For reasons I don’t entirely understand, this post is trending high on Google searches for ‘chemistry fraud’. I’d actually like to do a follow up on some of these cases, so if you’re interested in seeing that, have other cases you’d like listed, or know any of the participants, please contact me in the comments or at: chemistrystatistics AT gmail DOT com
– verpa , 10/20/2010
After reading about the IUCr scandal with some 70 structures invalidated followed by another one this month for another set, it got me thinking about the chemistry scandals that have come to light in the past few years. It seems as though the number of massive frauds is increasing … or are they just getting becoming more public? A quick review of some of the biggies ( only chemistry, mind you ):
- 1994 – Guido Zandel
Claimed to have discovered an enantioselective preference in some reactions under a static magnetic field. Took until 1996 for the paper to be retracted. Uncovered from third party failing to reproduce results. This is one where the system worked but it still took several years and wasted many people’s time. Total submissions withdrawn: 1.
- 2000 – Peter Chen
I feel bad using his name on this one, since he seems to have tried to deal with it properly. Apparently one of his graduate or post-docs falsified data used in their thesis, and later in several publications. Chen realized it when he couldn’t reproduce his own group’s results, and requested a committee investigation. Then things apparently got ugly. Uncovered by his own efforts. Total submissions withdrawn: 3.
- 1998-2002 – Hendrik Schön
Author of an insane number of papers and ‘breakthroughs’ at Bell Labs. Took several years before anyone noticed that he was submitting the exact same data repeatedly. Also somehow managed to lose all his lab data and notebooks. Uncovered from a third party noticing duplicate data. Total submissions withdrawn: 21.
- 2003-2007 – Pattium Chiranjeevi
Again an author of an insane number of papers. Allegations include recruiting graduate students to scour old journal articles to pirate, changing small features of an article and publishing in a different journal. Uncovered from third party noticing their own results being plagiarized. C&EN news seems to think this a good place to shill for a plagiarism detection system … too soon man, too soon. Total submissions withdrawn: 70+.
If you don’t mind the profanities, The Curious Wavefunction has some hilarious comments in their discussion the C&E news story.
- 2007-2009 – Crystal Structure Frauds
Drs. Hua Zong and Tao Liu were found to have submitted scores of fraudulent structures to IUCr. In many cases, these structures were chemically impossible and appear to have been created by manual edits of existing published structures. IUCr has published a very detailed editorial about how the fraud was committed. Now we have the UAB retraction as well, and you have to imagine there’s more in the database to be found. Discovered while running shakedown tests on new software against ‘real’ data. Total submissions withdrawn: 70 + ?? … oh god, I just give up.
With the most recent batch of frauds coming out of China, it’s easy to blame China’s research-or-starve model ( literal publish or perish ) as the cause. But, as Nature continues with another piece, that’s too simple of a view.
We need to submit journal articles to the same kind of plagiarism scrutiny that we force students to undergo. Reviewers can’t be expected to keep a significant fraction of an exploding field of knowledge in their heads. We need to let the computers score new manuscripts/data for duplication across all the journals, then include those scores when the manuscripts are sent to the reviewers. I’m not saying we should pull the human from the loop, but the computer should be in there too. Without this sort of check, the databases are rotting from the inside.
We should also have open commenting on all journal articles once published … not the anemic ghetto of a journal club that JACS is doing to ‘test the waters’. As far as I can tell, no one takes that ‘club’ seriously, as it’s obvious JACS isn’t committed to it. I wouldn’t mind having to defend my papers against the occasional troll if I could see easily that three people other people had failed to get a synthesis working, saving myself a day or two of work.
How often have you heard a fellow chemist say … “I don’t trust anything that’s not in [ JACS, Angewandte, Organometallics ]” or “I won’t even read Tett. Letters because it’s full of ISHTAR: Irreproducible Shit That Aggravates Readers“?
Is the network of trust between chemists breaking down?
Where do you see this heading?