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Archive for January, 2013


Congratulations to Katie Wilson who had a very successful and enjoyable thesis defence today!

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David Bradley has posted an article on stripy nanoparticles at Materials Today. The end of the piece highlights an interstingissue. To quote “If only there were some centralised system for pulling all the arguments together and perhaps tying them to the original papers from Stellacci and from Lévy. Perhaps we will one day see such a development in web 3.0. Meanwhile, we still don’t know for sure whether those gold nanoparticles are stripy or not!

I would argue that the real problem is that few are willing (more…)

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The discussions on what constitutes plagiarism continue. One side, which I belong to, believes simply that the rules we establish for our students are the same rules we should be using in our professional life. In the specific context of the publications that claim evidence for ligands self-organising into stripes on the surface of nanoparticles, I have posted on this issue previously, due to the re-use of unattributed data in five of the papers from the Stellacci lab (here).
I used the University of Liverpool rules on plagiarism and collusion as the basis of my argument, and then made the broad claim that the same rules apply across all universities. Since the papers in which data are re-used were published whilst the group were at MIT, it is of interest to look specifically at the rules at that Institution. These are described in an excellent document entitled “Academic Integrity at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology: A Handbook for Students“. To quote from page 6 of this document “If you use charts, graphs, data sets, or numerical information obtained from another person or from published material, you must also cite the source.”. Of course, if one is publishing, then there is also the legal issue of copyright and formal agreement has to be obtained from the publisher for the reproduction of the original data.
This seems pretty clear cut to me and it will be of interest to see what will be the response from the relevant institutions considering this matter. It is perhaps naive, but it would seem reasonable to expect that if there is no response, then a student violating these rules could simply hire a lawyer and get their full marks. This would be a bad day for higher education.
Update 3 November 2013 the re-used figures have been the subject of corrections, see here and here.

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The shutting down of the Science Fraud website on January 3 was the subject of an article on Forbes. I may not always agree with their politics, but the article is forthright, vigorous and to the point while remaining civil. What more can one want. In the comments, there is the original posting by Paul Brookes, plus a second that provides an update on plans for a new site to catalogue bad and fraudulent science (the two are not the same).
There is also an article in Science on the subject.

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There was an article on “Stripy Nanoparticles” in the Times Higher (THE) by Paul Jump on Jan 10. It was followed by a series of comments. Most of the comments (a substantial number from anonymous commentators) reckon that there is no evidence for stripes on nanoparticles.
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The latest post on Retraction Watch is about Paul Brookes, University of Rochester, who turn out to be the person running Science Fraud – well at least one of the people. He is looking for a rebirth of the site, but working along different lines.
He is looking to produce a larger structure, where each allegation is reviewed by several people independently before it goes up on the www. There is a link to e-mail him at the end of the Retraction Watchpost, where one can offer one’s services.

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Title lifted from a posting today on Retraction Watch.
Legal threats have closed the Science Fraud website (link on the right), which now only has a single post, stating that they are looking at figuring out a way to keep posting. I made an extensive comment at Retraction Watch, reproduced with minor changes below. My only other thought is that the comments to the effect that calling Fraud opens you up to legal threats does not really hold water here. All they did at Science Fraud was to take what was already in the public domain and make explicit what has been done to data. The rules of science are clear, what was highlighted on Science Fraud (some 300 papers in 6 months) should not be done. If it is done innocently, then featuring there is a useful reminder of what data are and a wake up call to the community. For those who are frauds, the reaction is classic: denial, fightback and then either it is all conveniently swept under the carpet or on rare occasions, there is exposure. Few, however are dealt with correctly. A recent exception is Jan Hendrick Schoen, who had his PhD rescinded.
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