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DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: derekb.lowe@gmail.com Twitter: Dereklowe

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June 27, 2014

Varieties of Scientific Deception

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Posted by Derek

Some may remember a paper from 2011 on the "reverse click" reaction, an interesting one where triazoles were pulled apart with mechanical force. This was an interesting system, because we really know surprisingly little, down on the molecular level, about what happens when bonds are physically stressed in this way. What do molecular orbitals look like when you grab both ends of the molecule and tug hard? Which bonds break first, and why? Do you get the reverse of the forward reaction, or do different mechanisms kick in (free radical intermediates, etc.)? (Note that the principle of microscopic reversibility doesn't necessarily apply when the conditions change like this).

Unfortunately, there seems to be trouble associated with this example. Science has an editorial "expression of concern" on the paper now, and it appears that much of it is not, in fact, reproducible (see this report in C&E News).

The paper was from the Bielawski lab at UT-Austin, and Bielawski is reported as saying that a former group member has confessed to manipulating data. But he also says that the conclusions of the paper are unchanged, which is interesting. My guess is that the "unclick" does happen, then, but nowhere as smoothly as reported. Someone may have sweetened things to make it all look better. At any rate, a correction is coming soon in Science, so we should get more information at that point.

This reminds me of the scheme I use to rate political and economic corruption. Stage I is paying someone off to do something they wouldn't normally do (or aren't authorized to do) for you. This happens everywhere, to some extent. Stage II is when you're bribing them just to do the job they're supposed to be doing in the first place. Many countries suffer from institutional cases of this, and it's supremely annoying, and a terrible drag on the economy. And Stage III, the worst, is when you're paying them not to harm you - a protection racket with the force of law behind it. Cynics may adduce examples from the US, but I'm thinking about countries (Russia, among others) where the problem is far worse.

Similar levels apply to fakery in the scientific literature. Here's how I break it down:

Stage I is what we may have in this case: actual conclusions and effects are made to look cleaner and better than reality. Zapping solvent peaks in the NMR is a perfect small-scale example of this - for organic chemists, solvent peaks are sometimes the training wheels of fakery. The problem is, once you're used to altering data, at what point do you find it convenient to stop? It's far better not to take that first step into matters-of-degree territory.

Stage II is unfortunately common as well, and there's a nice slippery path from Stage I that can land you here. This is when you're convinced that your results are correct, but you're having such a hard time getting things to work that you decide to "fake it until you make it". That's a stupendously bad idea, of course, because a lot of great results were never real in the first place, which leaves you hung out to dry, and even the ones that can be finally filled in don't have to do so in the way that you were faking them to happen. So now a real result is tainted by deception, which will call the whole thing into doubt when the inconsistencies become clear. And faked results are faked results, even if they're done in what you might think is a good cause. Many big cases of scientific fraud have started off this way, with someone just trying to fill in that one little gap, just for now.

Stage III, the bottom, is when something is faked from beginning to end. There was no question of it even working in the first place - it never did. Someone's just trying to get a paper, or a degree, or tenure, or fame, or something, and they're taking the shortcut. I think that there are two main classes of fakery in this category. In one group (IIIa?), you have people whipping up bogus results in low-profile cases where no one may notice for years, if ever, because no one cares. And you have IIIb, the famous high-profile cases (see Jan-Hendrik Schön, among too many others) where impressive, splashy, look-at-that stuff turns out to have been totally faked as well. Those cases are a study in human psychology. If you report a big result in superconductors, stem cells, cancer therapy or any other field where a lot of smart, competent people are paying very close attention, you will be found out at some point. How can you not be? We're in Bernie Madoff territory here, where someone comes into work every day of every week knowing that their whole reputation is a spray-painted scrim of deception that could have a hole punched through it any minute. How people can possibly live this way I don't really know, but people do. The self-confidence displayed by this sort of personality is a wonder of nature, in its way. IIIa cases are initiated by the desperate, stupid, and/or venal. IIIb cases, though, are brought on by people born to their task.

Update: as pointed out by several good comments, there are plenty of not-quite-fraud sins that neighbor these. Those are worth a separate post, partly because they're even more common than straight-up fraud.

Comments (53) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: The Dark Side | The Scientific Literature


COMMENTS

1. Wage_Slave on June 27, 2014 7:49 AM writes...

So was 'Cold Fusion' a II or a III then?

Permalink to Comment

2. Polyamine on June 27, 2014 7:57 AM writes...

Not sure if this story has been covered here but there is an interesting set of papers in Cell discussing the polyamine norspermidine. Losick Cell 2012 and Michael Cell 2014. It is worth reading the two and forming your own opinion (warning: biology heavy).

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3. anonymous on June 27, 2014 8:32 AM writes...

Dear Derek,
I’ve enjoyed reading your blog for many years (as well as enjoyed speaking to you on one occasion), and I beg you – do not lend your hand in ideological wars. I followed the link in this posting and read what you’ve written about corruption in Russia, as well as “Russian regulatory agencies that might enforce a little-known tax law” on dissenters. The validity of these statements is about as high as validity of warm and fuzzy feelings in regards to 100% efficient natural cures. How many people do you know who run a business in Russia? Did you carry out any research on the topic? Do you speak/read Russian? (You kind of have to be able to do that if you want to rely on primary data, and not on the highly qualified opinions of journalists from BBC or CNN). I understand it is your assumption that Russia is a horrible oppressive country because you were told so for many decades. You are a scientist – please try to recognize the fact that you are not immune to externally imposed negative bias.

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4. Derek Lowe on June 27, 2014 8:59 AM writes...

#3 anonymous: I don't mean to single Russia out - there are many countries around the world where the state does these sorts of things. China has its own problems in this line, for example, and greater or lesser examples occur around the world. But I do know some Russians, and I don't think it's controversial to express the opinion that the government and business worlds there have become particularly entangled in the Putin era. Here in the US, there are wealthy business owners who worked hard against Bush, and there are wealthy business owners who have worked hard against Obama. Wealthy business owners in Russia who have worked hard against Putin tend to have a harder time of it.

But like you, I don't want to end up having a big political discussion. I don't find my statements to be particularly provocative or out of line, but you clearly do. We'll have to agree to disagree on this one. Fortunately, Vladimir Putin doesn't make many appearances as a topic around here.

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5. Esteban on June 27, 2014 9:29 AM writes...

Mendel himself was guilty of stage 1 fakery in the reporting of his pea plant experiments. His theory of independent segregation was correct for most, but not all, of the single-gene phenotypes he compared. For cases where two phenotypes were linked to nearby genes on the same chromosome, one would not have seen independent segregation, yet his data nonetheless showed it. Such contradictory evidence must have been maddening to Mendel - he had a nice clean theory to explain the great majority of his data. Even great minds are human.

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6. cirby on June 27, 2014 9:38 AM writes...

What's funny is how a failure in a project can sometimes end up as a more-interesting paper.

There was a biochem researcher a decade or so back who gave a presentation about a blown experiment. It was a minor paper (about cell membranes, I think). He started his presentation, got up to the point where the results were supposed to be...

"Well, that's what we THOUGHT was going to happen. But we screwed up our experimental design, and had bad practices in the lab, so what we got was this:" ...and showed a wrecked car on the screen.

The rest of the presentation was "How NOT to do research on a low budget." It was very well received.

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7. Teddy Z on June 27, 2014 9:41 AM writes...

All fraud is bad. For this case, Stage I, it moved the paper from maybe Org lett (or equivalent) into Science. Now think of the trickle down ramifactions of that.

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8. luysii on June 27, 2014 9:53 AM writes...

Given that chromosomes have such huge masses (in the gigaDalton range), I've always wondered if the covalent phosphodiester bonds holding them together are strong enough to keep them intact. I blogged about this previously -- http://luysii.wordpress.com/2010/09/15/how-strongly-do-you-have-to-pull-on-a-covalent-bond-to-break-it/.

I was interested in the reverse click paper for this reason, and posted about it here -- http://luysii.wordpress.com/2011/10/05/pulling-on-a-bond-to-break-it-ii. It's been corrected today

The second post also contains some work on using sonoluminescence to break covalent bonds.

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9. johnnyboy on June 27, 2014 10:04 AM writes...

I would suggest an additional category to your scheme: an experiment in which you legitimately get the result that you want, but for which you know there's a good chance the result might be spurious (resulting from contamination, etc... - quite common in mol. bio. procedures). Rather than repeating the experiment to be sure, you choose to ignore that possibility and publish away. Not quite fraud, just willfully wearing blinders.

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10. Rhenium on June 27, 2014 10:28 AM writes...

I remember someone posting here (or perhaps at Chembark) about how a first year graduate student conceived and sold this "reverse click" idea to their PI which lead to the Science paper.

I wonder if it was the same one who manipulated the data...

Permalink to Comment

11. schinderhannes on June 27, 2014 10:41 AM writes...

Derek,
I bet anonymous is one of the relatively new pr propaganda bloggin army of putin. Pls ignore him!

Permalink to Comment

12. Chrispy on June 27, 2014 10:43 AM writes...

I'm with Johnnyboy on this -- the far more common issue in science is people fooling themselves, getting the result they want and rushing to publication without doing the proper replicates or controls. To some extent this is even accepted -- you know that the Western blot in the publication is not "representative" -- it is the best one of the lot. But there is a level of fakery involved here even if it is shy of photoshopping together a dozen blots. I suspect this is the primary reason that most of what is published is irreproducible.

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13. aeon mouse on June 27, 2014 10:48 AM writes...

Bielawski is no longer at UT-Austin. He's at UNIST in Korea: http://energy-eng.unist.ac.kr/board/view.sko?menuCd=AD02001000000&boardId=faculty_guide&dataSid=3189702&orderBy=register_dt&categoryCode1=J&flg=eng

Between this and his recent perjury incident (google it), the move to Korea makes more sense. From what I hear (an indirect source) he had worn out his welcome in Texas.

Permalink to Comment

14. patentgeek on June 27, 2014 11:04 AM writes...

"The self-confidence displayed by this sort of personality is a wonder of nature, in its way."

It may be more like self-delusion; as you note, how can a rational person think they'll get away with it forever in these circumstances? I put the self-destructive behavior of some politicians (e.g., Anthony Weiner) in the same bucket. These folk seem to believe that the laws of probability and consequence don't apply to them. In extreme cases, this is mental illness.

Permalink to Comment

15. Name on June 27, 2014 11:19 AM writes...

We are finding the same problems of reproducibility in the polyamine work related to biofilm formation (and in fact, their previous Science paper in 2011 related to D-amino acids)!!!!

Permalink to Comment

16. Anonymous on June 27, 2014 11:28 AM writes...

What do you consider those that willingly or unwillingly used bad data/analysis to get to the results?

Ex: Repeating trials until it lands on that 5%, purposeful sample bias, gathering the data first and writing a hypothesis from the analysis comes out of that (and not repeating the trials) rather than vise versa.

Permalink to Comment

17. milkshake on June 27, 2014 11:28 AM writes...

Patents often contain sloppy irreproducible experimentals (put together from incomplete notebooks etc)
Patents often contain prophetic examples, to cover the patent claim. The problem is when someone starts blurring the line between a real example and prophetic one - i.e. fabricating experimentals - or add missing details "from memory" three years after the compounds were made, or "create" a mass-spec data.

I think it is very important for the P.I. to not to press the researchers to fake patent examples/missing details, even if there is a urgent patent filing deadline. The patent will be better for it but most importantly the impressionable younger people will not pick these nasty fabrication and corner-cutting habits, that they would then repeat in their research papers

Permalink to Comment

18. DCRogers on June 27, 2014 12:12 PM writes...

You've left out a level - call it "stage 1/2" - where you let your biases leak into your data, but you're not even aware of it.

For example, statistical analysis of Kepler's actual measurements shows them to be too predictable given the experimental error. I doubt he faked it -- more likely, he pre-calculated what he expected, and thus primed, let it color his measuring.

Another way your biases can leak into your work is with your choice of experiments - you may subconsciously select cases most likely to work, and avoid harder test cases with higher odds of showing your general hypothesis wrong. (Great New Reactions performed against a few variants of cyclohexanone are an example.)

A variant of this appears in data analysis when you let knowledge of your dependent variable affect your choice of which independent variables to include in your model. Papers that mention correlations between a few unusual variables and a response are suspect unless you know how many other unusual variables were strangled in their cribs outside of the published process.

(An insidious, and often expensive, version of this can happen in "postmortem" PhIII studies, where lots of markers are culled to find combinations that "would have led to a successful trial" if they had been chosen in advance.)

Point is, fakery where fakers fools even themselves is likely the most common fakery of all.

Permalink to Comment

19. Anonymous on June 27, 2014 1:04 PM writes...

"I remember someone posting here (or perhaps at Chembark) about how a first year graduate student conceived and sold this "reverse click" idea to their PI which lead to the Science paper.

I wonder if it was the same one who manipulated the data..."

Without going into too much detail, no, it was not that student, who happens to just be an exceptionally talented chemist.

Permalink to Comment

20. Anonymous on June 27, 2014 1:04 PM writes...

"I remember someone posting here (or perhaps at Chembark) about how a first year graduate student conceived and sold this "reverse click" idea to their PI which lead to the Science paper.

I wonder if it was the same one who manipulated the data..."

Without going into too much detail, no, it was not that student, who happens to just be an exceptionally talented chemist.

Permalink to Comment

21. anon on June 27, 2014 1:14 PM writes...

Over in the academic world, I have heard stories of PIs who have a look at then pick which mice from the drug and control groups to use for analysis. You can pick the more active or fatter or whatever mice by eye, then bias your data.

The problem in the academic world is that everyone under the PI is 100% dependent on them for their PhD or postdoc or a recommendation or their network or whatever and so you get stuck not wanting to destroy your PI which is your only ticket forward but not wanting to do dodgy science. This definitely contributes to the irreproducibility of academic science.

Permalink to Comment

22. anon on June 27, 2014 1:15 PM writes...

Over in the academic world, I have heard stories of PIs who have a look at then pick which mice from the drug and control groups to use for analysis. You can pick the more active or fatter or whatever mice by eye, then bias your data.

The problem in the academic world is that everyone under the PI is 100% dependent on them for their PhD or postdoc or a recommendation or their network or whatever and so you get stuck not wanting to destroy your PI which is your only ticket forward but not wanting to do dodgy science. This definitely contributes to the irreproducibility of academic science.

Permalink to Comment

23. Name on June 27, 2014 1:33 PM writes...

"Over in the academic world, I have heard stories of PIs" - surely this only happens in academia!

Permalink to Comment

24. Rhenium on June 27, 2014 1:46 PM writes...

Oh, and Milkshake raised an eyebrow when the paper first came out on Derek's blog...

"3. milkshake on September 21, 2011 3:32 PM writes...

I have my doubts about this - according to Fokin and Sharpless the triazole formation is hugely exothermic, to the tune of 50-65 kcal/mol. If you sono-cavitate and put that much energy into the system, what else also breaks?"

Permalink to Comment

25. name2 on June 27, 2014 1:47 PM writes...

@23, yes, of course. never in pharma. iniparib, sirtris... - extensively and expensively developed. of course, the managers running these programs weren't saying to themselves, "we don't know where the signal is coming from, but let's just keep pushing to the clinic and then we'll see what we want." Is it not worse to commit stage I, II, III with patients?

Permalink to Comment

26. Cellbio on June 27, 2014 3:07 PM writes...

Yes it is a much worse offense to commit when patients are involved. However, most of the industry transgressions I can think of revolve around similar drivers of behavior, fame and funding, and get found out before people are put at risk. Some notable exceptions to be sure, perhaps interpreting the Vioxx CV risk being attributed to lower than historical placebo arm rates. Other I know of are owned up to eventually but with manipulated timing that enables execs to make bonuses and sell stock before coming clean.

Can't escape human psychology, it happens everywhere not just academia. However, I am glad to work in a regulated environment and happy to go through the most thorough diligence prior to funding, as this fits me better than the hopeful aspirations common in academic papers and grants. There is a place for that too, but overplaying the 'potentially huge potential' of work sidles one up pretty close to type I transgressions.

Permalink to Comment

27. Anon on June 27, 2014 3:47 PM writes...

Well if it wasn't the first year grad student (at the time) that fabricated the data, the only other name on the paper other than Bielawski, currently has a prestigious Beckman Fellowship at The University of Illinois. I'm sure that Science paper played a role in obtaining the fellowship. Wonder how that plays out if the paper is retracted or nothing occurs at all. Pretty messed up stuff.

Permalink to Comment

28. dave w on June 27, 2014 3:49 PM writes...

#1: I am not sure that "cold fusion" is actually fake; the hypothesis that seems (to me) fit the observed data better is that there is an actual phenomenon, but it's only weakly reproducible: a 'requires mojo' reaction where the 'mojo' is not well understood... and this was not clear when the first results were reported, resulting in what an electronic signals guy would refer to "overshoot and ringing" - an excessive initial enthusiam over a "potential new power source", followed (when reproduction of the effect turned out to be difficult) by an excessively intense rejection, with "mainstream scientific opinion" coalescing (perhaps prematurely) around the notion that CF was a nonexistent effect, and the initial reports were at best noise (if not fraud).

That said, my general metric for evaluating CF claims is that "weak-signal" reports may actually be genuine, but anyone who says they have a working method of using it as a practical power source is probably a case of "stage II": quite likely in "fake it till you make it" mode. (This is my evaluation, for example, of what I've heard A. Rossi's 'Energy Catalyzer'...)

The "cold fusion" situation reminds me of an experience in a different field - a group I was working with was trying to run a hydrogen peroxide monopropellant rocket engine, using catalytic decomposition, and it was driving us crazy for a while - sometimes it would work fine, and then another run wouldn't decompose very well at all. We eventually traced it to the presence of phosphate (sometimes added as a stabilizer) in the H2O2 we were using, and found that things worked fine if we used phosphate-free stuff: we looked at each other and said "no wonder the catalyst performance was so consistently inconsistent!"

I suspect CF might have such a moment at some point - someone's going to figure out the key factor of surface morphology or crystal structure that makes it work when it does, and how to produce it consistently - and folks are gonna look at each other and say "no wonder it was so consistently inconsistent."

Permalink to Comment

29. Anon2 on June 27, 2014 4:15 PM writes...

"Well if it wasn't the first year grad student (at the time) that fabricated the data, the only other name on the paper other than Bielawski, currently has a prestigious Beckman Fellowship at The University of Illinois. I'm sure that Science paper played a role in obtaining the fellowship. Wonder how that plays out if the paper is retracted or nothing occurs at all. Pretty messed up stuff."

This person is rumored to be in the process of losing their PhD. Apparently the one "who happens to just be an exceptionally talented chemist," is the first author and didn't notice all the data was manipulated. Got to graduate early and is going on in their career. They may be "an exceptionally talented chemist" but they are also so blinded by their own ego that they can't tell when their own data is manipulated!?

All three chemists involved with this project are assholes and it came back to bite them in the ass. Honestly, its nice to see it happen every once in awhile. All too often the ego maniacs rise to the top in the world of chemistry and inexplicably get away with everything.

Permalink to Comment

30. Anonymous on June 27, 2014 4:30 PM writes...

@28

I don't think that's necessarily fair. The paper made it through peer review, and three years of being in the literature without anyone noticing the inconsistencies. If the figures were consistent with the data that the students had been collecting, but formatted for publication (maybe just "cleaned up a bit"), I don't think it would be the easiest thing to spot for either the coauthor or PI. For the better or the worse, science is based on a culture of trust. Do you scan every single FID file in an NMR and every single raw data file that your coauthor formatted for fraud? In most cases it would be seen as paranoid.

It's always terrible with these fraud cases, because a lot of the time someone does something terribly stupid which drags other people who are innocent down into their mess.

Permalink to Comment

31. Cato the Elder on June 27, 2014 4:48 PM writes...

Honestly I hope the punishment for these jokers is as harsh as possible. They waste taxpayer money, waste other people's time trying to replicate their BS and ruin the reputation of science to the point where people feel they can ignore scientific reasoning (global warming, pharmaceuticals, etc.)

Permalink to Comment

32. Derek Freyberg on June 27, 2014 5:03 PM writes...

@17 milkshake:

Patents *sometimes* contain sloppy ... experimentals.
Patents often contain prophetic examples.
Your friendly patent attorney will tell you that, regardless of what the PI wants, converting a prophetic example to a real example is a move involving high-order stupidity.
It won't be seen while the application is being prosecuted; but believe me, if the patent is worth money in litigation and the example has the slightest connection with the claims, serious effort will be made to find out whether somebody reported "wouldn't it be nice" as if the experiment had actually been performed.
The potential consequences are unenforcability/invalidity of the patent - it has happened - with the further risk that under recent Supreme Court "fee-shifting" decisions the case might be held exceptional and the patentee have to pay the accused infringer's fees.

Permalink to Comment

33. name2 on June 27, 2014 5:06 PM writes...

@31, yes, these events undermine the trust in science, but I doubt anyone in the public cares about mechanical cleavage of a triazole, or ever heard about it...the public stops trusting science when a billion dollars gets spent and patients are put at risk when bs drugs are pushed forward because everyone wants to see their clinical hypothesis proven...

Permalink to Comment

34. Anonymous on June 27, 2014 5:08 PM writes...

Here is an interesting pair of papers to compare:

A New Synthesis of Lysergic Acid
James B. Hendrickson * and Jian Wang
Org. Lett., 2004, 6 (1), pp 3–5
DOI: 10.1021/ol0354369

A Reported “New Synthesis of Lysergic Acid” Yields Only The Derailment Product: Methyl 5-Methoxy-4,5-dihydroindolo[4,3-f,g]quinoline-9-carboxylate

Markondaiah Bekkam , Huaping Mo , and David E. Nichols *
Org. Lett., 2012, 14 (1), pp 296–298
DOI: 10.1021/ol203048q

Permalink to Comment

35. DrU on June 27, 2014 6:44 PM writes...

Derek, I totally agree with #3. You might know a bunch of Russians, but I bet that those reside outside Russia, so there's clearly a selection bias. It's important to realize that the political views of Russians are incredibly polarized. It should be kept in mind that despite whatever people are told by the Western media, Putin remains incredibly popular in Russia as the positive trends on so many levels are obvious. Also, Russians are historically very critical of their own history, culture and society; so whenever a new "ranking of countries by corruption" is published, one should pay attention to how the data was obtained. If you go on the streets and ask people on how corrupt they think their country is, I bet that Russians will largely overestimate the scale of the problem.

Permalink to Comment

36. LR` on June 27, 2014 8:40 PM writes...

A few things -
I don't have a subscription to 'Science', so I can't read what the editors' concerns are about the paper. Can someone summarize the gist of what they have written?

The C & E News story says that there is something wrong with greater than 50% of the data. Does this mean a bit more than 50%, or a lot more? Time will tell.

When I first saw the brief write-up in C & E News 3 years ago about this work, one of my first thoughts was "How can they possibly accomplish this?" Poly(methyl acrylate) is a relatively weak polymer, and the triazole ring crosslink appears to be quite stable, so how can just pulling on the polymer chains make the ring fall apart, and keep the poly(methyl acrylate) chains intact. Well, my misgivings were not misplaced.

The sad and utterly unfair part of all this is that this work made it into 'Science' when it did not deserve to be there. The three authors got a good deal of publicity out of this (Check out Bielawski's UT group website, and see the numerous links to all the press coverage of the work). Well, now they'll all be getting more publicity, but not the right kind.

Permalink to Comment

37. angry on June 27, 2014 9:25 PM writes...

I think there must be serious consequences for people who manipulate data. A "correction" means nothing to me. This paper and many others stay in literature for many years until someone confesses or other labs find out there is something wrong with the paper. People who manipulate data gain a lot by their dishonesty. They earn money, reputation, higher positions, degrees etc. I think manipulating data should be considered as doping in sports. Those professors' funding should be cut for a certain amount of time (or permanently) and they should not be able to publish for some time. There is absolutely no place in science for dishonesty."State 1" and "Stage III" are not different in my opinion.

Permalink to Comment

38. Anonymous on June 27, 2014 11:33 PM writes...

Taking a look at the paper, Figures S5 and S6 are both strange and illogical. In S5, the one hour sonicated trace (green) has the same noise pattern as the unsonicated trace (black). It looks as if someone just shifted the black trace to the desired retention time and then colored it green.

The figure supposedly describes the fragmentation of one of the larger triazole polymers under sonication. If these data were not fabricated, the result is very strange because it visually implies that the polymer breaks twice, once at one hour and again after two hours. But the 2nd break would not happen at the triazoles, which would be unselective and contrary to the claims of the rest of the manuscript.

The authors also seem to realize that such a result would be nonsensical, because Figure S6 tries to rationalize the green 1 hour breaking trace (i.e., the obviously fake one) as a convolution of broken and intact chains, with a peak fitting to go along with it.

The peak fitting makes no sense, because the green peak is supposedly made up of components of the red and black peaks, which would seem impossible given that it has the same width as the original black peak (since it is copied...)

Furthermore, if the data were real, the obvious thing to do would be to analyze samples sonicated for other times between 0-2 hours, so as to observe the gradual change of the black peak to the red peak. I would expect the resulting traces to look broad and/or bimodal until near the end of the fragmentation process, but at very least there would be a continuous change in peak retention time.

These absent experiments illustrate the PI's poor oversight of the project, even if he was unaware of the data fabrication.

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39. Anonymous on June 27, 2014 11:49 PM writes...

It also appears that the two red traces in Figure S7A and Figure S7B are derived from the same source data. They have the same signal-to-noise ratio, and there is a small feature in the baseline to the right of each main peak. I copied the image into powerpoint and was able to overlay the two exactly.

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40. Anonymous on June 28, 2014 12:08 AM writes...

This one may or may not be valid, I think that the red trace in Figure 2D is a compressed copy of the red trace in Figure 2C.

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41. Anonymous on June 28, 2014 1:45 AM writes...

Sorry, the above comment references Fig. S2D and S3D.

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42. eugene on June 28, 2014 2:15 AM writes...

Name:

"We are finding the same problems of reproducibility in the polyamine work related to biofilm formation (and in fact, their previous Science paper in 2011 related to D-amino acids)!!!!"

Are you referring to work done by a Harvard group on preventing biofilm formation by norspermidine and other polyamines? If so, please confirm as that may save me a lot of trouble and I can give up on a related project. Any details would be appreciated.

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43. DrSnowboard on June 28, 2014 9:31 AM writes...

@42 LMGTFY http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3969229/

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44. Anonymous BMS Researcher on June 28, 2014 12:30 PM writes...

When I was a postdoc at a certain famous university, I had a huge fight with a faculty member. He wanted me to describe some things we planned on doing soon in the past tense, as though we had already done them. He said, "by the time the paper is published we will have those things working." I replied, "we HOPE we'll soon have those things working, but until I have actually seen them work I will not sign my name to a paper that says we have made them work." The subsequent conversation got rather heated, but I stuck to my guns and the paper as published was an accurate description of what had been accomplished as of when we submitted it.

Not fun to be a mere Postdoc standing up to a full Professor.

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45. Anne on June 29, 2014 4:50 AM writes...

Those Type III fraudsters may not be so very unusual - "impostor syndrome" is extremely common, and people who have it already feel like their career is a balloon that could be punctured at any moment. So taking such a risk may not feel like a big deal compared to the reward. Fortunately most people have more integrity and more sense, impostor syndrome or no.

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46. Anonymous on June 29, 2014 3:35 PM writes...

@9: with non-replication of experiments, I'd point out that this is extremely common in ecology, and in fact, my PhD was a series of non-replicated experiments. Considering it took two years to set up properly and one to two years to run each one, there's a damn good reason I didn't replicate any of them (and I actually could not have done a true replicate, because the greenhouse I worked in was torn down less than a year after I finished). This is the unfortunate reality in some fields, where simple logistics makes replicating experiments difficult and getting money to run replicates is difficult to impossible.

I'm not complaining, but simply pointing out that judging all science based the practices of a single field in a few countries can lead to distorted judgements. An equally good question is how to promote good, ethical work in fields where true replication is difficult and funding is increasingly scarce.

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47. eugene on June 30, 2014 2:47 PM writes...

@ DrSnowboard

Ah... thanks. Crap. There goes that project. Still, might as well finish what we got as it's interesting enough on its own as a materials application maybe, even if it doesn't work on biofilms.

That paper says that norspermidine still works, but at 10x higher concentration, but at a lower concentration it's a growth promoter... And they had a JACS paper where they had analogues of polyamines synthesized by a German postdoc that worked at lower concentration. Nah, better not waste time on it especially since I'm no longer working in the old group where I started the project and would need to get some poor sap to finish it and waster their time on this biofilm stuff.

Thanks for the link.

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48. QAC on June 30, 2014 8:15 PM writes...

@Eugene: We have a paper coming out in ChemBioChem in the next week or so that confirms that quaternary polyamines eradict gram-positive biofilms, however, we do not see any dispersion. We also confirm that norspermidine has no effect at any concentrations that we studied on inhibting or eradicating biofilms.

Biofilms are a tough proposition as properly growing them is a project in and of itself, let alone getting consistent inhibitory data. I hope that helps!

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49. Name on July 1, 2014 10:23 AM writes...

how do you separate that from killing, which quarternary polyamines do?

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50. Neo on July 1, 2014 12:59 PM writes...

@44: You are describing a very common situation. Sadly not everyone has your moral standards. Fraud in a lab is the responsability of the group leader, but it is always blame on the person that carried out the experiments. Not only because the group leader has the responsability to know in sufficient detail what everyone is doing (rarely the case due to their greed in attracting human resources). Also, because these attitudes are PROMOTED by some group leaders: if you bring me results that fit my big idea, I'll be soft on validation.

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51. Neo on July 1, 2014 1:06 PM writes...

#25 and #26 are very interesting. I would have liked to see more about fraud in Big Pharma: showing pipelines to investors with drug candidates without a real chance of approval, inflating bubbles on "promising" targets, etc. I am not buying fraud is unique to academia.

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52. QAC on July 2, 2014 10:24 AM writes...

@name: Eradication is killing so I do not disagree. In our hands norspermidine had MICs >500 uM so they didn't kill at all. We also tested all of our compounds and norspermidine at

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53. QAC on July 2, 2014 7:03 PM writes...

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