issued yesterday (you can read a 49-page summary here) by [University of Connecticut Health Center] (UCHC) found [Dipak] Das guilty of 145 counts of fabrication and falsification of data, involving at least 23 papers and 3 grant applications. … UCHC has frozen externally funded research in Das’ lab, and it turned away $890,000 in federal grants while the investigation was underway. The university has also begun proceedings to fire Das.

Just as in the Stapel case in the Netherlands, we have here another example of the science community responding correctly to scientific fraud. Both examples stand in stark contrast to how the climate science community whitewashed the fraud and malfeasance in its own community.