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.

 

InBev+Baillet+Latour+Awards+de+la+Sante+2013+rT6H1wjTGQHl

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.

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Cancer Research, Carlo Croce, Character Assassination, Civil Death, Clare Francis, Data Fabrication, Data Falsification, Defamation, Defamation lawsuit, First Amendment to US Constitution, Fraud, Ivan Oransky, National Institutes of Health, New York Times, NIH, NIH funding, Office of Research Integrity, Ohio State University, Paul S. Thaler, protected free speech, Research misconduct, Retraction Watch, Scientific corruption, Scientific publication

Stellar cancer researcher Carlo Croce falls from grace: hypocrisy in science

Last week The New York Times published a front-page story entitled “Years of Ethics Charges but Star Cancer Researcher Gets a Pass“.  The article grossly disparages Prof. Carlo Croce, a towering figure in cancer biology and genetics, and his home institution, The Ohio State University. It describes in some detail multiple accusations of misconduct and malfeasance that have been targeting Croce for years.

bio_croce

Dr. Carlo M. Croce, Ohio State University

We are told that Croce has been dodging grave allegations that he falsified data in research supported by more than $86 million in federal grants that have been awarded to him. The investigative task of the Times reporters was greatly facilitated by the fact that the records at Ohio’s courthouses and its university system are completely open to the public. And Ohio State University, which claims it had spent more money supporting Dr. Croce’s research than it had received in grants, was apparently totally responsive to requests for records.

The big problem with all this is that to this day there is no hard evidence of misconduct implicating Croce. Ohio State had repeatedly investigated Croce and cleared him of wrongdoing every single time. How disinterested these investigations were is of course a matter of debate.

Since Dr. Carlo Croce has not been proven guilty of misconduct by the preponderance of evidence, the public does not have the right to know about these investigations and he must be presumed innocent. The integrity of Croce’s career should have been protected. The New York Times article is actionable in Court.

The most astonishing aspect of the story is that neither government agencies nor Ohio State believed Croce would be seriously investigated for misconduct, since he is one of Ohio State biggest rainmakers. This bespeaks of a system corrupt to the marrow and draws a lesson that epitomizes the level of hypocrisy that plagues the science establishment.

Of course we wonder who sent James Glanz, the Times reporter, the documents that appeared in Mr. Glanz’s email inbox, in what his collaborator Agustin Armendariz calls three big dumps. This is anyone’s guess. The Times story mentions Clare Francis, the pseudonym for an agent for the blog Retraction Watch, whose brash nauseating style is reminiscent of Ivan Oransky’s writing…

In any case, that would be discovered in Court if and when Dr. Carlo M. Croce decides to take legal action.

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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.

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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.

Oransky
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.

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

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Adam Marcus, Anonymous Commenter, Cat Ferguson, Character Assassination, Clare Francis, Data Fabrication, Data Falsification, Fazlul Sarkar, Fraud, Information source, Ivan Oransky, Joshua Cherry, lawsuit, NCBI, NIH, NLM, Office of Research Integrity, Peer Review, Post publication peer review, protected free speech, PubMed, PubMed Commons, PubPeer, PubPeer lawsuit, Research Integrity, Retraction Watch, Science, Scientific Misconduct, Transparency, Wayne State University

Aberrant Post Publication Peer Review at Retraction Watch and PubPeer

While most scientists were skeptical from the start, some science writers heralded the self-published blog Retraction Watch as a beacon for scientific transparency. They were wrong. Without any solid standards for scientific critique, the blog degenerated in no time into a grisly predator of scientific misfortune. As the saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and Retraction Watch quickly became the Asian carp of scientific reporting.

Much as I tried, it is truly hard to find today anything lofty or elevating about Retraction Watch, as the blog preys ruthlessly and relentlessly on science errors and career mistakes. They never take the high ground but instead keep indulging in the petty smearing of scientists’ reputations. When I say that there is nothing dignified about this blog, I mean it. Get a taste of their style right from the pen of Adam Marcus and Ivan Oransky, the Retraction Watch founders, from their contribution to The Scientist:

“…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.)”

I suppose one can simply argue this is in poor taste. I and others find this writing truly degrading.

Today Retraction Watch published an extensive defense of their partner PubPeer recently sued by Dr. Fazlul Sarkar, a Professor at Wayne State University. The logic of the defense by Retraction Watch is so aberrant that it barely calls for analysis. Yet, I will take up the opportunity to reflect on the dangers of Post Publication Peer Review (PPPR) which, at the hands of Retraction Watch and PubPeer, has become a travesty of peer review, posing a threat to the scientific establishment.

With the advent of NIH PubMed Commons as a venue for PPPR, it is likely -let us hope- that PubPeer and Retraction Watch will soon be driven to extintion. Fearing his own imminent irrelevance, Ivan Oransky, founder of Retraction Watch and self-proclaimed retraction expert, hastily transferred his own articles from Retraction Watch to PubMed Commons, smearing as many reputations as he possibly could. No noblesse oblige here. Sadly, Retraction Watch was irrelevant to the serious practice of science since its inception, so this smearing of reputations could have been spared.

Retraction Watch Team
Fazlul Sarkar is a professor with a prodigious scientific output of more than 500 peer reviewed publications, tens of millions of dollars in NIH funding, and drugs in clinical trial. Be as it may, we are not advocating for the integrity of his work. The anonymous reviewers at PubPeer and Retraction Watch comfortably took shots at Dr. Sarkar’s research hiding in anonymity and publishing their opinions in the blogs. The rules of fair play, transparency and scientific standards (how about decency?) indicate that if they really felt there was something wrong with Dr. Sarkar’s results, they should have submitted their conclusions to the same peer review journals where Dr. Sarkar reported his work, with a request that they be published subject to peer review, if necessary side by side with Dr. Sarkar’s rebuttal. The attacks by the bloggers were NOT subject to scientific peer review (they would not stand a chance), and yet they became public in venues with high internet traction like PubPeer and Retraction Watch, causing harm to Dr. Sarkar: He lost a generous job offer.

This aberrant miscarriage where a disreputable source tarnishes (in the eyes of some) the reputation of a scientist is all too common. It invites some basic questions about PPPR, as it is practiced by Retraction Watch and PubPeer:

1) Why did the commenters conceal their identity? Psychology 101: Because they fear and are ashamed to expose their insignificance relative to a scientist with the credentials of Dr. Sarkar. They also hide to avoid any legal consequences while taking a comfortable shot at Dr. Sarkar. There is an English word for this: cowardness. Ironically, a modest CV is no impediment to do good scientific work. Today, as in Einstein’s days, a physicist with humble credentials can publish his/her outstanding findings in a physics journal and eventually rise to stardom.

2) Why did the commenters avoid presenting their case in the journal where the original research was published? Because they knew they would not stand a chance (they knew they could not pass peer review in any decent journal) and because any serious journal would request that they disclose their identity.

3) What is the motivation for attacking researchers hiding in anonymity using self-published blogs? Simply put, such blogs have a huge traction in internet, as vulgarization of science sells better than science, and vulgarization of science conflict, even better, especially when spiced with exposure of career mistakes (one man’s sorrow is another man’s joy).

4) What is the motivation for targeting prominent researchers in the first place? Psychology 101: “I am a failure or perhaps something of a loser and Dr. Sarkar is successful, so he must be a phony, and I need to bring him down so I don’t look that bad myself and I feel a little better about myself”. “I can’t go to a journal because I don’t stand a chance and they would find out who I am, so I go to the blogs, that’s a lot easier”. Taken to extremes, this is the aberrant logic of John Lennon’s assassin. Tragically, internet now provides venues for character assassination, such as Retraction Watch and PubPeer.

Through a lawsuit, Dr. Sarkar is demanding that the identity of the commenters in the blogs that have harmed him be revealed, probably to take legal action against them once identified.
Ivan Oransky, self-proclained retraction expert and Retraction Watch founder, retorted Dr. Sarkar and had this to say about protecting the anonymity of commenters (please seat tight):

“If Michigan [home of Wayne State University where Sarkar works] had a more robust shield law, a lot of this might be moot. Such laws, which are on the books in many states, mean that reporters don’t have to disclose confidential sources, including anonymous commenters. That’s what protects anonymous commenters here on Retraction Watch — and we’d argue that PubPeer is providing a valuable service by publishing critiques, and should be eligible for such protection, too.”

Surely you must be joking, Ivan Oransky. Are you saying that the anonymous commenters at Retraction Watch and PubPeer are regarded as actual sources of information? Can you imagine the kind of news we would get if Yahoo would take the mob of Yahoo commenters as a reputable source of information?

It may well be that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act protects PubPeer and Retraction Watch from a suit, but surely nothing shields this type of aberration from the contempt by decent people.

Perhaps all is not lost and my posts are having some positive effect in a few Retraction Watch readers. Particularly encouraging is the following comment by a person who identified himself as Albert Gjedde published in Retraction Watch:

“It strikes me that post-publication peer “review” criticisms should appear in the form of equally peer-reviewed and published comments that are subject to the same scrutiny as the paper itself. Otherwise we are likely to get all kinds of more or less seriously considered observations, with uncontrollable consequences.”

By contrast, read the appalling reply by commenter “Scrutineer”, who practices PPPR at PubPeer and Retraction Watch. Scrutineer admits he refuses to go through peer review or “due process” because that would delay or nullify his slanderings:

“The way I feel is quite simple: Once these things are public, the more alert among the rank and file scientists are protected from wasting their time on false leads. Waiting several years while keeping quiet for “due process” to find out whether or not a paper will be corrected or retracted or – more likely – nothing happens gets demoralising after a while. PPPR from now on.”

This person obviously cannot wait to destroy others. Scrutineer wants to do it swiftly while cowardly hiding in anonymity, and of course cannot afford to wait for the peer review process, let along follow due process. With Retraction Watch and PubPeer, Scrutineer has found the ideal vehicle to defame others. Furthermore, Ivan Oransky and Adam Marcus (the other towering figure in retraction reporting) will appreciate the valuable source of information that Scrutineer provides with this kind of comment and protect his anonymity as reporters are not obliged to reveal their sources!

I think this is the paroxism of aberration. It just cannot get any worse than this.

PubPeer and Retraction Watch are loose cannons in the internet. They will soon be driven to extinction by more legitimate “fora for scientific discourse” such as PubMed Commons, a recent pilot initiative launched by NCBI/NLM/NIH. In PubMed Commons, staunch challengers of the work of others like Joshua Cherry feel more comfortable exposing their identity. Strikingly, the actual employment of Joshua Cherry at NCBI, where he claims he works, could not be established or corroborated, as it is nowhere to be found in the official NCBI/NLM/NIH webpages. While PubMed Commons is prey to some of the vices of PubPeer and Retraction Watch, at least the challengers are forced to disclose their identity and this fact alone sieves out some of the Retraction Watch zealots, while forcing serious contributors to be a bit more cautious and objective, a bit -shall we say- less emboldened by their primeval instincts.

On a humorous note, a scientist known for his witiness recently said: “Let’s not worry too much, Retraction Watch is as relevant to the serious practice of science as birds are mindful of ornithology”.

RELATED LINK: SUBPOENA ON BEHALF OF PROF. DR. FAZLUL SARKAR (PLAINTIFF) AGAINST PUBPEER

UPDATE FROM APRIL 14, 2015

PubPeer, Clare Francis and the Travesty of the First Amendment

An attorney for Prof. Fazlul Sarkar, the Wayne State University professor who may have lost a generous job offer because of scathing comments about his research posted on PubPeer, has asked a judge to reconsider last month’s decision not to release information about the site’s anonymous commenters. The brief introducing that motion identifies the PubPeer commenter with the pseudonym Clare Francis.

On March 19, a Michigan court ruled that PubPeer had to disclose identifying information about the PubPeer commenter, identified as the author of the second of the comments below:

Unregistered Submission:
(June 18th, 2014 4:51pm UTC)
Has anybody reported this to the institute?

Unregistered Submission:
(June 18th, 2014 5:43pm UTC)
Yes, in September and October 2013 the president of Wayne State University was informed several times.The Secretary to the Board of Governors wrote back on the 11th of November 2013:  “Thank you for your e-mail, which I have forwarded to the appropriate individual within Wayne State University. As you are aware, scientific misconduct investigations are by their nature confidential, and Wayne would not be able to comment on whether an inquiry into your allegations is under way, or if so, what its status might be. Thank you for bringing this matter to our attention”

In a supplemental brief filed on April 9, Sarkar’s attorney Nicholas Roumel informs the court that Wayne State provided the email exchanges quoted in the comment, and that they were between “Clare Francis” and Julie H. Miller, secretary to Wayne State’s Board of Governors. Thus, the court learned that on November 10, 2013 Clare Francis wrote:

“I am writing to you about multiple scientific concerns about the published work of Fazlul H Sarkar which have been aired on Pubpeer.”

“You can find the entries on Pubpeer here: …”

“Many of the entries mention things which amount to what many think of as scientific misconduct….”

Following the supplemental brief and after spotting the libel, the court rightly ruled that PubPeer must provide the IP for Clare Francis to Roumel.

The blog Retraction Watch offered PubPeer’s attorneys the opportunity to comment, and they had this to say:

“We are deeply troubled that a scientist who exercised his or her right to anonymously report anomalies in scientific research is being threatened with possible liability. The First Amendment protects the right to speak anonymously precisely so that, in circumstances like this one, individuals can report on matters of public interest without fear of retribution. This case is especially troubling because it threatens to weaken the foundation of scientific research, which relies on honest feedback and criticism from one’s peers.”

Nice words, but so meaningless! Let’s see:

a)      Where is the proof that Clare Francis is the pseudonym for “a scientist who exercised his or her right to anonymously report anomalies in scientific research”? Clare Francis could just as well be an angry person who hates Fazlul Sarkar or someone with a vested interest in his downfall.

b)      Where is the proof that Clare Francis is reporting on a matter of public interest? It could just as well be that Francis is simply the pseudonym of someone who hates Sarkar, envies his success, or has a vested interest in his downfall (to increase the readership of his blog), and this surely is a personal matter, not a matter of public interest.

c)       How do we know the slanderer of Prof. Sarkar is being honest? He could just as well be dishonest. In fact, everything suggests the latter to be the case: honest people who do the right thing do not usually hide, they don’t need to, at least in countries under the rule of law.

d)      How do the PubPeer attorneys know that Sarkar’s attacker is one of Sarkar’s peers? In fact, how do they know anybody at PubPeer is actually a peer of the scientists they are slandering? Clare Francis is not revealing his scientific credentials!

e)      Given that we don’t know whether Clare Francis is honest, or even whether Clare Francis is Sarkar’s peer, how can we assert that the case weakens the foundation of scientific research?

This one was an easy one, wasn’t it?

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Adam Marcus, Cat Ferguson, Data Fabrication, Data Falsification, Diederik Stapel, Expression of concern, Fraud, Hatred, Ivan Oransky, McCarthyism, Nature, Nature editorial, Peer Review, Research Integrity, Retraction, Retraction Watch, Scientific Misconduct, Scientific publication

Retraction Watch’s Fierce Retort to Nature

Retraction Watch seems to be well on its way to leave a mark on the academic establishment and dictate policy on research ethics. Its posts so often tinged by anger and resentment have gained enormous traction on the web, exposing disturbing human traits. This should not come as a surprise, after all, one man’s sorrow is another man’s joy, and Retraction Watch focuses on career failure. Thus, the scathing posts of Retraction Watch show up prominently in the first page of google searches for individuals, tarnishing reputations in the eyes of those who choose to take them seriously.

One comes across illustrations of their hate-fuelled prose almost daily. For example, as if reacting in defiance to my recent post entitled “Retraction Watch: Any dignity left?”, Retraction Watch published today another post vilifying Diederik Stapel, the Dutch researcher who allegedly admitted fraud and paid his dues to society. First, Adam Marcus, a major blogger at Retraction Watch published an ugly note expressing his outrage at the fact that Dr. Stapel was able to get a job. None of your business, Mr. Marcus! Today his pal Ivan Oransky hastily posted an even uglier note indicating that Stapel had already resigned from the job he managed to get. Oransky seems joyful and relieved that Stapel’s job was so short lived. Previously in a comment, Oransky admitted to be “very interested in the downstream consequences of fraud”. To be consistent, he has extensively and scrupulously covered all recent fraud-related suicides. Also today, Cat Ferguson, the Retraction Watch intern, started her ugly post about an Israeli Mathematician with: “You know it’s a good one when it makes it onto the Wikipedia page for “scientific misconduct”…”.

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

These ungainly posts build up a poisonous atmosphere best reflected in Ivan Oransky’s fierce retort to a recent Nature editorial on retractions. Nature’s cautious reflections contrast starkly with Oransky’s McCarthyian fury illustrated for example by the following passage:

“We would argue that journals like Nature actually have a tremendous amount of power. If Nature thinks that they “have neither the authority nor the means to police authors or their institutions,” the editors should sit down with Anesthesia & Analgesia editor in chief Steven Shafer, who gathered a consortium of journal editors that held institutions’ feet to the fire and led to retractions in the Joachim Boldt and Yoshitaka Fujii cases. One can only imagine how quickly a dean would return a call from Nature.”

Notice Oransky’s medieval tone in “holding institutions’ feet to the fire”, as if he were prescribing an auto-da-fe.

After this rant, Oransky charged again:

“And why not issue an expression of concern about papers during those years while it’s being investigated? How does Nature justify, for example, leaving the dance symmetry paper in the literature for for five years after authors requested a retraction? Unless, of course, you’re worried about losing those citations, the first two years of which will count toward your impact factor.”

This paragraph has so much hatred in it! An expression of concern would be particularly unfair because it informs the readers of an unresolved situation but at the same time tarnishes the author’s reputation. A person is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty, isn’t that so, Mr. Oransky?

I find the rest of Oransky’s retort equally revolting and simply cannot bring myself to keep discussing it. It is ultimately up to readers to judge.

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Adam Marcus, Character Assassination, Civil Death, Data Fabrication, Data Falsification, Diederik Stapel, Due process, Fraud, Hatred, Ivan Oransky, Peer Review, Research Integrity, Retraction, Retraction Watch, Science, Scientific Misconduct

Retraction Watch: Any dignity left?

A few days back Adam Marcus, the main blogger at Retraction Watch together with Ivan Oransky, published a post informing their readers that Dr. Diederik Stapel, the Dutch professor who allegedly admitted to fraudulent activity, has landed on a job in the Netherlands. As expected, the angry commentators poured their vitriol in outrage as they kept vilifying Dr. Stapel. Prominent and always loud was “JATdS”, the most prolific and one of Retraction Watch’s angriest commentators, who hides in anonymity to shoot more comfortably while waving his hand from the upper moral ground. Retraction Watch master blogger Ivan Oransky swiftly came to JATdS’s rescue informing the readers that Retraction Watch is very interested in the downstream consequences of fraud. This is probably true: as I recall, Retraction Watch avidly covered all the recent fraud-related suicides.

By now, Retraction Watch made us too familiar with this kind of grisly onslaught, often identified in some Eurasian nations as “the way of the hyena”.

Guess what, Adam Marcus? The fate of Dr. Stapel is none of business! For all we know, Dr. Stapel may have allegedly erred in his ways and may have allegedly paid the hefty prize that society imposed on him. What he does with his life at this point is none of your business and none of your angry reader’s business for that matter. Neither you nor the haters at Retraction Watch have any right to keep on vilifying him. And when I say right, I mean moral right, not the sort of travesty of Constitutional right that you and Oransky so keenly like to invoke.

As I write this post I realize the futility of the effort: the concept of dignity is simply too alien to Retraction Watch and much of its readership.

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