Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Reich discusses correction of Oak Ridge work by journal Nature

On November 27, 2006, the day discussion of the Brauman report on the Hwang fraud began, Eugenie Samuel Reich had an article in the Boston Globe which began:

Thirteen years after the fact, scientists at a top US Department
of Energy laboratory have admitted misrepresenting key data in a landmark paper
on the use of electron microscopes to analyze materials at the atomic scale.

Publication of the correction earlier this month in the science
journal Nature was more than a historical footnote. It followed an allegation
that scientists in the same lab had manipulated data in a new paper
submitted to a sister journal. The allegation, made by a reviewer for Nature Physics,
was confidential.

Reich's punchline: But the Oak Ridge case highlights the fact that even when peer reviewers suspect that authors are manipulating or fabricating data, there is no certainty other scientists will be alerted to their concerns. Advocates of peer review for patents should take careful note of this reality.

One reviewer had written of a submission by the Oak Ridge group: "I find that there is direct, incontrovertible evidence for systemic data manipulation and scientific misconduct in this manuscript." In an electron microscope scan in the submission, the data points for the outside layers were exact mirror images, something that would be implausible. In addition, the data points for the middle layer were an inverted version of data for a different sample of the material. One recalls that Jan Hendrik Schon adulturated figures and Hwang Woo Suk used photographs of one thing to represent a different thing.

Further to a later investigation, Oak Ridge workers Pennycook and Varela acknowledged in an interview that in the "sandwich" figure cited by the reviewer, measurements had not been taken for one of the outside layers and data from the opposite layer were used instead for illustrative purposes. "I think this was in a sense schematic," said
The data shown for the middle layer were measured on a different sample and switched in by mistake, they said. Varela said other results in the
manuscript were taken from a 2003 paper she published and mislabeled. [IPBiz notes that the "schematic" argument reminds one of digitally manipulated photographs that have appeared on certain magazine covers.]

I had written in 88 JPTOS 239, 250 (March 2006):

High impact prestige journals such as Science and Nature have a large
responsibility to avoid the publication of error. Dr. Tak Wah Mak of the University of Toronto stated: ". . . the impact of a mistake in a prestige journal is much
worse. . . These journals have almost as sacred a mission to keep mistakes from
happening as the Pope does."

[IPBiz note: after a delay of over six months, 88 JPTOS 239 is finally available on LEXIS.]


A search on Wednesday, Dec. 6 on Google for +Brauman +Hwang +IPBiz gave Results 1 - 5 of about 19. Not one of the results was a specific hit for "Brauman report on fraud issues" at

which had been posted on Dec. 2 and which WAS IN FACT specifically retrievable earlier in the week. Not surprisingly no one has recently reached IPBiz through that link. Just another example of faulty indexing by Google. A link can be available through Google one day, and gone the next.

Note also:

Of photographic manipulation:

The famous 1994 OJ Simpson Time cover wherein Time darkened the mug shot, while rival Newsweek left the image alone.

A week before Martha Stewart got out of prison, Newsweek put Martha's head on a model's body. Newsweek assistant managing editor Lynn Staley said: "We did not have the option of shooting her and because we wanted to make a point, this is how we solved the problem by doing an illustration."

Hillary Raskin of Time: When we use a photo that has been significantly altered, we will caption it as a photo illustration, digitally altered, double exposure or any number of other descriptions to let the reader know it is not as real as it seems. This would be the case both on the cover and if the same altering was done inside the magazine. But the use of digitally altering an image inside the magazine is very infrequent.

IPBiz notes that perhaps Science and Nature should adhere to the standards of Time, and require authors to state that

1. Graphs, figures, and photos are based on real data, and are not altered or manipulated

2. Graphs, figures, and photos are not derived from previously published data.

and, if not so, to explicitly state the nature of the alteration or derivation.


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