Friday, May 22, 2015

How the Biggest Fabricator in Science Got Caught

Yoshitaka Fujii falsified 183 papers before statistics exposed him...

Carlisle compared the findings from 168 of Fujii’s “gold standard” clinical trials from 1991 to 2011 (an eyebrow-raising average of about eight papers a year) with what other investigators had previously reported, and what would be expected to occur by chance. He looked at factors ranging from patient height and blood pressure at the start of a study to rates of side effects associated with the drugs Fujii was reportedly testing.

Using these techniques, Carlisle concluded in a paper he published in Anaesthesia in 2012 that the odds of some of Fujii’s findings being experimentally derived were on the order of 10-33, a hideously small number. As Carlisle dryly explained, there were “unnatural patterns” that “would support the conclusion that these data depart from those that would be expected from random sampling to a sufficient degree that they should not contribute to the evidence base.” In other words: If it seems too good to be true, math will tell you it probably is.


  1. A leading scientific journal on Thursday retracted a highly publicized study reporting that attitudes toward same-sex marriage could be altered by brief face-to-face conversations with people who have a stake in the issue.

    The study, published by the journal Science in December, came under question this month when a pair of graduate students trying to follow up on the work found evidence that the data had been misrepresented.

    The study’s senior author, Donald P. Green, a prominent political scientist at Columbia University, asked that the study be retracted last week, after his co-author, Michael J. LaCour, a graduate student in political science at the University of California, Los Angeles, declined to furnish the raw data he had used to reach his conclusions...

    The students who flagged possible problems with the research, Joshua Kalla and David Broockman, then at the University of California, Berkeley, had tried to conduct their own version of the original study.

    They asked canvassers with a personal stake in a contentious gay rights issue to try to sway voters’ opinions. But the researchers could not get the same level of participation from voters that Mr. LaCour had reported.

    Mr. Kalla then called the survey company that Mr. LaCour reported having used to help conduct the research, and the company said it had never heard of the project. The pair found other statistical anomalies in the study the next day and contacted Dr. Green, who had been their instructor.

    Dr. Green contacted Mr. LaCour’s adviser at U.C.L.A., who confronted Mr. LaCour about the raw data on which the study was based. After learning that Mr. LaCour did not hand over his data, Dr. Green wrote to the journal calling for the retraction.


  2. The study results confirmed everything veteran gay rights activist David Fleischer had seen in his years of door-knocking — that a short but heartfelt conversation at the doorstep could truly change the mind of a voter who opposes same-sex marriage.

    So it was a shock this week when Fleischer learned there is evidence that the study, penned by a young PhD student at UCLA, was faked. The study’s co-author, an esteemed Columbia University political science professor, asked the journal Science to retract the groundbreaking paper, saying he was deeply embarrassed by the incident...

    The study’s main author, Michael J. LaCour, said in a statement that he is “gathering evidence and relevant information so I can provide a single comprehensive response” to the request for retraction. Science issued an “editorial expression of concern” to advise readers that it was investigating “serious questions” about the study’s validity.


    Courtesy of a colleague

  3. Cheating is thought to contaminate only a small portion of all the research in this country, but no one knows for sure. Cases that have emerged from the shadows are tracked by Retraction Watch, an independent blog that covers research. In an op-ed article in The Times on May 23, the blog’s co-founders noted that, in each of the past few years, the Office of Research Integrity, part of the Department of Health and Human Services, has sanctioned a dozen or so scientists for misconduct ranging from plagiarism to fabrication of results.

    Clearly, this has not been a good year. The journal Environmental Science & Technology corrected a March paper on fracking because the lead scientist failed to disclose funding from an energy company. In May, The Journal of Clinical Investigation retracted a paper on cancer genetics from a young researcher at the National Cancer Institute because the data was fabricated.


  4. The crimes and misdemeanors of science used to be handled mostly in-house, with a private word at the faculty club, barbed questions at a conference, maybe a quiet dismissal. On the rare occasion when a journal publicly retracted a study, it typically did so in a cryptic footnote. Few were the wiser; many retracted studies have been cited as legitimate evidence by others years after the fact.

    But that gentlemen’s world has all but evaporated, as a remarkable series of events last month demonstrated. In mid-May, after two graduate students raised questions about a widely reported study on how political canvassing affects opinions of same-sex marriage, editors at the journal Science, where the study was published, began to investigate. What followed was a frenzy of second-guessing, accusations and commentary from all corners of the Internet: “Retraction” as serial drama, rather than footnote. Science officially pulled the paper, by Michael LaCour of the University of California, Los Angeles, and Donald Green of Columbia, on May 28, because of concerns about Mr. LaCour’s data.

    “Until recently it was unusual for us to report on studies that were not yet retracted,” said Dr. Ivan Oransky, an editor of the blog Retraction Watch, the first news media outlet to report that the study had been challenged. But new technology and a push for transparency from younger scientists have changed that, he said. “We have more tips than we can handle.”

    The case has played out against an increase in retractions that has alarmed many journal editors and authors. Scientists in fields as diverse as neurobiology, anesthesia and economics are debating how to reduce misconduct, without creating a police-state mentality that undermines creativity and collaboration...

    In its first year, the blog broke a couple of retraction stories that hit the mainstream news media — including a case involving data faked by an anesthesiologist who later served time for health care fraud. The site now has about 150,000 unique visitors a month, about half from outside the United States.

    Dr. Oransky and Mr. Marcus are partisans who editorialize sharply against poor oversight and vague retraction notices. But their focus on evidence over accusations distinguishes them from watchdog forerunners who sometimes came off as ad hominem cranks. Last year, their site won a $400,000 grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, to build out their database, and they plan to work with Dr. Nosek to manage the data side.

    Their data already tell a story.

    The blog has charted a 20 to 25 percent increase in retractions across some 10,000 medical and science journals in the past five years: 500 to 600 a year today from 400 in 2010. (The number in 2001 was 40, according to previous research.) The primary causes of this surge are far from clear. The number of papers published is higher than ever, and journals have proliferated, Dr. Oransky and other experts said. New tools for detecting misconduct, like plagiarism-sifting software, are widely available, so there’s reason to suspect that the surge is a simple product of better detection and larger volume.

    Courtesy of:

  5. A JAMA clinical trial that suggested a blood pressure drug could help patients increase their physical fitness, and a sub-analysis of those data, have been retracted after “an admission of fabricated results” by the first author on both papers.

    The three-year clinical trial was published in JAMA in 2013. It was retracted this morning.

    The trial found ramipril helped patients with artery disease walk longer and with less pain, according to the abstract:..

    The retraction note explains how the fabricated data came to light:

    To the Editor We wish to retract the article “Effect of Ramipril on Walking Times and Quality of Life Among Patients with Peripheral Artery Disease and Intermittent Claudication: A Randomized Controlled Trial,” published in the February 6, 2013, issue of JAMA.1 A recent internal subanalysis of these data revealed anomalies, which triggered an investigation and an admission of fabricated results by Anna A. Ahimastos, PhD, who is both the first and corresponding author and was responsible for data collection and integrity for the article. No other coauthors were involved in this misrepresentation. In particular, the data collected at the Townsville and Brisbane sites remain valid. Given the current indications for ramipril, we do not believe that patients have been adversely affected. All authors recognize the seriousness of this issue and apologize unreservedly to the editors, reviewers, and readers of JAMA. A system of good clinical practice was in place; however, clinical governance and audit procedures will be reviewed and strengthened to minimize the chance of possible recurrence of such behavior. We are also in the process of examining other studies for which Dr Ahimastos had oversight of data collection and integrity.

    We sincerely regret that this study has been compromised. We feel deeply disappointed and let down by this situation and are committed to rapidly correcting the public record and implementing practices to prevent recurrence.

    According to JAMA, the paper has been cited 35 times.
    Courtesy of: