Peer Review Anonymity on Trial <Pine.3.89.9601150030.A23284-010000

U27111 at U27111 at
Tue Jan 16 14:12:12 EST 1996

On Tue, 16 Jan 1996 01:55:48 -0500 (EST), "Ferland Louis H."
<ferlandl at ERE.UMontreal.CA> wrote:

>[snip] (yes, one line at a time)

GOOD JOB!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

>> Personally... I can walk into a cell culture lab and tell you if
>> it is a bad one or not just from how it looks.  It's not that
>> difficult.
>> As for other types of labs... it doesn't take long (2-3 days)
>> and I know.

>I wish there were more god-like people like you around: Our earth
>would be so much better!

Give me a break!

Come on... it's really easy.  Sloppy cell culture work is reflected
by a sloppy (dirty) lab environment.  It's THAT simple.

And other type of garbage labs... you can see the way data is
recorded (or in most cases of garbage labs... not recorded) in
notebooks/computer diaries.

It doesn't take a God (or even a half way intelligent person) to
see these things!

It's all a matter of paying attention to details... which most
people tend to ignore and just chug along.

>> If I was an inspector... I could do it in less time... look
>> through notebooks (assuming they even keep ones?), look into
>> refrigerators, etc.

>God (him again...) forbids!

You know... it's really not that funny.  More sad and pathetic when
you see these types of garbage labs.... AND THAT THEY CONTINUE TO

The point here is... these types of labs do continue to receive
monies without ever getting audited or inspected.

This is STUPID and a waste of good funding!

> On proficiency testing

>More seriously, I'm not sure how that would work in research,
>where by the very nature of our endeavor, methods and their
>applications are in constant flux. Of course, there are some basic
>techniques that are pretty well established and widespread, but
>these are precisely the ones that are the least likely to cause
>problems *because* they are well established and widespread.

But this has been my point all the long Louis... it's the art of
doing these even basic techniques which we are loosing to the
propagation of mis-information due to a lack of standards in the

I'm talking about things as basic as the scientific method and the
scientific process here.

I'm talking about things like how to do a proper cell count, how to
properly use your hood, how to do good, clean cell culture work
(and not sloppy work which is just masked by high levels of

Even the extremely basic thing such as the use of an automatic
pipetter... one of the *the* most common problems I've see in
research labs are people who don't bother to use the correct tip
with the proper manufacturer's pipetter!  And they don't care!

They don't care to do weight testing of water to judge accuracy,
they don't care to practice and make sure they are getting a
consistent dispensing... and they certainly don't care if they are
even using the right tip with the damn thing!

Or running an assey and using double distilled water with the
standard control samples (because they figured out the curve comes
out better)... but only using in-house DI water for the test
samples (in the exact same run... if your lucky.  Some don't even
bother with controls and just use previously obtained data (because
they can't even duplicate a standard curve!))

Hell... I don't even think they *know* the difference here Louis.

And there are many, many, many things like this.

That's what I am talking about!  The basics!

If we have good people who know and understand how to do the
basics... then they have a much better chance of doing something
even more complicated (and not standardized) with a higher quality
of results and credibility.

>One other point: there are good ways of doing things and there are
>bad ways of doing things. We must make sure people use good ones,
>but I think we shouldn't standardize beyond that. Research is an
>act of creation. If you standardize everything (including the
>innumerable variants of any given technique THAT WORKS), you kill
>creativity, and you kill science.

Creativity is already dying when people fail to understand the
basic principals of the scientific methods and process!

How creative is it when someone doesn't even understand something
so simple and so basic as to properly label test samples?  And I've
seen this... more of this kind of junk then I care to even talk

>[more one-line-at-time-snip]


>And a few paragraphs below you say you don't know that this would
>be costly?

Yes... I know.  Certification of personal shouldn't be that costly.
But accrediting labs probably would be?  I'm not sure.  I need to
see how Clinical labs handle such a thing?  But I'm am beginning to
think that would indeed be costly (accreditation that is).

>Gee, last time I didn't realize you were advocating going to THAT
>extent. I think this would become more expensive than conducting
>the research itself, let alone taking scientists' and staff's time
>AWAY from their research. We need FEWER hurdles, not more.

I'm going to ignore the time comments because quality of work does
take time (no matter what anybody else cares to believe!)

As for the cost.  Research is more expensive now then it has to be
with the amount of garbage which contaminates the pool of
scientific knowledge.  Sending people (and wasting time, energy and
money) following the wrong paths.  Paths that we don't know are
wrong until years later when it's discovered fraud/misconduct/slop
created such a path in the first place.

I see it as a trade off really.

Spend more money to create such a system, save money by producing
more efficient, credible data and cutting loose those who produce
the other stuff (who, generally, are the ones working in these
garbage labs I've been describing).

>> And as for new PhDs... many of them very little about how to do
>> proper bench work.  This is not what they are being taught.

>It is what I teach my student, and the same with pretty much all
>of my colleagues, past and present, where I can form an opinion.

That's good.  As far as I've seen... that's also rare.

> You tell some pretty scary stories below (OOPS! in a snip!). I
>have seen some of these, except in less serious, but they were
>exceptional, in my experience. The very vast majority of
>scientists I have been in contact with are, in my judgement,
>qualified, dedicated, hard working, and doing good work.

Well... that's back to the whole tip of the iceberg verses rare
event debate.

And as I said before... in such a debate of extremes, the truth
usually tends to fall somewhere in the middle.

And just in case nobody has seen this article yet (for I've only
posted it 4-5 times?)... here it is again.  Just to show you that
there are others who have the same view of the community as I do.

"Scientists, institutions downplay misconduct - Accusers hit office
probing their charges as ineffectual" by Leslie Alan Horvitz.  The
Washington Times, May 3, 1994, pp.A6.

Article Highlights:

"Like politicians caught with their hands in the till, scientists
accused of fraud and incompetence have learned the art of

Roger Poisson is quoted in this article to say, "I always feel
sorry for a nice case to be denied the right to enter a good
protocol just on account of trivial details"

And the article goes on to report the results of a survey done by
the Acadia Institute of Bar Harbor, Maine... 43% of graduate
students and 50% of faculty members have "direct knowledge" of some
kind of misconduct in their laboratories.  Where misconduct is
defined as fraud, falsification and plagiarism (note: sloppiness
was not included in this survey).  And Jules Hallum, a virologist
and former director of the Office of Scientific Integrity is quoted
as saying, "I think that sloppy science is so much more dangerous
than crooked science, since there is so much more of it."

Charles McCutchen, NIH physicist is also quoted in this article to
say, "Once you get a really political atmosphere, then appearance
is all important, and if you need a little fraud to maintain that
appearance, you do it."

Mr. McCutchen points to the date when American science took a turn
for the worst:  Dec. 12, 1980.  For that was when Congress created
the Patent Reform Act which allowed universities to retain
exclusive rights to patents generated by research in their labs
(even if the work was subsidized by taxpayers).  This was the
beginning of the Gold Rush.

Mr. Minsky (chief of the National Coalition for Universities in the
Public Interest - a Ralph Nader group) offers a theoretical
example:  "I'm a scientist working on a new drug, and I want to
know if the drug's effective.  If I were just a pure scientist in
the old days, I might publish my results even if they weren't
conclusive."  The goal was to contribute to general knowledge.
Today, a scientist might be tempted to "massage" the data enough to
make it appear as if the drug is effective, motivated by the
prospect of a lucrative deal with a pharmaceutical company.

How many scientists succumb to this is unknown.

But according to a 1990 House Government Operations Committee
report:  "Many cases of scientific misconduct would have gone
undiscovered, and many of the scientists would have continued their
fraudulent or misleading research, without the courageous and
sometimes single-minded efforts of one or two individuals [whistle-
blowers], many of whom are sharply criticized by the institutions
involved as vindictive or jealous colleagues."

And as for the ORI (Office of Research Integrity)...

Robert Sprague (professor of psychology at the University of
Pittsburgh who testified before Congress on the Stephen Breuning
case of misconduct... and who was threatened with libel action by
that university).. he calls the ORI "window dressing".

Ernie Fitzgerald (an Air Force cost analyst who exposed defense
industry corruption) was quoted as saying "It's eyewash for the
public.  They will occasionally concede what's going to come out
anyway, but put the best possible face on it and assure the tax-
paying public that whatever problems there are have been solved."

Charles McCutchen called the ORI "the black hole bureau - it
vacuums up complaints and buries them."

     Even when ORI decides that someone is guilty, "they can't
     make it stick," says Walter Stewart, a researcher at NIH
     who has generated a great deal of controversy for his
     work (along with colleague Ned Feder) in examining fraud
     cases.  One big reason:  the agency's standards for
     determining misconduct are too stringent.  The ORI not
     only must prove misconduct based on a preponderance of
     evidence but on intent to defraud as well.

     According to ORI guidelines, any individual the agency
     finds guilty of scientific misconduct has the right to
     appeal to the Health and Human Services Departmental
     Appeals Board.  Lawyers comprise the board that has even
     higher standards than ORI and guarantees legal protection
     for those found guilty of misconduct.

The article then goes on to discuss the case of Dr. Robert Gallo
and Mikulas Popovic... who the ORI first found "guilty of
permitting lapses and misrepresentation by his team," then 3 years
later that there were in fact guilty of "minor misconduct," and
finally after a review by the Appeals Board - dropped all charges.

     "The board has upped the stakes considerably," complained
     Mr. Bivens [of the ORI] after the [Gallo] decision.
     "They basically treat these cases now as criminal cases.
     This had led to a fundamental conflict between the legal
     and scientific cultures."

As for Whistleblowers:

Mr. Bivens, of the ORI, acknowledges that legal protection for
whistleblowers remain ineffectual.

     Phil Green, an Ann Arbor, Mich. lawyer who had won a
     major fraud case against the University of Michigan, sees
     little hope that whistleblowers will ever be free to
     expose misconduct and escape retribution.

> [snip big time.] Now, that was fun! :-)


>There are already a lot of books that suggest good floorplans for
>labs, etc. We don't need imposed strandards.

???  ok, if you say so??

Sort've ignores the point of my entire story?  But that's ok.

You're not getting it.

>> Do you see what I am talking about here?
>> We need to set up standards for current work.. as well as
>> standards for future labs.

>Yes, sadly, I think I see what you are talking about here. The
>entire scientific community as automatons working in standard
>labs, with standard machines which they operate according to
>standard procedures in the course of their standard experiments
>which, in turn, will yield the standard results expected of
>standard research.

Actually... yes, that is the idea.

Just think of it Louis.  Competing papers on a certain subject
might even validated each other's work.  [Oh MY GOD... NO, NOT

A person working with one cell line might actually get comparable
results with someone else's work with the same cell line?

And people may even be able to duplicate there own work more often?
Scary thought.

>If you dare try something non standard (i.e. do research), you
>probably "get phased out"?

No... not at all!  Now stop be so silly here.  You are beginning to
sound just like Fisher in his arguments against the audit police.

Just because people are going to come in and to see if you are
doing sloppy/garbage work (or even possibly fraud or misconduct)...
that doesn't mean academic freedoms will be taken away from you.
That will mean that when women with breast cancer choose to have
one technique done (which is recommended as the *best*
technique)... it really is the *best* technique and people didn't
enter false data to prove it as such!

Same here at the basic research level with drug studies on animals
and the such.

Why waste time with phase I clinical trials when people are just
making up the data as they go along in the first place?

>Early retirement is starting to sound good (I am 36 years-old...
>and losing my enthousiasm for this thread).

Yeah... I'm 34 and have already left the field out of disgust!
Still looking every once and a while... hoping to find a good lab
to work in one day?

And I've been to quite a number of different places... and most of
them have all been pretty much the same type of garbage.

Personally, I honestly don't think you can see past the end of your
own nose... let alone what is going on out there?

>> These societies/organizations which already requires a
>> membership rate would just have to charge more.
>So, the cost of this would come out of the scientists' pockets!

Yeah right... like they aren't going to add it to a grant budget?

Please... give me a break.  I've seen MDs charging trips to
meetings at Vale or in LA to a grant (as well as Australia!)

As well as PhDs who already goes to various meeting across the
country (and occasionally around the world) and charge it to a

Same thing here.

Hell... I've gone to seminars and had the grant pay for it (travel
and all!).

We just have more people participating and taking courses (which,
they should already be taking!).

You know... I can understand certain previous arguments against
these ideas.  They are logical, thought out ones... and some are
even valid.

But your arguments... they are petty, not too bright, and tend to
go more towards the personal side of things - of personally how
that effects my lifestyle approach - instead of what good can this
really do for our community on a whole?

Research isn't suppose to be about caring about one's own personal
preferred lifestyle.  It's suppose to be about doing for the
greater good for mankind.

And to dismiss an idea because you don't like having to conform and
actually do standardized work (when using the exact same techniques
and equipment as clinical/forensic labs do)... this is promoting of
self-interest above the greater good of high quality/ high caliber
data production.

And that is really what your postings have pretty much come down
to, IMHO.

You challenged me with how to make things better, and I replied.

Then you criticize and criticize without contributing any original
thoughts or ideas on how indeed to make things better.

And I too am tired of this thread with you.  For I know where you
stand... everything is just fine as it is... no need for any
change... and we can all just continue to happily chug along as
more and more people continue to die from diseases - and any of
them complain about while they are dying - doesn't matter....
they'll eventually die and stop complaining.... just like


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