Monthly Archives: May 2016



Truth versus falsehood is an ancient question! (
Truth versus falsehood is an ancient question!   (


Most of what is considered to be true is evidenced by results from scientific research.  We all like to think of science as being factual, objective, and resulting from systematic examination of all possibilities.  Problems do arise when some ‘scientific facts’ contradict others, and, when common sense or practical experience tells us the supposed facts cannot be true.  This essay examines what factors can distort our usual assumption that science and research always tell us the truth; 3 different sources of falsity are noted.

Intermediates commonly cause problems by falsifying the issues! 

Most people do not read research reports by scientists, and so they look at articles and videos composed by non-scientists.  Problems regarding scientific research are frequently caused because the actual data and clear conclusions are interpreted by the non-scientist presenter; that often results in changes and additions or subtractions from what scientists actually give out.  Accurate and faithful presentation of research findings demands careful attention to details, what is not included, and what is simplified in the report; some of these presentations are good, but others are misleading or even draw unwarranted conclusions.

The public cannot readily determine whether a science report is good or bad, and does not have access to the scientists authoring the new research findings.  Hence, supposed ‘new facts from science’ are either blindly accepted or not believed on the basis of non-science factors (e.g., what person or program is giving the description).  What is needed to solve this type of problem with unintended falsification is for one of the scientists conducting the research to critically review the presentation before it is given out to the public.

When the results of industrial research are being presented in public media, a different kind of problem commonly arises.  Industrial research and development usually is targeted at some commercial product or activity; negative features or contradictory findings often are eliminated or minimized, thereby giving a one-sided view.  This can even go so far that a ‘science report’ really is an advertisement or a sales pitch that throws objectivity out the window in favor of growing sales and profits.  The best solution for this type of situation unfortunately is farfetched and unrealistic: everyone in the public is educated to have a much better understanding about scientific research, so that they can evaluate the announced claims by themselves.  Most people at present cannot do that since they received a limited education about science in schools, and are completely estranged from science and research as adults; this situation is very widespread in today’s world.

Research scientists often are used as actors in public disputes! 

Science is about finding what is the truth and asking questions about anything and everything.  Disagreements between researchers about new research findings and their meaning are a healthy part of science.  With more time and additional experimental data, disputes between scientists often are resolved.  Any remaining controversy about what is true mostly is due to the involvement of governments, politicians, regulators, and administrators. They typically inject non-science agendas into the arguments and simply are using scientists to win their political battles; (see:  “What Happens when Scientists Disagree?  Part V: Lessons to be Learned About Arguments Between Scientists” ).

A good example of how scientists are used in public disputes is found in the prolonged current controversy about “global warming” and its subordinate issue about “humans cause climate change” (see:  “What Happens when Scientists Disagree?  Part II:  Why is There Such a Long Controversy About Global Warming and Climate Change?” ).  Both sides claim to have scientific evidence and renowned experts supporting their position.  In fact, scientists have rather few disagreements about actual research results in this area; the ongoing arguments actually concern economics and politics!  Politicians, administrators, lawyers, and officials continue to hotly dispute and legislate what should be done (if anything!).  This type of public controversy often remains disputed for a long time and could even go on forever!

Some supposed factual accounts could be a gross deception! 

Most people agree that not everything heard or seen can be believed.  Nevertheless, it is especially difficult to decide what is true or false when something is presented as an official announcement by a government or an expert panel.  I will give one example here which is so extremely shocking that almost all adults do accept the ‘presented facts’ as being absolutely true.  To look at this critically, put aside your feelings of loyalty, patriotism, and pride just for a moment, so you can think critically about the possibility that U.S. astronauts never set foot on the Moon.

The best way to handle this question about the most widely known claim by the U.S. for its excellence in science and technology is to use the number one question asked by all scientists in their experimental research: what is the evidence?  Firstly, there are direct queries.  (1) Were samples brought back from the lunar surface, and what did these show?  Yes, samples of moon rocks were brought back, and, these were both similar and different from natural materials found here on Earth.  (2) Did video cameras show NASA astronauts on the surface of the Moon?  Yes, videos showing astronauts walking on some strange landscape were taken and made available for public viewing, but these also could have been recorded somewhere on Earth.  (3) Have any of the numerous NASA technicians claimed this is a big fake?  I am not aware of any such statements.

Secondly, there are quite a few indirect questions.  (1) Why has the Russian space program not duplicated the Moon visit?  The Russians claim to have measurements showing that the intensity of cosmic radiation somewhere between Earth and Moon is so very high that no human could survive such an exposure.  (2) Why have further Moon visits not been conducted by NASA?  The usual answer given is the huge funds necessary to do that were used for other projects with a higher priority.  (3) Why did one of the main Moon astronauts refuse to give any interviews for the remainder of his life?  This is explained as his personal choice (e.g., modesty); alternatively, the silent astronaut was so embarrassed by his role in this deception that he refused to ever talk about his experiences.

In this example there are alternative possible answers for all the above questions.  The available evidence is unable to prove either truthfulness or falsity, and hence is inconclusive.  It is painful for me to describe this, but I am presenting it only as a prominent example showing that it is necessary to question even what high officials proclaim as being the truth.

Concluding remarks! 

Although finding the truth is done by expert scientists conducting research investigations, this only reaches the public through a fog of opinionated distortions, selective omissions, and outright deceit.  Advertising and agenda-driven presentations often are commonly accepted as being true because the other side is not revealed.  Solving this situation requires that people need to be much more educated about scientific research, so they are better able to decide for themselves what is true and what is false.






Research misconduct affects all of us! (
Research misconduct affects all of us badly!  (


An outstanding report by Judy Stone, “Why The U. of Minnesota Research Scandal Threatens Us All”, appeared in Forbes one year ago (May 27, 2015) [1].  She details the misconduct of research and the scandalous cover-ups which still are going on in 2016 at the University of Minnesota School of Medicine [2].  Last week, I briefly covered general aspects of this shocking situation in Minnesota (see: “Dishonesty in Scientific Research: Are the Punishments for Being Caught Sufficient to Deter More Cheating?” ).  Now, we will take a closer look at Judy Stone’s masterful discussion about exactly how cheating in scientific research produces bad direct consequences for everyone.

Who is Judy Stone?  She is a medical doctor specializing in infectious diseases, and also has personal experience in research; she has authored several books, including one giving guidance for clinical research studies.  Her interests focus on tropical diseases, advocating about ethical issues in medicine, and writing for the general public.  Her vivid dispatches currently appear as contributions to Forbes.  For her brief autobiography in 2012, see: .

Trust in science, research, and scientists! 

The great majority of scientists are honest!  Unethical conduct by research scientists involves a small number of individuals, but this figure seems to be on the increase (see: “Introduction to Cheating and Corruption in Science” ).  Dishonesty in science breaks the enormous trust in research and scientists, and, has negative effects on many unsuspecting people.

The general public continues to have very high trust in the research findings and published conclusions of professional scientists.  That is good, except that they are deceived and unaware that some dishonest individuals have broken their trust.

All levels of science teachers and other educators have a high trust in whatever is published in science textbooks and references.  The entire existence of fraudulent professionals is not accepted by most teachers because that realization undermines all education.

All types of research scientists have very limitless trust in the published findings of other scientists.  When planning a new experiment, scientists typically assume previously published results are really true; they do this of necessity, since it is impractical to have to verify all earlier results from other labs by repeating those investigations.

People who are clinical patients of good doctors assume that their caregivers are fully cognizant of all new results about their treatments, and act only for their well-being.  Most patients are not sufficiently aware that pharmaceutical companies are first and foremost businesses dedicated to pursuing profits.  A whole spectrum of dishonesty in clinical and preclinical research studies is stimulated by “powerful financial incentives to do unethical things” [3]; that means  researchers can “pressure vulnerable subjects to enroll in studies, fudge diagnoses to recruit otherwise ineligible subjects and keep subjects in studies even when they are doing poorly” [3].

Effects of dishonesty in research! 

When ‘false facts’ are taught in classes to children or adults, what is learned or naively accepted as being true is actually wrong.  If that falsity is used for some practical purpose, something will not work as expected.  People working in many different jobs encounter this general problem.

Scientists believing some deceitful research report find that their own lab work gives negative or unexpected results.  Upon redoing the reported experiments, they unexpectedly see that the published results cannot be repeated.  This means that time and effort are wasted by scientists, lab workers, and administrators.

Think how much extra time and effort must be spent checking and rechecking everything for such huge and important activities as research probes sent into outer space, new prescription drugs finally approved for sale to patients with widespread diseases (e.g., arthritis, cancer, diabetes, mental health), design and construction of battery-powered self-driving automobiles, etc.  Much of this time and money must  be used to try to make certain that everything works as planned and nothing is based on false assumptions.

Any of us can be badly affected by inadequate testing of safety for new drugs! 

Pharmaceutical drug trials certainly are very prominent for problems with ethics, corruption, and truth vs. falsity.  Judy Stone explains vividly how clinical drug trials are misleading and deceitful if they are conducted fraudulently or actually are marketing studies; they need to be done “honestly and ethically” [1], so patients and their physicians can realistically have confidence in the intended effects.  This admonition is not only directed to research scientists, but also extends to drug companies, to review bodies, and to government regulatory agencies (i.e., U.S. Food and Drug Administration).

The spectrum for research misconduct during development of new medical drugs is indeed very large.   Any or many of us can be affected negatively by any dishonesty in the testing and evaluation process.  When some professional researcher observes unethical behavior by other researchers they are obliged to report that and investigate what is going on [4]; in some cases, it is even necessary to become a whistleblower in order to prevent future patients from being harmed or killed (see: “Whistleblowers in Science are Necessary to Keep Research and Science-based Industries Honest!” ).

Concluding remarks! 

Any falsification of research or corruption of clinical investigations testing new medical drugs affects a very large number of people!  Unfortunately, recent history teaches us that we must always be suspicious about clinical trials since there are so many known instances of blatant deceit [1,3-4].  As Judy Stone says, “It is well known that industry-funded trials get more positive outcomes than those that are neutrally sponsored” [1]; why is that so?  Any innocent patient (e.g., you!) can have bad outcomes due to this problem with ethics in some scientists and some companies.  Lying, cheating, and fraud have no place in research!


[1]  Stone, J., 2015.  Why the Minnesota research scandal threatens us all.  Forbes.  Available on the internet at: .

[2]  Stone, J., 2016.  Denial.  Why UMN needs a mental health ombudsman.  Forbes.  Available on the internet at: .

[3]  Elliott, C., 2015.  The University of Minnesota’s medical research mess.  New York Times, The Opinion Pages, May 26, 2015.  Page A19.  Available on the internet at: .

[4]  Wilmshurst, P., 2004.  Obstacles to honesty in medical research.  HealthWatch – UK, Newsletter #52, 2003 HealthWatch – UK Award Lecture.  Available on the internet at: .






Cheating at research continues to be a big problem for science! (
Cheating at research continues to be a big problem for science today!     (

Fraudulent research is widely abhorred, but still continues to occur and seems to be increasing.  That must mean either the prevailing standards of professional ethics are degenerating, or the rewards for research misconduct outweigh the penalties for being caught.  Dishonesty is a general and long-standing problem for science, and several causes are known (see: “Why Would Any Scientist Ever Cheat?” ).

A recent case of research misconduct in Japan has received extensive media coverage (see: “A final judgment is given to Haruko Obokata: Misconduct of research!” ).  Here, we take a look at what punishments are being given out in recent scandals with research fraud.  Issues discussed here include whether usual punishments actually will discourage cheating by others, and whether institutions conducting contracted research studies (e.g., universities, medical schools, research institutes) can be trusted to police themselves?

Several earlier articles dealt with dishonesty in science (see: “Introduction to Cheating  and Corruption in Science” , and,  “Why is it so Very Hard to Eliminate Fraud and Corruption in Scientists?” ).  Beginners will find it useful to first read those essays before studying this new dispatch.

Case #1:  Multiple ethical problems and persisting cover-ups at the University of Minnesota Medical School (2008-2016) [1,2]. 

Several different instances of ethical misconduct during studies evaluating new clinical drugs at the University of Minnesota Medical School have shown improper recruitment of subjects and disregard for patient care (i.e., one subject committed suicide!).  Internal and external investigations resulted in disqualifications, felony charges, and accusations of cover-ups.  Dr. Carl Elliott, a professor in the Center for Bioethics at this same institution,  recently authored an insightful article about this unfortunate situation [1].  He states, “Rather than dealing forthrightly with these ethical breaches, university officials have seemed more interested in covering up wrongdoing” [1].  He also notes that official bodies intended to oversee the welfare of patients enrolled in clinical drug trials (i.e., Institutional Review Boards) are given inadequate authority and staffing to deal effectively with clinical research misconduct and cover-ups.

The range of punishments issued by the University of Minnesota in response to criticisms from the Federal Drug Administration and several external review bodies include disqualifications from further research and suspension of some medical licenses.  The obvious cover-up still is ongoing and now is being publicly criticized; no punishments to misguided administrators seem to have been given.

Case #2:  Research misconduct scandal at the Duke University School of Medicine (2007-2010) [3,4]. 

Misconduct by a cancer researcher, Dr. Anil Potti, involved several clinical trials using new genomic tools to determine the best treatment for cancer patients.  His results were produced with many collaborators, and were published with coauthors in very high quality journals.  Allegations of research misconduct arose in part from a medical student, Brad Perez, researching with Dr. Potti; this whistle-blower courageously announced his misgivings to supervisors and university officials.  More questions arose about Dr. Potti’s research results, but an official review found no research misconduct.  Later, that view at Duke slowly changed, forcing its standards for research integrity and mechanisms to investigate allegations of misconduct to be strengthened and improved.

The range of punishments delivered in this case is extensive.  Dr. Potti made financial settlements to settle multiple lawsuits for medical malpractice; in addition, his numerous published research reports were retracted.  In 2010, Dr. Potti resigned his position at Duke.  Subsequently, he obtained new medical licenses in South Carolina and Missouri; the Medical Boards for both states later issued reprimands to him.  There now are many articles and widespread publicity in the popular press, professional medical journals, and the internet about Dr. Potti’s misconduct ; his reputation now is totally destroyed.  It is not clear if any of his collaborators or administrators at Duke were punished.

Case #3: Falsified Research Results and Unprofessional Conduct at the Karolinska Institute (2010-2016) [5-7].  

Current investigations of research experiments by a surgeon, Dr. Paolo Macciarini, are active for allegations of misconduct at the Karolinska Institute, the most prominent medical research center in Sweden.  His clinical research involved implantation of an artificial trachea seeded with the patient’s own stem cells.  Six of 8 patients receiving this experimental treatment have died.  A Swedish TV documentary critical of this surgeon stimulated official investigations.  After more allegations of medical research misconduct, an external assessor concluded that Dr. Macchiarini had falsified his test results; in response, Karolinska Institute announced its support of their star surgeon.

A range of punishments was issued to Dr. Macchiarini.  The Karolinska Institute recently announced that it will sever all ties to Dr. Macchiarini when his contract expires later in 2016. This dramatic controversy resulted in resignations of the Vice-Chancellor at Karolinska, and, the Secretary-General of the Nobel Assembly.  In 2016, the Swedish government initiated a new review into how allegations of misconduct are handled; it seems quite clear that the present handling is inadequate.

General discussion about these cases! 

These different cases of alleged and proven misconduct by professional researchers all show that it is easy to do fraudulent science and get it published.  Only if one is caught cheating and full documentation is acquired does the possibility of criminal punishments arise.  Media attention and input from someone who has the guts to be a whistle-blower speeds up the process of proving research misconduct.

Institutions must always be fair to the accused while the alleged dishonesty is being investigated.  The process for investigations often is unwieldy and easily compromised.  Institutions typically focus attention only on one “bad individual”, who is declared an exception to their high standards for ethical conduct.

What level of punishment is appropriate to discourage others from being dishonest? 

Punishments for research misconduct are not uniform between institutions, and often seem to be rather ineffective.  If a professional research scientist is proven to have falsified research data, is it enough to only have their publications retracted?  Or, must there also be financial penalties?  Is it sufficient to force cheaters to be on leave for 2 years, or should they be dismissed?  Should other institutions be prevented from subsequently employing them?  Should coworkers who participated in the fraud also be punished, and how strongly?  What punishments should be given to administrators for their cover-ups and stonewalling?  These necessary questions are not simple, and have no easy answers.

My own conclusions about these 3 cases! 

I draw several conclusions from the 3 cases just described.  (1) It takes many years for investigations of alleged misconduct to be completed.  (2) The long slow process of dealing with unethical research is made quicker by whistle-blowers and media attention.  (3) Institutions have a strong tendency to deny wrongdoing and minimize allegations of misconduct.  (4) Cover-ups mean that institutions cannot be trusted to police themselves.  (5) Punishments given to faculty for research misconduct vary widely, and, co-researchers and administrators often receive none.  (6) Punishments appear to only minimally deter new offenses by others.

Research dishonesty in laboratories and hospitals is very bad for patients, society, and science.  Unethical practices by researchers hurt trust by other scientists and physicians, and by the public.  Much more attention is needed to solve and deter this very general problem for science.


[1]  Elliott, C., 2015.  The University of Minnesota’s medical research mess.  New York Times, The Opinion Pages, May 26, 2015.  Page A19.  Available on the internet at: .

[2]  Stone, J., 2015.  Why the Minnesota research scandal threatens us all.  Forbes, May 27, 2015.  Available on the internet at: .

[3]  Price, J., 2015.  Trial in medical research  scandal at Duke postponed.  The News & Observer, Health Care.  Available on the internet at: .

[4]  Hinks-Jones, L., 2015.  Patients, researchers demand further prosecution in Duke case.  Bloomberg BNA.  Available on the internet at: .

[5]  Enserink, M., 2016.  Swedish academy seeks to stem ‘crisis of confidence’ in wake of Macchiarini scandal.  Science, February 12, 2016  351.  Available on the internet at: .

[6]  McCook, A., 2016.  Sweden rocked by scientific scandals, re-thinking how it investigates misconduct.  Retraction Watch, February 25 2016. Available on the internet at:  Retraction Watch, February 25, 2016. .

[7]  Oltermann, P., 2016.  ‘Superstar doctor’ fired  from Swedish institute over research ‘lies’.  The Guardian, March 24, 2016.  Available on the internet at: .





Why are new research ideas so repressed? (
Why are good new research ideas so often repressed?   (


For scientists researching and teaching at a university, medical school, or research institute, part of their traditional mission is to dream up new ideas.  Good ideas help with many activities, including designing new experiments, modifying research instruments and methods, composing research reports for publication in science journals, developing new concepts, deciding how to present complex topics in course lectures, etc.

Despite the curiosity-driven output of new ideas originated by professional scientists, almost all are discarded by faculty researchers at modern universities.   This dispatch discusses the difficult conditions leading to a decision about what will be done when a really stimulating new research idea magically arises.

How do scientists deal with their new research ideas? 

New ideas can pop up all the time!  Some are good, some are awful, and some are funny!  All scientists have curiosity, but some researchers come up with so many new ideas that they are  known as “idea people”.  The first task to deal with new ideas is essential: write down everything so it can be recalled later.  Unless promptly recorded, new ideas are rapidly forgotten and disappear forever.

The second task is to evaluate if the new idea has sufficient merit to be put into practice.  Since grant-supported faculty scientists have already decided to work mainly or only on their funded research project, this evaluation looks at whether the new idea has enough relevance to be added to the research activities underway for the current research grant.  If it does not, then it must either be discarded or dumped onto an ever-growing pile of ideas that are stored for some future time that never seems to come; fortunately a few of the many new ideas recorded in a log book can be used later when constructing an application for renewal of the present research grant.  If it does have good relevance, the scientist advances to ultimate questions of exactly how, when, and where can the idea be inserted and used in the ongoing laboratory efforts; most new ideas never reach this stage.

What usually happens to good new ideas? 

The previous paragraph gives some idea of the usual lack of freedom for faculty scientists to undertake any new research work not directly connected to their funded project.  This restriction is very strong due to the immense pressures from 2 related issues that all inventive faculty scientists must face.  First, there is the time problem (see: “Why is the Daily Life of Modern University Scientists so Very Hectic?” ); most academic scientists now have almost zero free time since they are so busy running experiments for their grant-supported project, writing applications to acquire more research grants, teaching in courses, publishing research reports, starting a family, etc.  In theory, if a new idea is really super-promising for research, the funded scientist could try to acquire an additional (second) research grant for a new project using that idea.  This maneuver is not so easy due to the second problem, the  hyper-competition to acquire research grants (see: “All About Today’s Hyper-Competition for Research Grants” ).  Yes, good new ideas are sought by the federal granting agencies, but the intense hyper-competition means that most will never get funded.  Thus, almost all good new ideas for research are basically dead-on-arrival and are discarded! 

Another possibility for initiating research using a new idea is to use a small portion of the current financial support to conduct some pilot studies.  That work costs the scientist both money and time, and it can be done only when there actually is some extra money and extra time available; both conditions often are very questionable.  If the pilot data are very promising, then attention is given to composing a strong application for an additional research grant; that takes many months, meaning that this promising new project with a second grant could be started only at least one year later.  More realistically, an application for a small exploratory research grant can be submitted to dedicated funding sources (e.g., American Cancer Society); the preliminary data obtained then are used to compose a strong application for a new standard research grant.

New ideas are not repressed by innovative models for funding research studies! 

To be able to more freely explore and use new ideas for research, a Principal Investigator must have some free time, supplemental funds, and a working atmosphere that encourages trying new research approaches and new studies.  Those are strong features of the very innovative research support programs and special institutes recently established by James E. Stowers (see: “A Jackpot for Scientific Research is Created by James E, and Virginia Stowers!  Part II: The Stowers Institute is a Terrific New Model for Funding Scientific Research!” ) and Paul G. Allen (see: “Getting Rid of Research Grants: How Paul G. Allen is Doing It!” ).  The unusual features of these support programs will result in research breakthroughs that were not otherwise possible when the same investigators were previously working with regular research grant support.

General discussion about new ideas in science! 

The main message here is that faculty scientists do come up with many good ideas, but these are not easily put into practice unless they are closely related to their present research grant.  If a determined scientist would somehow move their current grant into supporting a new project, that decision almost guarantees non-renewal.  With the multiple restrictions now prevailing, only a very few new research ideas ever will be pursued; thus, the practical conditions generated by the research grant system and modern universities repress the creation of research ideas that are new, creative, and significant.  It seems totally pointless to faculty scientists to try to work on anything not directly related to their funded project!

Grant-supported faculty scientists today have little choice in dealing with new ideas because they are slaves to their research grant!  The system discourages creativity and questioning, so new ideas are simply discarded!  When all the restrictions are realistically considered, the best possibility for activating a new research idea is to make such into part of an application for renewal of a funded grant.

Concluding remarks! 

Yes, research freedom is very important for science!  Having new ideas for research is essential to all scientists, but putting the good ideas into practice is not very easy due to restrictions imposed by the research grant system, the time problem, and the commercialism now rampant at modern universities (see: “What is the Very Biggest Problem for Science Today?”).  Fortunately for the progress of science, some new research ideas do manage to be activated despite all the restrictive difficulties!