Class Warfare Blog

October 4, 2012

Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh, My!

Filed under: Economics,Science — Steve Ruis @ 10:20 am
Tags: , , , , , ,

In an article by Monte Morin in the Los Angeles Times © 2012, the following revelation was proffered:

“Fraud, plagiarism and other forms of misconduct are responsible for the majority of retractions in biomedical journals, according to a new study. The finding, published online Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, contradicts earlier studies that suggest most retractions are the result of errors.

“In a review of 2,047 retracted biomedical papers, study authors found that only 21% were withdrawn due to research error. But 67% were pulled due to misconduct, including fraud or suspected fraud, duplicate publication and plagiarism. Miscellaneous or unknown reasons accounted for the remaining 12%.”

Gasp, faithful readers of this blog know that I am one of those “science-types.” And I am sure you are dying of curiosity to know what I think about my vaunted colleagues’ behavior.

It is: ho, hum.

Basically, the closer you get to publishing on medicine and the farther you get from basic science the more fraud there is. I came to this realization while trying to find the science behind what seemed to me to be weird nutrition recommendations. (If you are curious it was why high carbohydrate diets (low fat, moderate protein diets are automatically high carbohydrate) were recommended for weight loss when that is what you feed mammals to fatten them up (wheat and corn to cattle, rice to Sumo wrestlers, etc.). If you are interested in the topic, I recommend heartily “Good Calories, Bad Calories” by Gary Taubes.)

I was appalled at the poor quality of the research and the thinking behind it.

But, there is money (I mean mucho dinero, really mucho) to be made, so scientists often receive large grants, from people they should not, to do research. The Reynolds’s Tobacco Institute sponsored a great deal of research. And if it didn’t back up the points they wanted to make, it never saw the light of day and those researchers never saw another grant. You can see how the game is played. The same is true to a much higher degree when it comes to pharmaceutical research. Research into patented drugs that doesn’t back up their efficacy finds the inside of a safe. The reason: the value of a “star” pharmaceutical is mind boggling (look up Viagra in Wikipaedia).

This is why drug companies shouldn’t be sponsoring external drug research, unless, unless . . . (are you ready for another of my big ideas?) . . . unless the sponsors create a blind funding source. I am sure you are aware of “double-blind” research studies, where neither the patient nor the doctor know which drug is being administered (so that neither can skew the results), for example. Why not do this with grants for scientific research. Some benevolent agency collects funds from companies for, say, a particular sort of biomedical research. The people collecting the funds in this agency and the people dispensing them are separated from each other. Voila! Trying to please one’s client goes bye-bye, as does the deep sixing of research that doesn’t meet the donor’s criteria. (This is what government sponsored research is: you and I and everybody else contribute a few pennies to a large pool of dollars that are then spent—with no strings attached—for the public good.)

In any case, scientists are human and the closer one gets to “real money,” not the chump change that a professor’s salary represents, the more fraud and deceit will take place (think “Wall Street” with pikers).

So, does this study prove that my field, science, is corrupt? On the contrary, these people got caught and had to retract their work. I wish we had such power over the opinions of politicians!

And, there is room for improvement in the field of scientific research, to be sure.


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