Saturday, August 30, 2014

"Media corporations exist to assemble audiences for profit, not to inform the public"

Within a post at Salon titled Fareed Zakaria’s real sins: Not plagiarism but neoliberal know-it-all-ism , one finds the text

Media corporations exist, after all, not to inform the public or help it deliberate but to assemble and re-assemble audiences for profit on any pretext, however sensationalist or degrading, that will assemble them. To keep your eyeballs glued, they’ve become expert at bypassing your brain and the heart on the way to your lower viscera and your wallet.

In context, "media corporations" here are things like -- Time, The Washington Post and CNN --.

And thus the media corporations might be turning a "blind eye" to the problems with Zakaria's work: Whenever he has passed off someone else’s work and authorial voice as his own, he has crossed a line that Time, the Post, and CNN shouldn’t be blurring as shamelessly as they’ve been doing.

However, the argument could be extended even to scientific journals.

From a talk given by LBE at SSI-11:

In my own experience, I came across one episode which illustrated the inability of the scientific
community to deal with each side of the coin. In a paper by D. L. Wertz and M. Bissell, Energy &
Fuels, 1994, 8, 613-617 on the diffraction of the graphene layer ["(002)"] peak in bituminous coals, the
authors stated that the diffraction peak was "far too intense to be caused by amorphous scattering and far
too broad to be caused by conventional diffraction." The authors cited three papers to justify this
assertion. Of three papers relied upon to prove the statement, which was the key assumption in the
paper, one was non-existent, one was irrelevant and one supported a contrary position. Following use of
the key assumption, the authors utilized an undefined short range interference function to manipulate the
x-ray diffraction data of the paper. The modified data led to a remarkable conclusion: that analysis of a
peak related to interference between aromatic entities (sp2 hybridized carbon) could predict the amount
of aliphatic carbon (sp3 hybridized carbon). Pertinent prior work on diffraction of "poorly crystalline"
carbonaceous systems with sp2 and sp3carbon was ignored.
I contacted the editor of the journal. Of the non-citation and mis-citation issues, nothing was
done, and in fact the mis-citation was repeated in a later paper. Of the issue of arguably bad science, the
key assumption was re-characterized as the existence of amorphous and crystalline phases in the coal.
For reference, the "crystalline" (002) peak in one coal had a full-width at half-maximum (fwhm) of 3.4°
(Cu) while the other coals had fwhm of 6-10°. Thus, the "crystalline" peak was in the range most people
would consider "poorly crystalline." For example, the fwhm (° 2θ Cu) of liquid 1,3 dimethyl adamantane is 2.75, of liquid hexadecane 5.00 and of liquid 1-methyl naphthalene 5.71. The undefined short range interference function was found to be empirical data on
carbon black, which was no where presented in the paper. Thus, no reader of the paper had the
information on the short range interference function to perform manipulations on the data of the paper,
or on any other system.
In analyzing the cites of this paper to other papers, and the cites of other papers in this journal, I
noticed that there was an interesting trend of papers in the journal to cite other papers in the same
journal. In less than five years of existence, articles in the journal cited more to other articles in the
journal than to articles in any other single journal, in spite of the existence of a comparable journal
(Fuel) which had been in existence for more than 50 years. The magazine of the American Chemical
Society "ACSess" (March 1997) noted that Energy & Fuels ranked #5 in impact factor in its area in the
1995 Journal Citation Reports published by the Institute for Scientific Information. Impact factor here is
the number of times a journal was cited in the scientific literature in a give year, divided by the number
of papers the journal published in the prior two years. Thus, an issue in analzying journal cites is one of
self-citation or channeling. For more details of the scientific and citation issues involved, see L. B.
Ebert, Petroleum Science & Technology, 1997, 15, 171-183.

Science journals, as the magazine Time, are a business. And the first order of business is to protect the business.
Even if that means turning a blind eye to the truth.

Recently, EFF criticized the USPTO for the issuance of the Hwang Woo Suk patent, US 8,647,872. What EFF did not mention was the publication in the journal Science of a paper involving the same fraudulent work, or of the publication in Science of the fraudulent work of Jan-Hendrik Schon. [See the IPBiz post EFF re-visits Hwang Woo Suk; perhaps an award for stupid comment of the month? ]

Returning to Zakaria matter, as to the one point of plagiarism, "unattributed copying" is plagiarism, no matter "who" identified it and no matter "why" it occurred. The "who" and the "why" may be newsworthy, but they are not defenses to plagiarism.

As one footnote, the compound -- 1,3 dimethyl adamantane-- identified above is a first cousin of the drug Namenda, referenced in a recent IPBiz post [ ]

As another footnote, it has been about a year since

Science journalism and truth...
September 10, 2013



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