Also this week: supervillain vs. DNA, science vs. philosophy of science, the optimal level of scientific fraud, and more.
Another week, another serious data anomaly in EEB. This one relates to Thompson and Newmaster 2014 Biodiv Conserv. First author Ken A. Thompson is trying to get the paper retracted, or failing that have himself removed as an author. Ken didn’t collect the raw data and never saw it at the time. He was provided summary information to write up by his then-undergrad supervisor, Guelph professor Steven Newmaster. Ken has now looked at the underlying raw gene sequence data on which the study was purportedly based, and those data appear to be from other studies entirely. Some of the sequenced genes actually came from a site 500 km away from where Ken was told they were collected. And Ken himself can’t reproduce the results in the paper from the data that purportedly underpin the paper. I’m not an expert on gene sequence data, but having read all the supporting material Ken provided, it certainly looks to me like there are serious anomalies here. I hope an explanation will be forthcoming. UPDATE: see the comments for further details from Ken A. Thompson himself that I didn’t include in my brief summary, as well as some new information about the case. /end update
Also this week in “EEB data anomalies”: Am Nat EiC Dan Bolnick pulls back the curtain on the first 17 months of #pruittdata. A long blow-by-blow of what happened behind the scenes, from the person who was at the center of events. Includes an unredacted copy of a letter Pruitt’s lawyers sent to Dan, which includes numerous demonstrably false statements about Dan. Good times. I knew most of this already, because I was heavily involved with the investigation from early on. But if it’s new to you, grab a coffee and settle in. You should read this, it’s important (and riveting). You will come away tremendously impressed by how Dan handled this situation. Well all owe him enormous thanks. Of course, while #pruittdata is (hopefully) over for Dan, it’s not over. Presumably, one of these
days months years (?) McMaster University’s investigation will actually conclude. With all due respect to the lawyers conducting the investigation, and recognizing that doing it right is more important than doing it fast, I don’t understand why even the most meticulous investigation wouldn’t have concluded by now. The length of the investigation has now exceeded the mean and median length of previous investigations into similar cases, by a few months and counting…
Sticking with Dan Bolnick, here’s Dan thinking out loud about when, and why, to retract a paper. The answer depends on what purpose(s) you think retraction should serve. Includes some fascinating historical examples.
Which scientific disciplines cite philosophy of science? Here’s the data.
This next link is mostly here to illustrate the weird connections my brain likes to draw…We’ve talked in the past about how there’s some socially-optimal level of scientific fraud, and it’s not zero. Now, here’s Matt Levine pointing out that there’s some optimal level of fraud for the fraudster, and it’s not “as much fraud as possible”:
What if your company’s business is crime? What if you are a Mafia family, or a ransomware hacking group? Clearly the optimal level of crime is not zero: If your business is crime, you have to do crime to get revenue. But the optimal level of crime is also not infinite: If you do too many crimes, or crimes that are too bad, you will get in too much trouble. Doing more and bigger crimes should increase your crime-based revenue, but it also increases the resources that officials will expend on trying to shut you down, and thus your risks of being stopped and punished. At some point the lines cross, and you should forego some criminal revenue in order to keep your legal risk manageable.
Ok, Matt Levine’s not actually talking about scientific fraud, he’s talking about the recent ransomware attack on a US oil pipeline. But the point generalizes, I think. Do people who commit scientific fraud ever think about this point? (Again, I know that is a weird question to ask!)
Honestly, I can see where this supervillain is coming from. 🙂
And finally, since everyone I heard from seemed to like last week’s musical link, here’s another one for you:
Have a good weekend. 🙂