Friday links: tell me again what “follow the science” means, another serious fraud accusation in ecology, and more (UPDATED)

Also this week: Kim Stanley Robinson vs. climate change, the latest data on representation of women, minorities, and persons with disabilities in US science and engineering, and more.

From Jeremy:

Another accusation of serious scientific fraud in ecology, this one against University of Delaware professor Danielle Dixson. Some of the accusations relate to work dating from Dixson’s time as a PhD student in the lab of Philip Munday. Other researchers had previously been unable to replicate Dixson & Munday’s high-profile results on the effects of ocean acidification on fish behavior. On its own, a replication failure in ecology wouldn’t raise concerns about possible fraud. But now it’s been revealed that there are anomalous chunks of duplicated data in two of Dixson’s papers, which were confirmed as anomalous by independent investigators commissioned by Science (as an aside: that’s a good bit of investigative reporting by Science). And several past members of Dixson’s lab have come forward with accusations of fraud, based on their observations and experiences in Dixson’s lab. Part of the broader context here is that another past PhD student of Munday’s, Oona Lönnstedt, turned out to be a fraudster who has had multiple high-profile papers retracted (see also). Speaking as an interested but impartial bystander to all this, who has extensive experience investigating accusations of scientific fraud in ecology, but who only knows what’s in the linked Science article, it sure seems to me like there is sufficient cause for an investigation here. It sounds like there is a formal investigation underway, though it’s not clear from the Science article who is investigating. That formal investigation needs to be thorough and fair, obviously. UPDATE: see this report and associated blog post by one of the investigators commissioned by Science, Nick Brown. I just read it, and…hoo boy. Those are indeed very serious anomalies. I hope there’s an explanation. /end update

Here is NSF’s 2021 report on women, minorities, and persons with disabilities in science and engineering. Lots of important data here.

Retraction Watch covers various issues relating to ecologist Denon Start. Nothing new here for those who have been following those issues.

Good in depth popsci piece from The Scientist on whether single celled organisms can learn.

You might think of people who ignore Covid-19 public health measures, don’t want to get vaccinated, etc. as refusing to “follow the science”. But what about people who demand greater public health precautions than public health officials recommend? Are they also failing to “follow the science”? What does it mean to “follow the science”?

Crooked Timber is running a series of blog posts from various authors, discussing Kim Stanley Robinson’s new climate change novel, The Ministry For The Future. I haven’t read it, but I pass this on in case it’s of interest to you. Crooked Timber book discussion seminars are always good.

So, the Alberta government finally published its higher education strategy. Alex Usher comments on what Alberta got for the $3.5M it paid to McKinsey. There’s a 217 slide PowerPoint deck, apparently. The governance proposals actually sound good, to my surprise; they move away from provincial micromanagement. As for the 30+ extremely specific “flagship” projects that are supposedly going to happen in the next 18 months: HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAno. Here at UCalgary, we’ve cut a ton of administrative and support staff over the last couple of years, the faculty are exhausted from a year of online classes, we’re trying to figure out if/how to return to in-person classes in the fall, we’re doing all this while working from home, and you think we’ve got enough bandwidth to implement a bunch of additional reforms and new initiatives? /end vent

And finally, this mashup of Every Breath You Take and (I’m Gonna Be) 500 Miles works surprisingly well. (Well, surprising to me; maybe to the more musical among you it’s obvious that those two songs would make for a good mashup.) The mashup turns EBYT into an affectionate love song. I like covers that put a new spin on the original. 🙂

14 thoughts on “Friday links: tell me again what “follow the science” means, another serious fraud accusation in ecology, and more (UPDATED)

  1. Pingback: Every 500 breaths of miles | marymontague

  2. One thing that struck me in that Science article about Danielle Dixson was how much the case echoes other recent cases. For instance, a high-profile study doesn’t replicate? Some people argue that it must be because of some subtle-yet-vital methodological difference between the original and the replication, say that the result’s been replicated a bunch of times by others, and accuse the replicators of being bullies.

    Social psychologists will be familiar with that sequence of events. In social psychology, it ended with the replicators winning the argument, comprehensively. The entire field changed radically in terms of both its content and its research practices, and all the textbooks are going to be rewritten. So I guess one question I have is, does anyone think that the ocean-acidification-and-fish-behavior situation is going to play out differently, and if so, why? I mean, maybe it will play out differently! But I don’t see any reason to think it will, and several reasons to think it won’t.

    I’m not the only one to recognize those similarities, of course. But it’s interesting to me that everyone who notes the similarities seems to be on the side of the replicators. I have yet to see any of the defenders of the original studies on ocean acidification and fish behavior recognize the similarities to the situation in social pyschology a few years ago. Do they not see the similarities? See them, but also think there are important differences (e.g., maybe they think those original social psychology studies were junk, whereas they think the original fish studies were great)? See the similarities, but deny they’re relevant or interesting (“What does social psychology have to do with fish?”)?” See the similarities, but think that the original social psychology studies are correct, just as the original fish studies are still correct? Or what?


    • Concur that was an excellent piece of science journalism in Science. Lots of fascinating and disturbing points, including these 3: 


      (1) go-for-the-critics’-jugular by defenders of the accused. Discredit and impugn the motivations of the accusers to deflect attention. From the piece: “The [critics] were an “odd little bro-pocket” whose “whole point is to harm other scientists,” marine ecologist John Bruno of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill … tweeted in October 2020. ‘The cruelty is the driving force of the work.’” Reminds me of Lönnstedt & Eklöv dismissing their accusers of acting out of professional jealousy. Also a winning strategy in other walks of science and life.


      (2) “it is not possible to establish intent, motivation, or origin of these [data irregularity] issues.”  If the data are fabricated, what do motivation and intent matter? and


      (3)  The decline effect. “the field is experiencing a strong “decline effect,” a phenomenon where, after dramatic initial findings, reported effects become smaller and smaller.”  That sounds like a something to explore in DE. You probably have, somewhere back in the archives.

      • Re: #1, John Bruno’s language is indeed…striking. I’ll just say that I’ll be an interested bystander to how things unfold. Both in terms of the formal investigation, and in the court of public opinion about the case.

        I agree with you that there are indeed striking echoes here of Loonstedt and Eklov’s response to their accusers–accusers who were totally vindicated. The difference here of course is that Bruno isn’t defending himself or his own work, or even the work of a trainee or collaborator of his. (or has he co-authored with Dixson and I missed it?)

        Knowing what I know at the moment (what’s in the public record, informed by discussions with colleagues I trust who know more than that), I respectfully but strongly disagree with Bruno’s view that these accusations of fraud are malicious and *obviously* false. So obviously false that they should’ve been dismissed out of hand rather than being investigated.

        For some context for your #3, see this post for a link to the slides from my talk at the last ESA meeting: https://dynamicecology.wordpress.com/2020/08/02/random-thoughts-about-the-virtual-esa2020-meeting/
        tl;dr: Decline effects are rare in ecology. Which makes the decline effect in ocean-acidification-and-fish-behavior all the more striking. I’ve now looked for decline effects in 460+ ecological meta-analyses. The decline effect in ocean-acidification-and-fish-behavior is the strongest decline effect I’ve ever seen and it’s not particularly close. Jeff Clements and colleagues have an as-yet-unpublished preprint on this decline effect that is well worth a read.

      • A further thought on John Bruno’s claim that the accusers here are an “odd little bro pocket” who don’t have enough scientific ideas of their own to fill their days…uh, have you *looked* at the Google Scholar pages of the accusers, John? Ok, that was snarky of me, but I honestly think that snark is justified here. I mean, look at Fredrik Jutfelt’s page for instance: https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=JsGST-IAAAAJ&hl=en. His GS h-index is higher than mine FWIW, even though he hasn’t been publishing as long as I have. It’s obviously the GS page of an ecophysiologist with an active research program based on data collected by his own lab. Yeah, there are a few letters to the editor, etc., about scientific integrity, which are obviously a drop in the bucket in the context of everything Fredrik Jutfelt spends his time on. The idea that Fredrik Jutfelt is basing his career on tearing other people down because he doesn’t have enough research ideas of his own to fill his days…come on.

        If you think Fredrik Jutfelt and his fellow accusers should’ve handled this situation differently, say so and explain why. And if you just don’t like Fredrik Jutfelt, say that. But don’t say obviously-false rubbish.

  3. Yeah, often fraud accusations are overblown. I recall when an investigator tried to replicate some of the reported results from my MS thesis. Nothing worked for him. He was furious- alleging I made it all up…

    … but low & behold, years later, science would learn that all mutant strains over time essentially lose the traits they once expressed, due to naturally occurring mutation rates relative to the number of times these strains produce new generations in the lab.

    I was relieved by that new finding, as it revealed how the use of divergent strains for the same mutation can behave very differently.

    As for what “follow the science” means- I think it’s the answer we throw ou there when all else fails!

  4. Out of pure bystander curiosity I tracked down John Bruno’s tweets and I think that his response is a bit more nuanced – see: https://twitter.com/JohnFBruno/status/1319431301141770240

    His language is strong and he pulls no punches, but his concern is primarily about damage to reputations and that at least one person has already lost their job. Also he’s not the one stating that the accusers ‘don’t have enough scientific ideas of their own to fill their days’ – that was Munday.

    • Thanks for the links and the correction to my attribution.

      I’ll use your comment as an excuse to bring up a couple of other old cases that has some similarities but also some differences to this one. They’re discussed in this old post: https://dynamicecology.wordpress.com/2014/02/24/post-publication-review-signs-of-the-times/

      Both cases discussed in that post are cases in which critics felt there had been misconduct (or strongly hinted that there might have been), and weren’t satisfied with the response from the journals and universities concerned. So they did an end-around. In one case, via blog posts, in another case by going to the NYTimes and also writing a standalone Plos One paper.

      The second case is also a case where there doesn’t seem to have been misconduct, just honest mistakes and oversights. So there’s an example where a critic drummed up a lot of publicity, and caused a lot of stress, with accusations that, in the end, didn’t pan out.

      I don’t have anything new to say about the broader issues here that I didn’t say in that old post. Just speaking generally, we live in a world that often leaves the people involved in these situations with nothing but bad choices. Say you have serious concerns, and try to pursue them through official channels. You get ignored, or else there’s a non-transparent investigation that just says your concerns were rejected without giving you any explanation. What are you supposed to do then? That’s not a rhetorical question, that’s a serious question. Should you just shrug and move on? Maybe you should! Perhaps on the grounds that letting “the system” work is what will produce the best outcomes for everyone, on average (even though it produced what you see as a bad outcome in your case). Or do you go public? A world in which investigations either don’t happen, or are cursory and non-transparent, is a world in which many people won’t feel like justice is being done. Should those people try to take the law into their own hands, as it were? Well, like it or not, some of them are going to…

    • Re: Bruno’s reference to someone already having lost their job and reputation, he doesn’t say who. If he’s referring to Oona Loonstedt, well, Oona Loonstedt lost her job and reputation because she committed scientific fraud and got caught. So I don’t know how to interpret Bruno’s further comments.

  5. Ugh. So, apparently, one of the people who questions the replicability of Danielle Dixson’s work attended a public talk of hers and asked questions? I don’t have any details as to what happened (well, not that I’m comfortable sharing). But just speaking generally: just because you think someone’s scientific work is incorrect (or sloppy, or even faked) is not a license to harass them! I hope that goes without saying, but in case it needs saying…

  6. Pingback: Music Mondays (new summer series) | Scientist Sees Squirrel

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