pathological science

I was recently re-reading the transcript of Irving Langmuir‘s classic Pathological Science lecture from 1953 (download the PDF) and thought I might drop a post on here about it.  For most physical scientists, I imagine that the talk is well known.  There are extensive websites on the subject, as well as the obligatory Wikipedia page, so there is no need to rehash all of that here.  However, it did strike me that maybe a restating of the lecture’s main points would be of some use, since the talk is apparently not as well known amongst many of my colleagues in the biosciences.  So, Langmuir defined pathological science as having the following properties (Langmuir’s words in quotes): Continue reading “pathological science”

violating the “codex of science”?

I just finished reading this editorial from Thomas Lüscher, published in European Heart Journal, for which he serves as Editor-In-Chief.  For most folks who happen upon my website, the main details of this article may not be of particular interest, as the apparent driver for writing it comes from two recent notable cases of fraud and/or misconduct in cardiovascular medicine (see these links for additional info on Polderman and Matsubara, the two main topics of discussion).  Larry Husten over at Forbes has also written about the editorial from the cardiology point of view. Continue reading “violating the “codex of science”?”

this is science. get it together, people

One week ago, the website Science Fraud ceased operations under mounting legal pressure. The folks over at Retraction Watch have done a nice job of documenting these events here and here. I was also pointed in the direction of this OP/ED by Bill Frezza in Forbes that was published today that makes the case for more operations like Science Fraud, which seems kind of like a no-brainer position to me. To quote from Frezza’s article:

Given the tens of millions of dollars in misappropriated research funds that financed this small sample of what is surely a larger problem and the cascading pollution of the scientific literature whenever fraudulent publications get cited, it’s a shame that this tip-of-of-the-iceberg effort at cleansing the muck is being shut down rather than expanded.

That argument is a fiscal one, and it is accurate. But in reality, isn’t this all about scientific discourse? Science Fraud was crowdsourced (it wasn’t just a one-person show) and was largely anonymous, but that doesn’t mean the site was dismissive of having a discussion about the results in question. To quote from Frezza again:

Fraud, plagiarism, cherry-picked results, poor or non-existent controls, confirmation bias, opaque, missing, or unavailable data, and stonewalling when questioned have gone from being rare to being everyday occurrences.

If Science Fraud or any other anonymous website alleges such transgressions, it is certainly appropriate for the accused to enter into a scientific dialogue/defense with the accuser – this plays out millions of times a day in countless blogs across the web. If the accuser is being disingenuous, this will become clear in due course. However, the fact that some have resorted to the litigious path seems distinctly non-scientific to me. If the alleged transgressions were really so innocent, why haven’t we seen a well-constructed counter-argument? The answer to that question seems obvious to me – you can draw your own conclusions.

***UPDATE – January 11, 2013***

Science Magazine has chimed in with this article from Jennifer Couzin-Frankel. It is more of a simple recounting of events as opposed to an opinion piece, but it provides useful insight into how all of this is playing out.


the importance of being self-critical

In laboratory science-based fields, we are accustomed to performing research using the principles of the scientific method. To summarize, we form a hypothesis, conduct an experiment, collect data, analyze and interpret the data, and then draw conclusions that may or may not be aligned with the initial hypothesis. We then cycle back with a revised hypothesis and repeat the method. For this process to work, the experiments being performed must be designed to limit the number of possible conclusions, hence the need for appropriate controls. Finally, we try to use Occam’s Razor when drawing conclusions; the simplest, most assumption-free interpretation of the data should be explored first, before moving on to more complex explanations.

Recently I have been reading literature from various disciplines associated with obesity and heart disease, and the relationship between diet and those maladies. To be blunt, I have been amazed at what folks can get away with in the supposedly peer-reviewed literature. In my opinion, coming at it as an experimentalist, some of what I present below crosses the line from being poorly done to just plain irresponsible. For the sake of brevity, I will present these examples by linking to writers who have already gone through the process of dissecting the primary literature. I don’t think it is necessary for me to re-do analyses that have already been ably done. However, I want to make it clear that some of these writers have economic interest in the whole argument – they are selling books, are on lecture circuits, etc. By linking to those articles, I am not endorsing their products – I do however find some of what they have to say quite useful.

Continue reading “the importance of being self-critical”

wow…someone would really do this?

Thought I would share the following post from Retraction Watch:

Elsevier parasitology journal retracts paper after finding author made up peer reviewer email addresses

So, the main point is this: the author apparently submitted the paper and suggested reviewers for the paper, as is required by most (all?) journals these days. However, the editors of the journal discovered that the emails were bogus. For example, some of the addresses suggested went to a domain in China, despite the fact that the reviewers allegedly associated with those emails WERE NOT from China. The implication here is that the author was abusing the review system in order to obtain a favorable review (i.e., perhaps the author was on the other end of those addresses?). I guess I am just a bit sheltered – just shocks me that someone would actually go to these lengths.