Friday, October 5, 2012

Science Corrupted

Misconduct Widespread in Retracted Science Papers, Study Finds  By CARL ZIMMER
Published: October 1, 2012 

[Excerpted] Last year the journal Nature reported an alarming increase in the number of retractions of scientific papers — a tenfold rise in the previous decade, to more than 300 a year across the scientific literature.

Other studies have suggested that most of these retractions resulted from honest errors. But a deeper analysis of retractions, being published this week, challenges that comforting assumption.
In the new study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, two scientists and a medical communications consultant analyzed 2,047 retracted papers in the biomedical and life sciences. They found that misconduct was the reason for three-quarters of the retractions for which they could determine the cause.

...Dr. Casadevall and another author, Dr. Ferric C. Fang of the University of Washington, have been outspoken critics of the current culture of science. To them, the rising rate of retractions reflects perverse incentives that drive scientists to make sloppy mistakes or even knowingly publish false data....

Majia here: These researchers, and R. Grant  Steen, analyzed all the retraction notices published before May 2012 by searching PubMed. They also looked at reports held by the Office of Research Integrity and the blog Retraction Watch. They found 158 papers tainted by fraud.

They found that many retractions were linked to allegations of misconduct - e.g., falsifying data. The article concludes by quoting Dr. Casadevall's observations on the reason for this pervasive fraud:

Dr. Casadevall: “It convinces me more that we have a problem in science,” he said. While the fraudulent papers may be relatively few, he went on, their rapid increase is a sign of a winner-take-all culture in which getting a paper published in a major journal can be the difference between heading a lab and facing unemployment. “Some fraction of people are starting to cheat,” he said....“I don’t think this problem is going to go away as long as you have this disproportionate system of rewards,” he said. 

Majia here: Before me on my desk are four books that explore fraud in scientific publications:

Michaels: Doubt is Their Product

McGarity & Wagner: Bending Science

Davis: The Secret History of the War on Cancer

Zimmerman: A Primer in the Art of Deception: The Cult of Nuclearists, Uranium Weapons, and Fraudulent Science

These titles are but a small sample of texts carefully documenting how science has been corrupted by political and financial ties to industry and government.

In April of 2011 I posted an essay exploring my loss of faith in science titled, "Losing My Religion 

I believe that good science still exists - that is, science free from the corruption of money and power - but the pressures on university professors to win grant money is fundamentally corrupting.

I think that science is most corrupted in sectors that have financial implications for the medical, energy, chemical and food industries.

Research on medical devices and pharmaceutical drugs is fundamentally suspect for obvious reasons. See my account here of how one doctor pushed drugs for the dangerous anti-psychotic drug Risperdal while receiving payola from the manufacturer:

The energy industries - both carbon based and nuclear -  are also notorious for manipulating findings.

A good example that comes to mind given the recent finding of a 4 mile oil slick in the proximity of the Deepwater Horizon spill is provided by Dr. Chris Pincetich, a marine biologist, who describes how the EPA safety tests are rigged: 

Dr. Pincetich explains the limitations of EPA toxicity testing and its implications for corexit. For instance, he states that EPA testing for mortality requires a 96 hour time frame. His doctoral research found fish alive at 96 hours after exposure to pesticide were dead at two weeks. His research demonstrates that EPA safety testing for corexit was a farce and that corexit use in the Gulf was a scary experiment.

Majia here: I've also documented how systematic bias exists in radiation safety research. E.G.:

Majia here: The agricultural industry is also guilty of fraudulent science, mainly by squelching research findings on pesticide and herbicide dangers. For example:
 Round-up and Birth Defects: Is the Public Being Kept in the Dark?

These examples demonstrate that science on critical issues pertaining to public health is biased by the influence of industry money.



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