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MIT Professor Fired over Fabricated Data

CowboyNeal posted more than 8 years ago | from the results-finally-conclusive dept.

Education 285

karvind writes "CNN is running a story where MIT has fired an associate professor of biology for fabricating data in a published scientific paper, in unpublished manuscripts, and in grant applications. Luk Van Parijs, 35, who was considered a rising star in the field of immunology research, admitted to the wrongdoing. The revelations are a serious blow to MIT, which prides itself on its reputation as a scientific powerhouse. The announcement also serves to answer the rumors that have been swirling on the campus since Van Parijs vanished from the campus more than a year ago and had his lab disbanded without any comment from the university. Readers may remember the infamous Jan Hendrik Schön from Bell labs."

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What about philosophy professors? (5, Funny)

madaxe42 (690151) | more than 8 years ago | (#13904963)

They fabricate data all the time. We should fire them. :)

Probably not as bad as.... (1)

Big Troller (651808) | more than 8 years ago | (#13905071)

All the fabrication that goes into Intelligent Design (not to mention creationism)! People need to face the truth and that being that Intelligent Design is nothing more then psuedo science or what I like to call poser science. An Intelligent Designer? Come on now.. Anybody who supports this crap should be shot with a 50 caliber. This solution might not be as natural as say natural selection, but hey.. Stupid people need to be taken out of the gene pool.

Re:What about philosophy professors? (4, Funny)

The Famous Brett Wat (12688) | more than 8 years ago | (#13905092)

As a philosophy graduate, I have a question. What is this "data" of which you speak?

Re:What about philosophy professors? (4, Funny)

planetoid (719535) | more than 8 years ago | (#13905124)

Being a philosophy major, you'll find it behind the counter of your local Starbucks. Go forth and make Socrates proud, young thinker!

Re:What about philosophy professors? (1, Flamebait)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | more than 8 years ago | (#13905217)

You know, when I studied philosophy, we actually had to know real things. Advanced logic, tons of history...In the branch I was in (Cognitive Science), we had a neuroanatomy requirement, and a good number of math and CS courses, which in turn required physics and yet still more math.

Sad to see a philosophy major who thinks that he can learn it all in a chain coffee shop. Must be specializing in Continental "You want frys with that" philosophy.

Re:What about philosophy professors? (5, Funny)

planetoid (719535) | more than 8 years ago | (#13905249)

I don't know if you took my lighthearted sarcasm seriously, or if you're being counter-sarcastic beyond my own sarcasm-detecting abilities.

Re:What about philosophy professors? (1)

Giant Robot (56744) | more than 8 years ago | (#13905292)

LOL

spoken like a true philosophy major :)

Maybe he's just playing it straight (1)

hackwrench (573697) | more than 8 years ago | (#13905293)

I think the setup for the introduction of the material he provided was rather good.

I find this somewhat similar to Manzai [wikipedia.org]

Re:What about philosophy professors? (5, Interesting)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | more than 8 years ago | (#13905310)

I'm just tired of the crap. I tell people I studied philosophy and they ask me retarded questions, "Durrr, so do we exist or not?"

I spent my time learning to write automata with higher Turing scores than morons like that, and routinely work with logic loops that would make their tiny minds asplode, and I get crap because they think their business degree, or their non-programming I/S degree was more challenging than what I studied?

It just pisses me off. It's not my fault a bunch of wankers in europe decided that their subjective experiences had external validity, and that their crackpot theories happened to fall into the fuzzy area between philosophy and religion, and it really irks me when people who know better draw no distinction between the two...It's like putting the ID people and the Evolution people in the same category.

Re:What about philosophy professors? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13905254)

Not funny. Only the insecure / idiotic / impotent need to put others down in this fashion. The more intelligent the person, in my experience, the more likely they are to appreciate (and understand) the relevance and the contributions of all sorts of people in all sorts of fields.

My physics professor (1)

game kid (805301) | more than 8 years ago | (#13905098)

My physics professor said something like that. To very loosely quote (and accordingly, I only use single marks): 'You have to understand the concepts, not memorize them. If you understand them, you do not forget them. It's hard to fudge the results; this is physics, not philosophy.' (After which, I, with 40 or so people in attendance, laughed in agreement.)

(Damn, I almost put a semicolon at the end; I gotta lay off the C# a tad...it's like crack...)

Re:What about philosophy professors? (1)

www-xenu-dot-net (922425) | more than 8 years ago | (#13905133)

They fabricate data all the time. We should fire them. :) They are predestinated to do it, so you can't.

Don't fire them! (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13905200)

Serves that Professor right for belonging to the wrong party. The proper handling for leftist frauds (aka originalist thinkers) is to give them pay raises [colorado.edu] .

The University of Colorado at Boulder decided to give Professor Ward Churchill [wikipedia.org] a raise, recognizing his creativity in falsely claiming to be a native american, fabricating a special ops military career [mensnewsdaily.com] , stealing other people's art [news4colorado.com] and claiming it as his own, "borrowing" others written works [wnd.com] and in general, being an intellectual fraud. Investigations into his education have raised questions about the legitimacy of his degrees.

Unfortunately, the year-long "investigation" by his peers down here has mostly been an attempt to placate critics until the complaints die down (actually some have suggested it's more about telling the governor and the state to stay out of how UCB runs their university). Apparently it is acceptable to be a white man who steals from native american peoples and cheats students, universities and society in general as long as one is a politically correct "progressive" person.

Re:What about philosophy professors? (1)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | more than 8 years ago | (#13905232)

Might want to draw a distinction between analytic philosophy and continental philosophy there...If you knock analytic philosophy, you're kicking the underpinings of the scientific method and throwing more wood on the anti-science debate.

duh (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13904965)

well duh. can I be FP??? never had it before, please?

.

As Einstein once said... (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13904969)

"Imagination is more important than knowledge."

Re:As Einstein once said... (5, Funny)

Elad Alon (835764) | more than 8 years ago | (#13905045)

"Imagination is more important than knowledge."
The let that professor /imagine/ he was not fired and that he is still being paid.

Uh huh. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13904975)

Readers may remember the infamous Jan Hendrik Schön from Bell labs.
Or they may not.

Not at all (4, Insightful)

Eevee (535658) | more than 8 years ago | (#13904998)

The revelations are a serious blow to MIT, which prides itself on its reputation as a scientific powerhouse.

Revealing a case of fraud strengthens their reputation. If they had let the case die in the darkness after dismissing him--that would lessen their reputation. But admitting that fraud has happened and that the school will not stand for it--that can only gain respect.

Re:Not at all (1)

lotus_out_law (878076) | more than 8 years ago | (#13905084)

Quite So.
Just because they are professors, it doesn't mean they all are squeaky clean.
There is always black sheep in any group, be it comprised of professors in MIT or laymen.

The moot point here is that there was a system well in place to catch the erring person.
Also that MIT publicly announced the same.

This will do their reputation no harm at all.

A sad thing is that the professor, Parijs, did not do any fabrication (from data till now) on his primary research, but only on some tangential research associated with his primary, which do *not* change the findings of the primary area of research.

Really sad way to lose out on the reputation...

kR/\/

Re:Not at all (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13905202)

At best this strengthens their reputation for tenuring fraudulent professors. Wake up to the world, kid.

Re:Not at all (1)

hunterx11 (778171) | more than 8 years ago | (#13905233)

I don't imagine a whole lot of associate professors at MIT have tenure. Somewhere around 0, give or take 50%.

Re:Not at all (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13905277)

I don't imagine a whole lot of associate professors at MIT have tenure. Somewhere around 0, give or take 50%. Um, hate to break this to you, but (at least at universities here in the States), associate professors have tenure by definition; tenure-track professors are called "assistant" professors. There's also "full" professors, but that's another level of seniority beyond mere tenure.

Wrong. (1)

Bozdune (68800) | more than 8 years ago | (#13905301)

Um, no, sorry, check your facts. "Associate without tenure" has been around for years. Harvard, for example, is famous for this particular "promotion."

Not the greatest timing... (5, Insightful)

GuyMannDude (574364) | more than 8 years ago | (#13905225)

What you say is true, however, this isn't really the greatest timing for a story to break on the fact that scientists sometimes fabricate their data. This provides a rather juicy opportunity for the various anti-science forces out there to point to this and say "See, scientists aren't the pristine investigators of truth that they would like us to believe! This one got caught, but how many others are doing the same thing right now? That's why we need to keep an open mind about {intelligent design, alternative medicine, bigfoot, global warming is a myth, etc.}."

You and I may see this story as evidence of the scientific system working the way it is supposed to. I suspect that the public will see this as evidence that science doesn't have a monopoly on the truth and maybe we ought to give those creationists equal time. Like I said, this isn't the greatest time for this story to break.

GMD

Re:Not at all (3, Interesting)

debrain (29228) | more than 8 years ago | (#13905269)

Revealing a case of fraud strengthens their reputation. If they had let the case die in the darkness after dismissing him--that would lessen their reputation. But admitting that fraud has happened and that the school will not stand for it--that can only gain respect.

The blow is to MIT's hiring practice and peer review. An instance of fraud indicates that the faculty there is verifiably capable of fraud. It indicates that their hiring practices are not infalliable, as may have previously been thought, and to which there was previously no example to turn to. While it may not produce any overwhelming skepticism of their other results, particularly with their reaction, it does show a falliability in hiring practice, and a lack of internal peer review prior to publication.

It is a blow to their reputation. MIT hired someone capable of lying, who lacks the foresight to expect to be caught in a system of skepticism and peer review, who is more ambitious than smart. Otherwise impecable hiring practices are tarnished by this mistake. Respect that may have been inherent and implicit to authors at MIT now stands next to the possibility fraud such as this. In my mind, this paints everyone who arrived at MIT in the same way with the same brush.

While admirable, I do not think their reaction can actually produce greater respect than would have otherwise been there had they not hired a charlatan. The respect I hold for their reaction is different from, and in no way increases, my faith in their capacity to hire appropriately and produce reliable work. Their reaction was the lesser blow to reputation, and in my mind necessary. Had they let the case die in the darkness, if it ever came to light it would undermine their reputation, not tarnish it.

Academia is corrupt to the core (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13905001)

I quit my PhD aged 26 after being asked to make up my results.
The university I was at was extremely poor and had hardly enough
to teach undergrads. For years I thought that I was some kind of special
over-ethical person, that anybody else would have have said "sure, I'll
make make up my results". Then I got talking to other ex academics
and what I discovered was like hidden child abuse, people were comming
out everywhere and saying Yeah me too, I was cooerced into publishing
rubbish or asked to just falsify results too.

Re:Academia is corrupt to the core (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13905013)

Name the university & department.

Re:Academia is corrupt to the core (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13905080)

I can name one that I was in where I saw a ton of data being fabricated and work stolen - the department of Computer and Information Science at the University of Pennsylvania, and in general the school of Engineering, where I got my Ph.D. I have had my work ripped off by Professors, and seen the same people even do this with Undergraduate summer projects. The area that I found most of this sort of stuff, including fabricating data, is in computer vision and robotics. Everyone is so busy publishing, no one ever checks the papers. The truth is most robotics stuff you hear in the news is some nonsense cooked up for media attention. Then the actual papers never carry out the stuff that the researchers claimed in the news. You know stuff like "MIT professor makes robot with emotions". What a lot of crap.

Re:Academia is corrupt to the core (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13905024)

I agree there is a lot of corruption. And in most cases I have found that it is foreigners, like Indians and Chinese. In this case it was a European. There is corruption in America, but at a lower level then other countries.

Re:Academia is corrupt to the core (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13905109)

Why is this flamebait? Have you ever BEEN in any of the engineering, science, and math academic departments that are ALWAYS dominated by Iranians and Chinese? If so, then you'd know just how conniving and DISHONEST many of them are.

It is like saying, "you can't say that black people are especially susceptible to sickle cell anemia because that it discriminatory against blacks." The only thing is, everybody knows its true.

Re:Academia is corrupt to the core (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13905111)

This isn't a troll, this is true - it's not done in a dishonest fashion, it's done by students who are put under massive pressure to succeed - so they make stuff up. While I was a physics grad student there was another lab group who were doing research into Bose-Einstein condensate - 3 chinese guys, and indian guy, and a brit - the brit quit their group because he got sick of all the shit they were totally fabricating, in order to gain prestige between their peers.

Re:Academia is corrupt to the core (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13905129)

Flamebait ? It may be flamebait, but I got Ph.D. in engineering and I was i a class with a lot of chinese students (Control theory). The Chinese students all cheated on the take home test. Then when the Prof. called one of them in his office about it and asks who he got his answers from, he fingers me, the only American in the class. And the idiot professor, with no evidence, believed him, since my scores had been lower the the scores that the Chinese mafia students were getting.

You have to have you Doctorate before (2, Funny)

HornWumpus (783565) | more than 8 years ago | (#13905226)

you are qualified to doctor data.

Re:Academia is corrupt to the core (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13905282)

"I quit my PhD aged 26 after being asked to make up my results.
The university I was at was extremely poor and had hardly enough
to teach undergrads. For years I thought that I was some kind of special
over-ethical person, that anybody else would have have said "sure, I'll
make make up my results". Then I got talking to other ex academics
and what I discovered was like hidden child abuse, people were comming
out everywhere and saying Yeah me too, I was cooerced into publishing
rubbish or asked to just falsify results too."

I'm a "tenured grad student" and never in my "career" have I been asked or pressured to make up results, nor have any of my peers ever mentioned that they have been.

the poor grad students (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13905004)

what's gonna happen to them? i'd imagine that's something you wouldn't put on a resume

Re:the poor grad students (4, Informative)

Wavicle (181176) | more than 8 years ago | (#13905064)

This sort of black mark generally means that the person will likely have to leave academia and research altogether. In research your integrity is everything. If you lie once, nobody knows if you won't lie again. Peer reviewed Journals will generally refuse your papers without reading them. No research body would risk your name going on one of their papers which would cause it to get red flagged for automatic refusal. It's a very grave situation which can't just be dismissed by "I made a mistake." The guy went through enough school to get a Ph.D., he knew what would happen if he got caught.

Re:the poor grad students (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13905081)

Read the effing post. He is talking about the grad students who were assigned to work for this guy.

Re:the poor grad students (1)

Wavicle (181176) | more than 8 years ago | (#13905215)

Fair enough, I didn't read the subject as part of the comment. But um, there is a less angst-ridden way to mention that.

Re:the poor grad students (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13905219)

Are you going to cry?

Re:the poor grad students (1)

CyricZ (887944) | more than 8 years ago | (#13905125)

They'll most likely get reassigned to other professors, and perhaps will have learned to be more vigilant with regards to falsified data. This may be the best thing that has ever happened to them. They've seen what happens first hand when data is abused in such a fashion.

But does it... (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13905006)

But does it run on linux?

Luk Van Parijs Response (5, Funny)

Eugene Webby (891781) | more than 8 years ago | (#13905007)

"And I wouldn't have gotten away with it too, if it weren't for those meddling kids!" Scoooby-Dooby-Doooo!

I need a picture of Van Parijs. (2, Funny)

game kid (805301) | more than 8 years ago | (#13905170)

With my copies of the GIMP and the Impact font [google.com] , I'd put a red PWN3D!!1 on his face in no time.

Copyrights and gov funding (1)

argoff (142580) | more than 8 years ago | (#13905012)

Here's my take. Copyrights combined with government funding distort the intellectual enviroment so that those who love science for the sake of the sience and the persuit of knowledge are punished, while those who are paper pushers for R&D grants and getting published in journals are rewarded.

To take it on faith that knowledge and sience would never be persued or never be rewarding enough without them is ignorance.

Huh? (1, Offtopic)

LeonGeeste (917243) | more than 8 years ago | (#13905035)

What do copyrights have to do with anything? If you want to read the article, your university probably paid the (all things considered) small fee to get the journal, or it's available online. It's really a tiny cost. Fair use permits citation and excerpt quotes.

And if you got rid of government funding, you wouldn't have much left (or so the conventional knowlege goes). I'd actually agree that gov. funding should be eliminated, but I don't see how it "distorts the intellectual environment". If you're claiming that "money" in general is corrupting, I don't know what to say. People who reserach for the hell of it do it either way; money convinces the greedy bastards to start contributing. It seems you're more blaming shortsightedness than money itself.

Credibility of Science / Creationists (1, Insightful)

thedogcow (694111) | more than 8 years ago | (#13905014)

I seem to recall an article on Slashdot yesterday about the death of science in America. This does not help, particularly from a notorious research facility like MIT. This gives the gives the creationists more fire for their faux-arguments about how science is unbelievable and other garbage relating to Intelligent Design.

Re:Credibility of Science / Creationists (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13905038)

I'll be impressed when a creationist/IDist ever admits to lying.

Re:Credibility of Science / Creationists (5, Insightful)

TomHandy (578620) | more than 8 years ago | (#13905043)

I'm sure they will try and twist it that way, but it's worth keeping in mind that we know about this precisely because scientists take things like making up data seriously, and try very hard to uncover those who would do it. The Intelligent Design side isn't quite so gung-ho in terms of caring about falsifying data (heck, or even providing data).

Re:Credibility of Science / Creationists (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13905263)

Indeed. If MIT took the same attitude as typical Christians, they'd keep quiet, and when somebody discovered the falsity of the data, they'd say "well you weren't meant to take the data literally, it's just a metaphor!"

Re:Credibility of Science / Creationists (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13905278)

Those who wish creation or intelligent design to be seriously considered certainly have an interest in disproving competing scientific arguments by questioning the data or providing counterexamples. It's simply much harder for someone to provide a "counterexample" for a theory with a supreme being that can be used to explain any exceptions.

Also, saying scientists "try very hard" to uncover falsified data implies that they scrutinize the published results... the professor here was turned in by colleagues who knew what he was doing. It sounds like he was only exposed due to others' ethics, not their attempts to verify his conclusions. I'd chalk this one up to morals, not the discipline of the scientific community at large. (If the scientific community had any level of discipline around verifying results, would we have these reports of what % of published research results are ultimately found incorrect?)

Re:Credibility of Science / Creationists (2, Insightful)

www-xenu-dot-net (922425) | more than 8 years ago | (#13905099)

This gives the gives the creationists more fire for their faux-arguments about how science is unbelievable and other garbage Yeah, or it could give some nut the idea that the exposing the fraudster is a serious blow to MITs academic credibility. Oh, wait... It's like saying it's a serious blow to the bank's credibility that they caught the robbers.

I hope the creationists go crazy about this. (2, Insightful)

CyricZ (887944) | more than 8 years ago | (#13905138)

I truly hope the creationists go insane about this. I hope they scrutinize every piece of scientific data they can find. Why is that? Because that'll make the data that much stronger. Indeed, it will help greatly if they can also help the scientists weed out false or incorrect results.

Re:I hope the creationists go crazy about this. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13905195)

The problem with that is, the creationist/ID'ers aren't playing on a level field. When a scientist's published results don't jibe with reality, s/he has some tough explaining to do.

When a Christian's assumptions don't jibe with reality, s/he can invoke the name of Jeebus, who will personally dunk your sorry ass in a lake o' fire if you don't STFU and toe the party line.

This particular intellectual crisis is just an example of the system working as designed, weeding out propositions that are untrue for whatever reason. Religion offers no such checks and balances.

Re:I hope the creationists go crazy about this. (1)

CyricZ (887944) | more than 8 years ago | (#13905211)

I know the creationist system is without merit.

I'm just suggesting that their review of scientific material by such creationists is beneficial to all scientists. Their attempts to prove science wrong will weed out the results and data that may be falsified. That in turn will bolster the quality of scientific material.

Indeed, we ideally would see a case where the intelligent design people completely prove themselves wrong, all due to their attempts to prove science wrong (but at the same time strengthening science by helping to eliminate bad data).

Re:Credibility of Science / Creationists (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13905171)

Um, all of the famous sci fabers (Bell Labs, MIT) were EU scientists.
Solution: get rid of those cheese eatin' eurotrash profs.

hrm... (2, Interesting)

blackcoot (124938) | more than 8 years ago | (#13905021)

while it's rather alarming to see that the "best and brightest" can be a bunch of cheating bastards, it's good to see that the necessary controls are in place to find them out. unfortunately, i don't think this would ever work in my field (computer vision) because people tend to be very selective about the results they publish (i.e. they won't often show you what happens when things go wrong), choose poor test sequences (or fail to explicitly state the simplifying assumptions that made their choice of test sequence appropriate), and so on. if someone were to use sufficiently intimidating / esoteric math (especially if it were reasonably plausible math), they could probably fake a paper in some of the top journals and get away with it for several years.

Re:hrm... (4, Interesting)

slavemowgli (585321) | more than 8 years ago | (#13905095)

You mean like this [mit.edu] ? To sum up the case quickly, this is a tool for the automatic creation of fake but real-looking "science papers" (ironically enough, developed at the MIT), and one such paper ("A Methodology for the Typical Unification of Access Points and Redundancy") was submitted to the 2005 World Multi-Conference on Systemics, Cybernetics and Informatics, and actually accepted. At that point, of course, the authors of the tool wrote about it, the story hit Slashdot, and the organisers of the conference were quick to retract their acceptance...

Still, I think it goes to show that if someone is actively trying to dishonest in the scientific community, it's not hard to get past the safeguards. Fabricating data is something that is (I guess) comparatively hard to detect, compared to an entire document that was written without any human intervention and thus shouldn't really make any kind of sense at all, but even the fake document wasn't detected. It sure makes you wonder how many people fabricating data are actually not caught and instead get away with it.

Re:hrm... (2, Informative)

syphax (189065) | more than 8 years ago | (#13905172)


There's a lot of unimportant crap that gets published in scientific journals and/or accepted for conferences (I know; I've written some of this crap). Important papers (published research that actually has implications for anyone other than the authors) tends to get reviewed more thoroughly- the whole "extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof" principle. That's not to say that fabrication doesn't happen, it's just that eventually it's going to get caught, at least for the stuff that matters. The issue is whether it gets caught sooner rather than later.

Re:hrm... (3, Informative)

GileadGreene (539584) | more than 8 years ago | (#13905179)

Ok, just to be clear here, the World Multi-Conference on Systemics, Cybernetics and Informatics is a well-known waste of academic space. It regularly spams people requesting submissions, has no obvious standards, and will accept pretty much any paper the authors are willing to pay to have published. It has no safeguards. It also has no respect. The MIT tool was developed specifically to prove that the conference in question was a sham.

Re:hrm... (4, Insightful)

InfiniteWisdom (530090) | more than 8 years ago | (#13905253)

You completely missed the point of the article you linked to. The "World Multi-Conference on Systemics, Cybernetics and Informatics" is one of those academic "Conferences" that exist solely to make money. These conferences are a well known phenomenon used by organizers to make money on outrageous registration fees and by "attendees" to take vacations at their institute's expense. No reputable academic conference has such a thing as a "non-reviewed" paper. Even a cursory reading of the papers they submitted makes it obvious that it's random junk.

It's true that it's possible to sneak fabricated data past the peer-review process, but I think the damage is self-limiting in a way. If your results are significant, people will be interested in duplicating your results... either as a way of understanding them better or to compare against their own work. If nobody is able to duplicate your results, you are likely to have your fraud caught sooner or later.

If your results are not all that significant, it gets forgotten and nobody builds on your bad work so the scientific process itself isn't subverted although the dishonest researcher may have got an undeserved feather in his cap.

Re:hrm... (1)

kebes (861706) | more than 8 years ago | (#13905273)

As someone who works in science and academic research, let me say the following. The computer-generated paper that was accepted to a conference was hilariously ridiculous. The whole thing makes no sense. It's obvious that the conference organizers were not even reading the submissions. They were lazy. I don't think that would work for most conferences (when I organize a conference section, I definately read the submitted abstracts!), and certainly not for journal article submissions!

The case of false data is much harder to detect. When I peer-review a paper, I can argue with their conclusions, but is is hard to argue with the data itself, unless it is obviously crazy or I can go and perform the experiment myself. Ultimately, however, I think data falsification in science falls into two categories:
1. Quickly detected and the fraudster punished.
2. Never detected, but ultimately pointless and not harmful to science.

Why do I say this? Well, if someone is creating false data, then presumably it is because they want a quick way to the fame that comes with "amazing results." The problem with amazing results is that many other labs around the world will try to replicate the experiments or build upon the ground-breaking work. If this foundational work is all BS, all these other scientists will quickly run into problems, and the fraud will become painfully obvious. This is what happened with Schon. No one else in the world had his "magic touch" and after awhile it became obvious that he was just inventing results.

In the second case, where the falsification is about smaller, less significant results... well typically the person won't get "ahead" due to their tampering... and if the result is not very significant, then it won't really affect the concensus in the field. It is surely a waste of time and money to fund someone who invents garbage, but science itself does not end up having "erroneous conclusions" slipped in.

Again, as soon as a result becomes important (even if only important to a handful of scientists worldwide) it will be double-checked (even if, during research, you don't try to double-check other's results... it usually becomes that their results are wrong if they don't agree with yours or anyone else's.

Re:hrm... (1)

Tontoman (737489) | more than 8 years ago | (#13905130)

There are dishonest people in every profession. The academic community is no exception.

Re:hrm... (1)

Krach42 (227798) | more than 8 years ago | (#13905222)

Apparently at least back in the day, Paleo-anthropology had a real big problem with fraud. Piltdown Man comes to mind immediately. They presented their evidence, everyone said, "Yep, that's what we expected, excellent work", then the evidence was locked away without further examination.

In modern years someone wanted to run some DNA tests on Piltdown Man and got permission. While the lab tech was drilling a whole to the marrow to try and find some DNA, they smelt burning bone. Fossilised bone doesn't burn (at least not with a hand drill.) and they found that the bones were not only modern age, but were also not even from the same animal.

Anyone so deeply into the research as to know how things get done is pretty capable of falsifying just about anything.

Not surprising (4, Funny)

MyLongNickName (822545) | more than 8 years ago | (#13905026)

84.2% of all college level professors fabricate data. I have a source for this -- I just can't find it right now.

Re:Not surprising (0)

jolande (852630) | more than 8 years ago | (#13905143)

Did you know that large percentage of statistics are made up?

slight modifying of data is done all the time (1)

t35t0r (751958) | more than 8 years ago | (#13905029)

I know for a fact that many scientists slightly modify their results to make them look better all the time. Now, they probably don't blatantly fabricate data like this guy, but they sometimes tweak a number here or there so on initial deposition for publication every thing looks good to the reviewers (closes holes in their findings). This gives the researcher time to fix problems in their work while knowing that it will be published in the future with minor modifications.

What incentive would a researcher have to fix minor problems if he/she knew that their findings would not be published anyways? They either try another journal or go onto another experiment. Why waste time, when time is grant money that is running out?

Exactly. The problem is money. (0, Offtopic)

CyricZ (887944) | more than 8 years ago | (#13905063)

Indeed, the main problem is money. They're not doing science for the sake of good science. They're doing science so they can make money (to live and to continue to do science to make money), and sometimes that may necessitate the modification of results and data.

Just think about what could be done without the monetary restrictions, or even if they could be significantly reduced. If the US had instead used for scientific research the $200 billion they wasted on Iraq, who knows how far ahead of the world they could be. Investing that much money in something constructive, like scientific research, would reap tremendous benefits. Even half of that dollar figure could fund a lot of cutting-edge research.

Re:Exactly. The problem is money. (0, Flamebait)

t35t0r (751958) | more than 8 years ago | (#13905145)

Just think about what could be done without the monetary restrictions, or even if they could be significantly reduced. If the US had instead used for scientific research the $200 billion they wasted on Iraq, who knows how far ahead of the world they could be. Investing that much money in something constructive, like scientific research, would reap tremendous benefits. Even half of that dollar figure could fund a lot of cutting-edge research.

Now, I don't want to change the subject, but waging war (when there is no threat that anything will happen to your own country) is a great way to inject growth into the economy. War destroys and then corporations have an incentive to get government grants (our tax dollars) to help rebuild another country's economy and everything we destroyed. Slowly but surely (like the Borg) the US will assimilate Iraqi culture like we do with everything else. In the process, more Iraqi's will lose their "traditional" values and practices, and a entire younger generations of Iraqi's will become another mindless consumer-oriented MTV generation. We will move our Walmarts, Home Depots, McDonalds, and Starbucks as well as big government contractors into Iraq (if these companies are not over there already). It's all about US hegemony. Let's force our way of life onto them. If you don't like it you can stagnate and die.

Re:slight modifying of data is done all the time (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13905147)

As a researcher, I find it very hard to believe that you know "many" scientists who do that.

"Blow" ? (5, Insightful)

Quixote (154172) | more than 8 years ago | (#13905047)

The revelations are a serious blow to MIT, which prides itself on its reputation as a scientific powerhouse.

Huh? It is a "blow" to their reputation iff they knew about the misconduct and did nothing about it. In this case it is clear that they took swift action. I would give kudos to MIT for reacting swiftly. Recall the conduct of other organizations like NYT in such instances.

Re:"Blow" ? (1)

Rick Genter (315800) | more than 8 years ago | (#13905082)

I agree. I was confused by the "blow" comment myself; they should be commended for upholding their principles and firing the guy.

On the other hand, I'm not sure I would qualify this as acting "swiftly", as the misconduct was discovered in August of 2004....

This is what you get with F/OSS (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13905051)

I'll get modded to hell for this so I'm posting as AC.

I hate to say it, but this is what you get when you promote Free/Open Source Software, especially to the degree that such software is promoted at known left-wing campuses like MIT's.

Basically, the underlying philosophy of Free/Open Source Software is that it is alright to copy someone else's work, as long as you make your changes public. This inevitably encourages people to take the 'path of least resistance', completing their project in less time but only contributing a fraction of the total work. This laxity, or laziness, is soon seen as the norm. Lo and behold, when someone at a F/OSS software-heavy campus like MIT starts a project and finds that no-one has done the heavy lifting for him already, he still sees it as his right to get full reward with fractional work. It's easy to see how this leads to falsification of data.

It really is too bad - given all the real advantages of F/OSS, like the Open Source - but I think F/OSS should be curtailed, or even counter-legalized, in order to stop the decline in American work ethic and scientific rigour.

Re:This is what you get with F/OSS (1)

Wavicle (181176) | more than 8 years ago | (#13905196)

Basically, the underlying philosophy of Free/Open Source Software is that it is alright to copy someone else's work, as long as you make your changes public.

Kind of a negative phrasing of it, but yes. That's the idea.

This inevitably encourages people to take the 'path of least resistance', completing their project in less time but only contributing a fraction of the total work.

Yes, we usually refer to it as "standing on the shoulders of giants." But this is in no way limited to FOSS. When I worked at a large IT company the chief software architect's mantra was "it is cheaper to buy than to build!" He wasn't real particular about FOSS, his point was if we could buy something off the shelf, we should always do that instead of making it ourselves. Putting something in the development pipeline was a slow, expensive process: Gather requirements, write up the use cases, design the software, review, do the actual coding, do code reviews, write up a test plan, send it through QA.

This laxity, or laziness, is soon seen as the norm.

This laxity or laziness most major corporations would call "efficient." Seriously, software development is expensive.

Lo and behold, when someone at a F/OSS software-heavy campus like MIT starts a project and finds that no-one has done the heavy lifting for him already, he still sees it as his right to get full reward with fractional work.

I don't follow exactly what you're saying. If someone uses Linux + Apache + MySQL + PHP to make a piece of weblog software, do they deserve no credit because LAMP provides for 99% of all the code?

It really is too bad - given all the real advantages of F/OSS, like the Open Source - but I think F/OSS should be curtailed, or even counter-legalized, in order to stop the decline in American work ethic and scientific rigour.

This is a fantastic jump of logic. From not having to pay money for a software license to falsifying data? Wow! How does paying money for a software license somehow make scientists more honest?

Re:This is what you get with F/OSS (1)

Guy Harris (3803) | more than 8 years ago | (#13905257)

YHBT. YHL. HAND.

Intellectual Design (5, Funny)

adam31 (817930) | more than 8 years ago | (#13905083)

Sometimes when an experiment doesn't go as hoped, its Creator must guide the results intelligently.

Welcome to Science!

Happens all the time (5, Informative)

HangingChad (677530) | more than 8 years ago | (#13905090)

I remember a DoE contract researcher years ago who was putting so much pressure on his techs they were giving him the results he wanted to see. But as long as he kept getting grants the lab was willing to cover it up, even though the director of QA/QC department was provided with enough detailed results to demonstrate the scientist was presenting falsified data. It wasn't just a little tweak here or there, these were completely bogus results.

For going to the trouble of turning in the fraudulent research the tech had their phone tapped (which the lab later denied), was transferred out to a dingy little building in the middle of the desert to do menial tasks and just generally harassed until they eventually got another job.

There's so much pressure for getting grant money that producing the results that will get more grant money is pretty much the norm, espeically in contract research. Everyone likes to think science is pure, but you're deluded if you think that. It's all about making sure you've got enough charge codes to bill your time and supporting that 200% overhead rate.

Re:Happens all the time (5, Interesting)

william_w_bush (817571) | more than 8 years ago | (#13905245)

True, but I've heard of this kind of thing happening quite frequently from my friends in the ahem, military equipment sector.

Not that they say it happens to them, but the stories are ridiculous, with tests designed so they can't fail, or so failures are marked as partial successes, etc, because the project cannot have any black marks against it till acquisition... after which the govt will gladly pay to upgrade baselines to fix the flaws over the next decade. Check fas.org, but the first sparrow missle, the first line of tomahawks, b1 bomber, osprey, bradley's, even the proposed missle shield, all were/are acquired with obvious, mission-comprimising flaws that cost billions-10s of billions per project to fix. The problem is the acquisition system, especially congress's oversight, doesn't have an independent verification mechanism to prove that said equipment works within required parameters, and anyone who tries to say anything generally gets discharged from the military for going outside the chain of command and "comprimising the integrity of a classified project", even if the congressmen have clearance.

So if you were ever curious why so many ex-military officers found surprisingly comfortable jobs in the defense sector, theres an idea.

The corruption in the military-industrial complex goes beyond anything we can imagine in the private sector. Actual results being valued far less than pork per district works great in politics, but tends to hurt 2 politically defenseless groups, the taxpayers who fund these nightmares, and the poor troops who end up wondering why they have to bolt sheet metal onto their hummvees while people are shooting at them.

Not new (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13905091)

Noam Chomsky's been fabricating fakeries and un-truths for years now and nobody cares as long as his fakeries and un-truths serve their political agendas.

ohh cmon.. (0, Troll)

himanshuabc (926892) | more than 8 years ago | (#13905100)

can't believe this.. a Harvard graduate fired from MIT omg!

Rescience (4, Interesting)

Doc Ruby (173196) | more than 8 years ago | (#13905105)

Science is based on the belief that experimental results can be replicated in repeated experiments. I've always wondered why the global scientific community doesn't do more replication of data as part of peer review. A formal procedure for extracting the experimental specification so the experiment is performed without the prior data included in the knowledge of the experimenter. Then a comparison by another party not performing either experiment, so the data comparison is "clean". That seems a very valuable process, in validating the original, finding differences still covered by the same theory, but available for more precision, as well as training scientists - both new and old. It seem replication for the purpose of disproving flawed theories would be the most important, and most common, scientific activity. Is the relative lack of it due to the "efficiency" of the corporate science business? Shouldn't academics be spending more time replicating?

Funding. (4, Insightful)

Thu25245 (801369) | more than 8 years ago | (#13905149)

I've always wondered why the global scientific community doesn't do more replication of data as part of peer review.

Just try getting a grant for "Doing exactly what this other guy already did, just to make sure."

Yeah, it actually is important, but try explaining that to the bean counters. The best you can do is propose some sort of "continuation" and include the original experiment as a control group, and hope to verify it that way.

Re:Rescience (1)

0xC2 (896799) | more than 8 years ago | (#13905209)

Exactly. It's not scientific fact until it's been reproduced independently by peers. "Organic Synthesis" was the only publication worth a damn for chemistry for that reason. The other publications publish science "conjecture". Way too much of that.

Re:Rescience (1)

m0nstr42 (914269) | more than 8 years ago | (#13905221)

I've always wondered why the global scientific community doesn't do more replication of data as part of peer review.
In alot of cases, this has to do with availability of equipment and materials. I used to work in a lab that had hundreds of thousands (probably millions) of dollars worth of equipment... alot of which was custom-made. So for another lab to reproduce our results, they would have to have most of the same equipment. So in order to systematically test the reproducibility of every published result... you can automatically double the research expenditures necessary... that or cut the activity in half and dedicate half of the people currently making their own progress to working on reproducing results.

This is unusual because.. (2, Interesting)

278MorkandMindy (922498) | more than 8 years ago | (#13905140)

..he was caught out fabricating data, rather than letting the data the "didn't fit the curve" go unreported. Check out any medical research you like, you don't need to fabricate, just obscure...
I love the research that shows a certain food additive killed mice who were predisposed to cancer (the cancer went wild) BUT didn't harm healthy mice.
Simple logic thus tells us it is safe to eat. And we do.
I will remember what the additive is.. I think you can put it with mashed up meat and the meat "gels together" to form nice steaks...

His faculty page still available at archive.org (3, Interesting)

Baldrson (78598) | more than 8 years ago | (#13905144)

They removed his faculty page from mit.edu but it is still avaiable [tinyurl.com] at archive.org.

funny about this (5, Interesting)

jaxon6 (104115) | more than 8 years ago | (#13905158)

I worked in the Biology department at MIT when this happened. While Van Parijs' lab was under renovations, he took up space on my floor. After that, our department(mini-department? sub-department?, whatever) provided some computing resources for their lab. I was the network/systems guy, so I took care of our machines in their lab.
One day, I noticed that the Windows box in their lab wasn't responding and had been reported as haven been taken by the Cancer Center's sysadmin guy. I talked to a buddy of mine who sits across from me and did lab work for the Van Parijs. He called and asked about the machine. A couple of minutes later, the head of the Cancer Center called him and firmly told him to drop all inquries into said machine. He said it felt like the part of The Matrix where Neo gets the 'How are you going to talk without a mouth, Mr Anderson' line.
That's when the shit hit the fan. I was a weekly regular at the Plough and Stars in Cambridge on Wednesdays, and the Van Parijs members made it out there every other week or so. After six weeks or so, the guys who confronted Luk finally started talking about it.
It was quite the news in the department. I don't know about the rest of MIT, but all of Biology, and the CCR, Whitehead, and surrounding buildings knew about it since day one. It worked out well for the members of the lab. Everybody joined up with a different lab, except for one guy. He pretty much started working for himself. He's doing some post-doc work, and in light of what happened, the department just let him start doing his own thing until he finishes up.
What I remember about Luk Van Parijs(other than that he had the most gorgeous Russian administrative assistant. I could write for hours about her. I mean, she was hot and she said things like 'I think my phone just did a core dump' Hi Masha!) was that he was pretty much a jerk. Not that remarkable being that for MIT professors this is the rule and not the exception, but a jerk nonetheless.

Anyways, everybody thinks the New Scientist article was pretty scathing.

Here is a more detailed account (5, Informative)

geoffrobinson (109879) | more than 8 years ago | (#13905160)

http://www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=dn8230 [newscientist.com]

Here is how they noticed a pattern:
Michael Borowitz, at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland, says: "The shapes of the major clusters are often similar but in any system there is noise, and those noisy dots are in the same place too. That's hard to explain by biology. It is very difficult for me to believe that these were independent experiments." Borowitz is an expert in interpreting flow cytometry graphs, which he regularly uses to identity abnormal populations of cells in the blood and bone marrow of leukaemia patients.

Three other experts contacted, including Paul Robinson, a professor of immunopharmacology and biomedical engineering and Director of the Flow Cytometry Labs at Purdue University in West Lafayette, say that the graphs appear concerningly alike.

What about Dr. Soong? (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13905173)

Noonian....Didn't he fabricate Data?
hahahahahhahha
Obscure Sci-Fi reference

False results waste a LOT of time and money (5, Interesting)

Dr. Zowie (109983) | more than 8 years ago | (#13905176)

The problem with falsification is that it wastes far more time and money than it saves. In addition to any actual damages (such as, in health science, killing patients), every falsified result that makes it into the scientific literature is a blind alley that someone else has to go down to get at the truth.

People who lose sight of that, and who make stuff up to submit, are not only disrespecting their peers, they are stealing time and effort from them. For example, I lost about six months of my life because a senior colleague falsified data that I needed in graduate school. We were in the business of flying a rocket payload to look at the Sun in extreme ultraviolet light. We calibrated the photographic film at a synchrotron facility at Stanford. Our senior colleague (who later went on to become a bigwig at SPIE and in NASA's Astrobiology program) was in charge of developing the film that we exposed, at great effort, to calibrated amounts of ultraviolet light emitted by the synchrotoron. He forgot (or something) to write down which process he used on which piece of film. As a result, a year later when we were analysing our images of the Sun we couldn't make any sense of them. It took a good six months of concentrated effort to eliminate all reasonable hypotheses about what had happened, and to conclude that the film processing notes from that calibration run were simply made up. Once we knew that, we could get reasonable (if not-as-good-as-we-hoped) results from the rocket flight, using earlier calibrations. If my colleague had fessed up immediately we would have lost a few days' work rather than six months.

In the short term, the scientific refereeing process keeps out many honest mistakes or omissions, but anyone determined to deliberately slip fake results into a paper can probably get away with it. In the long term, though, there's no escape: anything made up will either be buried (because it turns out to be uninteresting or because no-one trusts it), or found out (because, if it is interesting, others will try to use or reproduce the result, and will niggle at it until the truth comes out).

Common Stuff (4, Insightful)

vectorian798 (792613) | more than 8 years ago | (#13905178)

Oh come on, you think this guy is the only one who did it? Let me ask you this: you have a hypothesis. You spend a ton of money from your grants and have your grad students spend a lot of their time trying to prove their hypothesis. The data you get is basically useless since it doesn't prove or disprove anything. Do you just say "New research into immunology finds nothing?" Of course not.

We VERY rarely hear of research actually failing, when in fact we should be hearing it ALL THE TIME since taking stabs at new ideas shouldn't be successful all the time. Failure should be a natural part of research, and there really shouldn't be an urge to have to make your research fruitful everytime. Unfortunately, no one would actually do this even if they agreed with the thought - people would only expect other people to follow the rule.

It's not like it matters too much regardless - 90% of research papers are bullshit wrapped in a myriad of technical jargon which makes it seem like they achieved something ridiculously important.

My 2 cents.

Re:Common Stuff (3, Insightful)

l3v1 (787564) | more than 8 years ago | (#13905242)

we should be hearing it ALL THE TIME since taking stabs at new ideas shouldn't be successful all the time

Thing is, if you're working on an idea, and the solution you try doesn't seem to work [which happens quite frequently], you just move on, and eventually you'll be able to solve the problem someway. If too much time is spent and no viable solution seems to be found, then it's time to move on, unless you have unlimited time and resources to waste. Havign said that, outsiders don't usually hear about failed ideas because 1). if a solution is found, it is published, the failures are not, 2). a funded project usually doesn't have such explicitely narrow goals that it only would have one and only one solution which means at least some parts will be done/finished/solved/etc and then it's prettier to say it's partially successfull than to say it's mostly a failure.

Re:Common Stuff (1)

Carmelbuck (921788) | more than 8 years ago | (#13905316)

The "VERY rarely hear of research failing" bit has already been addressed--of course things that don't work don't get published and announced. It's certainly not true that things never fail--I know way too many people who have been involved in projects that didn't work out for years and were abandoned (and yes, funding lost), and this at a school that's regarded as the best in the world in their subfield. And in fact, negative results are often as interesting as--or more so--than getting what you expected. I'm coming up on two years spent on a project that started as a one month "let's make sure this is really what happens" exercise--surprise, that isn't what really happens.

And I can't really believe that you've read the scientific literature, given your last paragraph. Of course papers state their relevence to their particular area, but you can't seriously look through journals (except perhaps Science or Nature, which are supposed to be publishing only the ground-breaking stuff) and get the idea that these people believe that their work is earth-shattering. We all know that the vast majority of us are adding only little bits and pieces to the overall puzzle.

David Baltimore (2, Interesting)

solman (121604) | more than 8 years ago | (#13905187)

The CNN article says that the fired researcher had worked at CalTech for three years and that some of his collaborative work with former MIT professor and outgoing Caltech president David Baltimore [wikipedia.org] , is being examined for fraud.

Baltimore has previously been caught, at a minimum, refusing to take scientific misconduct seriously.

Even if no wrongdoing is found on David Baltimore's part (as I think is likely) this incident will still be taken as further evidence that when strong action is not taken against an environment that is permissive of misconduct, the misconduct is likely to grow.

All college professors fabricate data... (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13905199)

they just call it statistics.

In all seriousness the fabrication of data is not as much of a problem in academia as improper use of statistical methods, poor coding procedures, and poor data collection are.

Hah! (4, Funny)

avalys (221114) | more than 8 years ago | (#13905205)

We here at MIT find it quite humorous when someone suggests that this reflects badly on the Institute, given that the person in question was educated at Harvard and Caltech.

Job Opening (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13905280)

Maybe he could go and work for the Alexis de Toqueville Institution.
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