Adam Marcus, Anonymous Commenter, Cat Ferguson, Character Assassination, Corruption, Data Fabrication, Data Falsification, Hilda Bastian, Ivan Oransky, JATdS, Joshua Cherry, Leonid Schneider, Mass hysteria, Misconduct, NCBI, NIH, Peer Review, Post publication peer review, PubMed, PubMed Commons, Reporting Retractions, Reporting Science Retractions, Research Integrity, Retraction Watch, Retractions, Science, Scientific corruption, Scientific Misconduct, Scientific publication, Scientific Research, Suicide, Transparency

Retraction Watch tracks down scientific corruption. Huh?

We would like to believe that people associated with the practice of science regard the process of tracking down corruption in research as a worthy undertaking. We better be careful with what exactly we wish for because the emerging picture, as it stands today, is looking ugly and getting uglier: Corruption is far more frequent than we would like to admit and, depending on where you draw the line, the indicators show that it is probably rampant. In this regard, a great piece on reproducibility by science writer Philip Ball is particularly enlightening.

Be as it may, efforts to track down corruption appear to be ill fated, poorly conceived, with some of the players even more corrupt than the subjects they choose to condemn. In principle, post-publication peer review (PPPR) is a plausible vehicle to track down corruption when the latter is detectable in published research. In practice, PPPR has turned into a rogue operation driven by losers seeking to elevate themselves by bringing down established figures while creating the perception they are doing something useful. Unfortunately, the scientific establishment will need to get out of its lethargy and, until that happens, PPPR will remain mostly in the hands of blogs run by nobodies seeking notoriety.

Perhaps the most grotesque of these blogs – and by far the loudest – is the self-published Retraction Watch. This blog is run by Ivan Oransky and Adam Marcus, two self-proclaimed experts on retractions, science reporting complications, career-related suicides and other tragedies associated with corruption. These towering figures are assisted by Cat Ferguson, a formidable writer whose ability to report on corruption tragedies earned her an internship at Retraction Watch (they even got a bit of money contributed by their commenters).

The source of the picture is this article at Yale Medicince.

A beacon of decorum and noblesse, Retraction Watch does not simply broadcast journal notifications, they distort the findings to a grotesque degree in order to smear or destroy reputations and take active steps single-handedly to ruin the careers of those that they find guilty of having committed some form of misconduct. Not surprisingly, Retraction Watch founder Ivan Oransky has been named Science’s Garbage Man (Muellsammler der Wissenschaft) by the Swiss Radio and Television. The agenda of Retraction Watch is pretty much dictated by the hysteria of its commenters, veritable nobodies seeking attention and hoping to be rewarded for “tracking down the phonies”, to paraphrase the assassin of John Lennon. Some of these commenters such as JATdS, Leonid Schneider, Neuroskeptic, etc. opine on most notifications, regardless of the subject matter (that is irrelevant to them) contributing veritable manifestos. Some of these manifestos are inflammatory, while others take a more sober tone, but all seem supremely irrelevant. In these harangues the commenters demand that the suspected wrong-doers be sent straight to the scaffolds, repudiating the tendency of the defendants to defend themselves or get “lawyered up”. In his blog, Ivan Oransky himself frequently laments the fact that people accused of misconduct often try to defend themselves and that the lawyers they engage are responsible for belated and opaque post-publication notifications. In his world, only the hysteria of his commenters should prevail as justice is delivered.

Ivan Oransky, the self-proclaimed champion of science transparency, has been a staunch protector of the anonymity of his Retraction Watch commenters. He advocates that they are entitled to anonymity invoking the protection of the information source in reporting. This is crass to the point where I find it difficult to imagine a worst aberration. Is he saying that he actually draws information from the hysterical frustration-triggered manifestos of the nobodies that comment on his blog?

A different model for PPPR was recently adopted by PubMed Commons, which is an NCBI/NIH-sponsored forum for post-publication discussion. To state that it is a vehicle for PPPR is actually misleading since the comments at PubMed Commons are NOT subject to peer review. At least the fact that the authors are required to disclose their identity makes PubMed Commons more moderate and balanced than the atrocious Retraction Watch. There is one thing that Retraction Watch and PubMed Commons have in common and that is that they are both irrelevant and inconsequential to science precisely because their contributions are not peer reviewed and would not pass the acid test of science. The most avid contributor to PubMed Commons is… -you guessed it!- Ivan Oransky, who constantly needs to boost his internet presence and affirm his reputation and probably sees his blog Retraction Watch driven to oblivion by PubMed Commons. Other avid contributors are Hilda Bastian a science writer and editor for PubMed Health, who like most science writers, needs to aggrandize her presence on the web, and Joshua Cherry, a scientist? (contractor?) of unverifiable employment at NCBI/NIH who seems to find plenty of time to harangue other scientists with his meta-arguments.

It is hard to imagine that Joshua Cherry or the other individuals mentioned in this post truly believe that their comments constructively enrich the post-publication record. They simply cannot be that delusional.

Things must change with PPPR but this is unlikely to happen unless the science establishment recovers from its lethargic state and begins to act responsibly in the face of corruption.


16 thoughts on “Retraction Watch tracks down scientific corruption. Huh?

  1. Ferguson, Marcus, Oransky query says:

    A few queries about the Ferguson, Adams, Oransky Nature paper published on November 26, 2014:!/menu/main/topColumns/topLeftColumn/pdf/515480a.pdf  
    a) Why are there absolutely no references to support all of the factual claims made in that article? Most of the information seems a summarized rehash of RW stories. Surely, at minimum, the RW pages should have been referenced?
    b) Why are there no submitted, accepted and published dates?
    c) Why is there no name of an editor who reviewed this paper, or are “NEWS Features” published in Nature exempt from peer review? If so, why? If an editor was involved, can the name be made public by RW, for transparency’s sake?
    d) Why are there no declared COIs, or the lack thereof?
    e) Why is no physical address published with the paper, as is required of all other authors who publish in Nature?
    f) Why can the DOI (1038/515480a) not be linked to PubPeer?
    g) Was a copyright of this paper signed to Macmillan Publishers Limited?
    h) Was this a voluntary submission, or was it an invited contribution by Nature?
    i) Why were there no acknowledgements. One would think that a word of thanks to the dozens of hundreds of RW commentators who fuelled deep discussion on these issues would have molded, to some extent, the ideas of these three authors. So, why were they not acknowledged, or thanked?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Dear Commenter (,

    Your queries are legitimate and, unfortunately, I have no answers for you. What you read in Nature by Retraction Watch reflects their reporting style, or I should rather say, their lack of style.
    As I have indicated, we have known for quite a while that the peer review system is broken, be the grant proposal evaluations or the refereeing of journal submittals. Peer review is plagued with cronysm, lobbying, old-boy’s network, editor courtship and other venal practices condoned by the journals, including Nature itself. We know that peer review is failing but, by publishing such hysteric articles, Retraction Watch is only doing a disservice to the scientific community. What the RW article reports is the childish modus operandi of people duping amateurish journals like those in Biomed Central. The BMC journals are notorious for their inexperienced editors. Rather than focusing on the big picture and taking the high ground, the article by Retraction Watch fuels hysteria, which is what Cat Ferguson, Adam Marcus and Ivan Oransky do in their blog.


  3. Dr. Ivan Oransky query says:

    Consider this. PubMed. Enter Ivan Oransky. Add a small filter. Then observe:

    William Close.
    Oransky I.
    Lancet. 2007 Feb 10;369(9560):457. No abstract available.

    Richard Joseph Mulvaney.
    Oransky I.
    Lancet. 2006 Dec 16;368(9553):2120. No abstract available.

    Wayne S. Fenton.
    Oransky I.
    Lancet. 2006 Nov 4;368(9547):1568. No abstract available.

    Lawrence K Altman.
    Oransky I.
    Lancet. 2006 Oct 7;368(9543):1231. No abstract available.

    Joan Wright Goodman.
    Oransky I.
    Lancet. 2006 Sep 9;368(9539):912. No abstract available.

    Ronald E Cranford.
    Oransky I.
    Lancet. 2006 Jul 8;368(9530):112. No abstract available.

    Charles Schepens.
    Oransky I.
    Lancet. 2006 Jun 17;367(9527):1974. No abstract available.

    Melissa Brown.
    Oransky I.
    Lancet. 2006 Jan 21;367(9506):203. No abstract available.

    Paul Offit.
    Oransky I.
    Lancet. 2005 Dec 10;366(9502):1999. No abstract available.

    Horace W. Davenport.
    Oransky I.
    Lancet. 2005 Oct 8;366(9493):1260. No abstract available.

    Margot Kruskall.
    Oransky I.
    Lancet. 2005 Oct 1;366(9492):1158. No abstract available.

    Sir Richard Doll.
    Oransky I.
    Lancet. 2005 Aug 6-12;366(9484):448. No abstract available.

    Clarence Dennis.
    Oransky I.
    Lancet. 2005 Sep 3-9;366(9488):802. No abstract available.

    Vincent J. Fontana.
    Oransky I.
    Lancet. 2005 Aug 27-Sep 2;366(9487):710. No abstract available.

    Dame Cicely Mary Strode Saunders.
    Oransky I.
    Lancet. 2005 Aug 20-26;366(9486):628. No abstract available.

    Zoltan Ovary.
    Oransky I.
    Lancet. 2005 Jul 30-Aug 5;366(9483):364. No abstract available.

    Marshall S. Horwitz.
    Oransky I.
    Lancet. 2005 Jul 23-29;366(9482):286. No abstract available.

    Francesca Gany.
    Oransky I.
    Lancet. 2005 Sep 17-23;366(9490):977. No abstract available.

    David Tyrrell.
    Oransky I.
    Lancet. 2005 Jun 18-24;365(9477):2084. No abstract available.

    Joseph Bogen.
    Oransky I.
    Lancet. 2005 Jun 4-10;365(9475):1922. No abstract available.

    Jeanne Petrek.
    Oransky I.
    Lancet. 2005 May 28-Jun 3;365(9474):1844. No abstract available.

    Maurice R. Hilleman.
    Oransky I.
    Lancet. 2005 May 14-20;365(9472):1682. No abstract available.

    Wilfred Gordon Bigelow.
    Oransky I.
    Lancet. 2005 May 7-13;365(9471):1616. No abstract available.

    Georgeanna Seegar Jones.
    Oransky I.
    Lancet. 2005 Apr 23-29;365(9469):1460. No abstract available.

    J. Donald M. Gass.
    Oransky I.
    Lancet. 2005 Apr 9-15;365(9467):1302. No abstract available.

    H. Jeremy C. Swan.
    Oransky I.
    Lancet. 2005 Mar 26-Apr 1;365(9465):1132. No abstract available.

    Sonja Buckley.
    Oransky I.
    Lancet. 2005 Mar 12-18;365(9463):932. No abstract available.

    Edward D. Freis.
    Oransky I.
    Lancet. 2005 Mar 5-11;365(9462):840. No abstract available.

    William Trager.
    Oransky I.
    Lancet. 2005 Feb 26-Mar 4;365(9461):748. No abstract available.

    Susan Sontag.
    Oransky I.
    Lancet. 2005 Feb 5-11;365(9458):468. No abstract available.

    Lauriston Taylor.
    Oransky I.
    Lancet. 2005 Jan 15-21;365(9455):210. No abstract available.

    William Silverman.
    Oransky I.
    Lancet. 2005 Jan 8-14;365(9454):116. No abstract available.

    Ancel Keys.
    Oransky I.
    Lancet. 2004 Dec 18-31;364(9452):2174. No abstract available.

    Sol Londe.
    Oransky I.
    Lancet. 2004 Nov 27-Dec 3;364(9449):1932. No abstract available.

    Katharina Dorothea Dalton.
    Oransky I.
    Lancet. 2004 Oct 30-Nov 5;364(9445):1576. No abstract available.

    Elisabeth Kübler-Ross.
    Oransky I.
    Lancet. 2004 Sep 25-Oct 1;364(9440):1120. No abstract available.

    Sir Godfrey N. Hounsfield.
    Oransky I.
    Lancet. 2004 Sep 18-24;364(9439):1032. No abstract available.

    George Widmer Thorn.
    Oransky I.
    Lancet. 2004 Aug 7-13;364(9433):496. No abstract available.

    Obituary. William Ross Adey.
    Oransky I.
    Lancet. 2004 Jul 17-23;364(9430):242. No abstract available.

    Charles Kelman.
    Oransky I.
    Lancet. 2004 Jul 10-16;364(9429):134. No abstract available.

    Paul Francis Wehrle.
    Oransky I.
    Lancet. 2004 Jun 19;363(9426):2093. No abstract available.

    Clayton Samuel White.
    Oransky I.
    Lancet. 2004 Jun 5;363(9424):1913. No abstract available.

    Obituary. Harold Kletschka.
    Oransky I.
    Lancet. 2004 May 8;363(9420):1559. No abstract available.

    Obituary. Ewald W. Busse.
    Oransky I.
    Lancet. 2004 May 1;363(9419):1479. No abstract available.

    Margaret Thaler Singer.
    Oransky I.
    Lancet. 2004 Jan 31;363(9406):403. No abstract available.

    Conclusion: a de facto Lancet (Elsevier) literary undertaker from 2004-2007. Could this be an explanation why RW, an anti-science blog, has emerged?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Black is Brown says:

    This blog could gather alot more traction if the criticisms could be analyzed with less zest. In fact, it is an important blog because currently there is no blog that makes an analysis of the negative impact of Retraction Watch. For example, anyone who strays upon this blog, which ranks quite highly when a Yahoo or Googe search using the term “Retraction Watch” is entered, could gather alot more following if the following is done:
    a) Anonymous bloggers’ identities were respected, as they have been on this blog. So, the opinion of every blogger is valid, and the terms such as “haters”, etc. should be avoided, because nobody knows their true identities.
    b) The identity of this blog’s owner should be made clear. Who exactly is W. Meng? An “About me”, or “About us” page would be useful, to gather trust.
    c) Add new stories and short comments regularly. That way the site will be ready by Gogle frequently and you will appear on the top page of web searches.
    d) By stories, I mean short, factual criticisms. So, every time Retraction Watch posts a story, be critical of the weaknesses of that story, and its analysis, or its negative implications on science. If you can keep a positive tone, even for a negative feeling or situation, then your blog will bloom, and not just appear to be some sort of a mud-slinging site.
    e) Remember, your catch phrase is “Restoring a healthy research environment”, so to achieve this, you have to moderate fairly, allow for criticism, and to make criticism fairly as well.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Focus on Oransky says:

    The interview between Weishi Meng and Ariel Fernandez features heavily at RW:

    Similarly, so should RW or Oransky interviews now become carefully scrutinized. Amanda Alvarez, at Yale School of Medicine, provides some valuable insight into Ivan Oransky, which should be considered, and analyzed.

    Some points to ponder:

    a) One could say that that interview may be biased because Dr. Oransky has a strong link to Yale: “He came to Yale for a psychiatry internship, drawn by a tradition that bridged psychoanalytic practice and modern psychopharmacology. Splitting his internship between Yale-New Haven Hospital and the VA Connecticut Healthcare System in West Haven, Oransky also found time to write.”

    b) “After his internship, Oransky chose journalism over the practice of medicine.” So, one spends parents’ tens or hundreds of thousands of US$ on a medical education, then, after 6 (?) years, one wakes up that one wants to be a journalist? Something is just not right here. The missing pieces are evidently not being told, or not being told in full.

    c) “It wasn’t the easiest for my parents to get used to” Probably not.

    d) “I was really happy and accomplishing things and adding value to the world, they got it.” Can that value be better quantified? If reference is to RW, then this is debatable, because that site relies on the destruction of science.

    e) “After four years as executive editor of Reuters Health”. True:
    But isn’t this also the same Thomson Reuters that owns Journal Citation Reports and the impact factor?
    Incidentally, the link from Oransky’s RW page to the Thomson Reuter’s page is not linking:
    Wouldn’t this be perceived a serious and potential, if not actual, conflict of interest? Incidentally, two web-pages have magically “disappeared” from Thomson Reuter’s web-site:
    Why were these web-sites which contained open access interviews with Oransky, removed, or retracted? What’s going on?

    f) “Blogs are powerful and lower the publishing barrier, said Oransky” Most scientists would like to raise the publishing barrier, to ensure stricter control and standards. Why would Oransky be advocating for lower standards?

    g) Why can criticisms of RW not be added at any RW page, including this one (go ahead, try, and watch your comment get wiped out)?
    The term “moderation” is used as a euphemism by RW to describe the removal of comments that do not fit the personal desire of RW, more specifically Oransky.

    h) Why does Dr. Oransky not describe his 4-year experience with Elsevier’s The Lancet on his professional profile or list his publications there as part of his professional CV?
    This seems to be a serious, biased and deliberate omission from his professional profile.

    i) Why does Dr. Oransky not provide a full listing of his publications on his profiles? He demands transparency from scientists about their professional profiles, including publishing profiles, but then provides zero details and transparency about his own. Is this ethically correct for a journalist?

    j) Why does Dr. Oransky not describe his link (if any) to the Journal of the American Medical Association, or JAMA on his profile, with at least 5 papers in its journal?
    Reframing I. Oransky Becoming a Clinician: A Primer for Students
    Journal: Jama-journal of The American Medical Association – JAMA-J AM MED ASSN , vol. 281, no. 11, pp. 1043-a-1044, 1999
    I. Oransky An Apology for Those Who Leave Medicine
    Journal: Jama-journal of The American Medical Association – JAMA-J AM MED ASSN , vol. 281, no. 13, pp. 1230-1230, 1999
    I. Oransky Nonphysician clinicians and the future of medicine (Citations: 1)
    Journal: Jama-journal of The American Medical Association – JAMA-J AM MED ASSN , vol. 277, no. 13, pp. 1090-1090, 1997
    I. Oransky Evaluating the evaluations
    Journal: Jama-journal of The American Medical Association – JAMA-J AM MED ASSN , vol. 278, no. 9, pp. 788-788, 1997
    I. Oransky Activism and the medical student
    Journal: Jama-journal of The American Medical Association – JAMA-J AM MED ASSN , vol. 276, no. 17, pp. 1434-1434, 1996

    k) Why does Oransky’s profile not make any declarations about the lack of conflicts of interest (COIs), actual, or potential? One would think that a basic journalistic prerequisite would be to make open and declared listing of COIs (or the lack thereof). How can Oransky preach one set of values to scientists and publishers (openness, honesty, transparency, through the declaration of COIs, actual or potential), but then practice a different set of apparently contradictory values? Is this not the classical definition of hypocrisy? Or is this just the low level of “scientific journalism” that Oransky aspires to?

    l) Where can one obtain a copy of this paper?
    Ivan Oransky, Li-Yu Huang, Bryan K. Chan, Scott Gottlieb, Jason A. Konner, Heather R. Schroeder-Mullen Reframing the Geriatric Patient Published in 1998.
    And why has Oransky not uploaded that paper?

    m) Is this insight into the birth of RW?
    I. Oransky An Apology for Those Who Leave Medicine Journal: Jama-journal of The American Medical Association – JAMA-J AM MED ASSN , vol. 281, no. 13, pp. 1230-1230, 1999. Open access.

    n) It appears as if Dr. Oransky, who seems to have projected himself as an expert on science publishing, has only one true scientific paper, that may, or may not, have been based on true lab-to-paper based experience:
    Early Changes in Quasispecies Repertoire in HIV-Infected Infants: Correlation with Disease Progression. Shaffiq M. Essajee, Henry Pollack, Gemma Rochford, Ivan Oransky, Keith Krasinski, and William Borkowsky. AIDS Research and Human Retroviruses. December 2000, 16(18): 1949-1957. doi:10.1089/088922200750054675
    All authors: Department of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, New York University Medical Center, New York City, New York 10016
    Publisher: Mary Ann Liebert Inc. Publishers
    Oddly, that page states: “Published in Volume: 16 Issue 18: July 5, 2004”
    Cited by 6.
    If so, then what laboratory and fill-process experience does Dr. Oransky have that would make him an “expert” on science publishing? The analogy is a Jehovah’s witness starting a blog about the experience of war.

    o) This appears to be, at least according to Amanda Alvarez, the interviewer, a highlight of Oransky’s career: “He contributed op-eds to USA Today and had a regular column in the Jewish newspaper The Forward (as “The Doctor”) where, for example, he wrote about the use of foreskin tissue in research.”

    p) A purely cultural and political question: Is Dr. Oransky gay, Jewish and Republican, and what does he think about ObamaCare? In the USA, there is increasingly a tendency for publically prominent individuals to be fully open and transparent about such things as their political views, their sexual tendencies, or their cultural or religious affiliations, for the simple purpose of public disclosure and accountability (to eliminate COIs). Why then, given the fact that Dr. Oransky commands such a high public profile globally, does no such open and frank/honest declaration appear on his RW web-page? This is particularly important as he serves as the vice president and global editorial director of MedPage Today:
    Surely, his editorial staff would care about this transparency?

    q) Oransky has been interviewed by or featured prominently on such media as BBC, the NY Times, etc., and giving so many speeches around the world, serving on the “expert” panels of so many meetings and symposia. Has anybody bothered to analyze the content of those speeches in detail, for contextual overlap? Why does post-publication peer review apply to scientists, in Oransky’s view, but not to his background and activities?

    Finally, ““Knowledge is gained by challenging what we think is true and looking at the evidence,” said Oransky”. Dr. Ivan Oransky says it best.

    PS: Of course, someone also needs to closely analyze Adam Marcus and Cat Ferguson in the exact same way. A team is a team, and all members take public responsibility, as equally as all authors take public responsibility for their papers, as Oransky openly advocates.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Wow, you did a lot of homework. Clearly a very interesting picture with lots of open questions. One of Oransky’s scariest comments is surely: “Blogs are powerful, they lower the publishing barrier”.


  7. Pingback: Retraction Watch: Toxic Scientific Journalism for the Wild Web | Science Retractions

  8. I used to post comments on RW. I believe that they offer a good (comparing to others) freedom of speech. I quit when some of my comments, even not related to any particular persons, were banned. They “offended” the leftist politics, feminism dogmas in particular. I. Oranski and his partner may be not free from a number of biases. But who is free in this fully politically corrupted society? Still, I find the attack on the RW here a bit not deserved.

    Much, much worse is Nature and Times Higher Education blog. I have a web site with 50 documents on the horrific fraud perpetrated on me by Univ. of Toronto –
    See how Nature was shielding the criminals:

    Very importantly, I firmly believe that anonymous posting must be absolutely banned on any site that deals with science. This manner was promoted by so-called “leftist” crooks: establishment always know who is the the author, but people are prevented from finding friends.

    On the other side, pubpeer published this:


  9. Liping Xie says:

    I just glanced at Retraction Watch. These people don’t have a clue about science or the business of science. They are making a mess. If they just limit themselves to reproduce retractions posted in journals they would be simply redundant, but they also defame people and speculate all kind of nonsense. I guess nobody can stop them, legally I mean, right?

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I tried to post a comment her yesterday but it disappeared. I’ve had significant problems with Retraction Watch. They manipulate content to fit their narratives and they refuse to investigate mistakes or correct them. They throw their high-five parties after retractions but they don’t do the really hard work of helping to get bad research retracted, something I’ve done. They delete truthful comments. They are not journalists.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Pingback: First Amendment Abuse: Time to Sue Post Publication Reviewers for False Accusations | Science Transparency

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