Update June 5
Standards, who needs them? I am just back from the E-MRS spring meeting in Strasbourg, which was most enjoyable, though someone seems to have forgotten about the “Spring” bit. Meanwhile, out in the world of science we continue to witness ridiculous decisions regarding manipulated and falsified data by journals and a quite stunning self-justification by a materials scientist who looks to be the next serial fraudster.
First up, the much heralded stem cell paper in Cell, three days from submission to acceptance, which readers spotted was full of manipulated images. Cell pulls the “Dictionary of Euphemisms” off the shelf, makes some weak excuses, hoping that we will all move one. Nice posts on Retraction Watch with extended comments here and here.
Second Retraction Watch reports on the outcome of an investigation by McGill of papers published by Maya Saleh. It is worth quoting once again the conclusions regarding a PNAS and a Nature paper of Salaeh’s:
“two figures in [a] Nature paper had been “intentionally contrived and falsified.” One of those figures was duplicated in a PNAS paper, which also contained an image that had incorrectly labeled some proteins“
What happens? Nature issues corrections.
Amazing really. Just think. A student cheats, is formally investigated and found to have indeed cheated. The student is then is allowed to “correct” their work, outside the exam and at their leisure. Makes sense every time.
The materials scientist? None other than Francesco Stellacci. Recall that there have been some serious concerns raised about Stellacci’s work. These were first aired in public with the first post on Raphael’s blog, which accompanied the publication of his article in Small questioning the phase separation of ligands on gold nanoparticles into stripes.
Since, a litany of issues have been raised: image re-use, including the re-use of an image to describe a completely different experiment, stonewalling efforts of third parties to access raw data and so on. Some progress has been made two corrections in journals and the appearance of some (but only some) raw image data.
I have had a look at all the TIFF files. I know I should be examining the original files in Gwiddion, but I also know from the little SPM work I have been involved in (15 years ago looking at fibroblast growth factors on gold 111) that if it isn’t obvious in the TIFF, it isn’t there.
There is nothing in the images provided by Stellacci that supports any sort of structure on the surface of the nanoparticles. There is plenty of noise. How to get the nice images published in a whole series of papers since 2004? Manipulate the images. Simple, easy. One route is explained by Philip Moriarty in a guest post.
This is a fraud, pure and simple. First there is an error. Then the glamour of the error causes temptation and/or self-delusion. This is when the shift occurs from science through to misconduct, which ultimately leads to fraud. Why? Because fraud involves obtaining gain through illicit means. If science has any self-righting capacity, then we can expect investigations at his former employer, MIT, and his current one, EPFL. We may then see the papers retracted in due course. However, there is an alternative, which is a load of corrections and some more entries for the “Thesaurus of Euphemisms“, as seems to be happening at McGill.
Are we wasting out time bringing these problems to the fore? NO. One only has to remember three things:
1. This is public money being spent.
2. The amount of non-reproducible science published, which I posted on recently here.
2. Science fraud has the potential to kill people, see my posts on Anil Potti and the links therein here and here.
Now to the fake blog the reason for this update.
Fake blog here.
Real blog here.
I was quite fascinated, as I read it because I felt that I was getting a first hand insight into the mind of a science fraudster. I went to re-read the interview in the New York Times of Stapel, the fraudulent psychologist by Yudhijit Bhattacharjee. The arrogance and method are remarkably similar. The self-justification too. Reading the fake blog I got a feeling I was reading part of the transcript of Stapel’s interview. Attributing it to Stellacci was a guess or a hypothesis. The only new evidence are continued tweets from the fake Raphael Levy, which become ever more bizarre, so nothing to bear on the identity of the author.
So with this lack of evidence, my guess is wrong and I retract it. This is the normal thing to do. Unfortunately it seems very, very difficult for a lot of people to stand up and say, “Yes, that bit is wrong”. They should.