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Science

Request to Falsify Data Published In Chemistry Journal 163

Posted by Soulskill
from the glad-to-know-they're-on-top-of-things dept.
New submitter Jim_Austin writes "A note inadvertently left in the 'supplemental information' of a journal article appears to instruct a subordinate scientist to fabricate data. Quoting: 'The first author of the article, "Synthesis, Structure, and Catalytic Studies of Palladium and Platinum Bis-Sulfoxide Complexes," published online ahead of print in the American Chemical Society (ACS) journal Organometallics, is Emma E. Drinkel of the University of Zurich in Switzerland. The online version of the article includes a link to this supporting information file. The bottom of page 12 of the document contains this instruction: "Emma, please insert NMR data here! where are they? and for this compound, just make up an elemental analysis ..." We are making no judgments here. We don't know who wrote this, and some commenters have noted that "just make up" could be an awkward choice of words by a non-native speaker of English who intended to instruct his student to make up a sample and then conduct the elemental analysis. Other commenters aren't buying it.'"
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Request to Falsify Data Published In Chemistry Journal

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  • by fey000 (1374173) on Friday August 09, 2013 @04:59PM (#44526055)

    The beauty of (natural) science is that you can replicate the results. Why spark a debate (which is more in social sciences ballpark) when you can just run the experiments and validate the statement that way? The paper would only omit important analysis steps if a patent is involved, something that the title of the paper does not imply.

    • by Wootery (1087023) on Friday August 09, 2013 @05:29PM (#44526349)

      Why spark a debate (which is more in social sciences ballpark) when you can just run the experiments and validate the statement that way?

      Err, "just"?

      I'm no chemist, but I don't imagine cutting-edge chemical experiments are something you just do.

      Also, you're completely missing the point. Falsification of science absolutely should be a big deal. The person responsible should face serious consequences, and hopefully it remains rare enough that it's big news.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        There's no proof they did falsify anything...

        • by khallow (566160)
          Yet. We'll see if there's anything to the story. After all, if these were instructions to falsify anything, then it's most likely something that's been done before and the evidence will be in previous papers.
      • by Cyberax (705495) on Friday August 09, 2013 @05:58PM (#44526633)
        Yes, that's a known problem in chemistry. So there's a growing movement to require an independent lab to replicate results before publishing - Reproducibility Initiative. See: http://pipeline.corante.com/archives/2012/08/14/reproducing_scientific_results_on_purpose.php [corante.com]
      • by Muros (1167213) on Friday August 09, 2013 @06:33PM (#44526873)

        Falsification of science absolutely should be a big deal. The person responsible should face serious consequences, and hopefully it remains rare enough that it's big news.

        I agree with the sentiment, but I am inclined to believe the "awkward choice of words by a non-native speaker of English" argument. It's not like that particular choice of words is even unambiguous to native speakers; if I said "I'm going to make up a batch of beer", friends will be calling around looking for a drink.

        • by jythie (914043) on Friday August 09, 2013 @06:58PM (#44527007)
          Yeah, I am thinking back to all the drama around the word choice for using a 'trick' on data. No implication of falsification, but the word choice got people up in a tissy.
          • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

            by budgenator (254554)

            It was far more than a "trick on the data" the entire batch of FOIA emails known as climategate shown systemic manipulation of the peer review system, data manipulation and croneyism.

            • by gnoshi (314933)

              Obvious troll is obvious.

            • by Bongo (13261)

              Modded Troll? Oh dear. One of the mysteries in life is just how hard it is to tell people something that's fairly true.

              • I think many people use the Troll option when they see "Clearly false". I'm familiar enough with Climategate to know that many on the right believes this nonsense, but nonsense it is.

        • by interkin3tic (1469267) on Friday August 09, 2013 @10:07PM (#44528129)
          Reminds me of "climategate" where the pundits gleefully reported that researchers admitted to using a "trick" to "hide" something. Of course, if you read more than those two words, you realized it wasn't anything shady. [skepticalscience.com] Nonetheless, the fossil fuel PR team had great fun with it and some idiots out there took it as reason to ignore climate change for longer.
        • by msauve (701917)
          But the command was "just make up an elemental analysis." That "just" to me implies a request to limit the work done - do it the easiest/simplest way, just make it up.

          When you make up a batch of beer, you're making a physical thing. Unless you're buying beer and then passing it off as your own, it will be obvious if you're being untruthful.
          • Honestly I've never heard the word "just" used that way. I can see it being used to imply that the work to be done is simple, "Oh it's easy to get to Kansas, just click your heels three times", but not that you pick a fraudulant way to appear to achieve what follows the word in order to save yourself time.

            I agree the term "make up" is ambiguous but I don't think the "just" should be considered a qualifier here. I'd personally lean towards assuming the experiment is legit unless there's other good reasons

            • by msauve (701917)

              Definition of JUST
              1
              a : exactly, precisely (just right)
              ...
              3
              a : only, simply (just last year) (just be yourself)
              b : quite, very

              So, exactly or simply "make it up."

              I'll submit that a person not fluent in English might say "make it up" when they mean "work it up," but using "just" shows a greater familiarity with English.

        • by StikyPad (445176)

          Indeed. In French, for example, the word for "do" and "make" are the same.

          http://translate.google.com/#en/fr/What%20are%20you%20doing%3F%20What%20are%20you%20making%3F [google.com]

    • by ebno-10db (1459097) on Friday August 09, 2013 @06:02PM (#44526671)

      The beauty of (natural) science is that you can replicate the results.

      Spoken from a true armchair POV. Trying to replicate results can be very expensive and time consuming. Furthermore, failure to replicate results does not immediately invalidate the original work, as there can be all kinds of legitimate explanations. Either party may have simply made a mistake, or there may be some critical variable that isn't yet recognized. Fraud in science is a very serious matter, a major impediment and expense, and unfortunately can be very difficult to prove. Therefore when it is found it should be punished severely.

      • by kasperd (592156)

        Furthermore, failure to replicate results does not immediately invalidate the original work, as there can be all kinds of legitimate explanations. Either party may have simply made a mistake, or there may be some critical variable that isn't yet recognized.

        Regardless of the outcome, the result of any attempt to replicate the result is worth publishing. A failure may be caused by something as trivial as the original researchers accidentally leaving out some step which was obvious to themselves. It may also b

      • by EMN13 (11493)

        Is it any less "armchair" to simply assume an article is valid without corroboration, or to assume this particular scientist is a fraud without actually checking?

        Just because it's more easily said than done doesn't make it untrue - and I strongly suspect none of us particularly care about these specific results anyhow, so of course we'll just comment from afar without actually doing anything.

        I mean, if this bothers you, do you have an alternative suggestion?

      • by dkf (304284)

        Trying to replicate results can be very expensive and time consuming.

        It's worthwhile doing though. A result that can be reproduced is genuinely useful. Of course, what "reproduce" means is not trivial at all, as there are a lot of unique experiments and data collections out there. (You can't rewind the natural world just so you can put a different set of instruments in place to measure an event again in more detail.) Reproduction might mean using a different approach to analysis of the raw data, or measuring another "sufficiently similar" thing, or trying to do exactly the s

      • by Xyrus (755017)

        The beauty of (natural) science is that you can replicate the results.

        Spoken from a true armchair POV. Trying to replicate results can be very expensive and time consuming. Furthermore, failure to replicate results does not immediately invalidate the original work, as there can be all kinds of legitimate explanations. Either party may have simply made a mistake, or there may be some critical variable that isn't yet recognized. Fraud in science is a very serious matter, a major impediment and expense, and unfortunately can be very difficult to prove. Therefore when it is found it should be punished severely.

        Well, the beauty of science is that it is self-correcting. Even if the results are too expensive/time-consuming to reproduce, eventually someone will attempt to use the results as a basis for their own research. And when they do, they will quickly find out that it was a load of crap.

        Unlike the corporate world where you can hide malice and incompetence by burying it in BS, you can't do that for long in the science world. Every time you publish you put your reputation on the line, and if it is found that you

    • by artor3 (1344997)

      I imagine a lot of people would prefer to know whether the results are faked before devoting long hours and large amounts of money to trying to replicate them. Not to mention the stress of working round the clock on an experiment trying to figure out why your results aren't matching the published paper. Without this sort of revelation, you'd be left to assume that you were the one doing something wrong.

    • by OneAhead (1495535)
      Since you wrote "important analysis steps", I thought I'd mention for the record that the specific type of analysis that was missing is one that is getting more and more redundant in present-day organic synthesis; one can get a pretty clear picture from all the other analyses that are commonly included in synthetic papers. Of course, fabricating data (it that's really what they meant by "make up") is unconditionally wrong, but I doubt they could lead the reader to a wrong conclusion by faking an Elemental A
    • by mysidia (191772)

      The beauty of (natural) science is that you can replicate the results. Why spark a debate (which is more in social sciences ballpark) when you can just run the experiments and validate the statement that way?

      Because the journals tend to have an affirmative results bias. If someone replicates the experiment and fails to produce a result; it probably will not get published. On the other hand, if they replicate the experiment, and get the desired result -- perhaps it will.

      People care about the r

    • Because it costs a lot of money, your taxpayer's money. Because it costs a lot of time and ruins the career of young scientists who will waste their time trying to replicate bogus results. Because it should not be acceptable in the first place. What about these reasons?

      Sadly it shows that no one really bothered reading the manuscript thoroughly before publication, neither the authors, nor the reviewers.

  • Analyze that elemental analysis, if it's obviously fabricated publish short refuting paper in a better journal

    Or offer ACS to print it if ACS is the best in the industry, boom name recognition and easy paper.

  • Science - It Works (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Bob9113 (14996) on Friday August 09, 2013 @05:04PM (#44526099) Homepage

    some commenters have noted that "just make up" could be an awkward choice of words by a non-native speaker of English who intended to instruct his student to make up a sample and then conduct the elemental analysis. Other commenters aren't buying it.

    You know what the great thing about science is? We don't have to focus on emotion and rhetoric. We can do the experiment, and see if it would have supported the conclusion. If it would, our societal view of justice compels us to assume they were asking for the valid test results to be included. If it would not have supported the conclusion, then we can call for the author to be sanctioned.

    • by Chemisor (97276) on Friday August 09, 2013 @07:05PM (#44527053)

      Yes, we can do the experiment, but most of the time we don't. Nobody gets grant money for replicating stuff other people have already done. There's no glory in it; the citations, the namings, the prestige will all go to the original experimenter, and grants are very much about glory (to the host institution, of course, not so much for the researcher herself). Yes, the big, important stuff gets replicated, but a dreadfully mundane study of some palladium catalysed reaction is not in that category, and so is unlikely to be replicated. The allegation of "made up" data in this particular paper may prompt somebody to try it in this case, but there will be many more that will slip through.

    • by doom (14564)

      You know what the great thing about science is? We don't have to focus on emotion and rhetoric. We can do the experiment, and see if it would have supported the conclusion.

      In this case, the author did not follow the instruction to (apparently) just make something up. So the question is not whether someone falsified something, it's whether there's someone out there promoting a cyncical approach to writing scientific papers.

      And science is a social process. Yeah, you're supposed to have a physical proces

  • Very well could just be as they say, a poor choice of words. Maybe he just wanted her to do the needful?

  • by gman003 (1693318) on Friday August 09, 2013 @05:06PM (#44526121)

    I would have thought that standard peer review would have caught this - someone reading this, specifically with an eye towards accuracy, should have noticed it well before it made it to print. Whether that would result in just removing the offending text (which, while not completely guilty, definitely sounds bad) or result in actual correction of the experiment, I can't say.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      For better or worse, journals, editors, and referees often turn a blind eye towards supplemental information (which this was). My most recent publication, the Royal Chemistry Society even had a disclaimer that they do not open or view the Supplemental Information.

      • by Tim99 (984437)

        My most recent publication, the Royal Chemistry Society even had a disclaimer that they do not open or view the Supplemental Information.

        I hope that publication data was more accurate than your post - It's called the The Royal Society of Chemistry [rsc.org].

    • It's not that rare for reviewers to skim the appendix of a paper, and it doesn't necessarily go against their instructions. Appendices tend to be more useful to people who need detailed information about how the results presented in a paper were obtained (typically these are researchers in the same subfield), rather than reviewers or researchers whose work is only moderately related to the paper.
      • by gman003 (1693318) on Friday August 09, 2013 @05:26PM (#44526329)

        Ah, true. Can't blame peer review for only skimming the appendices.

        Now, the journal editors, them I think we can blame.

        • by martas (1439879)
          Agreed, editors really should have read every word of what they were publishing.
        • Especially when these journals have subscriptions in the hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars per year. I used to pay for Nature, but even with the student discount it was insane how much they charged.

        • A researcher friend recently described how their PI handed them a paper from a former lab member from many years ago and said "review this, ok?" (and what was of course unsaid was "approve it.") Turns out the journal of the National Academy of Sciences is a joke - it's just a place for members to dump crap they can't get accepted for publishing anywhere else. It certainly is a joke if you can get someone in your own lab to accept a paper from a former lab member.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Supplementary information is usually not peer revived. At Least not that I know of.

    • Peer reviews aren't paid usually so basically they got what they paid for.
    • by dougmc (70836)

      should have noticed it well before it made it to print

      Also, much peer review happens after it goes to print. After all, that's the purpose of printing it in the first place, to get it out to more people.

      I'm not sure if the person who discovered this bit in the supplemental information is a "peer" or not -- but if so, it looks like peer review worked perfectly.

  • Why let the search for truth get in the way of a good lynching.

    • by ackthpt (218170)

      Why let the search for truth get in the way of a good lynching.

      A lie can run around the world before truth has got it's boots on - Terry Pratchett

      Looks like truth got a running start on this sprint.

    • I am shocked to discover that natural languages have ambiguous parsing!

  • IF you RTFA (Score:5, Informative)

    by avandesande (143899) on Friday August 09, 2013 @05:10PM (#44526165) Journal

    None of the data talked about in the note was used in the final journal submission and the compound the author was referring to was what he claimed was a theoretical intermediate. I am leaning toward a misunderstanding in a hastily written note.

    • by djupedal (584558)
      So you seem to think it's fair to tell us to RTFA while the actors involved didn't think it fair to do their own reading. If so, that smacks of the type of double standard we're hoping to illustrate, so thanks for helping make us out as correct.
  • by ackthpt (218170) on Friday August 09, 2013 @05:14PM (#44526199) Homepage Journal

    when I was tricked into drinking Hydrogen Hydroxide when I distinctly requested a beaker full of Dihydrogen Monoxide. The cover-up, the pointing of fingers, the falling out of the scientific community. HOYVIN GLAVIN!

  • Was Andrew Wakefield involved?
  • when this is not nearly a non-story.
  • by Okian Warrior (537106) on Friday August 09, 2013 @05:43PM (#44526497) Homepage Journal

    I'm not disturbed by the note, and yes it's likely a poor choice of words from a non-English speaker.

    Are we now condemning conspiracy to submit fraudulent information? I thought fraud was the bad act.

    I've worked with non-English speaking students, and there are a surprising number of awkward constructions that you wouldn't notice as a native speaker.

    For example, one multiple-choice optics test question had this answer: "The image is half as large".

    The phrase "half as large" translates simultaneously into "big" and "small" at the same time... it was pointed out that many students didn't know what this meant. The first rewrite came out as "half the size", but since many cultures implicitly measure size in terms of area instead of height, lots of people misinterpreted this as well (half the height = 1/4 the area). Having an answer "none of the above" further confused the issue. The test should have been specific in saying "half the height".

    I've proofread/edited more than 10 papers written by foreign types, and "twisted meanings" are quite common - phrases that seem syntactically reasonable but which have a different meaning to a native speaker. (I grew up in Amish territory - statements like "Sarah is wonderful sick today" and "throw papa down the stairs his hat" were commonplace.)

    I wouldn't think twice about the note in the paper. Unless the researcher actually makes up the analysis out of whole cloth it's not a problem.

    Science is about evidence, not hearsay.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      (half the height = 1/4 the area)

      Uh... no.

  • This is most likely a misunderstanding, these things happen and should be caught in peer reviewing.

    Emma, please insert a little bit of misdirection on this post and click on submit after previewing. Those suckers will buy it like it's a 38k dollars handbag.
    • Oprah was refused to be shown a handbag by a Swiss shopkeeper claiming it was too expensive for her.

      In a fit of pique, she purchased the entire country and now Stedman is evicting all its citizens to make way for condos . . .

  • Despite my natural cynicism I lean towards honest mistake here.

    Remember that this was just an informal note. Even as an English speaker I occasionally produce an awkward construction when I'm in a hurry and writing informally. Any possible ambiguities only becomes apparent when I read it back later.

    I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt until we find out more.

  • by meglon (1001833) on Friday August 09, 2013 @08:17PM (#44527531)
    ...they went to publish it, realized they didn't have a supporting NMR, so he told his assistant to make one up.

    Here's the rub... what that means to the assistant is, run an NMR; what it means to all the people who don't have a the education to understand what it means, or even what an NMR is, is that they can try to paint science as bad. You cant "make up" an NMR in that way, although you could substitute some other chemical and run the analysis... but why bother? Any lab with an NMR could check your work simply by running the correct NMR; and, running the correct chemical will take exactly as long, and exactly the same amount of effort.

    This is basically people who don't have enough education somehow seeing a conspiracy in nothing. I swear, the human race is fucking pathetic sometimes.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      The NMR just gives you a graph showing the resonant peaks, you still have to interpret it to determine what elements are present (at least that's how it was when I was in college).
      I read the note not as run the NMR, but just do the interpretation/analysis and write it here. A grad student should be able to do this in a matter of minutes, and they probably just hadn't typed it up when they first looked at it.

    • by pz (113803) on Friday August 09, 2013 @09:35PM (#44527957) Journal

      I run a scientific research lab in a Big University You Have Heard Of. I had a conversation with an intern and a post-doc earlier this week where we talked about figures that could be added to a review paper the intern is working on. I swear I used the words, "I'll make up a figure ..." to describe the actions of collecting the necessary supporting data to create a figure for the paper that my post-doc suggested would be instructional. "Make up" in this case meant, "construct," and wholly lacked nefarious, subversive, or deceptive connotations.

      And I speak English as my mother tongue.

      The so-called conspiracy to commit fraud here is a bunch of hooey. The only thing the authors are guilty of is not submitting a fully completed manuscript.

      • by meglon (1001833) on Friday August 09, 2013 @09:49PM (#44528037)
        Exactly. It's someone telling their assistant to get a NMR done.

        It's become a sad day here in the US where there's a faction of people so against science, that they try to manufacture issues like this. I don't care that some people want to remain stupid... it's there choice, but they should at least have enough brain cells left to understand if they want to stay stupid, their opinion doesn't mean shit because it's based on stupidity.
        • by khallow (566160)

          It's become a sad day here in the US where there's a faction of people so against science, that they try to manufacture issues like this.

          I just don't see it. We have one blog that posted this and really didn't have much to say aside from that it looked kind of suspicious and in the same sort of procedure where some actual scientific fraud had occurred in the recent past. That's not much of a "manufacturing". There are some commentators condemning these scientists already for their red handed fraud and/or minor grammatical flub. But I don't see much in the way of a "faction" either.
          br. I do see the common rush to judgment that follows any po

      • by MindlessAutomata (1282944) on Friday August 09, 2013 @11:16PM (#44528417)

        Yeah, this whole thing is absolutely stupid. I don't even buy that it was a non-native English speaker; "go make up a..." is just another way of telling someone to go produce something.

        • Oblig. (Score:4, Funny)

          by munch117 (214551) on Saturday August 10, 2013 @02:57AM (#44529167)
          Probably non-native speakers are a bit more prone to this kind of mistake though. From an old Usenet quotes file:

          I had a manual that described doing a track alignment on a floppy drive. Basically loosen the lock screw, adjust, tighten the screw. But...the author's english was from another continent...

          "...when adjustment is complete, screw it up."

  • No, they really do stuff like that?

    I am soooooo surprised.

    I just pointed this sort of thing out on a previous post and got modded to like 0 for it.

    http://slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=4072427&cid=44522737 [slashdot.org]

    Now it is front page news.

    I am SO surprised that happened too.

    -Hack

  • Obviously there is nothing criminal going on, just a conspiracy by a stupid editor. Make up = do. If he wrote manufacture I might wonder but still it isn't proof.
    I have an idea, must not be the first to have it though.
    When slashdot and other sites (like boingboing) get news stories from syndicators of syndicators etc. in the normal idiotic trickle-down blog syndication and altruistic submitters tree and the article upon intelligent reading is obvious drivel, the end consumers (the conglomeration of all slas

  • by MassiveForces (991813) on Saturday August 10, 2013 @06:14AM (#44529677)
    The semi-important data would be in the NMR, the elemental analysis would be more of a formality to show they are working with what they said they were working with. I think that is reason to believe they would have worded it in such a way suggesting they needed a real NMR result but some pain in the but boring work they have an expected answer for is to be just made up. Obviously bad practice, probably doesn't have much bearing on the paper itself though, assuming their materials suppliers are trustworthy.
  • http://www.wordreference.com/ [wordreference.com] proposes "make up" (vtr) => "assemble, put together"

    I wouldn't have seen any problem in saying "please, put an elemental analysis together", thinking: the article lacks an analysis for completeness, a simple one should be included.

    Makes me remember of red side notes from my teachers in my homework, long ago: "Results are ok, but where's the analysis?!"...

    I only see conscienciousness by a (non-english) reviewer, in this instruction.

  • It's what is incentivize when you count no results as non-knowledge. That's a large part of the problem. No results are information too, Unfortunately just anyone can produce unlimited amounts on demand.

    There should be (and the idea is not original to me) and perhaps is now a journal of interesting no-effects, non-results.

    The lying is pandemic in academia, and it's not just PIs lying about their results, it's everywhere .. sorry to say it's a culture which tolerates lying at every level. At our university,

  • I expect that it was being used in the sense that I am now going to make up my bed.

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