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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Blog, Character Assassination, Clare Francis, Defamation, Defamation lawsuit, Expression of concern, Hilda Bastian, lawsuit, Mass hysteria, McCarthyism, National Institutes of Health, NCBI, NIH, NLM, Office of Research Integrity, Paul S. Thaler, Post publication peer review, Post Publication Peer Review Scam, Reporting Retractions, Research Integrity, Research misconduct, Retraction, Retraction Watch, Scientific corruption, Scientific Misconduct, Scientific publication, Scientific Reproducibility

Handling scientific post-publication events: Legal action required

Hilda Bastian is an NIH contractor for PubMed Health and PubMed Commons at the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM). She also seems to be a prolific science writer. Bastian recently informed the blog Retraction Watch that the NLM is planning a prominent display of Expressions of Concern (EoC) published by scientific journals. By her own admission, Hilda Bastian is not versed in scientific matters. Given what she intends to do, let us hope she is versed in legal matters, or at least willing to seek legal advice.

In the US, as in most societies under the rule of law, a person is deemed innocent unless proven guilty, and any suggestion that may affect someone’s reputation without hard proof constitutes defamation. By Bastian’s own admission, only about 25% of EoCs typically result in retraction. This begs the question: What do the authors whose papers received the remaining 75% of EoCs plan to do?

Lawyer Paul S. Thaler, a towering figure in scientific integrity may be the ideal person to assist such people determine their legal options. Paul S. Thaler made the following enlightening remark:

The first thing to remember is that the federal regulations, as well as the internal policies of most institutions, protect the confidentiality of respondents in research misconduct matters.  Thus, as a matter of federal law, institutions are prohibited from disclosing the identity of an accused scientist, except on a “need to know” basis, for example, to a member of the investigation committee, unless and until a finding of research misconduct is made.  These proceedings are not public as court is in criminal and civil disputes.  It is more comparable to proceedings against other professionals, such as lawyers, who are governed by their licensing organization.  Privacy in these matters is critically important as there is no public need to, or right to know, about professionals simply accused of wrongdoing.  What the public has a right to know about is a professional who has been found responsible for wrongdoing.  At that point, the public is alerted.  But because a professional’s reputation is so important to his or her career, the specter of an accusation can permanently stain that reputation and frequently the accusation is not well founded.  So the confidentiality of the process allows a full examination before the public is made aware.  We certainly do want to know about those scientists who have actually done something wrong that impacts science, but we do not, and should not, be concerned with those who are good scientists but caught up in a sometimes very political, internal dispute.

The bold section is crucial because it implies that EoCs are in all likelihood illegal, and so is the dissemination of such statements. The public does not have the right to know about mere accusations of wrongdoing, or suspicions of invalid data resulting in EoCs. According to Hilda Bastian such EoCs are likely to be wrong in 75% of the cases. For example, pseudonymous Clare Francis, the venal whistle-blower of Retraction Watch, has scored plenty of false positives eliciting EoCs mostly in the 75% of valid papers. Yet we are not aware that Retraction Watch or other related venues have been sued yet. Hopefully, Hilda Bastian will reflect about her plans and seek legal advice before charging ahead.

 

 

 

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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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Adam Marcus, Anonymous Commenter, Character Assassination, Civil Death, Clare Francis, Defamation, Defamation lawsuit, Fake Peer Review, Fazlul Sarkar, First Amendment to US Constitution, Ivan Oransky, Michigan Court of Appeals, Post publication peer review, PubPeer, PubPeer lawsuit, Reporting Retractions, Reporting Science Retractions, Reputation Damage, Research Integrity, Research misconduct, Retraction Watch, Retractions, Science Transparency, Scientific Misconduct, Wayne State University

First Amendment Abuse: Time to Sue Post Publication Reviewers for False Accusations

On Tuesday October 4 at 10AM, a Michigan Court in Detroit conducted a hearing on case 326691 “Fazlul Sarkar vs John Doe”. As you may recall from our coverage at Science Transparency, Prof. Sarkar is a scientist anonymously accused of misconduct through a blog named PubPeer. Whether his data is valid or invalid is something we are not in a position to evaluate or debate. The focus here is the modus operandi of his accusers. The accusations had adverse consequences for his career and so Dr. Sarkar sued PubPeer in Court. The Court requested that the identity of only one of the anonymous accusers be revealed. This has not yet happened. All we know is that the accuser or accusers whose identity is sought by the Court hid under the pseudonym Clare Francis to launch the attacks on Fazlul Sarkar in what constitutes a flagrant abuse of First Amendment rights. The lawyers for the defendants argued that the Constitutional rights bestowed by the First Amendment guarantee the impunity of their clients. That is wrong, very wrong. And whose peers are PubPeers anyway?

To discuss the venal Clare Francis, we need to briefly focus on the blog Retraction Watch (the two are intimately related). This blog is run by two journalists, Ivan Oransky and Adam Marcus. Odd as it sounds, these non-scientists and the anonymous contributors to the blog claim they seek “to increase the transparency of the retraction process in science” (sic), which is an oxymoron. Initially, the founders of Retraction Watch worried they would not get enough stories to cover. So, right around the time the blog came into existence in August 2010, anonymous whistleblowers, including Clare Francis, also surfaced and relentlessly accused scientists of misconduct, allegedly in connivance with Retraction Watch.  The blog harassed, scorned and pilloried anyone immediately after the anonymous whistleblowers managed to elicit some reaction from the journals, be it an expression of concern or a retraction. Obviously, Clare Francis or the cowards that hid in anonymity immediately informed Retraction Watch (or… yes, you are right). The attack then escalated as other journals were contacted once the accusers gained their short-lived credibility with the help of Retraction Watch, and their attacks then spiraled into full defamation cycles.

This seemed like quite an effective strategy to boost the blog, particularly since Clare Francis and other nobodies have been aggressively accusing scientists of fraud and plagiarism. If the anonymous accusers were successful in eliciting damning reactions from the journal editors, Retraction Watch would get a juicy story and a chance to pillory the incriminated scientists. On the other hand, if the cowards were not successful or the accusation proved to be false, there would be no consequence for them or for Retraction Watch since the journals typically do not inform the public or institutions that they have received a false accusation.

The ungainly posts at Retraction Watch elicited by Clare Francis actions contributed to build up a poisonous atmosphere best reflected in Ivan Oransky’s retort to a Nature editorial on retractions. Nature’s cautious reflections contrast starkly with Oransky’s views on the need for immediate condemnation illustrated 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.”

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.”

Motivated by recent reports on harassment to scientists and by these troubling views, Science Transparency decided to investigate the matter further. We sought to find out what proportion of accusations by Clare Francis or the cowards operating anonymously allegedly on behalf of the Clare Francis/ Retraction Watch machine had any merit to the point that they would eventually result in retraction. Although editors had not been diligent in collecting statistics, they all pointed to a figure slightly lower than 10%.

In regards to those enduring false accusations of misconduct by Retraction Watch, Paul S. Thaler, one of the most successful lawyer in the field, had this to say:

The first thing to remember is that the federal regulations, as well as the internal policies of most institutions, protect the confidentiality of respondents in research misconduct matters.  Thus, as a matter of federal law, institutions are prohibited from disclosing the identity of an accused scientist, except on a “need to know” basis, for example, to a member of the investigation committee, unless and until a finding of research misconduct is made.  These proceedings are not public as court is in criminal and civil disputes.  It is more comparable to proceedings against other professionals, such as lawyers, who are governed by their licensing organization.  Privacy in these matters is critically important as there is no public need to, or right to know, about professionals simply accused of wrongdoing.  What the public has a right to know about is a professional who has been found responsible for wrongdoing.  At that point, the public is alerted.  But because a professional’s reputation is so important to his or her career, the specter of an accusation can permanently stain that reputation and frequently the accusation is not well founded.  So the confidentiality of the process allows a full examination before the public is made aware.  We certainly do want to know about those scientists who have actually done something wrong that impacts science, but we do not, and should not, be concerned with those who are good scientists but caught up in a sometimes very political, internal dispute.

These remarks by attorney Paul S. Thaler are very much in line with the law (42 C.F.R. § 93.108(b) (2005)), as noted by Nicholas Roumel, the lawyer of plaintiff Dr. Sarkar:

“Because the consequences of a research misconduct proceeding can be dire, the [federal] regulations impose conditions of strict confidentiality on allegations of research misconduct. As section 93.108 of the regulations states: “Disclosure of the identity of respondents and complainants in research misconduct proceedings is limited, to the extent possible, to those who need to know, consistent with a thorough, competent, objective and fair research misconduct proceeding, and as allowed by law.” 42 C.F.R. § 93.108(a) (2005). Disclosure of records or other evidence from which research subjects might be identified is also limited to “those who have a need to know to carry out a research misconduct proceeding.” 42 C.F.R. § 93.108(b) (2005).” [Mauvais-Jarvis v. Wong, 2013 IL App (1st) 120070 (Ill. App. Ct. 1st Dist. 2013)]

It is our expectation that the scientists that have been wrongly accused of wrongdoing and pilloried by Retraction Watch, or by the cowards hiding behind pseudonyms, will now sue those responsible in Court. The writer of this piece may be contacted (weishilaurameng@gmail.com) to help coordinate some of the effort.

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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).

Oransky
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.

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