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Education Science

MIT Professor Fired over Fabricated Data 285

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the results-finally-conclusive dept.
karvind writes "CNN is running a story where MIT has fired an associate professor of biology for fabricating data in a published scientific paper, in unpublished manuscripts, and in grant applications. Luk Van Parijs, 35, who was considered a rising star in the field of immunology research, admitted to the wrongdoing. The revelations are a serious blow to MIT, which prides itself on its reputation as a scientific powerhouse. The announcement also serves to answer the rumors that have been swirling on the campus since Van Parijs vanished from the campus more than a year ago and had his lab disbanded without any comment from the university. Readers may remember the infamous Jan Hendrik Schön from Bell labs."
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MIT Professor Fired over Fabricated Data

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  • by madaxe42 (690151) on Saturday October 29, 2005 @11:53AM (#13904963) Homepage
    They fabricate data all the time. We should fire them. :)
    • by The Famous Brett Wat (12688) on Saturday October 29, 2005 @12:23PM (#13905092) Homepage Journal
      As a philosophy graduate, I have a question. What is this "data" of which you speak?
      • by planetoid (719535) on Saturday October 29, 2005 @12:29PM (#13905124)
        Being a philosophy major, you'll find it behind the counter of your local Starbucks. Go forth and make Socrates proud, young thinker!
        • You know, when I studied philosophy, we actually had to know real things. Advanced logic, tons of history...In the branch I was in (Cognitive Science), we had a neuroanatomy requirement, and a good number of math and CS courses, which in turn required physics and yet still more math.

          Sad to see a philosophy major who thinks that he can learn it all in a chain coffee shop. Must be specializing in Continental "You want frys with that" philosophy.
          • by planetoid (719535) on Saturday October 29, 2005 @12:58PM (#13905249)
            I don't know if you took my lighthearted sarcasm seriously, or if you're being counter-sarcastic beyond my own sarcasm-detecting abilities.
            • LOL

              spoken like a true philosophy major :)
            • by SatanicPuppy (611928) <[Satanicpuppy] [at] [gmail.com]> on Saturday October 29, 2005 @01:12PM (#13905310) Journal
              I'm just tired of the crap. I tell people I studied philosophy and they ask me retarded questions, "Durrr, so do we exist or not?"

              I spent my time learning to write automata with higher Turing scores than morons like that, and routinely work with logic loops that would make their tiny minds asplode, and I get crap because they think their business degree, or their non-programming I/S degree was more challenging than what I studied?

              It just pisses me off. It's not my fault a bunch of wankers in europe decided that their subjective experiences had external validity, and that their crackpot theories happened to fall into the fuzzy area between philosophy and religion, and it really irks me when people who know better draw no distinction between the two...It's like putting the ID people and the Evolution people in the same category.
    • My physics professor said something like that. To very loosely quote (and accordingly, I only use single marks): 'You have to understand the concepts, not memorize them. If you understand them, you do not forget them. It's hard to fudge the results; this is physics, not philosophy.' (After which, I, with 40 or so people in attendance, laughed in agreement.)

      (Damn, I almost put a semicolon at the end; I gotta lay off the C# a tad...it's like crack...)

      • by Sqwubbsy (723014)
        Did your physics prof understand that his 'science' grew out of Philosophic Inquiry?
        Sure there are idiots in Philosophy, but it gave birth to all modern sciences.
      • by HawkingMattress (588824) on Saturday October 29, 2005 @06:57PM (#13906734)
        You have to understand the concepts, not memorize them. If you understand them, you do not forget them. It's hard to fudge the results; this is physics, not philosophy

        My philosophy professors said that about philosophy too, and they didn't dismiss physics or mathematics while doing so, because they fully understood how they worked. Philosophy is more about logic than mathematics or physics are. If you don't undertand that, you didn't understood anything about philosophy. In fact, mathematics and physics are a concequence of philosphy, like C and lisp are concequence of computer science, but i won't even try to argue about that because you damn 'scientists' guys are so entranched in your way of thinking that you wouldn't be able to admit it anyway.
        And that's what's so ironic: you can have a philosophy guy admit anything if you can proove it, even things like "you don't exist". Why ? because if the logic behind the argument is irrefutable, it is by all means true unless you can proove otherwise. But scientists, who believe they have the finest logics that exists, can't be bothered with all this stuff because because you can't measure it, look at it, or quantify it. They're a subset of philosophy which deals whith tangible things, but they forgot it, and believe the science which gave them birth is crap because they don't understand it anymore. Total nonsense ...

    • Don't fire them! (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Serves that Professor right for belonging to the wrong party. The proper handling for leftist frauds (aka originalist thinkers) is to give them pay raises [colorado.edu].

      The University of Colorado at Boulder decided to give Professor Ward Churchill [wikipedia.org] a raise, recognizing his creativity in falsely claiming to be a native american, fabricating a special ops military career [mensnewsdaily.com], stealing other people's art [news4colorado.com] and claiming it as his own, "borrowing" others written works [wnd.com] and in general, being an intellectual fraud. Investigations into
    • Might want to draw a distinction between analytic philosophy and continental philosophy there...If you knock analytic philosophy, you're kicking the underpinings of the scientific method and throwing more wood on the anti-science debate.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 29, 2005 @11:54AM (#13904969)
    "Imagination is more important than knowledge."
  • Not at all (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Eevee (535658) on Saturday October 29, 2005 @12:03PM (#13904998)

    The revelations are a serious blow to MIT, which prides itself on its reputation as a scientific powerhouse.

    Revealing a case of fraud strengthens their reputation. If they had let the case die in the darkness after dismissing him--that would lessen their reputation. But admitting that fraud has happened and that the school will not stand for it--that can only gain respect.

    • by GuyMannDude (574364) on Saturday October 29, 2005 @12:53PM (#13905225) Journal

      What you say is true, however, this isn't really the greatest timing for a story to break on the fact that scientists sometimes fabricate their data. This provides a rather juicy opportunity for the various anti-science forces out there to point to this and say "See, scientists aren't the pristine investigators of truth that they would like us to believe! This one got caught, but how many others are doing the same thing right now? That's why we need to keep an open mind about {intelligent design, alternative medicine, bigfoot, global warming is a myth, etc.}."

      You and I may see this story as evidence of the scientific system working the way it is supposed to. I suspect that the public will see this as evidence that science doesn't have a monopoly on the truth and maybe we ought to give those creationists equal time. Like I said, this isn't the greatest time for this story to break.

      GMD

      • I think including alternative medicine with the other topics you mention is pretty short sighted. To think that we have all the medical answers, and that there aren't other medications or treatments that western medicine might not know about is ignorant. Take for instance pressure points: no western doctor or treatment explains or addresses them. However, I'll tell you right now that there are a great many instances where accupressure/puncture can make huge differences in a number of maladies.
        • by GuyMannDude (574364) on Saturday October 29, 2005 @03:32PM (#13905925) Journal

          I think including alternative medicine with the other topics you mention is pretty short sighted. To think that we have all the medical answers, and that there aren't other medications or treatments that western medicine might not know about is ignorant. Take for instance pressure points: no western doctor or treatment explains or addresses them.

          This is almost precisely the same argument used by the Intelligent Design folks to get creationism taught in schools! I'm flabergasted that this got modded up. Yes, yes, yes -- neither evolution or western medicine has all the answers. Scientists fully admit this. However, the fact that those fields don't have all the answers doesn't mean that we should start relying on creationism or alternative medicine. You need to provide verifable evidence that sticking needles into people can cure ailments and not rely on "well, you guys don't have all the answers" arguments. Alternative medicine most definitely belongs with the other things I listed. Not because it's all crap. Because all of those things openly (almost pridefully) reject the scientific method.

          However, I'll tell you right now that there are a great many instances where accupressure/puncture can make huge differences in a number of maladies.

          Oh boy, take a guess what my next question is going to be. Can you provide references to multiple peer-reviewed studies verifying your claim? You "can tell me", huh? And who the hell are you? Some guy on slashdot? I'm going to take medical advice from User 549286?

          redfieldp, I think you misunderstood my post. Maybe I should have left UFOs out of the list. My point was that alternative medicine is anti-science. Alternative medicine practitioners apply their techniques to the public at large without scientific evidence that these methods work or are even safe. Having scientists publically outed for falsifing data is only going to provide more ammunition to those who claim they deserve equal status and recognition. Alternative medicine is welcome to use the scientific method to verify their claims. Until that time, it belongs squarely in the "anti-science" camp.

          GMD

      • What you say is true, however, this isn't really the greatest timing for a story to break on the fact that scientists sometimes fabricate their data.

        Why? Because it casts a little doubt on the credibility of proponents on both sides of the debate? Everyone but an absolute moron knows that scientists occasionally fabricate (or fudge) data, either for personal glory, or to please their sponsors.

        If you think this is bad press for scientists, wait till you see what happens to this guy.
      • by Dwonis (52652) * on Saturday October 29, 2005 @02:24PM (#13905647)
        What you say is true, however, this isn't really the greatest timing for a story to break on the fact that scientists sometimes fabricate their data.

        I would think that such people are, by definition, not scientists.

    • Re:Not at all (Score:4, Interesting)

      by debrain (29228) on Saturday October 29, 2005 @01:03PM (#13905269) Journal
      Revealing a case of fraud strengthens their reputation. If they had let the case die in the darkness after dismissing him--that would lessen their reputation. But admitting that fraud has happened and that the school will not stand for it--that can only gain respect.

      The blow is to MIT's hiring practice and peer review. An instance of fraud indicates that the faculty there is verifiably capable of fraud. It indicates that their hiring practices are not infalliable, as may have previously been thought, and to which there was previously no example to turn to. While it may not produce any overwhelming skepticism of their other results, particularly with their reaction, it does show a falliability in hiring practice, and a lack of internal peer review prior to publication.

      It is a blow to their reputation. MIT hired someone capable of lying, who lacks the foresight to expect to be caught in a system of skepticism and peer review, who is more ambitious than smart. Otherwise impecable hiring practices are tarnished by this mistake. Respect that may have been inherent and implicit to authors at MIT now stands next to the possibility fraud such as this. In my mind, this paints everyone who arrived at MIT in the same way with the same brush.

      While admirable, I do not think their reaction can actually produce greater respect than would have otherwise been there had they not hired a charlatan. The respect I hold for their reaction is different from, and in no way increases, my faith in their capacity to hire appropriately and produce reliable work. Their reaction was the lesser blow to reputation, and in my mind necessary. Had they let the case die in the darkness, if it ever came to light it would undermine their reputation, not tarnish it.
      • Re:Not at all (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Maestro4k (707634) on Saturday October 29, 2005 @06:20PM (#13906622) Journal
        The blow is to MIT's hiring practice and peer review. An instance of fraud indicates that the faculty there is verifiably capable of fraud. It indicates that their hiring practices are not infalliable, as may have previously been thought, and to which there was previously no example to turn to. While it may not produce any overwhelming skepticism of their other results, particularly with their reaction, it does show a falliability in hiring practice, and a lack of internal peer review prior to publication.

        I know this is /. and RTFA is not common but I'll ask anyway. Did you RTFA? I suspect not as there's something pertinent at the end of it:

        The California Institute of Technology has launched its own investigation into Van Parijs' research, including work with Cal Tech President David Baltimore "on problems in immunology," said school spokeswoman Jill Perry.

        Van Parijs, who earned a doctorate in immunology from Harvard in 1997, was a postdoctural student at Cal Tech from 1998 to 2000.

        From this it appears this guy has done this before but never been caught. He had a clean record, and apparently had squeaked through peer reviews many times in the past already. On the other hand this may be just a red herring and it will turn out the guy was squeaky-clean before he was hired by MIT. In either case you can't blame MIT's hiring process.

        If the guy had been fabricating data in the past and gotten through peer review then he simply appeared to be an honest scientist. If he didn't fabricate data in the past but started after MIT hired him this also isn't the fault of the hiring process. The fault lays squarely at this guy's feet. He tried to cheat the system and he was finally caught. Until a fraudster is caught there's no way to know he's a fraudster so how exactly did you expect MIT's hiring process to magically figure out he was something other than he appeared to be based on his history?

        This incident doesn't make me think any less of MIT or their hiring process at all. In fact their handling of this bests most universities. He was put on immediate leave, locked out of his lab and given no opportunity to hide his misdeeds. They spent a YEAR investigating the charges thoroughly and are even turning the results over to the Feds for further action. While they can't magically figure out someone has committed undetected crimes/fabrications they can, and did, make sure that any allegations of such are taken VERY seriously.

    • Well, it's not clear that it would have been prudent if they had tried to hush it up--someone would have found out sooner or later.

      In any case, these things do happen, and a single incidence doesn't tell you much about the culture of an institution. However, the recent blatant incidences of scientific fraud are perhaps suggestive of cut-throat competition for funding and publications in science as a whole.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 29, 2005 @12:04PM (#13905004)
    what's gonna happen to them? i'd imagine that's something you wouldn't put on a resume
    • by Wavicle (181176) on Saturday October 29, 2005 @12:18PM (#13905064)
      This sort of black mark generally means that the person will likely have to leave academia and research altogether. In research your integrity is everything. If you lie once, nobody knows if you won't lie again. Peer reviewed Journals will generally refuse your papers without reading them. No research body would risk your name going on one of their papers which would cause it to get red flagged for automatic refusal. It's a very grave situation which can't just be dismissed by "I made a mistake." The guy went through enough school to get a Ph.D., he knew what would happen if he got caught.
    • They'll most likely get reassigned to other professors, and perhaps will have learned to be more vigilant with regards to falsified data. This may be the best thing that has ever happened to them. They've seen what happens first hand when data is abused in such a fashion.

  • by Eugene Webby (891781) on Saturday October 29, 2005 @12:05PM (#13905007)
    "And I wouldn't have gotten away with it too, if it weren't for those meddling kids!" Scoooby-Dooby-Doooo!
  • Here's my take. Copyrights combined with government funding distort the intellectual enviroment so that those who love science for the sake of the sience and the persuit of knowledge are punished, while those who are paper pushers for R&D grants and getting published in journals are rewarded.

    To take it on faith that knowledge and sience would never be persued or never be rewarding enough without them is ignorance.
  • hrm... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by blackcoot (124938) on Saturday October 29, 2005 @12:09PM (#13905021)
    while it's rather alarming to see that the "best and brightest" can be a bunch of cheating bastards, it's good to see that the necessary controls are in place to find them out. unfortunately, i don't think this would ever work in my field (computer vision) because people tend to be very selective about the results they publish (i.e. they won't often show you what happens when things go wrong), choose poor test sequences (or fail to explicitly state the simplifying assumptions that made their choice of test sequence appropriate), and so on. if someone were to use sufficiently intimidating / esoteric math (especially if it were reasonably plausible math), they could probably fake a paper in some of the top journals and get away with it for several years.
    • Re:hrm... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by slavemowgli (585321) on Saturday October 29, 2005 @12:23PM (#13905095) Homepage
      You mean like this [mit.edu]? To sum up the case quickly, this is a tool for the automatic creation of fake but real-looking "science papers" (ironically enough, developed at the MIT), and one such paper ("A Methodology for the Typical Unification of Access Points and Redundancy") was submitted to the 2005 World Multi-Conference on Systemics, Cybernetics and Informatics, and actually accepted. At that point, of course, the authors of the tool wrote about it, the story hit Slashdot, and the organisers of the conference were quick to retract their acceptance...

      Still, I think it goes to show that if someone is actively trying to dishonest in the scientific community, it's not hard to get past the safeguards. Fabricating data is something that is (I guess) comparatively hard to detect, compared to an entire document that was written without any human intervention and thus shouldn't really make any kind of sense at all, but even the fake document wasn't detected. It sure makes you wonder how many people fabricating data are actually not caught and instead get away with it.
      • Re:hrm... (Score:3, Informative)

        by syphax (189065)

        There's a lot of unimportant crap that gets published in scientific journals and/or accepted for conferences (I know; I've written some of this crap). Important papers (published research that actually has implications for anyone other than the authors) tends to get reviewed more thoroughly- the whole "extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof" principle. That's not to say that fabrication doesn't happen, it's just that eventually it's going to get caught, at least for the stuff that matters. The
      • Re:hrm... (Score:4, Informative)

        by GileadGreene (539584) on Saturday October 29, 2005 @12:41PM (#13905179) Homepage
        Ok, just to be clear here, the World Multi-Conference on Systemics, Cybernetics and Informatics is a well-known waste of academic space. It regularly spams people requesting submissions, has no obvious standards, and will accept pretty much any paper the authors are willing to pay to have published. It has no safeguards. It also has no respect. The MIT tool was developed specifically to prove that the conference in question was a sham.
      • Re:hrm... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by InfiniteWisdom (530090) on Saturday October 29, 2005 @12:59PM (#13905253) Homepage
        You completely missed the point of the article you linked to. The "World Multi-Conference on Systemics, Cybernetics and Informatics" is one of those academic "Conferences" that exist solely to make money. These conferences are a well known phenomenon used by organizers to make money on outrageous registration fees and by "attendees" to take vacations at their institute's expense. No reputable academic conference has such a thing as a "non-reviewed" paper. Even a cursory reading of the papers they submitted makes it obvious that it's random junk.

        It's true that it's possible to sneak fabricated data past the peer-review process, but I think the damage is self-limiting in a way. If your results are significant, people will be interested in duplicating your results... either as a way of understanding them better or to compare against their own work. If nobody is able to duplicate your results, you are likely to have your fraud caught sooner or later.

        If your results are not all that significant, it gets forgotten and nobody builds on your bad work so the scientific process itself isn't subverted although the dishonest researcher may have got an undeserved feather in his cap.
      • As someone who works in science and academic research, let me say the following. The computer-generated paper that was accepted to a conference was hilariously ridiculous. The whole thing makes no sense. It's obvious that the conference organizers were not even reading the submissions. They were lazy. I don't think that would work for most conferences (when I organize a conference section, I definately read the submitted abstracts!), and certainly not for journal article submissions!

        The case of false data i
    • Apparently at least back in the day, Paleo-anthropology had a real big problem with fraud. Piltdown Man comes to mind immediately. They presented their evidence, everyone said, "Yep, that's what we expected, excellent work", then the evidence was locked away without further examination.

      In modern years someone wanted to run some DNA tests on Piltdown Man and got permission. While the lab tech was drilling a whole to the marrow to try and find some DNA, they smelt burning bone. Fossilised bone doesn't bur
    • > while it's rather alarming to see that the "best and brightest" can be a bunch of cheating bastards

      According to an Assistant Dean at my alma mater, a very large fraction of the people who get busted for cheating are pre-meds.

      > if someone were to use sufficiently intimidating / esoteric math (especially if it were reasonably plausible math), they could probably fake a paper in some of the top journals and get away with it for several years.

      Check out the Bogdanov Affair [wikipedia.org]. A couple of French brothers wr
  • by MyLongNickName (822545) on Saturday October 29, 2005 @12:10PM (#13905026) Journal
    84.2% of all college level professors fabricate data. I have a source for this -- I just can't find it right now.
  • I know for a fact that many scientists slightly modify their results to make them look better all the time. Now, they probably don't blatantly fabricate data like this guy, but they sometimes tweak a number here or there so on initial deposition for publication every thing looks good to the reviewers (closes holes in their findings). This gives the researcher time to fix problems in their work while knowing that it will be published in the future with minor modifications.

    What incentive would a researcher
  • "Blow" ? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Quixote (154172) * on Saturday October 29, 2005 @12:15PM (#13905047) Homepage Journal
    The revelations are a serious blow to MIT, which prides itself on its reputation as a scientific powerhouse.

    Huh? It is a "blow" to their reputation iff they knew about the misconduct and did nothing about it. In this case it is clear that they took swift action. I would give kudos to MIT for reacting swiftly. Recall the conduct of other organizations like NYT in such instances.

    • I agree. I was confused by the "blow" comment myself; they should be commended for upholding their principles and firing the guy.

      On the other hand, I'm not sure I would qualify this as acting "swiftly", as the misconduct was discovered in August of 2004....
  • by adam31 (817930) <adam31@@@gmail...com> on Saturday October 29, 2005 @12:21PM (#13905083)
    Sometimes when an experiment doesn't go as hoped, its Creator must guide the results intelligently.

    Welcome to Science!

    • by Midnight Thunder (17205) on Saturday October 29, 2005 @01:43PM (#13905456) Homepage Journal
      Sometimes when an experiment doesn't go as hoped, its Creator must guide the results intelligently.

      Actually that sounds about right, especially from my experience at secondary school (aka High School). If you do a lab experiment, do something wrong and write up the results as you observed then you actually get a bad mark on your write-up. This actually encourages people to fudge the write-up and make it as the teacher expects. This is where I would like to see write-ups marked independently of the experimentation, to give more value to the procedure and observations, no matter how wrong the results mighte be. Maybe also encouraging the students to explain why they think the results differed from the expected results, to help make up for any experiemental errors.

      We learn from our mistakes as well as others, but if we chuck them into trash then no one stands to learn from them.
      • Your school system must be different from mine!

        I won first place in the district science with an experient that FAILED. Yes, it didn't work!

        But I did good science, explained WHY it failed, and postulated appropriate requirements for success.

        It was also possible in my chemistry and physics classes to achieve a near-perfect score for an experiment that didn't work. You would only lose marks on the do-it-right part of the evaluation, so long as your write up was good and you explained your errors.
  • Happens all the time (Score:5, Informative)

    by HangingChad (677530) on Saturday October 29, 2005 @12:22PM (#13905090) Homepage
    I remember a DoE contract researcher years ago who was putting so much pressure on his techs they were giving him the results he wanted to see. But as long as he kept getting grants the lab was willing to cover it up, even though the director of QA/QC department was provided with enough detailed results to demonstrate the scientist was presenting falsified data. It wasn't just a little tweak here or there, these were completely bogus results.

    For going to the trouble of turning in the fraudulent research the tech had their phone tapped (which the lab later denied), was transferred out to a dingy little building in the middle of the desert to do menial tasks and just generally harassed until they eventually got another job.

    There's so much pressure for getting grant money that producing the results that will get more grant money is pretty much the norm, espeically in contract research. Everyone likes to think science is pure, but you're deluded if you think that. It's all about making sure you've got enough charge codes to bill your time and supporting that 200% overhead rate.

    • by william_w_bush (817571) on Saturday October 29, 2005 @12:57PM (#13905245)
      True, but I've heard of this kind of thing happening quite frequently from my friends in the ahem, military equipment sector.

      Not that they say it happens to them, but the stories are ridiculous, with tests designed so they can't fail, or so failures are marked as partial successes, etc, because the project cannot have any black marks against it till acquisition... after which the govt will gladly pay to upgrade baselines to fix the flaws over the next decade. Check fas.org, but the first sparrow missle, the first line of tomahawks, b1 bomber, osprey, bradley's, even the proposed missle shield, all were/are acquired with obvious, mission-comprimising flaws that cost billions-10s of billions per project to fix. The problem is the acquisition system, especially congress's oversight, doesn't have an independent verification mechanism to prove that said equipment works within required parameters, and anyone who tries to say anything generally gets discharged from the military for going outside the chain of command and "comprimising the integrity of a classified project", even if the congressmen have clearance.

      So if you were ever curious why so many ex-military officers found surprisingly comfortable jobs in the defense sector, theres an idea.

      The corruption in the military-industrial complex goes beyond anything we can imagine in the private sector. Actual results being valued far less than pork per district works great in politics, but tends to hurt 2 politically defenseless groups, the taxpayers who fund these nightmares, and the poor troops who end up wondering why they have to bolt sheet metal onto their hummvees while people are shooting at them.
  • Rescience (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Doc Ruby (173196) on Saturday October 29, 2005 @12:26PM (#13905105) Homepage Journal
    Science is based on the belief that experimental results can be replicated in repeated experiments. I've always wondered why the global scientific community doesn't do more replication of data as part of peer review. A formal procedure for extracting the experimental specification so the experiment is performed without the prior data included in the knowledge of the experimenter. Then a comparison by another party not performing either experiment, so the data comparison is "clean". That seems a very valuable process, in validating the original, finding differences still covered by the same theory, but available for more precision, as well as training scientists - both new and old. It seem replication for the purpose of disproving flawed theories would be the most important, and most common, scientific activity. Is the relative lack of it due to the "efficiency" of the corporate science business? Shouldn't academics be spending more time replicating?
    • Funding. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Thu25245 (801369) on Saturday October 29, 2005 @12:36PM (#13905149)
      I've always wondered why the global scientific community doesn't do more replication of data as part of peer review.

      Just try getting a grant for "Doing exactly what this other guy already did, just to make sure."

      Yeah, it actually is important, but try explaining that to the bean counters. The best you can do is propose some sort of "continuation" and include the original experiment as a control group, and hope to verify it that way.
  • ..he was caught out fabricating data, rather than letting the data the "didn't fit the curve" go unreported. Check out any medical research you like, you don't need to fabricate, just obscure...
    I love the research that shows a certain food additive killed mice who were predisposed to cancer (the cancer went wild) BUT didn't harm healthy mice.
    Simple logic thus tells us it is safe to eat. And we do.
    I will remember what the additive is.. I think you can put it with mashed up meat and the meat "gels together" t
  • by Baldrson (78598) * on Saturday October 29, 2005 @12:35PM (#13905144) Homepage Journal
    They removed his faculty page from mit.edu but it is still avaiable [tinyurl.com] at archive.org.
  • funny about this (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jaxon6 (104115) on Saturday October 29, 2005 @12:37PM (#13905158)
    I worked in the Biology department at MIT when this happened. While Van Parijs' lab was under renovations, he took up space on my floor. After that, our department(mini-department? sub-department?, whatever) provided some computing resources for their lab. I was the network/systems guy, so I took care of our machines in their lab.
    One day, I noticed that the Windows box in their lab wasn't responding and had been reported as haven been taken by the Cancer Center's sysadmin guy. I talked to a buddy of mine who sits across from me and did lab work for the Van Parijs. He called and asked about the machine. A couple of minutes later, the head of the Cancer Center called him and firmly told him to drop all inquries into said machine. He said it felt like the part of The Matrix where Neo gets the 'How are you going to talk without a mouth, Mr Anderson' line.
    That's when the shit hit the fan. I was a weekly regular at the Plough and Stars in Cambridge on Wednesdays, and the Van Parijs members made it out there every other week or so. After six weeks or so, the guys who confronted Luk finally started talking about it.
    It was quite the news in the department. I don't know about the rest of MIT, but all of Biology, and the CCR, Whitehead, and surrounding buildings knew about it since day one. It worked out well for the members of the lab. Everybody joined up with a different lab, except for one guy. He pretty much started working for himself. He's doing some post-doc work, and in light of what happened, the department just let him start doing his own thing until he finishes up.
    What I remember about Luk Van Parijs(other than that he had the most gorgeous Russian administrative assistant. I could write for hours about her. I mean, she was hot and she said things like 'I think my phone just did a core dump' Hi Masha!) was that he was pretty much a jerk. Not that remarkable being that for MIT professors this is the rule and not the exception, but a jerk nonetheless.

    Anyways, everybody thinks the New Scientist article was pretty scathing.
    • other than that he had the most gorgeous Russian administrative assistant. I could write for hours about her. I mean, she was hot and she said things like 'I think my phone just did a core dump' Hi Masha! - I am sure she is reading /. right now and soon she will reply to you with something like: -Oh! I think my /. account connection just did a core dump ;)

  • by geoffrobinson (109879) on Saturday October 29, 2005 @12:38PM (#13905160) Homepage
    http://www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=dn8230 [newscientist.com]

    Here is how they noticed a pattern:
    Michael Borowitz, at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland, says: "The shapes of the major clusters are often similar but in any system there is noise, and those noisy dots are in the same place too. That's hard to explain by biology. It is very difficult for me to believe that these were independent experiments." Borowitz is an expert in interpreting flow cytometry graphs, which he regularly uses to identity abnormal populations of cells in the blood and bone marrow of leukaemia patients.

    Three other experts contacted, including Paul Robinson, a professor of immunopharmacology and biomedical engineering and Director of the Flow Cytometry Labs at Purdue University in West Lafayette, say that the graphs appear concerningly alike.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 29, 2005 @12:39PM (#13905173)
    Noonian....Didn't he fabricate Data?
    hahahahahhahha
    Obscure Sci-Fi reference
  • The problem with falsification is that it wastes far more time and money than it saves. In addition to any actual damages (such as, in health science, killing patients), every falsified result that makes it into the scientific literature is a blind alley that someone else has to go down to get at the truth.

    People who lose sight of that, and who make stuff up to submit, are not only disrespecting their peers, they are stealing time and effort from them. For example, I lost about six months of my life because a senior colleague falsified data that I needed in graduate school. We were in the business of flying a rocket payload to look at the Sun in extreme ultraviolet light. We calibrated the photographic film at a synchrotron facility at Stanford. Our senior colleague (who later went on to become a bigwig at SPIE and in NASA's Astrobiology program) was in charge of developing the film that we exposed, at great effort, to calibrated amounts of ultraviolet light emitted by the synchrotoron. He forgot (or something) to write down which process he used on which piece of film. As a result, a year later when we were analysing our images of the Sun we couldn't make any sense of them. It took a good six months of concentrated effort to eliminate all reasonable hypotheses about what had happened, and to conclude that the film processing notes from that calibration run were simply made up. Once we knew that, we could get reasonable (if not-as-good-as-we-hoped) results from the rocket flight, using earlier calibrations. If my colleague had fessed up immediately we would have lost a few days' work rather than six months.

    In the short term, the scientific refereeing process keeps out many honest mistakes or omissions, but anyone determined to deliberately slip fake results into a paper can probably get away with it. In the long term, though, there's no escape: anything made up will either be buried (because it turns out to be uninteresting or because no-one trusts it), or found out (because, if it is interesting, others will try to use or reproduce the result, and will niggle at it until the truth comes out).

  • Common Stuff (Score:5, Insightful)

    by vectorian798 (792613) on Saturday October 29, 2005 @12:41PM (#13905178)
    Oh come on, you think this guy is the only one who did it? Let me ask you this: you have a hypothesis. You spend a ton of money from your grants and have your grad students spend a lot of their time trying to prove their hypothesis. The data you get is basically useless since it doesn't prove or disprove anything. Do you just say "New research into immunology finds nothing?" Of course not.

    We VERY rarely hear of research actually failing, when in fact we should be hearing it ALL THE TIME since taking stabs at new ideas shouldn't be successful all the time. Failure should be a natural part of research, and there really shouldn't be an urge to have to make your research fruitful everytime. Unfortunately, no one would actually do this even if they agreed with the thought - people would only expect other people to follow the rule.

    It's not like it matters too much regardless - 90% of research papers are bullshit wrapped in a myriad of technical jargon which makes it seem like they achieved something ridiculously important.

    My 2 cents.
    • Re:Common Stuff (Score:4, Insightful)

      by l3v1 (787564) on Saturday October 29, 2005 @12:57PM (#13905242)
      we should be hearing it ALL THE TIME since taking stabs at new ideas shouldn't be successful all the time

      Thing is, if you're working on an idea, and the solution you try doesn't seem to work [which happens quite frequently], you just move on, and eventually you'll be able to solve the problem someway. If too much time is spent and no viable solution seems to be found, then it's time to move on, unless you have unlimited time and resources to waste. Havign said that, outsiders don't usually hear about failed ideas because 1). if a solution is found, it is published, the failures are not, 2). a funded project usually doesn't have such explicitely narrow goals that it only would have one and only one solution which means at least some parts will be done/finished/solved/etc and then it's prettier to say it's partially successfull than to say it's mostly a failure.

    • ``You spend a ton of money from your grants and have your grad students spend a lot of their time trying to prove their hypothesis.''

      And that's where it goes wrong. If you start out with a desire to find a certain outcome, you're already one step down the dark path. The point in doing research is that you find out things you didn't know yet, not that you find what you think you should find. In fact, the most interesting discoveries are often those where the results where different from what was expected.

      The
    • Re:Common Stuff (Score:3, Informative)

      by Blue Neon Head (45388)
      We VERY rarely hear of research actually failing, when in fact we should be hearing it ALL THE TIME since taking stabs at new ideas shouldn't be successful all the time.

      Oh, research does fail all the time, believe me. In fact, right before I wrote this, one of my own experimental setups came up with disappointing results.

      The reason you don't hear about it is that no one tends to publish the negative results - they're usually not nearly as interesting (or profitable) as the positive ones. I will not get a pa
  • David Baltimore (Score:3, Interesting)

    by solman (121604) on Saturday October 29, 2005 @12:44PM (#13905187)
    The CNN article says that the fired researcher had worked at CalTech for three years and that some of his collaborative work with former MIT professor and outgoing Caltech president David Baltimore [wikipedia.org], is being examined for fraud.

    Baltimore has previously been caught, at a minimum, refusing to take scientific misconduct seriously.

    Even if no wrongdoing is found on David Baltimore's part (as I think is likely) this incident will still be taken as further evidence that when strong action is not taken against an environment that is permissive of misconduct, the misconduct is likely to grow.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    they just call it statistics.

    In all seriousness the fabrication of data is not as much of a problem in academia as improper use of statistical methods, poor coding procedures, and poor data collection are.
  • Hah! (Score:5, Funny)

    by avalys (221114) on Saturday October 29, 2005 @12:48PM (#13905205)
    We here at MIT find it quite humorous when someone suggests that this reflects badly on the Institute, given that the person in question was educated at Harvard and Caltech.

    • Re:Hah! (Score:3, Interesting)

      We here at MIT find it quite humorous when someone suggests that this reflects badly on the Institute, given that the person in question was educated at Harvard and Caltech.

      He was educated at Caltech by David Baltimore, a long-time MIT professor. So we might also suggest that MIT quit polluting the rest of academia?

      Incidentally, this isn't the first time that Baltimore has been tied to academic fraud scandal. One would hope it's coincidence.

  • by Stumbles (602007)
    I wonder if this guy was one of the MIT scientists The SCO group claimed found all of their precious code in Linux. Ahahahahahaha.
  • In fact, This [amazon.com] one is very timely and informative. Horace Feeland Judson demonstrated in this book that fraud in science is nothing new. Even "great" and classic experiments have been the subject of fraud.

    What is new here are the pressures since WWII in the academic world to get results. Some major cases of fraud were so egregious that these people would have to have been writing papers every two or three days on average --for periods of years. Nobody is that productive.

    It's sad that MIT had to make such
  • Fabricating data? Super, now he can get job in the current government.
  • Double Standard? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 29, 2005 @03:03PM (#13905816)
    So Biologists get fired for publishing bad data.

    How many physicists have knowingly published work that they found themselves to be wrong, but just didn't include or played dumb about the parts with blatant mistakes or systematic problems, or used a derivation that just doesn't work?

    I've seen papers from nobel prize winning physicists that upon actually trying to apply the theory one finds that it's totally inconsistent--almost as if the writers never actually bothered to try to check their work, or did and decided to hide the problem rather than throw it away, fix it, or qualify it as problematic.

    I understand that there's a lot of pressure to publish, but unfortunately I can't publish my own work because it deconstructs work of more prominent people--it would literally shift the foundations of the theory. The problem is that if I've made a mistake, it's my reputation that's shot.

    It can be really heartbreaking, too: I went over my friend's doctoral thesis just before he was to send it for publication, and verifying it through computational proof I found a small, seemingly insignficant problem about 130 pages into 900 pages of work compiled over years that propagated across the entire edifice he'd costructed, rendering the much of the theory implausible--and since it was group theory, difficult to salvage. He hasn't talked to me since (probably because he's busy trying to fix it).

    My point is, if you're going to persecute people for publishing bad data, how about publishing people for bad proofs? Sorry about the AC: this is the first time I've ever felt the need to use it, but I've already received enough flak for my criticism of some very brilliant people.
  • by Fantastic Lad (198284) on Saturday October 29, 2005 @03:47PM (#13905998)
    Given that. . .

    1. Science and its application is one of the primary foundation stones of Western civilization's perception of reality.

    And,

    2. While pursuing science, certain findings are ignored in order that funding grants and general nods from authority might be obtained.

    And,

    3. The desires to falsify or ignore data in order to please funding agents and authority figures stem from social criteria rather than objective scientific criteria.

    Therefore. . .

    Our perception of reality is being shaped by forces which have chosen to adhere to social forces rather than objective reality, and that this is done with the approval of Authority and under the name of Science.

    If this doesn't seem like a big deal, consider. . .

    Every assertion that you have ever heard from the sources of authority in our soceity about what is and is not possible in our world has been shaped by those who choose to promote lies as truth and truth as lies.

    Consider the pillars of 'fact' which hold up the public perception of reality.

    It is reasonable to assume that there are events and forces at work in the world which most people are not willing to recognize.

    The things most laughed at by science represent sources of fear; why ridicule something which doesn't bother you on some level?

    My personal opinion is that Religion just another arm of this same trap designed to keep people in cages of the mind. With Science and Religion dividing up the masses, Spirituality represents the thin pathway between these two forces of social control and limitation.

    Observe those subjects which both Science and Religion unanimously fear, studiously ignore or otherwise distract from, and start there.


    -FL

    • Great. You've described the reasons why crackpots think science will never be able to understand them. Now, do the experiment. Name two subjects that science fears to study.
      • I'll name 10 (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Fantastic Lad (198284)
        1. UFOs
        2. Astrology
        3. Acupuncture
        4. Alternative energy (Cold Fusion, Zero Point Energy, etc.)
        5. Alternative medicine (Homeopathy, Reikki, etc.)
        6. Cattle Mutilation
        7. Crop Circles
        8. Energy awareness (Chi)
        9. Human history through true archeolgoy
        10. The true nature of space and time.

        Of course, Science itself and real scientists aren't afraid to examine such areas, and indeed, they have done with spectacular results. But how often do such studies get funded and how often are the findings allowed to affect the
  • by ivi (126837) on Saturday October 29, 2005 @07:03PM (#13906753)
    ABC / Radio National's "Science Show" did a story on an Australian
      scientist, who falsely reported data from "experiments" that
      had never been conducted, ie, committed scientific fraud.

      An ethical Asian female co-researcher quite rightly
      "blew the whistle" on the unethical researcher.

      The results:
      - He (the "bad guy") is STILL employed by his university / research institute

      - She (the "good guy") LOST funding & access to her research facilities & experimental animals

      - One of the investigative journalists announced that
          HE'LL WILL NEVER REPORT ANOTHER CASE (see below)

      He's host of ABC's weekly "Health Report" show:

        Norman Swan: "I will never do a case of scientific fraud
                                    ever again.
                                    And the reason for that is just
                                    the failure of institutional responses.

                                    If the University of NSW can get away with
                                    something like this what is the point?
                                      Im not going to do another one because
                                    I just dont think that the institutions in
                                    this country have responded seriously to this."

      (Just imagine the kind of world it would be, eg, if ALL
      journo's, police, judges, et al. felt like this guy...)

        Excerpt from The Science Show:

            "What happens to the Whistleblowers?"

        The program aired on 3 September 2005.

        http://www.abc.net.au/rn/science/ss/stories/s14512 50.htm [abc.net.au]

      So, I'd say the MIT researcher could do well
      in at least ONE Australian research university.

      Australia's embarrassing tradition continues...

      - After WW 2, AU accepted Nazis from Germany,
          apparently forgiving their atrocities [as long as
          they brought enough of their spoils to live well here]

      - today, at least one Australian research institution
          seems to forgive scientific fraud [as long as they
          can still attract research grant money]

      "Past is Prologue"
  • by msbsod (574856) on Saturday October 29, 2005 @07:30PM (#13906825)
    Being a researcher myself, I have seen big lies and little lies. The big ones sometimes become public, like the present case. But I have seen so many little lies and they do have an impact on research, too. For example, people find a peak in a distribution and overestimate the statistical significance of the peak. All the sudden a few counts become a new discovery. Lots of money goes into further investigations until the case is settled. Or take the systematical uncertainty of a measurement. A scientific result is not just a single value. Normally we also have to specify an error of an experimental or theoretical result. Of course everybody likes to do a good job. But to get data published people sometimes attach unreasonable errors to their numbers just to ensure their results get published. Collaborations accept those numbers because nobody has the time to deal with those issues. Everbody has their own little project and it costs a lot of time to proof someone wrong, even if everybody knows the numbers are wrong. Eventually nobody asks to be taken off the author list of a publication. Other researchers then take the published results, fit models, make comparisons and find, of course, that their calculations are dominated by those results with the smallest errors. Again, it takes decades until the falsified results get filtered out. The situation is caused by funding agencies. They want to see positive results, fast. No publication, no money. It is that simple. Just because someone spends the time needed to evaluate carefully all aspects of an experiment or theory does not mean the researcher gets funded. On the contrary! The quick-and-dirty jobs are being awarded with precious resources such as research positions. Jobs are the critical resource here. Funding agencies spend a lot of money into equipment, labs and other infrastructure. Life is good. But there are just not enough positions for researchers available. My older colleagues tell me that things have gone a lot worse over the past few decades. You can also see this when you look at the distribution of the researchers' age. Things are worse in the EU than in the US. The EU is putting a lot of money into projects, but far too little into jobs. The taxi driver with doctor title is no joke. The US has traditionally welcomed foreign researchers, but that has changed some 5 years ago dramatically (long before 9/11) and things get worse for everybody. Science and research is not just end in itself. It is part of our culture and our future. Keep an eye on researchers. Make sure they do their job. But also make sure they can do their job. My research is funded by DOE, thanks.
  • by r2q2 (50527) <zitterbewegung@gma[ ]com ['il.' in gap]> on Saturday October 29, 2005 @08:17PM (#13906960) Homepage
    I don't think this is MIT's fault. Instead it should be the fault of the moral judgement of the person. It isn't a blow as much as to MIT in that it is a blow to scientists.
  • Oh well... (Score:3, Funny)

    by BlindRobin (768267) on Saturday October 29, 2005 @09:25PM (#13907160)
    He can always get a job at the Whitehouse....
  • by The_Dougster (308194) on Sunday October 30, 2005 @02:11AM (#13907972) Homepage
    That poor fellow is probably done in the field of biology now. So we now have a:
    • Probably brilliant biologist with
    • a PhD from Harvard, who is now
    • Discredited among his peers and unemployed, and who
    • Apparently doesn't have much of a grasp of ethics.
    I can see it now...

    Those bastards, we'll see who has the last laugh now... Soon my army of Super Mutants will TAKE OVER THE WORLD! Muahahah!

    It sounds like the origins of some kind of cheap comic book super vilain. Except, its not really that funny. This guy might be developing biological weapons for terrorists in the near future. If all he cares about is money and isn't too concerned about right and wrong, he's going to go work for somebody who might overlook his past mistakes as long as he can deliver what they want.

    I feel really sorry for this guy and I think that a good part of the blame should be passed on to the universities which granted this guy his academic credentials yet failed to beat enough ethics into his head in the process to prevent him from making this tragic career mistake.

    Hopefully he can take this in stride, and find some "good guys" who are willing to give him another chance. You can't get that far along without knowing something about biology, and it would be a shame to loose a valuable scientist of that caliber. This is going to be a painful lesson in professional ethics for Dr. Varijs which he will wish he had learned a lot earlier on.

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