On March 8 2017, James Glanz and Agustin Armendariz published a highly unflattering and damaging article in the New York Times. Their target was Dr. Carlo Croce, a prominent member of the faculty at Ohio State University, in the Department of Cancer Biology and Genetics, and a member of the US National Academy of Sciences. The article informs the readers that Croce had a long history of fraudulent scientific behavior and that he managed to dodge the allegations raised against him for more than a decade. Croce sued the New York Times for libel and lost. Croce then appealed but Circuit Judges Moore, Cook and Nalbandian in the Court of Appeals affirmed the decision of the District Court. The position of the Court of Appeals is enshrined in the following piece of egregious nonsense:
The article at issue may be unflattering, but the question is whether it is defamatory. In a thorough opinion, the district court thought not. We agree. The article is a standard piece of investigative journalism that presents newsworthy allegations made by others, with appropriate qualifying language.
This outcome was entirely expected. The egregious distortion of the freedom of speech enables reporters to say anything they want provided they believe it is of interest to the general public. A case in point is Retraction Watch, the blog of Ivan Oransky and Adam Marcus. The a-priori presumption of innocence and the protection of the scientist’s reputation in the absence of validated evidence of wrongdoing are systematically and infamously ignored by reporters. In fact, using precisely such idiocies in a motion as amicus curiae, the Reporters Committee urged the court to affirm the dismissal of the defamation case by Carlo Croce.
Glanz and Armendariz knew they were protected, Oransky and Marcus had coached them before. But why did they target Carlo Croce in the first place? After all, no famous scientist gets investigated for misconduct by the home institution (unless we are dealing with an extreme case). This is simply because such an investigation would damage the reputation of the institution itself, let along the potential loss of extramural funding that the famous person brings to the institution. Carlo Croce has not and will not be seriously investigated by OSU, just like Robert Weinberg was not seriously investigated by MIT, notwithstanding his retraction of several major papers, including one paper in Cell.
Glanz and Armendariz had not serious genuine motivation to target Carlo Croce. Croce is hardly known outside scientific circles. He is famous alright but not that famous. OSU would likely protect him until retirement, then make him emeritus, while the allegations against Croce would likely be withdrawn, just like those against Weinberg at MIT. The targeting of Carlo Croce by the NYT was instigated, motivated, fueled, inspired and facilitated by Retraction Watch. Oransky and Marcus had heavily invested in Carlo Croce’s downfall. They had used their sock puppet Clare Francis (a pseudonym for Marcus and Oransky) to raise all manner of anonymous allegations against Croce for nearly a decade, and were getting increasingly frustrated that OSU would not seriously prosecute Carlo Croce or take Clare Francis allegations seriously. Clare Francis and other sock puppets like “Fernando Pessoa” are precisely the means by which Retraction Watch generates the kind of news that sustain its appalling existence.
The NYT article is pathetic, a far cry from a standard piece of investigative journalism.