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 14, 2009 at 2:06 am

    the implication must be – dont trust anything a peedaha wouldnt – nice piece ben – should be able to use this – but it make one fume when a gp tells you off for thinking the truth – because of 100% faith in its masonic charter

  2. ethicspiedpiper said,

    March 14, 2009 at 2:24 am

    BEN – CAN YOU IMAGINE ALL THOSE LITTLE MEDICAL TRAIND SUEDO SCIENTISTS OUT PRACTICING THEIR PARTICULAR CULT UPON THE HEADS OF THE MASSES
    SHIPMAN LIKE MANIPULATION OF STATS – IT IS A CULTURAL EPIDEMIC – DO SOMETHING BEN – GO GET EM – YOU WILL END UP IN SOCIO ANTHROPOLOGICAL PHILOSOPHY ONCE YOUR BUDDING SCIENCE CHILDREN GROW UP??? YOU CAN STILL BE FUNNY THOUGH:)

  3. ethicspiedpiper said,

    March 14, 2009 at 2:30 am

    EVERY LITTLE SHRINK AND COUNCILLOR ETC – ESPECIALLY THE BI POLAR CREATIVE ONES TEND TO CREATE DATA AROUND THEIR PATIENTS – TOUCH OF FAITH IN THE SHRINK AND PLACEBO IS A DANGEROUS WORD KICKS IN ON DANGEROUS PILLS – ASK SOMEONE LIKE rUFUS mAY – AND IT GETS DEEPER THAN THIS – I THINK YOU’LL FIND IT’S NOT A SIMPLE OR COMPLEX AS WHAT DEM MASONIC CULTS SAY – AND GPS LIE WORSE ABOUT PILLS
    BUT BRAIN SURGEONS ARE AMAZING – IF YOU LIKE THE TOP TAKEN OF YOUR HEAD IN AN INVASIVE NON HERBAL WAY – OR NEED THAT SORT OF THING
    DEAL WITH THIS AND MMR IS A BREEZE

  4. TriathNanEilean said,

    March 14, 2009 at 2:42 am

    0.3% is an awfully low percentage. Or perhaps high. I can’t decide if we should suspect that some weren’t being honest, or pleased that it is so low.

    Oh, and I’m trying to remember that Internet advice about not feeding the trills, or something like that.

  5. The Biologista said,

    March 14, 2009 at 4:04 am

    ethics, you hurt my eyes.

    Good piece Ben. I’m not at all surprised at the numbers on falsification. We’ve all been there, staring at that damned outlier that just buggered our statistical significance. We’ve all had that moment where we slyly ask ourselves “Oh did I mix that tube properly?” Most of us resist, but it’s inevitable that some won’t, especially if there’s a lot riding on it.

    It takes a special kind of asshole to just pluck the numbers out of the air though. Especially in clinical data. I can’t imagine the damage that must have done.

  6. TP said,

    March 14, 2009 at 4:08 am

    AS far as I’m concerned the worst scumbag fraud was Cyril Burt, who convinced the government and the educational establishment that IQ was; 1. easily measurable, 2. had stabilised by age 11, and 3. that future achievement (social and academic) could be predicted by testing children at age 11 – hence the 11-plus. All based on entirely fabricated twin studies – he even invented a research assistant. I wasted many hours of my childhood cramming for the 11-plus to satify my parents’ and teachers’ hopes of my getting into university. Bastard!

  7. badrescher said,

    March 14, 2009 at 6:15 am

    I think those numbers are terribly low, but accurate self-reports. In the social sciences it’s even easier to get away with fraud. I have stared it in the face myself; it’s often taken very lightly. and I think that two things happen that keep those self-report numbers low:

    1 – Scientists, at least social scientists, fudge numbers without consciously realizing it or they justify it without much thought.

    2 – Scientists are arrogant. They think that it’s okay to fake data because they are correct and/or they will help people with the findings.

    I do not know how hiding the truth helps anyone, but there seem to be a lot of people who think they know best.

  8. PhiJ said,

    March 14, 2009 at 8:45 am

    ben – that third link is dead, you need to remove the “?CRETRY=1&SRETRY=0″ from the end of the link for people to be able to visit it in another session. Very user unfriendly I know, but they’re unlikely to do anything about it. I sent them a rather arsey email about it around a month ago and haven’t heard anything back. Maybe I should have been nicer – then I might have heard a ‘no’.

    badrescher – I haven’t seen any of 2 in my limited experience of biochemistry (final year project), actually I’ve got the impression of the opposite ( a respect for the evidence). I can feel the attraction in 1 though, especially if it is a minor change (like removing one point and you bet you know what went wrong). A PhD student I know once said that he has to avoid the temptation of doing his research badly, and that was the kind of thing that sprung to mind when he said it.

  9. PhiJ said,

    March 14, 2009 at 9:04 am

    To add to that, the only time I’ve been in a situation where I could remove points to make things significant was a second year project and presentation. We presented the data as is, then with the removed points and gave our explanations for why the points were bad (this was, unsurprisingly before I started reading bad science). We were told by a lecturer that you can’t remove points, however good the reason. No statistical significance for us.

  10. gimpyblog said,

    March 14, 2009 at 9:07 am

    Fraud I can accept, scientists are no more moral (or at least not much more) than the average person on the street, and fraud is a regular occurance within even the most trusted of professions. What I find most unbelivable about this is that no one apparently sought to replicate these results before applying them in a clinical context. This is a cavalier disregard for the welfare of patients.

  11. CDavis said,

    March 14, 2009 at 9:08 am

    After having spent a week – a WEEK – contorted in agony in an ICU because my docs believed I was overacting, the subject of post-op pain is dear to my heart.

    And having read in the paper ‘The Tragedy of Needless Pain’ (on Pubmed or at www.doctordeluca.com/Library/Pain/TragedyOfNeedlessPain90.htm ) that medics have been made so nervous about opiates by the WoD that they routinely underuse them, this Dr. Reuben goes straight into my shit-list at number one with a bullet.

  12. hat_eater said,

    March 14, 2009 at 9:23 am

    For damage estimate, visit the Respectful Insolence blog
    scienceblogs.com/insolence/2009/03/the_most_massive_scientific_fraud_ever.php
    And be prepared for a shock.

  13. JTW said,

    March 14, 2009 at 10:44 am

    A question then, how common is it for clinical practice to change based on the research output of one worker / centre? Are we, the innocent patients (victims?) not protected by the fact that orthodoxy in medicine as in other sciences does not change, just like that, but rather only changes when the body of evidence is large enough.
    I understand that in the UK at least audits of clinical practice are carried out, locally if not nationally, to ensure that best practice is used and that inappropriate / dated regimes are discontinued.

  14. Dr Jim said,

    March 14, 2009 at 11:14 am

    This was a despicable and outrageously arrogant piece of academic dishonesty; what did he think he was doing? He treated the medical words as if they were a joke. He can’t use the excuse that he was ‘identifying the holes in the system’, because first and foremost reviewers are generally looking for data that support themselves, and for any incongruities, but one doesn’t expect an esteemed leader in a field to openly lie about studies.

    None the less, I will continue to vouch for scientists ability to identify and police their own ‘quack’ colleagues (in due course).

  15. Diversity said,

    March 14, 2009 at 12:09 pm

    PhilJ, badresscher

    I am afraid badrescher is right about the social sciences. However the worse problem there is what might be called ‘near fraud’Its typical form is to report accurately results from studies which are based on atypical populations, small samples, or both; and draw broad conclusions. Academi referees still accept an awful lot of such work; and it can be very career-advancing.

  16. JuJu said,

    March 14, 2009 at 12:44 pm

    Some of the best examples of people’s inability to generate random numbers come from politics, in particular Jeffrey Archer, many of whose claims involve the number 17. His books have often taken 17 rewrites, ideas are 17 years in the making, various important people have called for his personal advice 17 times. Across the political divide, Derek Draper famously talked about the “17 people who matter” and his ability to sell access to them. Repeated use of the number 17 should b high on a watch list for bullshitters.

  17. Jeesh42 said,

    March 14, 2009 at 3:37 pm

    “Mid-career – the peak period for fraud…”

    Could you explain the reasoning behind that please? Otherwise, a thought-provoking article as usual. Well done.

  18. badrescher said,

    March 14, 2009 at 4:40 pm

    PhilJ, you’re lucky. I’ve seen more of 2 than 1… It’s fine to remove outliers if you’ve decided a priori how you will identify them, but it’s common in my field to remove them after failing to reach alpha. Ridiculous transformations are made to force data into a normal distribution in order to use the GLM. It’s sometimes apparent, too, that a hypothesis was changed (or constructed) after the data are analyzed. A statistics instructor once said, “Results were not significant? Move a decimal point,” to a graduate class. But the worst I saw was a poster at an national-level conference with completely fabricated results. There was a p-value on the poster, but when I asked about the test & descriptives, a student confessed that there was no test.

    Diversity, my favorite (the one that makes me squirm the most) example of “near fraud” is the use of causal modeling to draw causal conclusions from experiments. A close second – statistical conclusion validity issues. I will also see samples about 1/10th the size needed for a complex model (HLM, MLM, SEM) or a study with a dozen factors that is so overanalyzed that it’s highly improbable that you would NOT find something significant.
    Okay, enough ranting.

    Jeesh42, think “mid-life crisis”. It’s a time when people evaluate how far they have come and how far they have to go to reach their goals. Some make stupid choices in an attempt to move their career forward.

  19. T said,

    March 14, 2009 at 5:23 pm

    forensic statisticians thats a scary thought. That could be a new spin off for CSI….Im seeing the glamour in stats.

  20. zappa said,

    March 14, 2009 at 5:23 pm

    We all condemn the falsification of research and yet it’s quite acceptable to bad-mouth social scientists. So where’s your evidence for this? Or are social scientists not “proper” ones like medics?

  21. ethicspiedpiper said,

    March 14, 2009 at 8:47 pm

    sent to liberty.central@guardian liberty team
    and posted to lisa{police rapist best friend stats=science} war address

    cc

    i am seriously asking for your power and enquiry – team
    but note good humour is the only thing allows i to keep moving
    and not fade
    know your abuse victim psychology

    run away is best policy
    this is hard for we
    but i have to come back to society like iraq war hero goin back for their child chumbs to save

    i get a comment wiped from bens column

    a man who is very rude
    {see his twitter and web site}
    and asks for us to be as hard on him as possible
    {see video in toilet}
    to then wipe a sufferer comment – is abusive of hope

    ben is a fraud
    the moderator is abusive
    or assumes or etc
    that may be excusable in some authority paradyme
    but then you see the lisa comment lead

    police are best friend of rapist

    i see all the comment of the freedom call for haters and those on false passports
    {surely it so hard to accidentally be on a false passport it safe to assume you are a terrorist and kill you – if any one wants to punish anything this would be fun? – but you must let those without a passport free movement:) – so that wont work}
    but no interest in protecting a good human
    a sensitive human
    this is a problem

    good humans that try to really help

    get mashed and not a buddhist monastery as sanctuary but pills and section

    think it not a problem

    our children are a litmus of our anorexia emotional and backstabbing lies?
    denial

    please get in contact for a real story for the guardian paper
    you are in denial

    you seem to not be able to find any conclusive progressive evidence
    but the ghetto is full of it

  22. A Elliott said,

    March 14, 2009 at 9:07 pm

    Flat-out inventing data is gross fraud, no question, and this is a particularly shocking example. However, I think it is simplistic to imagine that ANY “data sifting” in experimental lab research is by definition fraudulent, though the “slippery slope” argument (i.e. “start with ditching points, end up inventing things”) is a concern. The Biologista’s comment is far closer to the reality in research, and in work on living cells and systems a certain amount of “sifting” is almost inevitable. The real line to draw is often “are you ditching this point because you are determined to kludge the data to fit the idea, or because there is a real reason to think this experiment is iffy” – see also Ben’s original line about:

    “What should you do…When the run on the machine was probably contaminated?”

    Anyway, I wrote an article about this a few years back, which is here if anyone is interested (warning – 3 MB PDF, sorry).

    And I’m with Gimpy on his point above – I find it very worrying that this one person’s papers seem to be so critical to medical / anaesthetic practice. If it is true that his work was not repeated elsewhere and by others, it is an interesting contract with LAB research. With experimental lab work you can be pretty much 100% certain that someone, somewhere, will repeat your experiment – and that consequently it will come out if you faked it big-time, see Jan-H Schoen, Herrmann and Brach etc. More subtly, if you “force” things a bit to fit, and are proved by later work to be wrong, you will get a reputation for being “fast-y loose-y”, especially if it happens again and again.

  23. JQH said,

    March 14, 2009 at 10:26 pm

    ethicspiedpiper, what in the name of the FSM are you on about?

  24. carrymac said,

    March 14, 2009 at 10:28 pm

    ethicspiedpiper, you are rambling and I am worried for you. Go get some sleep

  25. Bloodvassal said,

    March 14, 2009 at 10:31 pm

    ethicspiedpiper, fair point well made however could we limit the posts to intelligible comments

  26. Bloodvassal said,

    March 14, 2009 at 11:21 pm

    What is particularly concerning is that, with the exception of a couple of reviews, all of Reuben’s publications had at least one other author. Were they imaginary as well? Were they aware of the publications if not? Are they culpable for, perhaps, not having read the manuscripts?

    At least one of Reuben’s studies appears to have been a case report on the effect of analgesics on phantom limb pain. Turn’s out this may well have been a doctor with phantom patient pain.

  27. Craig said,

    March 15, 2009 at 1:49 am

    @CDavis: there’s some good news coming out in the pain-relief field, too. Have a look at some of the recent stuff from LR Watkins about the role of glial cells in pain. There’s the potential for tolerance & sensitisation free opiates, as well as the chance of getting a direct handle on the nervous system’s default pain sensitivity.

  28. thom said,

    March 15, 2009 at 11:02 am

    TP said, March 14, 2009 at 4:08 am
    “AS far as I’m concerned the worst scumbag fraud was Cyril Burt, who convinced the government and the educational establishment that IQ was; 1. easily measurable, 2. had stabilised by age 11, and 3. that future achievement (social and academic) could be predicted by testing children at age 11 – hence the 11-plus. All based on entirely fabricated twin studies – he even invented a research assistant. I wasted many hours of my childhood cramming for the 11-plus to satify my parents’ and teachers’ hopes of my getting into university. Bastard!”

    I think you’ll find it’s all a little bit more complicated than that! There is very little evidence that Burt invented any data. Both research assistants seem likely to have existed (and Burt’s biographer could have checked this had he looked at Masters of Education theses at UCL). What he did seem to do was publish and report data collected many years earlier or republish it with additional data points without clearly reporting its provenance. This was certainly poor scholarship (at least by the 1960s and 1970s) but falls short of deliberate fraud by some margin.

    The most interesting analysis of Burt’s ideas, I think, is Stephen Jay Gould’s The Mismeasure of Man. Gould correctly identified (before anyone had actually checked the fraud allegations in detail) that the real issue wasn’t fraud but the way IQ researchers conceptualized generalized intelligence – treating a statistical abstraction as a ‘real’ physical/biological entity.

    Badrescher:
    “Diversity, my favorite (the one that makes me squirm the most) example of “near fraud” is the use of causal modeling to draw causal conclusions from experiments. A close second – statistical conclusion validity issues. I will also see samples about 1/10th the size needed for a complex model (HLM, MLM, SEM) or a study with a dozen factors that is so overanalyzed that it’s highly improbable that you would NOT find something significant.
    Okay, enough ranting.”

    I’m not sure this is near fraud. Well … maybe the data-dredging (for researchers who should know better). However, power and sample size issues for complex models still aren’t well understood. These can’t be addressed independently of the specific, model, and the relevant effect sizes. Take the well known guidelines for sample size and multiple regression. These are predicated on all predictors having betas around 0.3 ISTR an no collinearity. So these sample sizes will be too low for smaller effects, while smaller sizes are OK for larger effects. The real problem is that for many of the interesting questions data is too sparse to get really good models and research is often very expensive. There are potential solutions for this (e.g., Bayesian analysis, meta-analysis). I suspect that not publishing weak/underpowered studies alltogether (i.e., the file drawer problem) is the worst solution here. The best solution is to reduce the pressure on academics to publish lots of studies in ‘high impact’ journals. However, no one wants to tackle the hard problem of judging research without using surrogate measures like citations, impact factors, grant income and so on.

    ‘Outliers’ are tricky issues. Personally I’d rather model the complete data. Often ‘outlier’ removal (even using commonly agreed standards) seem to involve removing a natural part of a skewed distribution. These distributions are often easy to model with simple transformations and can produce more sensible models – for example a multiplicative model is often more plausible than an additive one (e.g., if you believe the effect of X on Y is to produce a proportionate change rather than a constant fixed change for all values of X. Furthermore, excellent methods exists for dealing with non-Normal errors and more generally robust methods that are insensitive to extreme values are also readily available these days.

  29. Kapitano said,

    March 15, 2009 at 12:52 pm

    Thom said:
    There is very little evidence that Burt invented any data.

    I think I recall many of his twin pairs had identical IQ scores – to three decimal places.

    That doesn’t mean the twins or the tests never existed, but it just screams “Fraud”.

  30. Neil said,

    March 15, 2009 at 4:52 pm

    There’s no excuse for computer-generated results which have an unrealistic statistical profile. That’s just lazy!

  31. badrescher said,

    March 15, 2009 at 7:45 pm

    #zappa said, March 14, 2009 at 5:23 pm

    We all condemn the falsification of research and yet it’s quite acceptable to bad-mouth social scientists. So where’s your evidence for this? Or are social scientists not “proper” ones like medics?

    zappa, my field is a social science. I do not believe that there is more deliberate fraud in my field than in others, however, it is much easier to influence the outcome in ways that are less than overt. I should have been more clear about that.

    Evidence that fraud exists is the fraud itself; the self-report evidence is only evidence of willingness to report it. I am not claiming to know how much of it exists, but I would like to know. I just do not think that it is practically possible to study this at the level it needs to be studied to find out. It’s easier to simply critique their products and replicate the methods. Undergraduate lab classes are great for the latter.

    I would also like to know how competent the researchers and teachers in my field actually are; do they understand the very processes they teach and use? But how many do you think will be willing to take exams on the topics in which they claim to be experts?

  32. Diversity said,

    March 15, 2009 at 8:36 pm

    badrescher

    Let me come clean. I am an economist. What makes me squirm most is causal modelling from statistical observation, without going looking or experimenting to find data which might challenge your model. That is not even near-fraud; but as science it is worthy of Gulliver’s Travels to Laputa. I firmly believe that economics is free of actual fraud; no-one in the field needs to attempt anything that risky.

    As for “understanding the very processes they teach and use”, it is still the case that the most effective way to learn a subject is to teach it; and the second most effective way is to work applying the material. Be tolerant of your teachers: you may find you have to learn through teaching in the future.

  33. HolfordWatch said,

    March 15, 2009 at 10:41 pm

    #26 and several others have mentioned the co-authors.

    Baystate has released the full list of articles that rely upon fabricated data and the retracted publications are listed in Anesthesia and Analgesia’s letter to its readers. A&A quotes from Baystate Medical Centre’s notice:

    BMC’s investigation determined that Dr. Reuben fabricated data reported in the referenced articles, and that all fabricated data were created under the sole control of Dr. Reuben.

    According to several newspaper reports, when contacted, the co-authors reported that they knew nothing about the publications and claimed that their signatures had been forged on various documents. See, e.g., Dr Ekman, as reported in SciAm.

    He apparently hoped to erase doubts by persuading orthopedic surgeons to co-author papers with him based on his bogus data. In 2005 he and Evan Ekman, an orthopedic surgeon at Southern Orthopaedic Sports Medicine in Columbia, S.C., published a study on the use of Celebrex to control pain in back surgery patients. “The short-term administration of celecoxib,” they wrote in the paper published in The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, “results in no significant deleterious effect on bone or ligament healing or cardiovascular outcomes.”

    Three years later, Reuben’s career would begin to unravel as Ekman began to suspect foul play. In addition to collaborating with Reuben on the now-retracted Celebrex study, Ekman agreed to review a Reuben manuscript on surgery on the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in the knee. But when he asked the anesthesiologist for the name of the orthopedic surgeon on the study, Reuben ceased communication with him.

    Then, last year, Ekman was invited by Pfizer to give a talk. While there, he was handed a version of the very manuscript Reuben had asked him to review, which had subsequently been published in Anesthesia & Analgesia. To his surprise, and horror, he was listed as a co-author: Reuben had forged his signature on the submission form, Ekman says.

  34. Paul Murray said,

    March 16, 2009 at 12:23 am

    “to report accurately results from studies which are based on atypical populations”

    You mean like all those psychology
    insights garnered from studies of university psych students?

  35. Bloodvassal said,

    March 16, 2009 at 1:14 am

    “According to several newspaper reports, when contacted, the co-authors reported that they knew nothing about the publications and claimed that their signatures had been forged on various documents. See, e.g., Dr Ekman, as reported in SciAm.”

    I appreciate that but still perhaps I am too cynical. I simply find it difficult to believe that over a period of twelve years over 20 authors never ran a pubmed search on themselves for some reason or other or, if they are in the same field as Reubens, that they never pulled up one of his papers (being as influential as he was) and noticed their names on the paper. But I suppose stranger things have happened.

  36. martin_z said,

    March 16, 2009 at 9:25 am

    As a first-year undergraduate, in my first term, I had to go into the lab and repeat the Millikan oil-drop experiment. Frankly, I had to fiddle my results to get a decent graph, as did others in my class. I’ve often wondered how many first-term undergraduates manage to do that experiment successfullly.

    Now I find that Millikan fiddled his results when he first did the experiment! You’ve no idea how satisfying I find that.

  37. omnis said,

    March 16, 2009 at 11:58 am

    A confession: I fudged my results in my undergrad final year project.
    The experiment had two possible outcomes, a flat line or a rising curve. My curve went down (decent replicates, small error bars). There was no conceivable hypothesis for this, except that I’d mislabelled my tubes. Swap them round and the curve goes up. I knew the work would never be published by my supervisor without being replicated. Had I not done so (only evident with hindsight obviously) I would have lost marks, not got a good enough degree, and not have had a productive, scrupulously honest, scientific career for the last decade and more.
    I did however, immediately abandon lab-based work as I acknowledged I was too clumsy and absent minded to work with eppendorfs. Or maybe I just had too many late nights as a student.

    I would have admitted this on an anonymous survey. If the 0.3% figure includes some examples like mine (that had zero impact on published science) I think the community should be quite proud of itself that it is so low.

  38. Michael Pyshnov said,

    March 16, 2009 at 1:09 pm

    Hi!
    The most vicious fraud in science, and the one continuing now for 22 years, is this: “University of Toronto Fraud” at ca.geocities.com/uoftfraud/
    There are over 50 documents on this web site.
    It’s bad science, Mr. Goldacre, I wish you would report it in The Guardian.

  39. mikewhit said,

    March 16, 2009 at 1:36 pm

    I think ethicspiedpiper must be a relation of aManFromMars on The Register website, either that or s/he lives under a bridge …

  40. Robert Carnegie said,

    March 16, 2009 at 4:00 pm

    11: I was trying to work out whether the enthusiastic regulatory acceptance of this work on pain relief was congruent with George W. Bush’s maladministration and “War on Science”. I’m not sure if blame does lie there, but it sounds like their kind of work to take one scientific result that they like and run with it, instead of waiting for corroboration.

    I was interested to find that a BBC radio programme from 3 years ago, [Science Blacklist], is still playable online.
    www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/science/scienceblacklist.shtml

    I didn’t take the time to listen but I wonder how things look now. It says:

    “Political interference in science is causing widespread alarm across the United States.

    “Thousands of scientists are accusing the Bush administration of systematically suppressing, manipulating and distorting their work.

    “Many government scientists have resigned in protest, claiming that industrial and ideological powers are infiltrating their work to an unprecedented level.”

    I think “widespread alarm” may be exaggeration. I think most of the population weren’t particularly concerned, unless there was a significant science-abuse component in what happened to New Orleans. Certainly the critical thing there seems to have been not the storm itself but the predictable but denied failure of flood management barriers, the levees.

  41. Andy said,

    March 16, 2009 at 4:52 pm

    For those wondering what ethicspiedpiper is moaning about, a number of his similarly incoherent rants were removed from the comments on the Guardian’s site.

    Apparently he/she is under the impression that Ben is responsible for deleting posts from that comment board rather than the newspapers staff.

  42. mikewhit said,

    March 16, 2009 at 5:24 pm

    Well, anyone who posts in all CAPS deserves removal !

  43. pv said,

    March 16, 2009 at 10:18 pm

    ethicspiedpiper said,
    March 14, 2009 at 2:24 am
    BEN – CAN YOU IMAGINE ALL THOSE LITTLE MEDICAL TRAIND SUEDO SCIENTISTS…

    and

    March 14, 2009 at 2:30 am
    EVERY LITTLE SHRINK AND COUNCILLOR

    Fantastically coherent, eh!
    I can’t decide whether he/she means “suede” or “suet” scientists, or what their relationship with psychiatric Local Government Officers is.

  44. 10channel said,

    March 17, 2009 at 1:54 am

    Perhaps one appropriate thing to say to them is “liar, liar, pants on fire.” I do wonder, though, is there any way for incidences of this to be reduced?

  45. DHR said,

    March 17, 2009 at 3:14 am

    Baffled.

    This is nothing.

    The Royal College of Physicians have unilaterally issued a diktat that condemns millions of UK thyroid suffers to, well, suffer.
    Totally unnecessarily and at great expense not only to themselves but to the the State and the NHS and every poor sod who still pays taxes.

    They offer no scientific studies. They go against the science of every other civilized country by raising the THS level under which you cannot get treatment from 4.5 to 10 while any sensible country is lowering it to 3 or less. Advice against every historical treatment of hypothyroidism in the UK or anywhere else.
    Advice even such anti hypothyroid patient stalwarts as Tony Weetman were advising ten years ago in the BMJ before something apparently changed his mind.

    They aren’t elected by anyone except themselves. They aren’t even subject to the freedom of information act because they aren’t a public body although they claim power over the NHS and patients who are lifelong dependent on thyroid replacement are having their only lifeline withdrawn.

    And the great Ben Goldacre witters on about minor issues.

    Not such the great rebel then.

    Find a real cause. There are plenty out there if you’ve got the balls.

    We need you.

    Grow some.

  46. outeast said,

    March 17, 2009 at 9:13 am

    Having just been reading Moerman on the Meaning/Placebo Effect (following Ben’s repeated recommendations), various questions come to my mind:

    (a) What is the actual clinical experience with Reuben’s pain management methods (outside of trials)? Presumably doctors must have been getting results or they would not have been using his techniques?

    (b) How much distortion was there in Reuben’s work, and more importantly how much discrepancy was there between findings in controlled trials by others (ie the studies that failed to replicate Reuben’s findings) and actual reported experience with his methods in clinical practice?

    Obviously my point is that this seems like a very interesting (if unethical!) accidental experiment in the meaning effect in modern medical practice. It would be interesting to see that impact assessed and measured: would that be possible? Are the data there?

  47. ethicspiedpiper said,

    March 17, 2009 at 10:02 pm

    :)
    ooh
    the 4 love of you all

    in his arrogance
    the scientist decides i am scattah data

    hmmmmmmm

    they need to dig deep
    and know their references
    wide as possible

    or ask

    good@gmx.co.uk

    i doubt you will email
    because you fear i will make you weep
    about an argument you dont see

    the issue is what?

    i play a game you not used to

    clues and the child works it out for themselves

    for i know nothing
    you know all

  48. ethicspiedpiper said,

    March 17, 2009 at 10:06 pm

    so who is the scumbag now
    if we play
    you’re it

    ps
    did anyone hear phillip stot on radio 4
    one planet prog today
    300pm

    phew i sure it gettin hot in here

    but he killed it
    arguing models

    you guys cant keep up???

  49. ethicspiedpiper said,

    March 17, 2009 at 10:19 pm

    home planet – one planet
    heck you know a different place
    4 radio technologies
    :)

  50. ethicspiedpiper said,

    March 18, 2009 at 1:35 am

    Be very, very careful what you put into that head,
    because you will never, ever get it out.
    Thomas Cardinal Wolsey (1471-1530)

    This above was on a youths’ myspace profile

    ################~~~~~~~###############

    www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/science/homeplanet.shtml

    hit it up at about 26mins in
    26mins 30 secs is cool spot

    hmmm

    discuss

    hmmmmmmmmmmmm
    I wonder
    Let me help the class

    Ambiguity is?

    You guys:)
    No Convergence Culture here?

    I have tested???????

    Some have not even cited my work correctly and made an omission
    while i pack too much in
    clearly
    :)

    and clearly
    One is not allowed humour unless the fascist gets the idea
    And likes it?
    Bad science?
    Humour is a fickle thing?
    I would not travel to my world?
    You are loosing the number game as it is?

    And I not sure how many scientists here{hear}?
    They need to realise there is humour that reveals a revelation if you feel it?
    And there is humour that is fascist?

    Oops f word?
    I not gonna byte?
    As I explained it all once?
    Somewhere else?
    so
    I will try put video up on u tube
    To sew n sow bee queen
    King true

    Now class
    Especially the cheeky ones
    Hit the link and listen to stott
    ~Fill uP~

    I think even then you will find
    It is not as simple as that
    And it is simply simpler

    The issue of falsification is huge issue
    Never mind limitations
    And this whole paradigm thing

    Also listen to
    BBC radio 4 “Am I normal”
    Today 17/03/09
    About definitions of genius gifted child

    Deep stuff
    Too many contradictions to list
    Shall I hot house to make a Buddhist monk
    Or
    Stuff numbers only through them to spit out what?
    QUANTUM?
    Capital idea

    Also listen to business program
    About thinking
    BBC World service

    I will get back to you class
    Diss miss …………….ed

    Sue~me~do
    Make sense pseudo law~yer
    :)

    Ps
    I beg thee
    Listen
    ~ the children are mirror magnify pendulum listenin
    To we

    i disabled
    i lysdexic genius ill~it~e~rate
    and more
    create

  51. 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

  52. 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 ?

  53. 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

  54. 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}

  55. 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

  56. 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’

  57. 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

  58. 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

  59. 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.

  60. 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

  61. 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?

  62. 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!

  63. ethicspiedpiper said,

    March 19, 2009 at 5:13 am

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

  64. 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
    :)

  65. 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}

  66. 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.

  67. 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?

  68. 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???

  69. ethicspiedpiper said,

    March 19, 2009 at 7:23 am

    quick hide your results unless the gang agree

  70. 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?

  71. 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

  72. 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

  73. 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

  74. 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

  75. 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!)

  76. 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

  77. 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?

  78. 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

  79. ethicspiedpiper said,

    March 20, 2009 at 10:27 am

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

  80. 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

  81. ethicspiedpiper said,

    March 20, 2009 at 10:45 am

    www.celebritypaycut.com/warming-skeptics/65582

    if you find twittering churpilydifficult

    but do not assume?

  82. 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

  83. 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?

  84. 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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