"Compromised science" news/opines (includes retractions, declining academic standards, pred-J, etc)

Climate sensitivity and confirmation bias

EXCERPTS: (Steven Novella): I love to follow kerfuffles between different experts and deep thinkers. It’s great for revealing the subtleties of logic, science, and evidence. Recently there has been an interesting online exchange between a physicists science communicator (Sabine Hossenfelder) and some climate scientists (Zeke Hausfather and Andrew Dessler). The dispute is over equilibrium climate sensitivity (ECS) and the recent “hot model problem”.

[...] But – this does not negate Hossenfelder’s point. They decided to weight climate models after some of the recent models were creating a problem by running hot. They were “fixing” the “problem” of hot models. Would they have decided to weight models if there weren’t a problem with hot models? Is this just confirmation bias?

None of this means that there fix is wrong, or that the hot models are right. But what it means is that climate scientists should acknowledge exactly what they are doing. This opens the door to controlling for any potential confirmation bias... (MORE - details)
The DNA scandal that threatens thousands of criminal cases

Colorado investigators say star analyst Yvonne ‘Missy’ Woods altered data. Now people she helped send to prison want their convictions re-examined. [...] “The fact that this could go on for 20-some years, and not once did it get caught by peer review, this says there is something very wrong with forensic testing in Colorado,” Mulligan said.

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For half a century, our calculations on nuclear explosions in space have been wrong, Los Alamos scientist reveals

EXCERPT: Perhaps one of the most remarkable aspects of the error is how long it remained before anybody noticed it, although he cites a very human reason for this. “The error went undiscovered for so long simply because the research community didn’t think the original authors, who are highly cited researchers in the field, could have made this mistake,” Cunningham says.

Cunningham’s new paper, “Resolution of a Few Problems in the Application of Quasilinear Theory to Calculating Diffusion Coefficients in Heliophysics,” was published in AGU... (MORE - details)
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Iran COVID-vaccine paper with ‘serious flaws’ retracted

Following criticism from scientists around the world, a virology journal has retracted a paper describing the first test in humans of an Iran-made vaccine against COVID-19.

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Editorial board members resign from obstetrics journal to protest handling of allegations

A group of 10 members of the editorial board of BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth have resigned to protest the journal’s failure to respond to allegations of data fabrication.

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Cancer paper earns expression of concern nearly two years after investigation report is revealed

A Springer Nature journal has issued an expression of concern for a 16-year-old paper by Carlo Croce, the cancer researcher – and noted art collector – at The Ohio State University three years after the publication had received a correction for problematic images and roughly 20 months after the news division at Nature reported on a pair of institutional investigations into problems with Croce’s work.

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KPMG government report on research integrity makes up reference involving Retraction Watch founders

A book with that title exists, but the four authors listed did not contribute a chapter, and the 2018 edition does not appear to contain a chapter with that title. We – Adam Marcus and Ivan Oransky – have indeed published with CK Gunsalus, but nothing resembling this reference.
Superconductivity scandal: the inside story of deception in a rising star's physics lab

Ranga Dias claimed to have discovered the first room-temperature superconductors, but the work was later retracted. An investigation by Nature’s news team reveals new details about what happened — and how institutions missed red flags.

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Paul M. Sutter thinks we're doing science (and journalism) wrong

INTRO: Astrophysicist Paul M. Sutter studies some of the largest features of the universe, including cosmic voids — vast, nearly empty chasms that separate clusters of galaxies from one another. “I enjoy becoming more and more of an expert on absolutely nothing,” joked Sutter, a visiting professor at Barnard College, Columbia University and a research professor at Stony Brook University.

While Sutter loves science, he believes there are deep problems with the way science is actually done. He began to notice some of those problems before the Covid-19 pandemic, but it was Covid that brought many of them to the fore. “I was watching, in real time, the erosion of trust in science as an institution,” he said, “and the difficulty scientists had in communicating with the public about a very urgent, very important matter that we were learning about as we were speaking about it.”

“I was watching just one by one,” he continued, as “people stopped trusting science.”

Sutter takes issue with the hyper-competitiveness of science, with peer review, with the journals, with the way scientists interact with the public, with the politicization of science, and more. But his new book, “Rescuing Science: Restoring Trust In an Age of Doubt,’’ published this month by Rowman & Littlefield, is more than a laundry list of grievances — it’s also filled with ideas about how science might be improved.

Our interview was conducted over Zoom and has been edited for length and clarity... (MORE - the interview)
The Chernobyl worm article in phys.org was not well written. The paper may be sound but the reporting sloppy.

Physics.org is usually pretty good.
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The Chernobyl worm article in phys.org was not well written. The paper may be sound but the reporting sloppy.

Physics.org is usually pretty good.

Can't access the paper fully, but the summary appears clear in what it's trying to say (in comparison to the press release).

When the papers themselves are sloppy, or reflect flawed and non-reproducible or otiose studies -- such often results from the "publish or perish" duress that afflicts the academic community.

There are numerous papers published that seem largely useless in terms of what the research outputs. Including affirming mundane things already well known, like "Violence is contagious among members of Italian mafia groups". What may seem like make-work that keeps the applicable scientists employed and shielded from the career-damaging perception of appearing idle.
The humiliating truth behind Harvard astronomer’s “alien” spherules

KEY POINTS: In 2014, a meteor like many others crashed into Earth: with a poorly measured velocity, trajectory, and impact location, of a relatively small, modest size. One astronomer, however, made the extraordinary claim that it was interstellar and possibly of alien origin, and further claimed to recover fragments from the event from an ocean expedition. Since those claims were first made, many experienced planetary scientists have attempted to teach this astronomer how to properly conduct research in their field, to no avail. Now the science gets its say.

EXCERPT: . . . This still has the opportunity to be a learning experience for everyone involved, and may even herald an era where someday, the first interstellar meteorites can be truly identified. Until then, this has been an extraordinary lesson in not only how non-experts can fool themselves, but how thoroughly we must guard against being led astray by someone who refuses to learn the expertise necessary to contribute meaningfully to a scientific field... (MORE - details)
The humiliating truth behind Harvard astronomer’s “alien” spherules

KEY POINTS: In 2014, a meteor like many others crashed into Earth: with a poorly measured velocity, trajectory, and impact location, of a relatively small, modest size. One astronomer, however, made the extraordinary claim that it was interstellar and possibly of alien origin, and further claimed to recover fragments from the event from an ocean expedition. Since those claims were first made, many experienced planetary scientists have attempted to teach this astronomer how to properly conduct research in their field, to no avail. Now the science gets its say.

EXCERPT: . . . This still has the opportunity to be a learning experience for everyone involved, and may even herald an era where someday, the first interstellar meteorites can be truly identified. Until then, this has been an extraordinary lesson in not only how non-experts can fool themselves, but how thoroughly we must guard against being led astray by someone who refuses to learn the expertise necessary to contribute meaningfully to a scientific field... (MORE - details)
Hahaha, bloody Avi Loeb again! He’s a head case.
I actually remember this shit about alien spherules and thought at the time it seemed rather hysterical and daft. How funny that it turns out to be just coal ash!

What a jerk. But I’ve no doubt Magical Realist is a huge fan of this nutter.:D
Rejected paper pops up elsewhere after one journal suspected manipulation

In the autumn of 2022, a researcher in Turkey was reviewing a paper for a cardiology journal when an image of a Western blot caught her eye: A hardly visible pair of “unusual” lighter pixels seemed out of place. Magnification only bolstered her suspicion that something was off...

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Up to one in seven submissions to hundreds of Wiley journals flagged by new paper mill tool

Wiley, whose Hindawi subsidiary has attracted thousands of paper mill papers that later needed to be retracted, has seen widespread paper mill activity among hundreds of its journals, it announced yesterday...

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Journal blacklists doctor in Pakistan ‘out of an abundance of caution’

Following an investigation into possible paper mill activities, the journal Cureus has barred a doctor in Pakistan from publishing more papers “out of an abundance of caution,” Retraction Watch has learned...

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Misspelled cell lines take on new lives — and why that’s bad for the scientific literature

Our team studies wrongly identified nucleotide sequence reagents in cancer research, such as PCR primers and gene knockdown reagents. Recently in the context of an undergraduate student project, we decided to also check the identities of cell lines in a small group of papers on the human gene miR-145, which codes for a microRNA. We found wrongly identified nucleotide sequences and cell lines in numerous articles about miR-145, but also what appeared to be five misspelled identifiers of contaminated cell lines...
Two seemingly contrasting opinions. One pleading for more involvement from the humanities in science. And the other bemoaning the influences that humanities descended ideologies already have on science standards.
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Lessons for scientists from the All of Us Research Program backlash

EXCERPTS: There are no easy solutions for these thorny problems, but one place to start would be to bring more humanities experts into GWAS, particularly anthropologists, sociologists, and historians. [...] In a society still grappling with dangerous debates directly related to historically excluded populations, I see in scientists not only a moral duty to minimize harm, but also the opportunity to break from a tradition of isolating ourselves from society... (MORE - details)

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The NIH sacrifices scientific rigor for DEI

EXCERPT: It might seem counterintuitive to prioritize “diversity statements” while hiring neurobiologists—but not at the NIH. The agency for several years has pushed this practice across the country through its Faculty Institutional Recruitment for Sustainable Transformation program—FIRST for short—which funds diversity-focused faculty hiring in the biomedical sciences.

Through dozens of public-records requests, I have acquired thousands of pages of documents related to the program—grant proposals, emails, hiring rubrics and more. The information reveals how the NIH enforces an ideological agenda, prompting universities and medical schools to vet potential biomedical scientists for wrongthink regarding diversity... (MORE - details)
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Don’t buy the hype on new “breakthrough” Alzheimer’s treatments

Like beacons of light in the dark, two drugs have emerged over the past two years as the first "disease-modifying" treatments for Alzheimer's disease. However, these drugs are expensive, complicated to administer, and can cause dangerous side effects. Most importantly, numerous researchers think the drugs' benefits will be imperceptible to patients and their families. Rather than grasping for a nebulous medical solution, many experts say it's better to focus on prevention. Roughly 40% of dementia cases could be delayed or prevented by addressing lifestyle and environmental factors.
Technology mishaps, declining standards.
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Google's Woke AI wasn't a mistake. We know. We were there.

I was not shocked at all. When the first Google Gemini photos popped up on my X feed, I thought to myself: Here we go again. And: Of course. Because I know Google well. Google Gemini's failures revealed how broken Google's culture is in such a visually obvious way to the world. But what happened was not a one-off incident. It was a symptom of a larger cultural phenomenon that has been taking over the company for years...
Paper cited by article at center of lawsuit for criticizing Splenda earns an expression of concern

A journal has issued an expression of concern for a 2008 paper suggesting artificial sweetener Splenda could disrupt the gut microbiome and cause other havoc with the gastrointestinal system – and which is cited by a paper at the center of a lawsuit against one of its authors by the maker of the sugar substitute...

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Exclusive: PLOS ONE to correct 1,000 papers, add author proof step

The megajournal PLOS ONE will be correcting about 1,000 papers over the next few months, Retraction Watch has learned, and will add an author proof step – a first for the journal...

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Controversial pyramid paper retracted when authors turn out to have radiocarbon-dated nearby dirt

A journal has retracted, over the objections of the authors, a controversial 2023 paper claiming a dig site in Indonesia is home to the largest pyramid built by humans...

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Do some IQ data need a ‘public health warning?’ A paper based on a controversial psychologist’s data is retracted

A journal has retracted a controversial 2010 article on intelligence and infections that was based on data gathered decades ago by a now-deceased researcher who lost his emeritus status in 2018 after students said his work was racist and sexist...
The credibility crisis in science

EXCERPTS (William Reville): I could scarcely believe my eyes reading the headline to Robin McKie’s recent article in the Guardian...

[...] I already knew that average standards of scientific publications have declined in recent years as numbers of science journals proliferated enormously, standards of peer review of submitted papers declined, and some journals adopted woke ideology.

However, I didn’t know the problem was escalating so rapidly. The watchdog group Retraction Watch tracks this problem. In 2013, just over 1,000 papers were retracted internationally, more than 4,000 in 2022 and, in 2023, more than 10,000.

[...] Chinese medicine has a particularly bad reputation for faking research because clinicians must publish to scale the hospital hierarchy, forcing overworked doctors to outsource their “research” to dark organisations called “paper mills”.

Paper mills produce and sell fraudulent manuscripts that resemble legitimate research manuscripts. This paper mill industry has spread to India, Russia and former USSR states, Iran and eastern Europe... (MORE - details)

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How we got concussions so wrong

EXCERPT: For years, doctors had been told that concussion patients needed total rest in order to recover. But around the time of Gormally’s concussions, which occurred between 2013 and 2016, the science was beginning to indicate the opposite—patients who “cocooned” themselves in a dark room, even for only a few days, consistently took longer to get better than people who stayed engaged with their daily activities.

Since then, study after study has shown that the concussed brain requires active rehabilitation—activities like exercise, reading, and screens—to heal. The most up-to-date Consensus Statement on Concussion in Sport, a report prepared by an international panel of experts, recommends “active rehabilitation” and discourages total rest. As with most injuries, the specifics of what that rehabilitation looks like varies from case to case; researchers and specialists have an arsenal of protocols and therapies at their disposal.

You’d think that this would have meant a revolution in how doctors understand and treat concussions. It hasn’t. For many patients, not much has changed at all. A report published in 2018 found that more than half of patients with concussions—millions a year in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—are still leaving the doctor’s office without actionable, evidence-based information or referrals to specialists. Instead of that crucial step, many patients, to their detriment, are still being told to simply cocoon... (MORE - missing details)

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How [today's] universities killed the academic

EXCERPTS (Kathleen Stock): Is it possible to write a satirical campus novel anymore? Satire requires exaggeration and the pointed introduction of absurdity, but it is hard to see how modern university life could be further embellished in these respects. As usual, there were some classic stories served up this week for civilians to laugh at.

[...] The organisation that first uncovered the story about microaggressions is the Committee for Academic Freedom, newly formed by philosophy lecturer Edward Skidelsky to push back against institutional incursions on free inquiry...

[...] while the general public increasingly gets the joke, and a growing band of disgruntled renegades joins organisations like CAF, it is still true that most employees within relevant institutions remain po-faced and acquiescent in the light of blatantly stupid initiatives by their managers and colleagues. Partly this is because they are frightened to do otherwise...

[...] perhaps an even bigger causal factor in the UK was the move towards conceiving of the student as a customer. Among the many unintended effects of this unfortunate reframing was a difference in the kind of candidate who would get appointed into lecturing positions. And the change is significantly responsible for the idiotic atmosphere we now see.

And philosophy itself has a crucial role to play here. So many humanities departments house people who call themselves philosophers but who are no such thing, according to the traditional understanding of that term. Out of politeness or fear of intellectual confrontation, they have been allowed by actual philosophers to get away with it.

The predictable result is thousands upon thousands of former students who sincerely believe that truth is relative, sex is fluid, cis het white men are scum and all the rest of it. We need to wrest the discipline back from these charlatans... (MORE - missing details)
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Did you hear the story about the GMO that nearly destroyed the world?

This story has become an occasionally arising myth, with articles that appear every few years bolstering anti-GMO activists’ views that anything transgenic or otherwise modified is at least bad for your health, bad for the environment, or perhaps fatal. Now, in the wake of a new federal law mandating labeling food containing GMOs, the myth has returned...
The FDA just handed quacks a massive propaganda victory on ivermectin

EXCERPT: So what is really going on here? Because I am not a lawyer, I was happy to see that Dorit Reiss posted an article on why the antivax messaging regarding this settlement is profoundly misleading. The FDA has not “lost the war on ivermectin.” However, as I will discuss, through its decision to settle, the FDA does appear to have lost a major battle against misinformation and handed quacks a propaganda victory that will likely resonate for years, if not decades. It was an unforced error, and, although I can understand why the FDA might have wanted this lawsuit just to go away, I predict that the price in messaging for making this suit disappear will soon reveal itself to be just too high... (MORE - details)

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The ‘Mother Tree’ idea is everywhere — but how much of it is real?

EXCERPTS: It was a call from a reporter that first made ecologist Jason Hoeksema think things had gone too far. The journalist was asking questions about the wood wide web — the idea that trees communicate with each other through an underground fungal network — that seemed to go well beyond what Hoeksema considered to be the facts.

[...] Their concerns lay predominantly with a depiction of the forest put forward by Suzanne Simard, a forest ecologist at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, in her popular work. Her book Finding the Mother Tree, for example, was published in 2021 and swiftly became a bestseller.

[...] The idea has enchanted the public, appearing in bestselling books, films and television series. It has inspired environmental campaigners, ecology students and researchers in fields including philosophy, urban planning and electronic music. Simard’s ideas have also led to recommendations on forest management in North America.

But in the ecology community there is a groundswell of unease with the way in which the ideas are being presented in popular forums... (MORE - details)

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In an abysmal article, Nautilus dismisses the importance of genes

EXCERPT (Jerry Coyne): This is one of the worst papers on genetics I’ve seen in the last 15 years, and although it’s from 2019, this same kind of palaver keeps coming around again and again, and in exactly the same form. [...] The author, Ken Richardson, seems to have derived most of his genetics from fringe figures like Denis Noble and James Shapiro, with the result that the casual, non-geneticist reader will buy what these people are selling: genes are of only minor significance in both development and evolution.

[...] Read it by clicking below, or find the article archived here.

I was torn between ignoring this paper—for the author deserves no attention—or taking it apart. I decided on a compromise: to show some of the statements it makes that are either flat wrong or deeply misguided. Richardson’s quotes are indented, and my take is flush left. Here’s how he starts... (MORE - details)
The EU continues its unscientific, anti-innovation policymaking

EXCERPT: They claim that the objective is to make the food system more sustainable and resilient by developing improved plant varieties that are climate-resilient, pest-resistant, higher-yielding, or that require less fertilizers and pesticides. But excessive regulation will not achieve that, and European politics and regulatory foot-dragging will ensure these objectives are not met. The new proposal creates even more new, meaningless pseudo-categories that would be subject to disparate regulation – but we would emphasize that the various methods of modifications are distinctions without meaningful differences and are irrelevant to risk or risk-assessment... (MORE - details)
The trend of scientists in general taking up political activism continues.Though long considered taboo because it undermines the public perception of scientists being agenda-neutral, in some related respects it has been the case for ages. Like influences along that line in the social sciences, and businesses and industries compromising the scientists working for them.
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Robert Howarth putting pause on LNG exports

After Republicans and Democrats in Washington last year asked EQT about Howarth’s research, EQT did a deep dive into the scientist’s work. It put together a PowerPoint presentation for policymakers that raised questions about Howarth’s methods and his ties to anti-fracking groups, according to people familiar with the matter. [...] William Jordan, EQT’s general counsel, said Howarth has been seeking to influence policymakers at the expense of rigor. He said Howarth crossed the line between research and advocacy, and his work contributes to a false narrative that shutting down natural gas pipelines and blocking LNG plants helps mitigate climate change.
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Countries not of part of or unaffected by the sanctions network can still turn to Russia, etc for their LNG needs.