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

Ho hum. I very much doubt one or the other is universally the wrong thing to do. But the issue of "Does who is funding _X_ research compromise it?" often pops-up. There are certainly occasions where it does, but the world isn't perfect, and somebody (company, rich benefactor, government/taxpayer, organization/institution, etc) has to be the sponsor. Each cynic and group of such to pursuing and addressing their own choice for the fly in the ointment when they target something suspicious (to them).
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Who Should Fund Science?

EXCERPT: State investment in science is certainly nothing new, but what is fascinating is how easily it is now accepted as the de facto means of spurring scientific innovation. Pew polling confirms that, while government funding does not necessarily inspire trust in science, the public is far less likely to trust scientific findings when funded through an industry source. Additionally, 82 percent of Americans believe government investment in scientific research is usually worthwhile.

Many Western governments failed to respond adequately to the COVID-19 pandemic, so it is understandable that policymakers want to invest heavily in scientific research. After all, should we not ask our state leaders to invest more than ever in innovation in case a worse threat arises? But when considered on the merits of its economic, philosophical, and historical arguments, the claim that governments should be responsible for funding scientific research turns out to be a counterproductive myth... (MORE - missing details)
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How big is science’s fake-paper problem?

EXCERPT: An unpublished analysis suggests that there are hundreds of thousands of bogus ‘paper-mill’ articles lurking in the literature. [...] Without individual investigations, it is impossible to know whether all of these papers are in fact products of paper mills. But the proportion — a few per cent — is a reasonable conservative estimate, says Adam Day, director of scholarly data-services company Clear Skies in London, who conducted the analysis using machine-learning software he developed called the Papermill Alarm... (MORE - details)

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When science influencers polarize our politics

EXCERPT: . . . Michael E. Mann is also a fierce political partisan who is quite vocal in his utter disdain for Republicans and unwavering endorsement of Democrats. He has also not been shy in his effort to police scientific discourse. In short, Mann is without a doubt the most influential and powerful climate science influencer on the planet. He is the Taylor Swift of climate science.

Does Mann’s style of “science communication” offer a template for how scientists ought to engage with their peers and broader society? Some think so — in climate science, many have followed Mann’s lead and adopted a pugilistic and partisan approach to public engagement.

Climate science is not unique. The popular medical researcher Peter Hotez of Baylor University associates “anti-science” with Republicans and “science” with Democrats. Similarly, scientists who have rejected the notion of a research-related incident as the origin of COVID-19 have chosen to characterize that theory in explicitly partisan terms.

It is not just in the United States either — last month Nature chose to weigh in on the Argentinean presidential election.

Scientists are players in big time politics! That’s great, right? (MORE - missing details)
Touch of déjà vu from the "researchers worry the controversy is damaging the field’s reputation". But it's dated Nov 7.
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"Nature" retracts controversial superconductivity paper by embattled physicist

Nature has retracted a controversial paper claiming the discovery of a superconductor — a material that carries electrical currents with zero resistance — capable of operating at room temperature and relatively low pressure. The text of the retraction notice states that it was requested by eight co-authors. [...] It is the third high-profile retraction of a paper by the two lead authors, physicists Ranga Dias at the University of Rochester in New York and Ashkan Salamat at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV). Nature withdrew a separate paper last year and Physical Review Letters retracted one this August.
Technically it may be premature to be slotting this here. But it seems like a future prospect for revisiting later and having its "tentative status as ___" updated to something more official. Possibly with an opportunity for accompanying cautionary lectures by archeologists about either sloppiness or having a motivated mindset with respect to interpreting data.

And should it go against probability and swing the other way, it can potentially be a great feeling to admit to being mistaken about one's early feelings concerning an astonishing conclusion. "Being wrong about what you expect" is hardly a global negative for all situations.

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A prehistoric pyramid may have just rewritten human history, scientists claim

EXCERPTS: A team of researchers say in a new study that Gunung Padang, a pyramid in Indonesia, is at least 16,000 years old, roughly 10,000 years older than the pyramid of Djoser in Egypt, long thought to be the world’s oldest...

[...] Gunung Padang is a pyramid-shaped mound of terraced earth adorned with ancient stone built on top of an extinct volcano. ... Most estimates have placed it under 2,000 years old, but Indonesian geologist Danny Hilman Natawidjaja—one of the study's co-authors—has long claimed that the site is much older...

[...] the team’s work has been revealed in piecemeal. Last month, they published a study in the peer-reviewed journal Archaeological Prospection that concludes the oldest parts of Gunung Padang are 27,000 to 16,000 years old, based on a range of tests including electrical resistivity tomography, ground-penetrating radar, seismic tomography, and core sampling among other methods. (MORE - missing details)
Stereotypes might not be as powerful as psychologists assumed

EXCERPTS: Do we assume what people are like based on what they do (a process that psychologists call ‘the spontaneous trait inference effect’), or based on stereotypes related to their age, gender and so on?

A recent study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology put this question to the test by examining the influence of stereotypes on the ‘spontaneous trait inference effect’. It raises interesting questions about the impressions we form of each other every day and whether the stereotypes we endorse about others (whether explicitly or without realising) are as influential as is often assumed.

[...] when we form impressions of other people, we do so using different, sometimes contradictory, information, Mangels says. People also hold stereotypes about others: assuming that because a person appears to belong to a particular group, they will have certain traits that they associate with that group...

Past research has found that stereotypes can clash with the spontaneous inferences observers make based on people’s behaviour, and in some cases even override them. [...] Yet in their new series of experiments Mangels and her co-author, Juliane Degner, found the opposite: that the spontaneous trait inference effect held strong, even in the face of contradictory stereotypes... (MORE - missing details)
Top five worst ‘uses’ for crystals in the world of wellness and pseudoscience

INTRO: I’ve been involved in skepticism for a long time now. I’ve been on the board of the the Merseyside Skeptics Society for ten years and a co-host of Skeptics with a K for nine years. I’ve even been Deputy Editor of this magazine for three years. In all this time of actively researching some of the more ridiculous pseudoscientific claims out there, one of the things I enjoy coming back to time and time again are the use of crystals.

Crystals epitomise many of the appeals of pseudoscience. They’re natural, they’re ancient, they’re beautiful, they’re accessible and they’re easy. Speak to anyone who endorses the use of crystals as a way of healing and supporting your body and they’ll tell you that different crystals have different properties and can be used for different purposes. They’re a quick fix for your anxiety problems, they’ll bring you good luck for that job interview, they’ll even cleanse your chakras…

So here are my top five worst ‘uses’ for crystals. (MORE - details)

COVERED: The Jade Egg ..... Crystal Bed Therapy ..... Crystal Facial Roller ..... Crystal Butt Plugs ..... Crystal Yoga
‘Super Size Me’: What happened when marketing researchers ordered a double retraction?

A year after the authors of two papers contacted the marketing journal where they had been published requesting retraction, the journal has pulled one, but decided to issue a correction for the other.

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Exclusive: Whistleblower fired after raising concerns about journal articles on LinkedIn

A business school in Pakistan has fired a marketing professor after finding he had “damaged the repute” of the university and its scholarly journal, Retraction Watch has learned.

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Exclusive: Editor caught plagiarizing resigns as more concerns emerge

A radiology professor in France who plagiarized others’ work in a review article has resigned from his role as deputy editor of a medical journal amid new concerns about his publications, Retraction Watch has learned.

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‘A travesty’: A researcher found guilty of misconduct by federal U.S. government responds

INTRO: “These findings are unjustified.”

That’s how a biologist at the Jesse Brown Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Chicago described the conclusions of a federal investigation that found she had faked images and inflated sample sizes in published papers and a grant application. The biologist, Hee-Jeong Im Sampen, has been banned from conducting VA research.

Sampen, also a research professor at the University of Illinois-Chicago, said that “any errors that occurred involved discrete erroneously-placed figures or images” that “in no way undermine our basic conclusions and findings.”

Calling the episode a “long and hard battle for me,” Sampen sent us these comments... (MORE - details)
Meditation is big business. The science isn’t so clear.

EXCERPTS: . . . For more than two decades, various studies have suggested that meditation and mindfulness — that is, being aware of the present moment — can help reduce and improve pain management, lending some credence to the notion that the brain can affect the body.

[...] Yet the field has also faced sharp criticism from psychologists and researchers who say the health benefits are overstated and some of the research methodologically flawed. Meanwhile, claims that alternative approaches, including meditation can, by themselves, cure serious illness have been called dangerous by medical experts, who fear a true believer might forego a life-saving treatment.

As researchers investigate meditation’s effect on nearly everything from chronic pain to ADHD to brain function post-stroke to emotional regulation, the practice continues to be popular among converts and curious alike.

[...] some researchers are interested in precisely how the brain affects the body’s immune system. ... A study recently published by the group described an association between meditation and enhanced resiliency against Covid-19.

Overall, there are still a lot of unknowns about how meditation can affect disease processes [...] “We know it impacts stress and sometimes stress biology, and we know that it can impact certain disease processes, but there’s still a black box in between.”

[...] Joe Dispenza, who holds week-long meditation retreats that regularly attract thousands of people [...is...] a chiropractor who has written various self-help books, has said he believes the mind can heal the body. ... Whether Dispenza’s collaboration with mainstream scientists will shed light into that black box is an open question, and many scientists are skeptical.

[...] while research has found meditation can improve some health outcomes — such as decreasing blood pressure and biomarkers of stress — its effect on the biological mechanisms underlying human health is less clear. It’s known to do some good in some situations, but it’s still unclear which situations and how... (MORE - missing details)
Technically it may be premature to be slotting this here. But it seems like a future prospect for revisiting later and having its "tentative status as ___" updated to something more official. Possibly with an opportunity for accompanying cautionary lectures by archeologists about either sloppiness or having a motivated mindset with respect to interpreting data.

I have followed this story a bit, and it sounds liike a lot of the archaeology community there sees Natawidjaja's team as engaged in "pseudoarchaeology." There could be a national pride factor in play, along the lines of we were building pyramids while the Egyptians were still in mud huts!
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No, traditional Chinese medicine has not been vindicated by science

INTRO: People love to show that skeptics were wrong about something, especially when national pride hangs in the balance. The South China Morning Post published the following headline on November 3rd: “Scientists find traditional Chinese medicine is based on a complex network of proteins – 3,000 years before modern science.”

The article points out that respectable editorials in the scientific literature had repeatedly referred to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) as “largely just pseudoscience” and “based on unsubstantiated theories.” Yet here was the believer’s vindication: that TCM really was rigorously scientific while predating the European origin of what we refer to as “modern science.”

Skeptics were bound to eat their hats.

The study itself, published in Science Advances, is certainly interesting, but its complexity makes it opaque to the average person. It’s one of those impenetrable bits of data wrangling that can easily be dismissed as nonsense by the TCM skeptic or blindly embraced as confirmatory by the TCM believer. Let’s dive in... (MORE - details)

RELATED: Decolonization of knowledge
What’s wrong with peer review?

EXCERPTS: The latest in a series of high-profile retractions of research papers has people asking: What’s wrong with peer review? [...] The number of retractions has been rising for years.

[...] “Every serious scientist I know who looked at this paper thought it shouldn’t have been published from the very beginning. ... I think what it says is that if we can’t trust the journals, we do need to think about alternative systems.”

[...] Typically, reviewers are working scientists tapped by journal editors to critique submissions and recommend whether they should appear in print. Their reviews are almost always provided for free as a service to the scientific community. And to facilitate candid assessments, their identities are usually concealed.

[...] journal editors acknowledge that errors or fraud can escape notice because reviewers don’t audit underlying data sets. That’s not their job ... “I would not want to think of my peer reviewers on the papers as some kind of police squad catching mistakes”...

[...] While only a small fraction of the millions of studies published every year are retracted, when questionable research does make it into the pages of a prestigious journal, the consequences can be severe and long-lasting.... (MORE - missing details)
Medicine’s role in Nazism and the Holocaust should be examined, say researchers

EXCERPTS: The high-profile medical journal The Lancet has published a commission on medicine, Nazism and the Holocaust, with the aim of strengthening modern medical ethics.

[...] “While it is tempting to view the perpetrators as incomprehensible monsters, the evidence put forward by the Commission demonstrates how many health professionals were capable of committing ethical transgressions and even crimes against their patients under certain conditions and pressures.”

[...] According to the commission, physicians joined the Nazi party and affiliated groups in higher proportions than any other profession. ... medicine and public health “were used to justify and implement persecutory policies and eventually state-sanctioned mass murder and genocide...”

While it is not the only instance of atrocities committed by physicians and the medical establishment, the researchers believe it’s an effective one to teach because of its scope and documentation.

“It is often surprising how limited the knowledge about Nazi medical crimes in the medical community is today [...] Our report aims to change this. Although the examples we present are extreme, studying medicine under Nazism highlights the critical role of societal factors and of ethics in medical and scientific advancement.

“Today’s health professionals operate in systems and structures that do not benefit all patients equally. While there is no simple path ahead, knowledge of historical extremes can make us better prepared to work through ever-evolving ethical dilemmas in medicine.” (MORE - missing details)
Jaws of the Snake

EXCERPTS: . . . climate policy is much more complex than this, but for better or worse, public and political discourse has been reduced to a debate centered on scientific predictions of our collective long-term futures.

[...] Research shows that these dynamics persist — legacy media and social media emphasize the IPCC Working Group 1 and 2 reports, which provide projections of climate futures and their impacts, and de-emphasize Working Group 3 which has expertise in energy systems and technologies of mitigation. Anyone paying attention to climate policy and politics will be familiar with these dynamics.

[...] As our view of the long-term climate future becomes less catastrophic, due initially to moving beyond misleading, implausible scenarios and then continuing into the future as decarbonization accelerates, the jaws of the snake will close even tighter. A narrowing of plausible futures is an inevitable consequence of climate policy progress...

[...] The future is not what it used to be. Science and policy need to keep up, regardless whose expertise wins and loses... (MORE - missing details)
Harvard astronomer’s “alien spherules” are industrial pollutants

KEY POINTS: For all of human history, we've both hoped and feared the possibilities that would arise from "first contact" with aliens. However, despite much wishful thinking, no scientific evidence for their presence has ever appeared. Harvard astronomer Avi Loeb has been claiming for years that alien space probes are flying throughout the galaxy, claims that one smashed into Earth in 2014, and believes he's found evidence for this on the seafloor.

However, Loeb is opining not only far beyond the limits of his own expertise, but well outside of what the data indicates. New research has shown these "spherules" aren't alien technology; they're coal ash from human activity since the industrial revolution... (MORE - details)
What’s in a name? Made-up authors are penning dozens of papers

Researchers apparently don’t need to be real to publish in scientific journals.

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Auburn PhD student faked data in grant application and published paper, feds say

A former PhD student at Auburn University in Alabama relabeled and reused images inappropriately in a grant application, published paper, and several presentations, a U.S. government watchdog has found.

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Authors hire lawyer as journal plans to retract their article on pesticide poisoning

A public health journal intends to retract an article that estimated how many unintentional pesticide poisonings happen each year worldwide.

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Archaeologists claimed old findings as their own, critic says

Artifacts that Sowell recognized as findings from his own projects years earlier had been published without permission. He also said the authors misidentified the location of the artifacts, and falsely claimed the objects had been collected from excavations, not obtained at the surface of the sites.

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Publisher pulls books about philosophers Žižek and Venn over citation issues

A large U.S. university press has stopped selling two scholarly books about the philosophers Slavoj Žižek and John Venn due to problems with how the authors cited – or didn’t cite – source material.
Original sin: Belief that science can make politics lead to desired policy

INTRO: Over the past few days I have commented on X/Twitter about the just-released Fifth U.S. National Climate Assessment (NCA). It is much more a glossy promotional brochure than anything resembling a careful assessment of the scientific literature on climate change and the United States. That’s a shame because scientific assessments are crucially important. Instead, the U.S. NCA pours fuel on the pathological politicization of climate science... (MORE - details)

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New research suggests plants might be able to absorb more CO2 from human activities than previously expected

INTRO: New research published today in leading international journal Science Advances paints an uncharacteristically upbeat picture for the planet. This is because more realistic ecological modelling suggests the world’s plants may be able to take up more atmospheric CO2 from human activities than previously predicted.

Despite this headline finding, the environmental scientists behind the research are quick to underline that this should in no way be taken to mean the world’s governments can take their foot off the brake in their obligations to reduce carbon emissions as fast as possible. Simply planting more trees and protecting existing vegetation is not a golden-bullet solution but the research does underline the multiple benefits to conserving such vegetation... (MORE - details, no ads)
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Queensland University of Technology completely ditches merit-based hiring, favoring gender, “looks”, and personality

INTRO (Jerry Coyne): This gem of a story is about how one Aussie university went to the logical endpoint of the diversity-trumps-merit controversy: Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane is apparently about to hire solely on the basis of diversity, and has erased any mention of the word “merit” in its hiring policy. This of course is ridiculous, intolerable, and a recipe for academic disaster (see our big article, “In defense of merit in science“). But it’s very “progressive”!

The big taboo that people can’t discuss is that there’s a tradeoff between merit and ethnic diversity, a tradeoff that results from members of minorities having lower traditional qualifications—a result of both historical bigotry and present cultural circumstances. To achieve ethnic equity, then, you simply have to lower the merit-based standards you’ve used before.

This is why colleges left and right are getting rid of standardized tests like the SAT for college admissions, and adopting what they call “holistic admissions”. At the same time, high-school graduation standards are being lowered for similar reasons (see this article about New York State considering ditching the Regents exams once required to graduate.) But few people will openly admit why this happens.

Well, Queensland University of Technology is making no bones about it. In their frantic search for diversity, they’ve binned the idea of “merit” altogether... (MORE - details)