Mar 4, 2015

"Lords of Data" massage data to falsify results

One of the arguments I use to advocate the public sharing of research data to academics here at the Open University is that it will enable validation of results and improve research integrity.

In order to demonstrate this point, I like to use examples from within academia to show how common the practice of "data massaging" really is, and warn of the potential consequences of this kind of fraudulent practice. Here are some examples of scientific misconduct, collected from newspapers and journals:

A New Record for Retractions?: In 2012 Yoshitaka Fujii, a Japanese researcher in anaesthesiology, was found to have fabricated data in at least 172 scientific papers. The investigating committee could find no records of patients and no evidence medication was ever administered. (Dennis Normile, Science Insider, 02.07.2012)

Fraud Case Seen as Red Flag for Psychology Research: In 2011 it was revealed that psychologist, Diederik Stapel, of Tilburg University, committed academic fraud in “several dozen” published papers, many accepted in respected journals and reported in the news media. According to the committee investigating the case, Tilburg was able to operate in this fashion for so long because "he was seen as 'lord of the data' the only person who saw the experimental evidence that had been gathered (or fabricated)."  (Benedict Carey, The New York Times, 02.11.2011)

Rotterdam Marketing Psychologist Resigns After University Investigates His Data:  In 2012 and investigative panel found problems in marketing researcher Dirk Smeesters' studies, resulting in the retraction of his papers and his resignation. While Smeesters admitted to "massaging" some of the data in order to strengthen his findings, some of his data had been lost and could not be verified. (Martin Enserink, Science Insider, 25.12.2012)

An Unwelcome DiscoveryIn 2006, Eric Poelhman pleaded guilty in court to lying on a federal grant application and admitted to fabricating more than a decade’s worth of scientific data on obesity,menopause and aging, much of it while conducting clinical research as a tenured faculty member at the University of Vermont. He presented fraudulent data in lectures and in published papers, and he used this data to obtain millions of dollars in federal grants from the National Institutes of Health — a crime subject to as many as five years in federal prison. (Jeneen Interlandi, The New York Times, 22.10.2006)

Lancet Study Faked: In 2006 a researcher in Norway fabricated data from 900 research participants, associating the long-term use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory with a lower risk of oral cancer.  (Stephen Pincock, The Scientist, 16.01.2006)

South Korea cloning research was fakeSouth Korea's Hwang Woo-suk was feted as a national hero when, in 2004, his research team said it had successfully cloned a human embryo and produced stem cells from it, a technique that could one day provide cures for a range of diseases.But allegations he used unacceptable practices to acquire eggs from human donors, then faked two landmark pieces of research into cloning human stem cells, left his reputation in tatters. (BBC News, 23.12.2005)

 Isabel Chadwick, The Open University.