Cat Ferguson, Ivan Oransky, Korea, MacArthur Foundation, Retraction Watch, Science Journalism, Sexist remarks, Social injustice, Social Media, Tim Hunt, University College London, Witch Hunt, Women in Science, Women Inequality

Sir Tim Hunt’s Character Assassination Allegedly Instigated by Ivan Oransky

It takes all kinds, I guess. Sir Tim Hunt spent much of his adult life in the lab with a group of able men and women, leaving us a precious and enduring legacy recognized with the Nobel prize. Ivan Oransky invests in other people’s downfall, trashing careers through his blog Retraction Watch. Not surprisingly, Retraction Watch founder Ivan Oransky has been named Science’s Garbage Man by the Swiss Radio and Television (Muellsammler der Wissenschaft). The contrast between the two men could not be bigger, they are almost antipodes of each other. Bring them together with Sir Tim Hunt having a faux pas and tragedy is likely to unfold, as it did.

As we all know by now, on June 8, 2015, Nobel laureate Sir Tim Hunt was invited to give an opening lecture at the World Conference of Science Journalists in Seoul, South Korea, and that same day he was invited to a lunch hosted by the Korean Federation of Women’s Science and Technology Associations, where he briefly spoke. After some general remarks on the importance of women in science, Sir Tim Hunt allegedly started to play a very different tune along the lines of “maybe I should tell you about my trouble with girls…” He allegedly went on to say that women scientists tend to fall in love with male scientists and vice versa, that they often sob when criticized, and that because of all those problems, science was better off with gender-segregated labs.

ANTOINE LAURENT LAVOISIER (1743-1794). avec Mme Lavoisier. peinture de 1788 DAVID, Jacques Louis (1748-1825) . The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York ©MP/Leemage PRIMARY ILLUSTRATION OF THE GENDER INTEGRATION DURING THE ENLIGHTENMENT

ANTOINE LAURENT LAVOISIER (1743-1794). avec Mme Lavoisier. peinture de 1788 DAVID, Jacques Louis (1748-1825) . The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York ©MP/Leema     Gender integration during the Enlightenment.

Sir Tim Hunt obviously has a naughty side to him, as do many scientists in their golden years. His mischief in Korea was probably geared at eliciting some endearing smiles from the audience. It proved to be a miscalculation that is costing him dearly. Sir Tim Hunt did not realize he was walking on a mine field. That day, he was not among his peers. That day, Sir Tim Hunt was in dangerous unfamiliar territory.

What Sir Tim Hunt probably did not know is that science journalism attracts some very angry and dangerous people, as this blog has amply illustrated. Some of these people would be naturally, instinctively hostile to Sir Tim Hunt from the get-go. Some of these people are likely to remain bitter all their lives because, down deep, they know that besides tweeting frantically and vilifying people, they would never be able to accomplish anything of enduring value, let alone something that could remotely compare with Hunt’s towering achievements. Sir Tim Hunt clearly did not know or take into account that Ivan Oransky was in the audience that day, and that oversight proved fatal for him. The cutout below reproduces what Oransky tweeted right after Sir Tim Hunt spoke:

Ivan Oransky's tweets on Sir Tim Hunt on June 9, 2015.

Ivan Oransky’s tweets on Sir Tim Hunt on June 9, 2015.

These people had the opportunity to meet Sir Tim Hunt, but what really counted for them was that they saw an opportunity to score by exposing his pranks in the worst light possible. It was a bad cocktail, where mischief met bitterness, while the attack was launched through the Social Media, dispatched with the label of political correctness…

Ivan Oransky and Connie St. Louis, whose tireless efforts brought down Nobel Laureate Sir Tim Hunt.

Ivan Oransky and Connie St. Louis, who brought down Sir Tim Hunt.

Sources:

For Ivan Oransky: http://yalemedicine.yale.edu/autumn2014/people/alumni/204173 for Oransky

For Connie St Louis: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3141158/A-flawed-accuser-Investigation-academic-hounded-Nobel-Prize-winning-scientist-job-reveals-troubling-questions-testimony.html

But, alas, reality always has an unexpected twist. As it turns out, after all the hysteria settled, people started asking what on earth have they done and who the heck are Connie St Louis and Ivan Oransky, who, after all, brought about the downfall of a Nobel laureate. And they came up with some disturbing findings. St Louis’ CV has been allegedly engrossed with plenty of false information. Ivan Oransky of course DID NOT cover these allegations or tried to investigate them in his all-about-transparency blog Retraction Watch or elsewhere.

Both Oransky and St Louis are very loud people, and the readers can draw their own conclusions as to their intrinsic merits. Just to give you an idea of who are we dealing with, St Louis recently called the attempt of eight Nobel laureates at defending Sir Tim Hunt “idiotic”. Ivan Oransky -and his pal Adam Marcus- run the blog Retraction Watch, where they trash scientists’ careers with or without evidence of any wrongdoing (they would’t be able to tell since they are not scientists). When they lack evidence, they simply rely on hearsay generated by a mob of nobodies seeking notoriety or the so-called pubpeers, who are in effect nobody’s peers. Oransky and Marcus do not merely report challenged papers, itself an absurd redundancy, but also take steps to ruin careers by contacting institutions and journals, investing heavily in the downfall of scientists. Strikingly, one of the first and most abhorrent attacks on Sir Tim Hunt was written on June 9 by Cat Ferguson, a notoriously vicious writer whose meteoric career as scientist trasher earned her an internship at Retraction Watch.  In her article, Cat Ferguson appears to be the first to quote Oransky as witness of the incident.

As the defense of Sir Tim Hunt now picks up steam, Oransky is trying to distance himself from the grotesque incident, from the intellectual Chernobyl that he caused, perhaps finally persuaded that the monstrosity that he instigated will not put him in the right light.

A Londoner commenting in the Daily Mail (UK) aptly described the Hunt scandal:

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

We at Science Transparency sincerely hope for a swift reversal of this misfortune for Sir Tim Hunt. Sanity will ultimately prevail and University College London will hopefully grant Sir Tim Hunt due process of law and reinstate him, and this because the UK has not yet receded into the Dark Ages, we hope. As it has been lucidly stated by Howard Jacobson: “A university which is a hotbed of offence-taking is not a university but an ideological prison camp and indoctrination center“. Like all people brought up in the democratic tradition, we endorse the view that the freedom of thought supersedes the right of women to enjoy equal respect to men.

PEOPLE OPINE ON THE CHARACTER ASSASSINATION OF SIR TIM HUNT (https://www.change.org/p/university-college-london-reinstate-tim-hunt-2)

P.C.A. Sims NEW YORK, NY: Hysterical overreaction to a non-issue.

Gerald Hallam BUCKLAND MONACHORUM, UK: The speech in question and its total meaning were taken out of context to facilitate a mean, vicious and abhorrent attack on a decent man.

Kim Nasmyth OXFORD, UK: I have known Tim for over thirty years and know that he is not a misogynist.

Michael Collins BYFLEET, UK: I believe those who have forced Tim Hunt to resign have bowed to pressure from a rather extreme and unpleasant group of people who should be examining their own conduct.

Daphne Gilbert STOCKSFIELD, UK: I believe in Free Speech. Decisions should not be forced by hysterical Twitter mobs. What next? Burning at the stake? These people are a disgrace and are setting dangerous precedents.

Eric Tarkington ATLANTA, GA: University College appears to have been stampeded by a hateful mob that only thinks in sound bites. This is cowardice at best. Reinstatement is not enough — UCL should be begging for forgiveness!

Dean Brickland TULLAMORE, IRELAND: People need to stop pandering to idiots.

Simon Brady SOUTHAMPTON, UK: Stop giving power to the stupid.

Christina Hoff Sommers WASHINGTON, DC: Tim Hunt made a mildly silly comment. His persecutors are the guilty ones here. They behaved like vicious bullies.

Matthew Ventham HAILSHAM, UK: I dislike intolerance of other people’s views and disproportionate responses to petty trivia.

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

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

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

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

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

 

Dr. Ariel Fernandez

Dr. Ariel Fernandez . 阿列尔·费尔南德斯

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

Much of the science reported is a-priori likely and expected to be faulty merely on statistical grounds. John Ioannidis, a professor of medicine at Stanford University, wrote in 2005 a paper in the journal PLoS Medicine entitled “Why most published research findings are false” (http://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article?id=10.1371/journal.pmed.00…) where, using statistical arguments, he estimated that the likelihood that a scientific paper contains false results is nearly 50%. His analysis reveals that under a great diversity of conditions, most scientific findings are likely to simply represent “measures of prevailing biases”. This statistical study was conducted with the utmost rigor and prompts us scientists to regard research reports with lower expectations, more in the context of a progression of provisional attempts at attaining an independent pristine truth. And please, please, let us focus on running our business ourselves, or we will have no one else to blame for the current crisis, be it real or delusional.

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

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

职业生涯

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

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

著作

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

外部链接

 

___________________________

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

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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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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, Argentina, Ariel Fernandez, Ariel Fernandez Publications, Ariel Fernandez Research, Ariel Fernandez ResearcherID, Buenos Aires, Cat Ferguson, 阿列尔·费尔南德斯, Ivan Oransky, Joshua Cherry, Joshua L. Cherry, Michael Lynch, Nature, Nature Addenda, NCBI, NIH, Peer Review, Post publication peer review, PubMed, Scientific publication, Scientific Research, Swiss Radio and Television, Weishi Meng on Ariel Fernandez

Post Publication: Interview with Dr. Ariel Fernandez on a Nature Paper Controversy (Ten more minutes added on 12/2)

As a glance at his CV reveals, Dr. Ariel Fernandez (阿列尔·费尔南德斯), the discoverer of the dehydron (脱水元), is a very creative physical chemist and mathematician, a key player in the recent biotechnology transformation. His research has been heralded in auspicious terms, as illustrated for example in this review published in Scientific American. The breadth of research accomplishments of Ariel Fernandez, ranging from abstract algebra to drug design is breathtaking and probably unheard of in science (see a linked version of his publication record). In his ResearcherID page, Thomson/Reuters estimated that Ariel Fernandez has published 485 professional articles, book chapters included. His innovative drug designs were enthusiastically received by eminent doctors such as Thomas Force (Vanderbilt University) and were also reported in laudatory terms, as shown for example in this review by legendary Harvard oncologist George Demetri. Quoting Dr. Demetri:

“The first generation of kinase-inhibitory drugs such as imatinib and sunitinib have already provided patients with life-saving therapeutic options, and with tools such as those described by Fernández et al., the future certainly looks bright for constructing ever-better agents that can be combined safely and effectively to manage, and eventually cure, many forms of human cancer”.

Dr. Ariel Fernandez

Dr. Ariel Fernandez

In a recent collaboration with eminent cardiologist Richard L. Moss, Dr. Ariel Fernandez came up with a potential treatment of heart failure by disrupting a myosin association with a myosin-regulatory protein, a novel invention recently awarded the US patent 9,051,387. You may find descriptions of this invention at: US Patent and Trademark Office page, Espacenet page, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Ariel Fernandez Consultancy, Academia.edu, Ariel Fernandez’s professional page.

In spite of this stellar career and in spite of his efforts to fight cancer and heart failure, Dr. Ariel Fernandez is not impervious to slander. In the new era of post publication peer review, where anybody says whatever they like without even revealing his identity or his credentials, Dr. Ariel Fernandez has been the target of libel. In this note, Dr. Ariel Fernandez reflects on post-publication peer review in light of a recent attack by journalist Ivan Oransky, the self-proclaimed champion of scientific transparency, who has been recently named Science’s Garbage Man (Muellsammler der Wissenschaft) by the Swiss Radio and Television. In his post, Oransky mentions a Note that Nature Editors appended as Addendum to a Nature paper by Ariel Fernandez.

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

WM: Thank you doctor for agreeing to talk to us on such short notice. What was your reaction to the recent post by Ivan Oransky (and Adam Marcus) published in their blog in regards to your Nature paper?

Ariel Fernandez: It is hard for me to understand the motivation for such posts by Ivan Oransky and Adam Marcus and for some of the comments in their blog. The story is thin on reality. It reads like an attack. These people seem angry (they surely sound angry) and probably think they will get some credit for doing what they do. Meanwhile, the science establishment is not taking the needed leadership in regards to post-publication assessment and in regards to fixing the peer review system.

WM: Why do you think Oransky dislikes you?

Ariel Fernandez: I don’t think our paths ever crossed, I don’t even know him. I heard he is a doctor, and that he is smart. There are many wonderful things that a smart doctor can do, what Oransky is doing is not one of them.

WM: Can you tell us what are the news exactly?

Ariel Fernandez: The Addendum published by the Nature Editors on my paper [Ariel Fernandez, Nature 474, pages 502-5 (2011)] exposes a controversy between the two authors of the paper, former author Michael Lynch and me. This is hardly a news item. Lynch and I have a disagreement on the data and what it means. The Nature addendum is appended to the paper at the url:

http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v474/n7352/full/nature09992.html

I posted my own tutorial on the Nature paper, including the code, raw data and statistical analysis in compliance with the open data mandate. Anybody interested can help clarify the matter if he/she so choses.

WM: How did this problem originate?

Ariel Fernandez: As I recall, in November of 2011, a Joshua Cherry, a sort of contractor (?) at NIH/NCBI first contacted me indicating that he wanted to reproduce my data in the Nature paper. After exchanging dozens of mails, I offered him a tutorial, because I realized he had little or no background in biophysics. He rejected my tutorial and from then on began challenging my papers. Now, why would a person with no background in my field decide to challenge my papers is a mystery to me. This fellow Joshua Cherry is behind the attacks on my work and my person. He seems somewhat obsessed (?) with me for some reason. Now, from what I can see, Cherry has authored some reasonable papers on population dynamics, yet he invests heavily on the downfall of someone working in a field he knows nothing about?

WM: That is odd.

Ariel Fernandez: The most important lesson to be drawn from this incident requires that we all take the high ground and ask ourselves: How should post-publication peer review be conducted? I believe there is only one way which has been the way of science for centuries: If anyone feels the need to challenge a published paper, the person should send the comments to the journal where the original work was published, request that his/her comments be subject to peer review and if they pass peer review, the objections should be published side by side with the response by the original author for everybody to examine and draw conclusions. The rest, including Oransky’s blog, is just noise.

WM: Doctor, I heard rumors that you and I are the same person.

Ariel Fernandez: Well, let’s see. You surely sound quite different from me and I don’t have any Chinese ancestry to speak of…

WM: Thank you doctor, have a good evening.

Ten more minutes on the phone with Dr. Ariel Fernandez (12/2/2014)

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WM: Did you read the comments at the blog run by Ivan Oransky and Adam Marcus?

Ariel Fernandez: I read a bunch, then it got too silly with the Meng-Fernandez duality and I took my dog for a walk. It made me sad that these people cannot seem to be able to take the high ground on the broad issues at stake.

WM: Yes, they seem to dwell on whether I am a real person or whether you are actually me, or dual realities, or God knows what. Totally immaterial, like asking whether the characters in Plato’s dialogues are real or fake and take away merit if the latter were the case (I prepared that one beforehand, by the way). So, what are the issues at stake?

Ariel Fernandez: As I see it, the only thing worth focusing on is the failure of the peer review system. If the system were water- tight, there would be no need for PPPR [post publication peer review], of course. There are core issues worth focusing on: lobbying, editor courtship, fake reviewers, and cronyism in the peer review system.

WM: Well, so what do we do then?

Ariel Fernandez: Many journals are simply too amateurish to lead in this crisis, and the absence of leadership in times of crisis, often leads to bad things as we all know too well. Opportunists take over, as history has shown time and again. A leadership void has been created concurrently with the peer review crisis and, quite opportunistically, the blog by Ivan Oransky and the other fellow fills in that void. It is a bad thing but it has managed to parasite over the space available, fits right in there. Tragically, everybody watches in complete stupor while these people run the agenda.

WM: OK, so what do we (you and me) do?

Ariel Fernandez: Well, we keep it up. We help them realize that there is a loftier pursuit than indulging in the trigger-happy nonsense of the blog. We try to educate the bloggers and commenters because we believe that there is a higher ground and that they can truly contribute. Oransky, for one, is possibly a very smart person and could do plenty of good.

WM: And the lofty pursuit is…

Ariel Fernandez: Help the establishment fix the peer review system by showing concrete failures of peer review and how we can learn from the mistakes to make improvements, how we can introduce better ways to safeguard the integrity of reported work with concrete working examples while fighting the problems alluded to previously. Above all, ensure that if and when PPPR becomes an absolute necessity, it is subject to the standards that science has upheld for centuries, since professional journals came into existence. In this pursuit there is no room for Ivan Oransky or the other fellow, or the commenters, unless they choose to get serious about fixing the system and stop being silly. Vulgarization of career mistakes and tragic turns of fortune is not going to get them anywhere (except in the eyes of the angry mob of losers in science who invest in the downfall of the winners). They need to help device clever ways to deal with and combat scientific corruption at its root.

WM: My pleasure again doctor, enjoy the rest of the day.

RELATED READING:

Ariel Fernandez and Michael Lynch (2011) Nature 474, 502-505

Disclaimer by Ariel Fernandez

Ariel Fernandez complete CV updated May 18, 2015

Ariel Fernandez featured in Baidu Encyclopedia (Mandarin)

Books by Ariel Fernandez

Ariel Fernandez at ResearchGate

Curriculum Vitae for Ariel Fernandez

The Peer Review Crisis by Ariel Fernandez

Rice University Faculty Catalogue

Ariel Fernandez Consultancy

Transformative Concepts for Drug Design: Target Wrapping, Book by Ariel Fernandez, Springer, 2010

Ariel Fernandez Professional Website

Biomedical Research by Ariel Fernandez, NIH

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Adam Marcus, Anonymous Commenter, Cat Ferguson, Character Assassination, Corruption, Data Fabrication, Data Falsification, Hilda Bastian, Ivan Oransky, JATdS, Joshua Cherry, Leonid Schneider, Mass hysteria, Misconduct, NCBI, NIH, Peer Review, Post publication peer review, PubMed, PubMed Commons, Reporting Retractions, Reporting Science Retractions, Research Integrity, Retraction Watch, Retractions, Science, Scientific corruption, Scientific Misconduct, Scientific publication, Scientific Research, Suicide, Transparency

Retraction Watch tracks down scientific corruption. Huh?

We would like to believe that people associated with the practice of science regard the process of tracking down corruption in research as a worthy undertaking. We better be careful with what exactly we wish for because the emerging picture, as it stands today, is looking ugly and getting uglier: Corruption is far more frequent than we would like to admit and, depending on where you draw the line, the indicators show that it is probably rampant. In this regard, a great piece on reproducibility by science writer Philip Ball is particularly enlightening.

Be as it may, efforts to track down corruption appear to be ill fated, poorly conceived, with some of the players even more corrupt than the subjects they choose to condemn. In principle, post-publication peer review (PPPR) is a plausible vehicle to track down corruption when the latter is detectable in published research. In practice, PPPR has turned into a rogue operation driven by losers seeking to elevate themselves by bringing down established figures while creating the perception they are doing something useful. Unfortunately, the scientific establishment will need to get out of its lethargy and, until that happens, PPPR will remain mostly in the hands of blogs run by nobodies seeking notoriety.

Perhaps the most grotesque of these blogs – and by far the loudest – is the self-published Retraction Watch. This blog is run by Ivan Oransky and Adam Marcus, two self-proclaimed experts on retractions, science reporting complications, career-related suicides and other tragedies associated with corruption. These towering figures are assisted by Cat Ferguson, a formidable writer whose ability to report on corruption tragedies earned her an internship at Retraction Watch (they even got a bit of money contributed by their commenters).

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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