Saturday, April 15, 2006

More on Bengu Sezen; Rogerio Lobo re-visited; publications at Columbia

Of the Bengu Sezen story [retraction from JACS of material not reproducible, see IPBiz on March 17, there seem to be some issues with whether Bengu Sezen is guilty [further below] and how C&E News chose to cover the story [immediately below].

[March 23]
For those keeping score, here’s what happened in week 3 of the Dalibor Sames/Bengu Sezen retraction saga:

The media finally started to cover the story: C&EN was the media outlet that broke the story [electronically]…hours before the NY Times…who published another story on Saturday. The story also hit the UPI wire.

One person commented:

The story was news worthy enough to get in the print versions of Science and Nature but not C&E News. Most chemists do not read the electronic version of C&E News since all ACS members get the print version. Perhaps the editor of C&E News is trying to minimize the damage to Columbia and to JACS. Although this type of story is terrible for the people directly involved, it is a good reminder of potential problems for every one else.

A different blog wrote:

Flat-out making shit up for no reason other than your own self-serving interests. This is the most egregious kind of fudging. It’s what the Hwang lab did in South Korea in much of their stem cell research. It’s what that nanotube guy at Bell Labs did a few years ago, using the same graph in two different publications and simply relabeling the axes.

It's kind of scary that people can't even remember Jan-Hendrik Schon's name less than five years later. Also, don't know if I'd call him a "nanotube" guy. The fraudulent superconductor work was on [oxidized] buckyballs, C60, with bromoform and iodoform (mistakenly termed methylene tribromide and methylene triiodide in his patent applications.) And, recall, Bell Labs withdrew the patent applications faster than Science could retract the papers.

The blogger also wrote about melting points:

Fabricating data that is inconsequential/meaningless. Example: in this group we have to report melting points for all new compounds that are solids. Say I am writing up my thesis and discover that I forgot to take a melting point of some random intermediate in my synthesis. I have 1H & 13C NMR, IR, high res mass spec, ie: there is no doubt this compound is what I say it is. But I don’t have any of it left, and it would be 5 steps to make more. What would happen if I just said the melting point is 50-53 ºC? The consequences of doing this are effectively nil.

The blogger might contemplate the role of melting points in the nabumetone case.

The blogger also wrote:

I bet you these people got the dr of this reaction by comparing the integration of the methyl peaks. If you clip the integration of the minor peak a little bit, and expand the integration of the major one to include some of the baseline, that could get you a little better dr. Ditto goes for augmenting your ee in chiral HPLC.

HOWEVER, here is a comment on a different blog:

I think your assertion that the data was fabricated is terribly wrong.

The papers were retracted by Sames without Sezen's knowledge, which was an extraordinarily dishonest and disgusting thing to do.
Moreover, Sezen has told New York Times (March 18) that she has proof in her lab notes that back her claims and that she is ready to do again the experiments under the supervision of Sames to prove her results.

Now that's a major thing to say - that's not how a fraudster behaves! [IPBiz note: Hwang wanted six months to repeat his results.] I have never ever heard of a science fraudster saying she's ready to redo the experiments under the supervision of the accuser.

Do you understand what that means? it means there's a good chance that she's innocent and that Sames retracted the papers for no good reason. If Sames refuses her offer, it means there's something very wrong with himself. It also means the retraction is false.
I remind you that retracting a true paper is exactly as much of a lie as publishing a false one. [IPBiz note: going back to the Baltimore/Imanishi-Kari saga, Imanishi-Kari never agreed to retraction.]

So here's a guess to why Sames retracted the paper: the results could not be reproduced because the experimental protocol was finicky or because they didn't try hard enough or because the students trying afterwards were technically incompetent - or a combination of all three. But think hardest of the last one - if you are the student that follows and you're incompetent, wouldn't it be easy to say the previous student (especially if she's gone) falsified data? What an easy way out - like in Shakespeare, Iago-style.

So yes, careers may be destroyed, but there is a fair chance that this girl Bengu Sezen is actually innocent: she has clearly not been given due process and she has been condemned (including in your blog!) without being able to defend herself. Something's very very wrong here. If she's a fraudster, the fall is her her own doing - but if she's not, as it may well be the case (at the very least, Sames has not proven his case and has infringed the rules of the most basic honesty), this will be the Dreyfus case of chemistry.

So far, what we've seen in this case is a pack of lies that looks less like self-correcting science and much more like scientific lynching.
9:36 PM

Wow! And what has become of this case?

**The C&E News followup was presented on March 23, 2006:

A former Columbia University doctoral student, Bengü Sezen, says in an e-mail exchange with C&EN that she protests the retraction of two papers and parts of a third that she coauthored with Dalibor Sames, a chemistry professor at Columbia. The papers were published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society (2005, 126, 13244; 127, 3648 and 5284).

In her e-mail to C&EN, Sezen writes: "The reactions described in these publications were performed independently by my colleagues in my absence before the submission of papers; thus these retractions came as a surprise to me. I strongly protest that the retractions were made without my knowledge."


Columbia University has forbidden Sames or members of his research group to speak to the media about Sezen or the university's investigation. The scientists Sezen identified as being able to reproduce her work are both members of the Sames group. They declined to verify her assertions or otherwise speak with C&EN.

**One notes that with Jan Hendrik Schon and with Hwang Woo-Suk, the investigations WERE DONE BEFORE ARTICLE RETRACTION but with Sezen RETRACTION WAS DONE BEFORE INVESTIGATION.

**Separately, insights into "how" the NYT got the lead on this story-->

from a blog:

The Spectator is being a bit self-congratulatory by saying that I “contacted major media outlets.” I contacted two media outlets, both by using their Web sites. First, I left a note in the Spectator’s blog asking them if they planned on covering the story. Second, I used a reader feedback form on Kenneth Chang’s story about the bubble fusion scandal to ask if the Times planned on covering the retractions. So I contacted one major media outlet and one student paper, both in New York, both after the retractions were published, and both times I was asking for more info.

**Gee, is "bubble fusion" now a scandal? Although Columbia is discussed, the blog does not mention the previous publication scandal at Columbia. Recall the inquiries of Bruce Flamm about the paper by Kwang Y. Cha, Daniel P. Wirth, and Rogerio Lobo, 46 J.Repro. Med. 781 (2001); see,9565,660053,00.html.

From the Skeptical Inquirer:

The media touted the astounding results, but to some readers it sounded preposterous. Within weeks of the "miraculous" study's publication it became clear that something was indeed very wrong. The Journal of Reproductive Medicine (JRM), which published the study (K.Y. Cha, D.P. Wirth, and R.A. Lobo, "Does prayer influence the success of in vitro fertilization-embryo transfer?" 46:781-787, 2001), not only refused to publish letters critical of it, they refused to even acknowledge their receipt. As months went by the JRM steadfastly refused to respond to e-mails, calls, or letters about the study.

The JRM editors were not the only ones remaining silent. The study's authors also refused to respond to questions about their apparently miraculous results. In December 2001 an investigation of Columbia University by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) revealed that the study's lead author, Dr. Rogerio Lobo, first learned of the study six to twelve months after the study was completed. Professor Lobo subsequently denied having anything to do with the study's design or conduct and claimed to have provided only editorial assistance. A year later study co-author Daniel Wirth was indicted by a federal grand jury on felony fraud charges involving various criminal activities.

Study co-author Daniel Wirth

On November 22, 2004, study co-author Daniel Wirth was sentenced to five years in prison followed by three years of supervised release (parole). At the conclusion of his sentencing hearing Mr. Wirth was taken into United States Marshal custody pending his transfer to a federal prison.

The Journal of Reproductive Medicine and co-author Dr. Kwang Cha

The following "Erratum" was buried on the very last page of the October 2004 issue of the JRM:


In the article "Does Prayer Influence
the Success of in Vitro Fertilization-Embryo
Transfer? Report of a
Masked, Randomized Trial," by
Kwang Y.Cha, MD, Daniel P. Wirth,
JD, MS, and Rogerio A. Lobo, MD
(2001;46:781-787), Dr. Lobo is
listed as an author of the article and
has requested that his name be
deleted, as his name appears in error.
He was not directly involved in conducting
the research reported in the
article; he was involved principally in
redaction of the manuscript for stylistic
and syntactic purposes. This alteration
is in keeping with JRM authorship
How does one's name appear, "in error" on a publication? Apparently everyone who reviewed the manuscript and everyone who reviewed the galley proofs, including the authors, peer-reviewers, and editors, did not notice this "error." On the other hand, perhaps this is not so surprising since these same individuals did not notice that the study lacked any type of informed consent and claimed results that defy the laws of physics and several other fundamental scientific principles!

[IPBiz note: compare the treatment of Lobo by JRM with the treatment of Schatten at Science!]

In November 2004, after three years of ignoring letters critical of the Cha/Wirth/Lobo study, the JRM took the unprecedented step of publishing a 1,000-word letter from Dr. Cha defending his absurd study. Thus, to the utter amazement of many readers, JRM allowed Dr. Cha to unilaterally present his side of the story unencumbered by critical comments from concerned physicians and scientists. The readers of JRM were thus partially informed of the controversy surrounding the study but only to convince them that any criticisms they may have read about in newspapers were unwarranted.

Their ludicrous "study" will remain in the peer-reviewed Journal of Reproductive Medicine, will remain indexed in Pubmed-MEDLINE, and will continue to be cited as valid scientific evidence for the power of supernatural faith healing.

Thus, while the papers of Bengu Sezen in JACS were retracted WITHOUT Sezen's permission, the paper of Lobo/Cha/Wirth was NEVER retracted.


Post a Comment

<< Home