Scumbag

March 14th, 2009 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, fraud | 85 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
The Guardian
14 March 2009

Like you, I’ve developed a sneaking respect for all the fun and interesting tricks a person can use to distort the scientific evidence, so Dr Scott S Reuben is a double scumbag: this week, in the biggest fraud case from recent medical history, he has been caught out, rather unimaginatively, just fabricating his data.

How did he get away with it?

Firstly, if you’re planning a career in scientific fraud, then medicine is an excellent place to start. Findings in complex biological systems – like “people” – are often contradictory and difficult to replicate, so you could easily advance your career and never get caught.

And fraud is not so unusual, depending on where you draw the line. In 2005 the journal Nature published an anonymous survey of 3247 scientists: 0.3% admitted they had falsified research data at some point in their careers, in acts of outright fraud; but more interestingly, 6% admitted failing to present data if it contradicted their previous research.

They are not alone. Robert Millikan, to take just one example, won a Nobel prize in 1923 after demonstrating that electricity comes in discrete units (electrons) with his oil drop experiment. Millikan was mid-career – the peak period for fraud – and fairly unknown. In his famous paper from Physical Review he said: “this is not a selected group of drops but represents all of the drops experimented on during 60 consecutive days”.

That was untrue: in the paper there were 58 droplets, but in the notebooks there are 175, annotated with phrases like “publish this beautiful one” and “agreement poor, will not work out”. Chillingly, there is a continuum between this naughtiness, and lots of apparently innocent research activity: what should you do with the outliers on the graph? When you drop something on the floor? When the run on the machine was probably contaminated?

Dr Reuben was at the other end of the scale. He simply never conducted various clinical trials he wrote about for ten years. In some cases he didn’t even pretend to get approval to conduct studies on patients, but just charged ahead and invented the results all the same.

The details haven’t come out yet – investigators have asked various academic journals to formally withdraw at least 21 studies – but fabrication is often easier to spot than selective editing, and some people have argued for various fraud detection tools to be used more commonly by academic journals.

The human brain is a fairly bad random number generator, for example, and simple frauds have often been uncovered by forensic statisticians looking at last digit frequency: if you’re pencilling numbers into a column at random, you might have a bit of an unconscious preference for the number 7. And a more interesting version of this pattern spotting applies to the lead digits further to the left in a number, which should conform to the Benford Distribution: a mathematical formalisation of the common sense observation that 1 is more common than 9 in these positions, if you’re measuring stuff.

Fine, you might say: I’ll use a random number generator. But here you run into the problem of telltale uniformity in your randomness. Jan Hendrik Schön co-authored roughly one paper every week in 2001, but his results were too accurate. Eventually someone noticed that two studies had the same amount of “noise”, and it turned out that many of his experimental results had been generated by computer, using the very equations they were supposed to be checking, with supposedly realistic random variation built into the model.

But for all our joy at mischief, we should remember that fraud has consequences. Faking the coin can retard progress, and it can waste the time of big thinkers. Arthur Smith Woodward, one of the 20th century’s greatest paleontologists, burned valuable life at Piltdown every year until he died, trying to find more remains to match the fraudulent Piltdown Man.

And in medicine, data isn’t an arbitrary or abstract thing: Reuben’s work examined the best way to manage pain after operations, and he provided evidence that non-opiate medications are equally effective. Now that field is in turmoil. And pain really matters.

References:

www.nytimes.com/2009/03/11/health/research/11pain.html?_r=2

www.anesthesiologynews.com/index.asp?ses=ogst&section_id=3&show=dept&article_id=12634

www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/118500359/abstract?CRETRY=1&SRETRY=0


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85 Responses



  1. ethicspiedpiper said,

    March 18, 2009 at 3:20 am

    www.youtube.com/watch?v=DPxlEVskbuk

    skip bbc link {posted above} ~ if you wish
    ‘it’s up peeps’
    fill up upon u tube education
    check it out
    may make more scattah sense
    loveUP

  2. bb1980 said,

    March 19, 2009 at 12:24 am

    Jesus wept….its like being trapped in lift with a third rate adolescent poet. Is the above poster really or some odd joke ?

  3. ethicspiedpiper said,

    March 19, 2009 at 1:38 am

    re: conflict

    only a foolish or fraud man of god would refute logic pure maths and critical falsification etc?
    only a foolish or fraud scientist would deny god?

    spooky is
    A DOGMATIC SCIENTIST THAT ~LIKE MANY THAT FOLLOW FALSE DOCTRINES~
    cannot sea true ‘g{o}od’
    deny the obvious

    you only have to see the tearing down humor on bad science sight to see how the gang [can] pick upon the maverick
    yet it always the maverick that gentetics let survive? :)
    and are the reason for all of man~kind

  4. ethicspiedpiper said,

    March 19, 2009 at 1:44 am

    re
    jokes
    be very very careful………….

    re
    the above post is exactly as written for a really interesting debate over on guardian website – re – sexual evolution – w*nkers etc including
    but though you will need to read every post to overstand all i posted there {if they allow it up – as i am overstandably being sensored now – even though i holdin back :)} and possibly hear{here}

  5. ethicspiedpiper said,

    March 19, 2009 at 1:47 am

    mirror mirror what do we sea in psychology bb
    lift i up in trinity 3
    rate thee highly highly that thee cannot yet sea clearly
    clearly?
    love we

  6. ethicspiedpiper said,

    March 19, 2009 at 2:00 am

    i have great respect that
    as yet
    no posts {of this poster} have here been deleted
    i repeat it
    HEAR
    BEN – BIG UP
    i bow down
    this is good
    NATURE
    this will be one thing i cannot fault your experimental practice UPon
    when i stalk you (if i have to):)
    TO~i~let diss~able GO
    :)
    YOU ARE DEEP MY BROTHER
    reeeeeeeeeeeSPEC’

  7. ethicspiedpiper said,

    March 19, 2009 at 4:08 am

    Re

    45
    DHR said,
    March 17, 2009 at 3:14 am

    SEE ABOVE i.e. post 45
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    RESPEC’
    NAILED IT
    hats off

    and i have
    [hidden in shame]
    as you {imply}say a heck of a {bunch of em}issue{s}
    :)
    one of{as} many 4 sure
    equal and more{including} ~2~ yours

    i give thanks
    clear post
    that there are some deep ethical issues out there THAT NEED AIRING – IN GOOD FAITH
    IS BIG ISSUE – THE ISSUE – FOUNDATION OF A SOCIETY THAT ITS ICON DEALS {OR IN PLACEBO TRIES TO ~ is seen to by bright youths at least andor = terrorists anorexics and more}
    ben is our only icon of power right now
    HOPE IS>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    more power 2 yous
    dear ben
    and
    dear dhr

    may your god blesss

  8. ethicspiedpiper said,

    March 19, 2009 at 4:24 am

    apologies ~~~
    they did not allow the deep analysis
    on ‘sexsual evolution’ column
    email
    good@gmx.co.uk
    if you want a copy summary
    of all three pages of comment
    or part{realistically – rationally speaking}
    which you will need to read in full

  9. Martin said,

    March 19, 2009 at 4:34 am

    It’s like English, only not.

    Ethics, if you really are posting genuine posts please try and make your posts clearer; at the moment you make less sense than a stunned haddock.

  10. ethicspiedpiper said,

    March 19, 2009 at 4:34 am

    32. Diversity said,
    March 15, 2009 at 8:36 pm

    Be tolerant of your teachers: you may find you have to learn through teaching in the future.

    ###############################################

    hats of generally
    and this closing line
    very yin yang
    very eastern
    BALANCED
    SEEEEN

  11. ethicspiedpiper said,

    March 19, 2009 at 4:44 am

    :)
    Martin said,
    March 19, 2009 at 4:34 am

    It’s like English, only not.

    Ethics, if you really are posting genuine posts please try and make your posts clearer; at the moment you make less sense than a stunned haddock.
    :)))
    YOU IS CLOSE BUT RACIST
    :)
    AND SEE THE NEWS CLIP WHERE THE GIRLS TRY AND EXPLAIN WHY SANDSKRIT SCRIPT IS SO GOOD FOR TO BE in {and most are already doing science music english french some asia language etc etc – are you the same – or very focused fishy scientist} – IMPOSSIBLE FOR THEM TO EXPLAIN – BUT THEY TRY
    :)
    ps hit the link to u tube?
    yet?
    errrr?

  12. ethicspiedpiper said,

    March 19, 2009 at 5:11 am

    mirror mirror
    martin brother
    oh HE…….
    {that which the data appears to show is a dumb stunned haddock scattah bait
    {latest paradym – cite: see above for others – as i cant make sense of what or who i am any more:) }}
    ………is JUST A TIDDLER white~in IN SHARKS NOVELITY SUIT baskin AND VERY VERY STUNNED had~STING~dock SENT DOWN NEW LEAF searchin
    :)
    i agree
    i guess i better say this
    b4 someoone else doth
    ~so we can get the debate movin
    ~and as it cometh 2 i mind
    mad!

  13. ethicspiedpiper said,

    March 19, 2009 at 5:13 am

    re ~ insult i self 1st
    dunno about baskin shark ~ more like basket case scientist

  14. ethicspiedpiper said,

    March 19, 2009 at 5:44 am

    I COULD GO ON IT SOO TIRESOME
    LITTLE BOYS LOVE IT THOUGH

    dunno about stunned haddock
    dumb flounder ring
    may be
    he k{no} pie~ranna
    etc etc etc
    yawn

    i think you’ll find i [it] is a bit more complex than that
    and simple
    :)

  15. ethicspiedpiper said,

    March 19, 2009 at 5:58 am

    btw
    a thought
    one or two bytes
    ~a nibble~
    to ease you back in

    I thought we scientists were curious
    and creative
    creatures
    survival drive maladaptive?
    and all that
    poke around ask deep questions solve riddles etc
    like to be falsified
    I must be wrong – back of class
    but hang on ~ i look at ben
    & bow down
    is it just the just or unjust followers of a cult that are out of water p~sueduko all they k{no}
    hmmmmmm
    fishy inflection mi feel
    cruel
    one wonders

    have they read every post in one flow
    and the critical thesis{dogma} scattah data article
    are they bringing to bare all they k{no}

  16. less muddled said,

    March 19, 2009 at 6:59 am

    For some people, you need to point out the errors in their statistical analysis to make them look like idiots.

    For others, you need to point out their questionable ethics, or hidden agenda, and then make them look like idiots.

    And then there are those who need nothing more than an open comments section, and they will do the rest themselves.

    Still, at least it is laid out like really bad poetry from an Open Mic night at the local pub.

  17. ethicspiedpiper said,

    March 19, 2009 at 7:13 am

    i think you’ll find hidden agenda is close sir
    as stated
    {but it not as simple as your hate implies}
    what is yours
    less muddle or more
    well done
    but what is good?

    for some no hate at all
    point your sword elsewhere
    spot less love

    please
    make a unity not bullet point someone
    you feel what i sayin and dare not challenge it?
    the muddle is what i trying to point at with
    you
    you cant spot one simngle point i have made
    you must be dull today child
    poet scientist – what da differnce – open mic – yes – pub no prob not – that’ll ne a pub lickin you?

  18. ethicspiedpiper said,

    March 19, 2009 at 7:22 am

    lay out – design then?
    a plan?
    you mean?
    not conscious stream?
    web
    brainstorming etc like mit
    but totaly your you
    structure
    convention
    form
    etc
    dogma
    arrogance
    no delve – not worth it???
    please show the way – i know nothing but love
    then
    4 scientist laid out with really hateful sarcasm is the lowest defence of wit?

    i claim no true specialisation – true
    i give you a run for your money
    but as the form here is bullying
    i worry of childs
    and do not wonder that so many women stay away

    i no poet poo it
    i a po~meme errrrrrr re face
    not poker point like some do

    are you worried your child and you can make more sense than you???

  19. ethicspiedpiper said,

    March 19, 2009 at 7:23 am

    quick hide your results unless the gang agree

  20. ethicspiedpiper said,

    March 19, 2009 at 7:27 am

    the need to hide~~~~~~~~~
    now translate my feelings
    into abuse[‘world’], science{‘pure’&’imaginary’&’applied’} and society
    we 2
    need a writer tagged less abusive muddle
    i feel

    i must hide till then
    in shame?

  21. ethicspiedpiper said,

    March 19, 2009 at 7:32 am

    March 19, 2009 at 6:59 am

    For some people, you need to point out the errors in their statistical analysis to make them look like idiots.
    YES BUT IT WONT HELP
    IT NOT AS SIMPLE AS THAT
    I TRIED IT
    For others, you need to point out their questionable ethics, or hidden agenda, and then make them look like idiots.
    YEH DITTO LAST SET OF FLAMIN CAPITALS
    And then there are those who need nothing more than an open comments section, and they will do the rest themselves.
    MIRROR MIRROR
    FALL ON SAME SWOED
    Still, at least it is laid out like really bad poetry from an Open Mic night at the local pub.
    AND THIS IS QUALITY CON~TROLLER FAT
    SURRRRRRRRRFsir

  22. ethicspiedpiper said,

    March 19, 2009 at 7:49 am

    rather would along with the issues please?
    but
    is anyone tryin to truely model us?
    or are insults more fun
    am i a scumbag then
    am i as bad as the rest
    yet i tell no lies
    i make no claim
    false nasty or other wise
    vien
    like you
    i come to reveal
    relieve all our pain
    pain??????????
    the chapp above called
    “jesus wept” ~ not sure which post

    or did they check the link to u tube already
    less muddled?
    oh they know they have met my sort
    b4
    assume? and sketch in the curve
    ball…………..x

    will others do better
    please
    discuss the issues {and dynamics} not personality labeling strings of insanity

  23. ethicspiedpiper said,

    March 19, 2009 at 7:58 am

    less muddled said,
    March 19, 2009 at 6:59 am

    And then there are those who need nothing more than an open comments section, and they will do the rest themselves.
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    classy:
    can anyone spot why a posting saying this is CLEARLY A FALSE PARADYM
    OXYMORON GOOD N PROPER

    then
    less muddled said,
    March 19, 2009 at 6:59 am

    Still, at least it is laid out like really bad poetry from an Open Mic night at the local pub.

    what???
    {especially as the line above it covered it ~ or not?}
    and would that be a bod thing
    alcohol i guess hmm i agree

  24. ethicspiedpiper said,

    March 19, 2009 at 8:12 am

    less muddled said,
    March 19, 2009 at 6:59 am

    Still, at least it is laid out like really bad poetry from an Open Mic night at the local pub.

    THIS IS CLOSE – I ADMIT – IN POSITIVITY MODE
    IN THAT I IS ANCIENT TRUTH ORAL
    COMMUNITY – TRIBE
    WRITTEN I BECOME MUDDLED MORE SO
    you cannot write love down

    DISCUSS

  25. Martin said,

    March 19, 2009 at 11:10 pm

    ethicspiedpiper said,
    March 19, 2009 at 8:12 am

    “you cannot write love down

    DISCUSS”

    Erm, you just did. L O V E. See, it’s easy.

    (Yes, I know you shouldn’t feed the trolls, but this one’s just too darn entertaining!)

  26. ethicspiedpiper said,

    March 20, 2009 at 10:11 am

    twitter away
    this troll trawling subject
    ethicspiedpiper@bengoldacre tinyurl.com/chdrky or direct to tinyurl.com/cahfkg MODELS

    Martin said,
    March 19, 2009 at 11:10 pm

    ethicspiedpiper said,
    March 19, 2009 at 8:12 am

    “you cannot write love down

    DISCUSS”

    Erm, you just did. L O V E. See, it’s easy.

    (Yes, I know you shouldn’t feed the trolls, but this one’s just too darn entertaining!)

    DEEP!!!! MARTIN
    YOU FEEL BITTER AND WAY OUT OF YOUR LEAGUE
    AND OFF BALANCE
    and you have failed to write love down
    WELL DONE CLASS
    YOU ARE AT LEAST AS TRYING
    AS I
    YOU SEE WHY BEST TO WRITE IN RIDDLES

    you cannot write ‘love’ down
    it is felt

    martin i would not want as counciler
    nor loving enquirer

    DISCUSS

  27. ethicspiedpiper said,

    March 20, 2009 at 10:21 am

    i obvious write too crazy for martin

    imagine we on QI
    with dear gay~ish steven FRY
    martin just got the fog horn
    fishing on da rocks
    for trolls
    mirror mirror found
    trawlin around
    how profound

    is this how you treat your patients???
    or you meet no people in your lab cloak
    and dagger
    asbo anyone?

  28. ethicspiedpiper said,

    March 20, 2009 at 10:24 am

    i have failed you martin my son
    still
    martin fails to sea the difference
    between love and fascists at their limits

    but i will try to help him
    still
    feel da love

  29. ethicspiedpiper said,

    March 20, 2009 at 10:27 am

    report
    yous card:)
    martin
    could do better !&or?
    i ask da class……….y

  30. ethicspiedpiper said,

    March 20, 2009 at 10:38 am

    www.youtube.com/watch?v=DPxlEVskbuk

    tinyurl.com/chdrky or direct to tinyurl.com/cahfkg MODELS

    & love

  31. ethicspiedpiper said,

    March 20, 2009 at 10:45 am

    www.celebritypaycut.com/warming-skeptics/65582

    if you find twittering churpilydifficult

    but do not assume?

  32. ethicspiedpiper said,

    March 20, 2009 at 11:37 am

    note: for data accuracy
    i notice 1 entry has been pulled
    i not sure why
    it was lovin self mockin funny
    and relevant – abstractly

    i shall ask the moderator why
    or ben
    when i meet him

    i give thanks
    for tolerance

    good@gmx.co.uk

  33. MSB said,

    March 20, 2009 at 10:26 pm

    Martin again (for some reason I can’t use the same log-in at work and home).

    ethicspiedpiper: Considering that the Pied Piper of Hamelin was (supposedly) responsible for the drowning of first the rats and then the children of Hamelin, as an ethics pied piper are you trying to get rid of our:
    a) ethics, or
    b) chavs with lisps?

  34. badrescher said,

    March 25, 2009 at 2:00 am

    Diversity: “Be tolerant of your teachers: you may find you have to learn through teaching in the future.”

    I’m not actually criticizing my teachers. I’ve had some bad ones, but most were great. Those who inspired my comments are peers (other teachers). One would think they would learn through teaching, but that only works if what you are teaching is accurate…

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