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.

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Adam Marcus, Anonymous Peer Review, Blog, Character Assassination, Civil Death, Clare Francis, Defamation, Defamation lawsuit, Donald Trump, Expression of concern, Ivan Oransky, John Ioannidis, Joshua Cherry, Joshua L. Cherry, Joshua L. Cherry NIH, Post publication peer review, Post Publication Peer Review Scam, Reporting Retractions, Research Integrity, Retraction Watch, Science, Science blogs, Science Journalism, Science Transparency, Scientific corruption, US President

Anonymous peer review is fine, while anonymous post-publication review is not

When a scientist submits a paper for publication to a journal, he entrusts the journal editor with the task of finding peers would be able to review the paper and are knowledgeable enough to assess its scientific merit. The names of the reviewers are typically concealed to the author. The intent is to grant the reviewer complete freedom in his candid assessment without fear of retaliation. The system is imperfect, very much so, but during the last three centuries scientists have not managed to come up with anything better.

Post-publication peer review (PPPR), on the other hand, cannot be said to be imperfect. It is not even wrong. It is a grotesque aberration. PPPR is usually anonymous but in this case we have absolutely no assurance that the reviewer of the paper is a peer of the author, that is, someone capable of passing serious judgment, or rather someone with an ax to grind launching his or her personal attack. There is simply no editor that arbitrates PPPR, just reporters or science outsiders, like Ivan Oransky, who typically know nothing of the scientific subject of the paper and who merely reproduce a note in a journal or a piece of gossip or an opinion without adding any value. The consequences of this lack of leadership are dire for science: about 90% of the attacks launched by Oransky’s blog Retraction Watch under the pseudonym Clare Francis are either false or lacking merit, even if they manage to elicit an “expression of concern” (an illegality stigmatizing a person presumed innocent unless proven guilty). If US president Donald Trump branded reporters as a pathetic dishonest bunch, just imagine what he would have to say about blogs like Retraction Watch, where the founding reporters usually know nothing about the science related to their mini-scandals.

 

Oransky

This atmosphere of dishonesty provides a fertile soil for PPPR, where a few snipers like Joshua L. Cherry (NIH/NCBI?) strive. As readers may recall, Joshua L. Cherry has been identified by Science Transparency. Cherry is truly obsessed (read Cherry’s exchange with Prof. John Ioannidis), but unfortunately not with producing good science. When he launches personal attacks, Cherry disguises under multiple pseudonyms and e-mails, he cowardly shoots from the shadows, yet his style remains unmistakable: He obsessively insists in performing statistical analysis of large datasets with no scientific understanding of the data, or obsessively tries to reproduce data in a field he knows nothing about, failing miserably. Unfortunately, Joshua L. Cherry is the kind of byproduct that Retraction Watch and other such blogs generate. Were it not for the lack of leadership in PPPR, Cherry would have probably remained a scientist perhaps not incapable of generating interesting ideas. Yet, like many at Retraction Watch, he got trapped in futile battles against windmills.

As the Romans used to say: video meliora proboque, deteriora sequor ( I see the best and verify it, but I follow the worst). Tragic, tragic…

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Anonymous Commenter, Clare Francis, Defamation lawsuit, First Amendment, Joshua Cherry, Joshua L. Cherry, Joshua L. Cherry NIH, Nature, NCBI, NIH, Post publication peer review, Post Publication Peer Review Scam, PubPeer, Reputation Damage, Research Integrity, Scientific corruption

The Travesty of Post Publication Peer Review

 It is well known that Chinese people have a practical and pragmatic bent. I recall having asked a successful professor what it would take to publish in Nature. He replied:

“You need to do very good work, make a lot of friends in your field and, above all, make sure to befriend the editors. To secure publications in good journals it is always best to start a courtship with the editors, find out what gets them excited. This approach often bears fruit.”

The whole publishing game seemed quite cynical to me at the time. Eventually, that conversation lead me to quit science altogether.

An untold truth in science is that success rests primarily on who you know, rather than on the merits of your work. Not surprisingly, the mechanism to protect the integrity of research reporting, the peer review (PR) system, has turned into a true scam, corrupt to the marrow. The anonymity of the PR process, implemented originally to guarantee freedom of opinion, in practice has become a vehicle for reviewers to promote their self-serving agenda, encouraging ax-grinding by the author’s competitors and complacency by the author’s friends. Editors contribute substantively to the scam by cherry-picking reviewers for the authors they like and rejecting papers without even sending them out for review (often to reduce their workload) whenever the author is not perceived as influential enough to bring them some benefit by treating him well.

If PR is a scam, post-publication peer review (PPPR) is a travesty to a grotesque degree. Here we don’t even know if the reviewers are the actual peers of scientists or simply angry frustrated people trying to bring down the authors. Our own polls conducted on 11 scientific publishers reveal that over 90% of anonymous PPPR is not pursued by the journals after it is found to be frivolous.  At least in PR, the journal editors are entrusted by the scientific establishment with picking reviewers who are supposed to be the author’s peers. But with PPPR, anything goes, as people with no verifiable credentials are allowed to hide in their anonymity to take comfortable shots at whoever they pick as their target.  At Science Transparency we have identified one such sniper: Joshua L. Cherry, the NIH/NCBI contractor still on the loose.

PPPR has thus turned into a farce where anyone gets to say anything, no matter how crass his views are. The channel for these people is the internet, the vast repository where angry people get to pour their vitriol and get the feeling that they are being heard. This matter is admirably described in an article entitled “Why Is Everyone on the Internet So Angry?” that seeks to identify the psychological root of the problem.

Of course, the root of the PPPR phenomenon and the anger it promotes can be found in the internet. “These days, online comments have become extraordinarily aggressive without resolving anything,” said Art Markman, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin.  Yet, the possibility of an anonymous attack offers a vehicle of self-realization for the frustrated scientist, and the internet enables this possibility and enables the person to be heard, finally! This emboldens him and fuels his anger.

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Adam Marcus, Anonymous Commenter, Argentina, Clare Francis, Defamation, Expression of concern, Fazlul Sarkar, First Amendment to US Constitution, Hatred, Ivan Oransky, Joshua L. Cherry, Joshua L. Cherry NIH, lawsuit, Michigan Court of Appeals, Peer Review, Post publication peer review, protected free speech, PubPeer, Retraction Watch, Scientific publication, Sock puppetry, Wayne State University

Retraction Watch, Clare Francis, the Mockery of the First Amendment and a Recent Court Order

The blog Retraction Watch plays a game both dangerous and revolting. By making a travesty of the First Amendment to the US Constitution, Retraction Watch has allegedly managed to generate and propagate slander while protecting the anonymity of their tipsters. A recent Court order indicates that this allegedly venal practice will eventually come to an end, possibly making Retraction Watch the target of massive lawsuits.

On the surface, Retraction Watch appears to be a broadcaster of post publication “peer reviews” (whose peers?) that prompt a reaction in scientific journals, motivating the publication of a note, expression of concern or even a retraction notice in case of invalid data. In reality, Retraction Watch is served by what allegedly constitutes a serial defamation ring. The ring often (not always) feeds on comments from angry people with no verifiable credentials, who are typically not the peers of any reputable scientist. These people hide in anonymity to launch their attacks. This modus operandi is of course the despicable way of cowards and is usually fuelled by sheer career frustration: “I am failing, so those who succeed must be phonies, etc.” The angry individuals publish their comments in tributary blogs like PubPeer or simply convey their “critiques” to Ivan Oransky or Adam Marcus, founders of Retraction Watch. These comments are then conveyed to the journals usually in coercive defamatory terms and often under the pseudonym Clare Francis. Clare Francis, or others serving directly the interests of Retraction Watch, allegedly threaten and intimidate the journals and institutions and use words highly reminiscent of Oransky’s style, such as: “many think of this as scientific misconduct”. This wording is naively intended to avoid the defamation lawsuit (not for long). Once Clare Francis or others allegedly on behalf of Oransky manage to elicit a reaction from the journal or institution allegedly under duress, Retraction Watch immediately jumps in and broadcasts the published note, expression of concern or retraction usually in defamatory terms. This leaves us wondering why Retraction Watch founder Ivan Oransky has been named Science’s Garbage Man by the Swiss Radio and Television (Muellsammler der Wissenschaft).

Oransky

Ivan Oransky portrayed at Yale Medicine.

As they allegedly intimidate journals and institutions, Clare Francis or Oransky, or a person on his behalf, brings up PubPeer “investigations”, as if PubPeer were reporting investigations carried out by scientific peers. This in itself constitutes a gross distortion of reality. Thus, the Oransky clique allegedly intimidates the journals within a defamatory context that includes wording like “many people believe this constitutes misconduct”. Not surprisingly, many of these accusations prove to be incorrect, as PubPeer contributors are usually not scientific peers. Yet, a damage is done to the scientist reputation as Retraction Watch hastily publishes the journal reaction it has allegedly elicited through intimidation and coercion.

Most of the time (not always), the Retraction Watch tipsters only have a vested interest in harming the person they target. A case in point is Joshua L. Cherry, a presumed NIH software contractor embarked in a crusade against a specific researcher. The dishonesty of these tipsters is evidenced by the fact that they operate hiding in anonymity as they seek to destroy careers by feeding into Oransky’s blog. Joshua Cherry and others go even further: They seek institutional involvement and immediately inform Retraction Watch on any reaction. Oransky or his cohort of angry people (including the tipsters) then allegedly coerce the journals and institutions seeking to elicit a quick reaction which Oransky (Clare Francis, etc.) demands must be published. Once this is done, the note (expression of concern, correction request, etc.) is immediately disseminated to the general public by the blog Retraction Watch sometimes within a libelous context. This is done even before the results of a formal investigation are known or the validity of the accusations is scientifically established. The alleged slandering is serially committed by Retraction Watch and its associated ring and pipelined along the PubPeer – Oransky axis.

Recent developments, specifically, a court order, suggest that this alleged venality may soon come to an end, with dire consequences for Retraction Watch and its cohort. Prof. Fazlul Sarkar is a professor at Wayne State University who may have lost a generous job offer because of scathing comments about his research posted on PubPeer and channeled into the Retraction Watch defamatory apparatus. His attorney 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 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.”

No kidding! This statement cannot pass even the most basic scrutiny! 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 may just be the pseudonym for an angry person who hates Fazlul Sarkar or someone with a vested interest in his downfall (like the Retraction Watchers). There is not a shred of evidence that the reported anomalies were detected by a competent scholar, that they are scientifically sound or that they were generated by anybody even coming close to be named a peer of Fazlul Sarkar.

b)      Where is the proof that Clare Francis is reporting on a matter of public interest? It could just be that Clare 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 is surely a personal matter, not a matter of public interest.

c)       How do we know the slanderer of Prof. Sarkar is being honest? He is most likely 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 like the US.

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 attacking? Clare Francis is not revealing his scientific credentials! Strikingly some journals took him seriously and a few still do.

e)      Given that the person using Clare Francis pseudonym is most likely dishonest, and not a scientific peer of Dr. Sarkar, we obviously cannot assert that the case weakens the foundation of scientific research in any way.

We remain hopeful that the alleged serial defamation ring and venal operation described in this post will soon be brought to justice. With the help of the journals that have been contacted by Clare Francis (or others serving the interests of Retraction Watch) we would be in an ideal position to recruit the necessary elements for formidable lawsuits that will bring to a halt this abominable practice.

RECENT COMMENT

LIPING XIE says:

First and foremost, who says PubPeer contributors are scientific peers of anyone??? Nobody has verified whether they really are!!! This is complete nonsense and the way Retraction Watch harvests and uses the PubPeer feedback is absolutely revolting!

UPDATE FROM MAY 24, 2015

It is odd that we continue to have this discussion on these nobodies taking shots at people doing research, Cardiff University in the UK already led the way and did the right thing. Its policy now in place as described here enables automatic dismissal of all the incognito attacks from PubPeer, Clare Francis, Ivan Oransky and their associated haters!

 

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Argentina, Ariel Fernandez, Ariel Fernandez book, Ariel Fernandez Publications, Ariel Fernandez Research, Dehydron, 阿列尔·费尔南德斯, Hasselmann Professor at Rice University, Joshua Cherry, Joshua L. Cherry, Joshua L. Cherry NIH, Michael Lynch, Nature, Nature Addenda, NIH, Republic of China, Rice University News, Sze-Bi Hsu, Taiwan, Tsing-Hua University, Wen-Hsiung Li

The Nature-Related Research by Ariel Fernandez at the Republic of China

“Residents and interns worked a lot of hours, and I wrote honestly about what it was like to be an intern. One of the deans wasn’t crazy about that. It reminded me that my core identity is as a journalist, constantly challenging things…Blogs are powerful and lower the publishing barrier.”
Ivan Oransky

This post constitutes a bit of a digression but a justified one since the research I intend to discuss served as the basis for a professional paper recently exposed by junk journalism (see our previous entry). Here I vindicate Professor Ariel Fernandez (阿列尔·费尔南德斯), the discoverer of the dehydron (脱水元) and a remarkably creative and imaginative physical chemist and mathematician -as attested by his publications– who recently had his share of spats with the blog-based junk journalism. I am specifically referring to the coverage of the so-called “post-publication peer review” of one of the doctor’s papers in Nature (see the previous post). This paper was challenged by Joshua Cherry, a person of unreported and unverified employment at NIH. Joshua Cherry corresponded extensively with Ariel Fernandez before deciding to operate hiding in anonymity once Dr. Fernandez alerted him that he needed to learn the subject before writing reviews. The blog-based type of journalism that covered the Nature story is completely unedited, not subject to scientific peer review and not subject to the most elementary standards of science. Driven by angry nobodies seeking notoriety, the Marcus-Oransky blog lies outside the scientific establishment, actually doing a disservice to science. Internet enables the exchange of information at unprecedented levels, but it also enables any person, however deranged, to pour his or her madness, and make it universally accessible without even having to disclose his or her identity. Fortunately, the majority of scientists do not take such journalism any more seriously that they would take a blog on the healing powers of the pyramids.

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

Dr. Ariel Fernandez is no stranger to Chinese audiences (Wikipedia Biosketch for Ariel Fernandez in Mandarin). I first became acquainted with him in 2008, when he delivered a lecture (poster and announcement below) at the Genomics Research Center in Academia Sinica, Republic of China. His host at the time was none other than Wen-Hsiung Li, the James Watson Professor at the University of Chicago and a towering figure in the field of molecular evolution. On that occasion, Ariel Fernandez lectured on the exploitation of evolutionary concepts to optimize drug design, an extremely original idea. The lecture introduced the key concept of dehydron, a sticky structural defect in proteins that is not conserved across homologous proteins. This lack of conservation makes dehydrons crucial selectivity filters for drug discovery, an idea later fleshed out in Ariel Fernandez’s first book “Transformative Concepts for Drug Design: Target Wrapping“. It was a mesmerizing lecture.

Ariel Fernandez lectures at Academia Sinica

Ariel Fernandez lecture announcement

Our second encounter took place in Hsinchu the next year, in 2009, when Ariel Fernandez began a series of visits to the National Tsing-Hua University sponsored in part by the Ministry of Education of the Republic of China (see illustration below). These visits hosted by Mathematics professor Sze-Bi Hsu led to the maturation of a revolutionary idea: introducing insights from structural biology into evolutionary biology, turning the latter more quantitative and precise. These thoughts eventually led to the Nature paper formerly coauthored by Michael Lynch. The seminal ideas by Ariel Fernandez at the National Tsing-Hua University, together with their ramifications in the field of aberrant aggregation-related disease, were enthusiastically reviewed at that institution, as shown in their “high-scope article” here.

Ariel Fernandez at Tsing-Hua University

Ironically, it was Michael Lynch who heralded these discoveries in auspicious terms. Thus, in 2009, Lynch had this to say to Rice University News and Media:
“One aspect of Ariel Fernandez’s research that is potentially groundbreaking is the observed tendency of proteins to evolve a more open structure in complex organisms”.
“This observation fits with the general theory that large organisms with relatively small population sizes — compared to microbes — are subject to the vagaries of random genetic drift and hence the accumulation of very mildly deleterious mutations”.

The liason of Ariel Fernandez with the Republic of China seems to be a long-lasting one. We are indeed fortunate that he has become a frequent visitor to the Mathematics Division at the National Center for Theoretical Science. His lecture last year is still announced here.

Taiwan lecture 1

It is not uncommon to see him announced on short notice, like in the poster below for an inpromptu lecture at Chiao Tung University on recent developments of the ideas he first brought to us at Academia Sinica five years earlier.

Ariel Fernandez Chiao Tung Univ

Dr. Fernandez, come back. We miss you!

RELATED READING:

Ariel Fernandez, Nature 474, 502-505 (2011)

Ariel Fernandez Innovation

Ariel Fernandez Consultancy

Wikipedia Biosketch of Ariel Fernandez in Mandarin

Ariel Fernandez featured in Baidu Encyclopedia (Mandarin)

Ariel Fernandez Scientist/Consultant

Ariel Fernandez Blog

Ariel Fernandez Book

Ariel Fernandez CV

Ariel Fernandez Google Scholar Citations

Ivan Oransky at Yale Medicine

Ariel Fernandez New Book (June 14, 2015)

 

Baidu 3

Ariel Fernandez featured in Baidu Encyclopedia.

 

RECENT COMMENTS (SEARCH UNDER COMMENTS)

LIPING says:
I love your inclusion of Oransky’s quote. In plain English it reads: SCIENCE IS HARD, TRASHING IT, AS WE DO AT RETRACTION WATCH, IS SO MUCH EASIER!
DECEMBER 6, 2014 AT 11:07 PM

WEISHI MENG says:
That is the translation, yes. Sad and tragic. It takes all kinds, I guess…
DECEMBER 6, 2014 AT 11:16 PM

TOBY says:
The towering Dr. Ariel Fernández is very good looking (was he photographed by El Greco or does he really share the build of a Mantis religiosa?), and Oransky is clearly a nasty bon viveur, jealous of the big man and who needs to start jogging if he wants to compete in the same scientific and glamorous world as our hero.
Also Oransky, learn one thing: one always has a better side for the pictures. Discover which one is yours and use it in all photos. Learn something from the aristos you good for nothing former headshrink!
DECEMBER 9, 2014 AT 1:38 PM

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