When Science is in thrall to Money

Bear with the fine print for a short time:

A former assistant professor at the University of Medicine and Dentistry, New Jersey (UMDNJ) committed research misconduct by fabricating data, according to an investigation by the university and the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Research Integrity (ORI). The ORI, which announced its findings on Thursday (June 28), determined that Mona Thiruchelvam falsified cell count data published in two papers in 2005 in Environmental Health Perspectives and Journal of Biological Chemistry, both of which she has agreed to retract.

Thiruchelvam fabricated stereological cell count data in two studies on how pesticides influence neuronal mechanisms involved in Parkinson’s disease (PD). The studies reported the results of 13 new experiments that supposedly counted nigrostriatal neurons in the brains of mice and rats, but an investigation spearheaded by the UMDNJ determined those counts were never taken. The nigrostriatal pathway is a major dopamine circuit in the brain, and loss of neurons in this area is one of the main features of Parkinson’s disease.

Now, despite Elizabeth Warren and Teresa Sullivan of late, let’s not, for now, turn this into a gender thing and speak of certain women’s honesty.  Let’s turn it into a Scientist thing.

AK Haart is a retired scientist [small s] as far as I can tell.  His comments about Science [capital S] are therefore to be noted and he is not happy.  I’m not happy either but I’m no scientist and so my cred is a bit non-cred in this, if you catch my drift.

AKH wrote:

Over recent decades there have been increasing signs of concern about scientific integrity, particularly in medical and climate research, but in many other scientific areas too.

This is a large and complex issue where those interested have to do their own digging, because much of the material lies below the mainstream radar. Evidently journalists find it quicker and easier to copy and paste the official scientific press release rather than check it out.

A name of particular significance in medical science is that of Professor John P. A. Ioannidis. Last year (June 2011) Ioannidis published An Epidemic of False Claims in Scientific American.

False positives and exaggerated results in peer-reviewed scientific studies have reached epidemic proportions in recent years. The problem is rampant in economics, the social sciences and even the natural sciences, but it is particularly egregious in biomedicine. Many studies that claim some drug or treatment is beneficial have turned out not to be true. We need only look to conflicting findings about beta-carotene, vitamin E, hormone treatments, Vioxx and Avandia. Even when effects are genuine, their true magnitude is often smaller than originally claimed.

Much research is conducted for reasons other than the pursuit of truth.

I and others have been sniping for some years at Science v science and that Science is not the God its devotees try to make out, that it is, by definition, wonky and changeable on the basis of any fresh data and therefore, to construct a religion of it, such that real faiths like Christianity are seen as opposed and shut out of schools and public life, is at best – disingenuous.

AKH, to be sure, is not so much concerned with this angle but he is concerned about scientific honesty and so am I.  I’m concerned about any sort of public honesty and I think you are too, otherwise what are all those posts at OoL and elsewhere, almost ad infinitum?

The question, methinks, is partly to do with the lowering of the moral compass in public life [and you know what I put that down to] and the low quality of parachutees and other newly-qualifieds who are getting into the public eye, let alone those who still haven’t made it.

That’s no way to conduct science but without money, what can be pursued for its own ends?


And as if on cue, Chuckles comes in with this latest doozy, asking: “What could possibly go wrong?”

2 comments for “When Science is in thrall to Money

  1. ivan
    July 11, 2012 at 13:59

    A lot of the problems with science ‘research’ is that it is politically motivated, especially in things like climate research, by academics that have little or no knowledge of the real world. In many cases it is almost as if it is a religion for them.

    Re Chuckles question. It all went wrong when some greens decided that the use of DDT was wrong and persuaded/forced those with power to ban its use. Up to that time the mosquito numbers in the world were diminishing and things like malaria and dengue fever were reducing.

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