Adam Marcus, Agustin Armendariz, American Association of Cancer Research, Anonymous Commenter, Carlo Croce, Character Assassination, Clare Francis, Corruption, Data Fabrication, Data Falsification, Defamation, Defamation lawsuit, Fernando Pessoa (Retraction Watch), First Amendment to US Constitution, Fraud, Ivan Oransky, James Glanz, New York Times, NIH funding, Office of Research Integrity, Ohio Southern District Court, Ohio State University, Paul S. Thaler, Post Publication Peer Review Scam, PubPeer, Reporting Retractions, Reputation Damage, Retraction Watch, Scientific corruption, Scientific Integrity, Scientific Misconduct, Scientific publication

Carlo Croce sued The New York Times; he should not spare Retraction Watch

Carlo M. Croce is a towering figure in cancer genetics. His discovery of the molecular mechanisms in leukemia and other malignancies places him in the league of pioneers in the field like Janet Rowley. Croce’s peers have recognized his contributions, elected him to the US National Academy of Science in 1996 and showered him with prizes. Notwithstanding his success, concerns about the integrity of Croce’s work are surfacing and certain people seem to be now investing in his downfall. A while back, MIT Nobel laureate Philip Sharp praised him but detected some sloppiness in his work, while UC Berkeley Nobel laureate Randy Schekman claimed that as editor he became aware of certain allegations concerning Croce’s research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.



The 2013 prize of the Artois-Baillet Latour Foundation given by HRH The Queen of Belgium to Carlo M. Croce.

Croce’s fall from grace happened when he was defamed in an article published in the New York Times on March 8 of this year. The authors of the article, James Glanz and Agustin Armendariz, tell us that Croce had been dodging misconduct allegations for decades, and that a major cover-up was put up by Ohio State University (OSU), Croce’s home institution, because he was bringing millions of dollars in grant overhead each year. Glanz and Armendariz tell us that Croce, the discoverer of cancer mechanisms that saved the lives of thousands, had been cheating all along but “was too big to make findings of misconduct on”.

The entire scientific community was in a state of shock at what seemed to be a flagrant act of defamation. In America, as in most countries under the rule of law, Croce should be presumed innocent unless proven otherwise, and his innocence should be protected at all cost, as it seemed to have been the case with OSU’s internal investigation. It came as a shock to everybody that these unresolved or closed investigations would be exposed in a major venue like the NYT, destroying in one stroke Croce’s reputation earned through decades of hard work. Yet, most of the scientific community dismissed these unproven allegations: on March 29, a few days after the defamatory article appeared in the NYT, the American Association of Cancer Research made Carlo Croce the recipient of the Margaret Foti Award for Leadership and Extraordinary Achievements in Cancer Research.  Not surprisingly, this recognition emboldened Croce. Carlo Croce sued the NYT in Court for defamation a few weeks later. The particulars of the lawsuit are as follows:

Croce v. New York Times Company et al (case filed May 10, 2017)

Ohio Southern District Court
Judge: James L Graham
Referred: Terence P Kemp
Case #: 2:17-cv-00402
Nature of Suit 320 Torts – Personal Injury – Assault, Libel, & Slander
Cause 28:1332 Diversity-Libel,Assault,Slander

The lingering question is who instigated the NYT article and emboldened Glanz and Armindariz? Why would Glanz and Armendariz risk everything to go after a towering figure in cancer research, whose discoveries saved thousands of lives, with nothing more that conjectures and unproven allegations over sloppiness in reporting or conducting scientific research? Glanz and Armendariz were fueled, emboldened, enabled and inspired by a blog name Retraction Watch, the true instigator of Carlo Croce’s downfall and, specifically, of the NYT defamation piece.

Retraction Watch purportedly reports on scientific misconduct. Yet Retraction Watch is engaged in the most corrupt and less transparent scheme imaginable. To generate enough activity, the Retraction Watch founders created two anonymous characters, giving them writers’ names: Clare Francis and Fernando Pessoa. Clare Francis operates in secrecy, while Fernando Pessoa operates in the open. Unchecked allegations, including all kinds of inanities, personal attacks, etc. are first received by Ivan Oransky and Adam Marcus, the two medicine/science dropouts who founded Retraction Watch. Then, Oransky and his pal make sure these allegations turn into substantial news that can be reported by Retraction Watch. Soon after the unchecked allegations emanating from any source (literally any) land on Oransky’s desk, they get funneled by Clare Francis in the most brazen threatening terms imaginable to journals, institutions and individuals, that get harassed and coerced into taking immediate action. According to the journal editors, over 90% of the allegations by Clare Francis are simply gibberish. Once some scathing reaction, for example a journal retraction, is elicited by Clare Francis and gets out in the open, Retraction Watch immediately reports it, broadcasting the scathing news in the harshest terms possible. Retraction Watch can do this extremely swiftly, usually the very same day the reaction becomes public, obviously because Clare Francis is the secret arm of Retraction Watch: they generate the same news they broadcast. Immediately after Retraction Watch publishes their piece, Fernando Pessoa comments profusely on it adding other instances of perceived misconduct allegedly committed by the person under attack. Obviously, Fernando Pessoa can also act so swiftly and thoroughly on each case simply because it is also part of Retraction Watch. To summarize, first the secret arm Clare Francis elicits reactions by journals, institutions and individuals that are brazenly approached with misconduct accusations, then Retraction Watch openly scorns and humiliates the accused person in the harshest terms possible, and finally Fernando Pessoa adds as much salt to the injury as possible. That is how the coward defamation scheme works, as anyone with a moderate ability to think can figure out by reading Retraction Watch.

Let us now focus on Retraction Watch chasing and pillorying of Carlo Croce and on its inspirational enabling role in the NYT investigation. One of the most striking details of the NYT article is its identification by Glanz and Armendariz of Clare Francis, the secret arm of Retraction Watch, as the agent who brashly brought up thirty or more misconduct allegations against Carlo Croce to the attention of OSU authorities. It should be noted that Croce had been profusely attacked and defamed by Retraction Watch prior to the appearance of the NYT article, on May 5, 2014, on April 6, 2015, on October 10, 2016 and, especially, on January 24, 2017, when Fernando Pessoa, the second arm of Retraction Watch, added 15 (fifteen) scathing comments against Carlo Croce on the very same day! In this way, all of Clare Francis accusations presented to OSU were fully covered also by Retraction Watch. On March 8, 2017, within a few hours after the NYT article came out, Retraction Watch published its own fiercely scathing article against Carlo Croce, covering the NYT defamation in gory detail and even amplifying the damage, and this time Fernando Pessoa added 13 (thirteen) comments describing more instances of misconduct allegedly committed by Carlo Croce. On March 15, another article damaging Carlo Croce came out at Retraction Watch, but the apotheosis came on March 30, 2017, a day after the AACR prize to Carlo Croce was announced. Oransky and his pal were truly incensed. On March 30, 2017 in an article entitled “Cancer org bestows award on scientist under investigation“, Retraction Watch expressed its outrage that Carlo Croce, a person seriously suspected of misconduct, would be given a prize by a “Cancer org” (Retraction Watch was referring to the American Association of Cancer Research). Fernando Pessoa swiftly added three scathing comments that day. Retraction Watch kept of defaming Croce on April 3, 2017 (Fernando Pessoa added 9 nasty comments this time), June 9, August 29, and September 8, 2017, with Fernando Pessoa adding scathing comments each time.

Carlo Croce sued the NYT for defamation. He should not spare Retraction Watch, the instigator and enabler of the NYT article. Oransky and his pal Marcus should be served in court for the great disservice they are doing to science and to the people whose lives are saved every day thanks to Croce’s discoveries.

Corruption, Data Fabrication, Data Falsification, Joshua L. Cherry, Joshua L. Cherry NIH, Meta-Research, Misconduct, Post publication peer review, Post Publication Peer Review Scam, Research Integrity, Research misconduct, Science reproducibility, Science Transparency, Scientific corruption

Reproducibility crisis, sure, but the real crisis is who handles the crisis

The New York Times wants to make us aware there is a reproducibility crisis in science. This is hardly news at all. There surely is a problem and has been there ever since science began to be run like a business, with its system of gratification and punishment, with the explosion in the number of practitioners and the number and size of professional journals, the pressure to excel, the emphasis on quantifying the impact, the system of extramural funding, etc. Take any under-regulated activity, create a system of gratification and you have a problem. It is called human nature.

The real challenge for science today is who is handling the perceived crisis. The science establishment got caught off guard on this one. As it turns out, the ones now handling the crisis are precisely those who installed the perception that there is a crisis in the first place. These are, perhaps with a few exceptions, angry people, science drop-outs and losers who found that science is just too difficult for them. The real problem is that the perception of the crisis has created a void in science governance, i. e. who is going to deal with the problem. Nowadays we have journals of scientific integrity (incredibly boring), world meetings on scientific integrity, not to mention blogs, etc. These are fora designed to channel the voice of those engaged in this second-rate activity.

AAAS, Blog, Corruption, Data Falsification, Due process, Internet crank, Marcia McNutt, Mass hysteria, Open research, Post publication peer review, Research Integrity, Retraction Watch, Science, Science blogs, Science Magazine, Science Transparency, Scientific Crisis, Scientific Reproducibility, Scientific Research, Transparency and Openness

TOP: How Science magazine plans to deal with the intrusion of social media

Not long ago Science Editor Marcia McNutt published an appalling editorial entitled “Due process in the twitter age“, where she claimed that social media created an anxiety and added a sense of urgency to the post-publication peer review (PPPR) of reported scientific research. In a post at Science Transparency, we swiftly retorted that if the scientific establishment kept paying attention to blogs like Retraction Watch to conduct their business, they will only have themselves to blame for the current crisis. In our post we felt compelled to quote a Londoner from the Daily Mail (UK) who described the intrusion of social media in the most eloquent terms:

Social Media has turned us all into the baying masses of the medieval witch hunts, with no mediators of our hysterical views, and with the loudest, most ignorant and angry up at the front with their burning tweeting torches.

It would seem that Science magazine has decided to review their own position regarding how they intend to deal with the piracy of PPPR by social media. Marcia McNutt now claims that Science magazine will spearhead the implementation of TOP (Transparency and Openness Promotion), a set of new standards of transparency and reproducibility for the publication of scientific research. This initiative is inspired by the policy forum piece “Promoting an Open Research Culture” published in Science nearly an year ago. In fact, at Science Transparency we argued in support of this policy.

A Friday Evening Discourse at the Royal Institution; Sir James Dewar on Liquid Hydrogen, 1904 (oil on canvas) by Brooks, Henry Jamyn (1865-1925); The Royal Institution, London, UK.

A Friday Evening Discourse at the Royal Institution; Sir James Dewar on Liquid Hydrogen, 1904 (oil on canvas) by Brooks, Henry Jamyn (1865-1925); The Royal Institution, London, UK.

Transparency, availability of raw data, and full disclosure of all tools required by a person skilled in the art to reproduce the work is surely all that is needed to ensure the validity of reported research. This is true today as it was three centuries ago, when scientists were asked to perform their experiments in front of an audience at the Royal Institution. At Science Transparency we welcome the implementation of these TOP protocols as the best route to do away with corruption in science and to end the current hysteria promoted by social media in regards to the reproducibility crisis, real or perceived.


AAAS, Argentina, Ariel Fernandez, Ariel Fernandez Research, Ariel Fernandez Stigliano, Clare Francis, Corruption, 阿列尔·费尔南德斯, Hasselmann Professor at Rice University, Marcia McNutt, Research Integrity, Retraction Watch, Rice University, Science, Science Magazine, Science reproducibility, Science Transparency, Scientific corruption, Scientific Integrity, Scientific Reproducibility, Scientific Research, Weishi Meng on Ariel Fernandez

On “Promoting an Open Research Culture”, Policy Forum, Science Magazine

On 26 June 2015, Science magazine published an article in its section “Policy Forum” entitled “Promoting an Open Research Culture”  (B. A. Nosek et al. Science, Vol. 348, pp. 1422-1425, DOI: 10.1126/science.aab2374). The article and two related pieces (“Self-correction in science at work”, and “Solving reproducibility“) published in the same issue seem to have been inspired by the perception that there is an irreproducibility crisis affecting science. In this regard, this is what Science Transparency has to say:

There is a perceived or real crisis over the reproducibility and transparency of scientific reporting. This crisis is surely being mismanaged by scientists, and they have only themselves to blame. Scientific pursuit requires a highly specialized training, and consequently, so does the assessment of the validity of reported science. Yet, while scientists figure out how to deal with the current crisis, they are allowing journalists like Ivan Oransky (named Science’s Garbage Man by the Swiss Radio and Television), defamation rings, and anonymous nobodies to tell them what to do. This is especially apparent in certain journals that keep listening to Clare Francis, Retraction Watchers or some of the pubpeers, who are in fact nobody’s peers. This nonsense where anyone says whatever they want and pours their anger on the internet, only fuels the current hysteria over fake science. More on this problem has been previously covered in Science Transparency.

As usual, Prof. Ariel Fernandez (阿列尔·费尔南德斯), the discoverer of the dehydron (脱水元), is on the mark in regards to this issue, and his pronouncement featured in Science is reproduced below in accord with Terms and Conditions on User Submissions to Science.


Dr. Ariel Fernandez

Dr. Ariel Fernandez . 阿列尔·费尔南德斯

Some journalists and some science outsiders have installed the belief that science is in the midst of a reproducibility crisis. These people are being listened to, at least by some editors, while they feverishly advocate for higher standards of transparency in regards to the way in which scientists conduct and report their findings. The underlying misconception that led to this delusional thinking may well end up sliding into hysteria if scientists keep taking advice from outsiders on how to conduct their business. The misconception sprouts from the odd notion that scientific publications are meant to report monolithic truths that must withstand the acid test of time. Nothing further from the truth, and while scientists comply and try to raise the bar on transparency and accountability, they better take steps to debunk the myth that research papers distill anything other than provisional assertions subject to endless revision.

Much of the science reported is a-priori likely and expected to be faulty merely on statistical grounds. John Ioannidis, a professor of medicine at Stanford University, wrote in 2005 a paper in the journal PLoS Medicine entitled “Why most published research findings are false” (…) where, using statistical arguments, he estimated that the likelihood that a scientific paper contains false results is nearly 50%. His analysis reveals that under a great diversity of conditions, most scientific findings are likely to simply represent “measures of prevailing biases”. This statistical study was conducted with the utmost rigor and prompts us scientists to regard research reports with lower expectations, more in the context of a progression of provisional attempts at attaining an independent pristine truth. And please, please, let us focus on running our business ourselves, or we will have no one else to blame for the current crisis, be it real or delusional.

Dr. Ariel Fernandez Stigliano is the former Karl F. Hasselmann Professor of Bioengineering at Rice University (Follow Ariel Fernandez on Twitter).

阿列尔·费尔南德斯(Ariel Fernandez,出生名 阿列尔·费尔南德斯·斯提格里亚诺, 出生于1957年4月18日)是一位阿根廷美国双重国籍的物理化学家[1],1984年在耶鲁大学获化学物理专业博士学位,曾在马克思-普朗克研究所在诺奖得主Manfred Eigen和Robert Huber的指导下从事博士后研究,后在美国莱斯大学任Karl F. Hasselmann讲座讲授,期间曾指导来自两名中国的留学生张曦陈建平的博士学位论文,2011年从莱斯大学退休后开始在瑞士的巴塞尔学院继续从事研究工作,同时创建咨询公司Ariel Fernandez ConsultancyAF Innovation为企业提供咨询服务。


阿列尔•费尔南德斯多个领域的顶级学术期刊上发表文章,包括:代数、动力系统理论、统计力学、化学物理、界面现象、药物设计、癌症治疗和结构生物学视角下的分子进化。他的部分发表成果被收录在Google Scholar CitationsResearchGate。他曾在国际重要期刊上发表过350篇学术论文,包括:Proceedings of the US National Academy of Sciences, Annual Reviews of Genetics, Nature, Physical Review Letters, Genome Research,其科研成果曾被 Nature, Nature Reviews Drug Design, Chemistry World (UK Royal Society), Scientific American等著名期刊评述。阿列尔•费尔南德斯著有一部学术著作,持有两个药物治疗方面的专利。

阿列尔•费尔南德斯在药物设计领域的一部分最重要的研究成果属于转化医学。他建立了被称之为dehydron的物理化学模型用于描述蛋白质分子的一种结构奇点,并将此模型用于进行药物特异性筛选从而设计更为安全的药物。基于dehydron理论,阿列尔•费尔南德斯发明了分子工程中的“包裹技术”(wrapping technology)。“包裹技术”让药物设计人员能够根据蛋白质靶点的dehydron分布特点来设计药物,从而达到更好的特异性。“包裹技术”及其应用在阿列尔•费尔南德斯的著作“Transformative Concepts for Drug Design: Target Wrapping”(Springer-Verlag, Berlin, 2010)中有详细描述。


  • “Transformative Concepts for Drug Design: Target Wrapping”, by Ariel Fernandez (ISBN 978-3642117916, Springer-Verlag, Berlin, Heidelberg, 2010).[2]
  • “Biomolecular Interfaces: Interactions, Functions and Drug Design”, by Ariel Fernandez (ISBN-10: 3319168495, ISBN-13: 978-3319168494, Springer; 2015 edition)..[3]




阿列尔·费尔南德斯 – Ariel Fernandez biosketch at Baidu Baike

Adam Marcus, Blog, Cat Ferguson, Character Assassination, Civil Death, Corruption, Diederik Stapel, Fake Peer Review, Fraud, Hatred, Ivan Oransky, Khalid Zaman, Michael W Miller, Misconduct, Post publication peer review, Reputation Damage, Research Integrity, Retraction, Retraction Watch, Scientific corruption

Retraction Watch: Money Can’t Buy You Class

It is hard to justify the sheer existence of Retraction Watch, a blog run by people with no visible credentials in the sciences who are seeking notoriety in a context where anybody is basically allowed to say anything. The information that Retraction Watch provides is redundant at best. And this redundancy will now be multiplied, we are being told, by a “repository of retractions”, an idiocy akin to a “repository of obituaries”. But the worst side of Retraction Watch is its tendency to ruthlessly prey on career mistakes to destroy people and to do it in the most undignified manner.

The most recent illustration of this appalling behavior is the post by Cat Ferguson, the Retraction Watch intern and a figure in the field of retractions, who wrote the masterpiece entitled: Anyone want to hire an economist who retracted 16 papers for fake peer reviews?

   This piece reports on the efforts by Retraction Watch to destroy the career of Khalid Zaman, a Pakistani economist who retracted several papers on account of allegedly fake peer reviews. Retraction Watch was not satisfied with merely reporting on the case, they went after his life and career, investigating whether he had filed job applications (in Pakistan!), and even got hold of one such application (we of course cannot verify this). This is none of your business, Retraction Watch!

Zaman may have committed fraud, but perhaps his results are still valid and could withstand a real peer review upon resubmission. This is, of course, a futile reflection, Retraction Watch never takes the high ground but instead keeps indulging in the petty smearing of scientists’ reputations. Here is another example of their reported efforts to destroy people from the pen of Adam Marcus and Ivan Oransky, the Retraction Watch founders, from their contribution to The Scientist (the last sentence is particularly revolting and much resembling the vilification of Khalid Zaman):

“…we recommend reading about the case of Michael W. Miller, who faked data on his federal grant applications and had several papers retracted in 2012. This year, however, Miller bounced back, landing a job as, you guessed it, a consultant for grant applications! (He lost that gig after we called his employers to ask if they knew about his past.)”

There are plenty of illustrations of these indignities, where Retraction Watch, not content with having report the case, goes after the person and curtails his/her opportunities to find jobs taking decisive cavalier steps in the most revolting manner imaginable to destroy the person. One is reminded of the case of Diederik Stapel, the Dutch professor who allegedly admitted to fraudulent activity, and was reported by Retraction Watch to have landed on a job in the Netherlands. As expected, the angry commenters poured their vitriol in outrage as they kept vilifying Dr. Stapel, while the blog took all necessary steps to prevent him from getting hired. Again, none of your business, Retraction Watch!

I guess it is a matter of class, some have it, some don’t, and if you, like Retraction Watch, don’t have it, all the money in the world cannot buy it for you.

Adam Marcus, Anonymous Commenter, Blog, Cat Ferguson, Character Assassination, Civil Death, Corruption, Data Fabrication, Data Falsification, Fraud, Haruko Obokata, Hatred, Ivan Oransky, Japanese science, Junk Journalism, lawsuit, Michael Eisen, Misconduct, Nature, Nature retraction, Obokata, Peer Review, Post publication peer review, protected free speech, Retraction Watch, Retractions, Riken, Science Garbage Man, Scientific Misconduct, STAP stem cell, Suicide, Wild Web, Yoshiki Sasai

Retraction Watch: Toxic Scientific Journalism for the Wild Web

We are often forced to highlight the toxicity of Retraction Watch, a blog that professes to cover scientific mishaps. Retraction Watch has turned into a beacon of junk scientific journalism, fit for the Wild Web. At Retraction Watch there is no publication barrier but there surely is an agenda: anybody says whatever he/she wants and gets published provided that what is said fits the agenda of RW founders Adam Marcus and Ivan Oransky. In Ivan Oransky’s own words, “we hold firm to the notion that the more robust the conversation, the better the science”. Huh? Sure, but the validity of this utterance hinges crucially on what Oransky means by “robust conversation”. I, for one, have never seen a robust conversation leading to the betterment of science at Retraction Watch. Furthermore, I have never seen a conversation at Retraction Watch that is even relevant to science. When I find such utterances by Oransky I ask myself: How can he say this with a straight face? Do we really need to deal with this level of absurdity? I would have hoped not, but I guess we need to. We’ll come back to the “robust conversations” at Retraction Watch in a while.

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

Ivan Oransky brags about many things, his long list of affiliations always featuring prominently, and he often insists on the large number of hits at Retraction Watch, as if the large number of hits were a measure or indicator of content quality. By that token, “Gangnam Style” would surely surpass Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. We all know that vulgarization of science, and especially of science mishaps, will always sell far better than science itself. That does not make science vulgarization any better than science as a generator of meaning or content. Not surprisingly, Retraction Watch founder Ivan Oransky has been named Science’s Garbage Man (Muellsammler der Wissenschaft) by the Swiss Radio and Television.

Perhaps nowhere is the toxicity of Retraction Watch more apparent than in the words of its own founder Ivan Oransky as he discusses the tragic loss of Japanese scientist Yoshiki Sasai to suicide. Sasai, as we recall, was a major player in the team who worked on the now-discredited STAP stem cell work. By all accounts, Sasai was an honest man but had the misfortune of working with an allegedly dishonest colleague, and his choice of suicide as a form of atonement proved to be one the most tragic turns of science in the Retraction Watch era.

This tragedy has drawn Berkeley biologist Michael Eisen into the debate, as he lost his own father, a notable NIH scientist, to a similar tragic turn. In this case, as in the Sasai case, someone not directly involved in misconduct got the cold shoulder of the scientific community for being associated with an alleged fraudster.

There is hardly any doubt that Retraction Watch, with its undignified opportunistic style of coverage of scientific mishaps, has substantively contributed to this toxic environment. I would not be surprised if the ruthless exposure of the STAP stem cell mishap by Retraction Watch, with its significant traction on the web, contributed in some way to trigger the tragic demise of Yoshiki Sasai. It is obviously up to Sasai’s family and to the incumbent Japanese authorities to take this case to Court if they see fit.

In addressing the accusations that Retraction Watch is poisoning the scientific environment, Ivan Oransky had this to say:

“But we firmly believe that cataloging and probing the symptoms of some of these problems — in our case, that means retractions — is a good way to check the health of transparency in science.
What goes along with that is our belief that a vigorous and open debate is crucial to science. For that reason, we allow our thousands of commenters substantial latitude in their posted opinions.”

Oransky’s idea is, in my opinion, perplexingly stupid. It opens the gates for a flood of nonsense poured into the web with no restraint. Can you imagine bringing anybody into a “vigorous open debate for the benefit of science”? What kind of outcome would you expect from having a bunch of nobodies and angry people opine often anonymously on scientific matters? And who conducts this debate? Ivan Oransky? Adam Marcus? or perhaps the Retraction Watch intern Cat Ferguson? What kind of scientific credentials do these people have to conduct any form of scientific debate? None whatsoever, as far as we can tell.

Along the same crassness, Ivan Oransky carries on:

“We can always do better in our comment moderation. But we hold firm to the notion that the more robust the conversation, the better the science.”

Sure, Mr. Oransky, but the catch here is the competence and intellectual acumen of the people that Retraction Watch allows to be involved in what you call “the robust conversation”! By “robust conversation” do you mean the kind of absurd and often malicious drifting that you and your commenters engage in at Retraction Watch? Contrasting Oransky’s statement with the grotesque reality of Retraction Watch makes me wonder if Oransky is being serious or sardonically factitious. Tragically, I think he really meant what he said, as he repeated the same statement twice in the same post.

The kind of journalism embodied by Retraction Watch, with no publication barriers and with thousands of unqualified people allowed to freely comment on any scientific controversy, is actually very dangerous and very demeaning to science.

Ivan Oransky at Yale Medicine.
Sasai’s suicide covered by The Boston Globe
Stem cell work is allegedly fraudulent (The Boston Globe)

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.