Behind Science Fraud, Chapter 3

Our first installment in this series took note of the NY Times op-ed by Adam Marcus, managing editor of Gastroenterology & Endoscopy News, and Ivan Oransky, global editorial director of MedPage Today (both are co-founders of retractionwatch.com), but now they’re back with another, longer piece at Nautilus that goes into more detail, and offers more shocking examples (such as the Japanese scientist who fabricated a whopping 183 papers that got published), about science fraud.

After reviewing the painstaking work that unraveled several serial fraudsters (it’s great reading if you have the time), Marcus and Oransky get down to business:

But this [careful statistical review of the raw data] is an approach that requires journal editors to be on board—and many of them are not. Some find reasons not to fix the literature. Authors, for their part, have taken to claiming that they are victims of “witch hunts.” It often takes a chorus of critiques on sites such as PubPeer.com, which allows anonymous comments on published papers, followed by press coverage, to generate any movement.

In 2009, for example, Bruce Ames—made famous by the tests for cancer-causing agents that bear his name—performed an analysis similar to Carlisle’s together with his colleagues. The target was a group of three papers authored by a team led by Palaninathan Varalakshmi. In marked contrast to what later resulted from Carlisle’s work, the three researchers fought back, calling Ames’ approach “unfair” and a conflation of causation and correlation. Varalakshmi’s editors sided with him. To this day, not a single one of the journals in which the accused researchers have published their work have done anything about the papers in question.

Sadly, this is the typical conclusion to a scholarly fraud investigation. The difficulty in pursuing fraudsters is partly the result of the process of scholarly publishing itself. It “has always been reliant on people rather than systems; the peer review process has its pros and cons but the ability to detect fraud isn’t really one of its strengths,” Yentis says.

Publishing is built on trust, and peer reviewers are often too rushed to look at original data even when it is made available. Nature, for example, asks authors “to justify the appropriateness of statistical tests and in particular to state whether the data meet the assumption of the tests,” according to executive editor Veronique Kiermer. Editors, she notes, “take this statement into account when evaluating the paper but do not systematically examine the distribution of all underlying datasets.” Similarly, peer reviewers are not required to examine dataset statistics.

When Nature went through a painful stem cell paper retraction last year, which led to the suicide of one of the key researchers, they maintained that, “we and the referees could not have detected the problems that fatally undermined the papers.” The journal argued that it took post-publication peer review, and an institutional investigation. And pushing too hard can create real problems, Nature wrote in another editorial. [Emphasis added.]

Remind me again why exactly are we supposed to trust the journal article review process?

The remarkable rise of Marie Harf

We have followed the performance of Marie Harf as a spokesman for the Obama administration foreign policy at the State Department. Harf gives the catastrophic foreign policy of the Obama administration a lighter than air, Valley Girl kind of feel. She is a walking self-parody. As such, she presents a novel use of expressive form.

Now comes word that Harf is being promoted to Senior Advisor for Strategic Communications to Secretary of State John Kerry. Like a helium filled balloon, Harf ascends. In her new position Harf will focus on negotiations between the U.S. and Iran on nuclear weapons. It sounds like a joke, but FOX News reports it as fact.

Harf has givesn us Obama administration foreign policy doctrine reduced to its talking points. Harf is a dim bulb and the complete authorized version of the doctrine according to Barry shines none too brightly to begin with. Reduced to talking points and subject to questions, the doctrine is quickly reduced to parody. Thus Marie Harf.

AP diplomatic correspondent Matt Lee mercilessly grilled Harf in her State Department press briefings. Will Lee still have Harf to kick around in her new position? I believe he will. So at least we have that.

In the video below Harf spoke up for UNRWA, the United Nations organization whose good works in Gaza included the hosting and return of Hamas rockets found in UN schools. During the latest conflict with Israel several rockets had been found in UNRWA schools and returned to the authorities in Gaza (i.e., Hamas).

Harf had arrived at the briefing with a prepared statement explaining the situation to her satisfaction. Lee interrogated Harf on the internal contradictions that Harf had, ah, failed to discern in her statement. This is merciless comedy exposing error and pretension.

Obamacare in one state

Unfortunately for the people of Minnesota, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton had a free hand adopting Obamacare in Minnesota, and Minnesota has gone all in. Courtesy of Governor Dayton and a Democratic legislature, we have bought into the Medicaid expansion and all the rest.

In Minnesota the Obamacare set-up runs under the rubric of MNsure. I wonder how many voters know that Minnesota has adopted Obamacare and that MNsure, c’est ça. My guess: not many.

Why does Minnesota needs its own Obamacare exchange? Minnesota Public Radio helpfully explains: “Supporters of Minnesota building its own exchange argued that Minnesota could build a system that benefitted from the state’s long history of health care policy innovation and cost containment. They also maintained that Minnesota would wind up with an exchange tailored to the needs of state residents rather than a ‘one-size-fits-all’ federal exchange.”

State officials have had the usual problems getting the system up and running. The site has performed poorly. Paying its own tribute to the beauty of “diversity,” it has been deficient in diverse respects.

The Star Tribune reports on the failure of the small group aspect of the program to take off as expected: “The government-run marketplace was expected to cover 155,000 people in small group plans by next year. That number was 1,405 earlier this month.”

Wow. It sounds like we may need to put MNsure’s small group business on a Soviet-style five-year plan to increase productivity.

Quotable quote (Katie Burns, MNsure chief operating officer): “We agree that [enrollment is] modest at this point, but there’s opportunity for growth.”

Hillary’s old friend, Sid Vicious

Hillary Clinton doesn’t talk much to reporters and when she does, she reveals as little as possible. But she revealed plenty when she described Sidney Blumenthal as “an old friend.”

It’s hardly surprising Blumenthal is a friend of Hillary’s. For her, his combination of viciousness and weakness for conspiracy theories must be irresistible. What’s interesting is that Clinton admits to the friendship.

I’ve heard it said that Blumenthal’s legendary viciousness was a response to attacks against the Clintons during the 1990s — “the Clinton Wars,” as he calls them — which featured some pretty wild conspiracy allegations against the First Couple. Don’t believe it.

During the 1980s, Blumenthal became alarmed by the rise of conservatism as an intellectual-political movement. As a reporter for the Washington Post, he attacked those whom he viewed as in the vanguard of that movement, especially, it seemed, if they happened to be Jewish. Among his targets were Elliott Abrams (who, Blumenthal thought, didn’t take John Lennon’s death seriously enough), Richard Perle, Michael Ledeen, and David Horowitz, who writes about Sid’s viciousness here.

Michael Ledeen and his wife Barbara would again experience that viciousness in the late 1990s, when Blumenthal was working for the Clintons. By this time, Barbara had established the Independent Women’s Forum, which ripped Hillary for, among other things, kowtowing to China in spite of the Chinese government’s deplorable treatment of women (e.g., forced abortions).

Blumenthal’s vehicle for attacking the Ledeens, and many other conservatives, was a lawsuit he filed against Matt Drudge, who had accused Sid of beating his wife (Drudge would retract the accusation). Blumenthal had his lawyer subpoena for deposition Michael and Barbara Ledeen and approximately two dozen other critics of the Clintons. He also subpoened the records of the Independent Women’s Forum.

Blumenthal’s purposes were two-fold. First, he wanted to harass the Clintons’ critics. Second, he wanted to conduct a fishing expedition into “the vast right wing conspiracy” that he and Hillary had invented.

Michael Ledeen responded by having the transcript of his deposition, which went badly for Blumenthal, posted online. He also responded with a priceless “open letter” to the other conservatives — “the Blumenthal 25,” as he called them — who had been summoned by Sid’s attorney.

Here, with almost no edits, is the text of that letter:

Dear Friends,

I thought you might be wondering what Sidney Blumenthal has in mind by calling you to testify in his libel suit against Matt Drudge, and since Barbara and I have already been through it, our experiences will help you prepare.

As usual with the bizarre folks that work in the Clinton/Clinton/Gore White House, their announced intentions have very little to do with their real schemes.

Yes, you will be asked whether you know the source of Drudge’s short-lived story that Sidney beat his wife, but that doesn’t take long to answer (we didn’t know anything at all about it), and you should expect several more hours of questioning. These subsequent questions will have to do with you, your family, your friends, your associates, and, if you have written or broadcast anything, with your opinions.

Remember when Sidney stood on the courthouse steps during the Starr grand jury investigation into Clinton’s lies about Monica? Sidney falsely accused the Starr people of asking him about his conversations with journalists. He piously declaimed that he would never have believed, in this country that so values freedom of the press, that he would be asked about such things.

He wasn’t. But he’s going to ask you about your conversations with journalists (no doubt some of you are on the list of 25 because we “outed” you as journalists with whom we had spoken). And he’ll be asking you about anything you ever wrote or said critical of Sidney (with me, he tried to deconstruct the word “consigliere,” since I had suggested that Sidney was one of Clinton’s consiglieri), as well as your secret thoughts about Sidney.

We were both asked if we hated him; I was asked if I thought he was qualified for his White House position (I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but my own view is that Sidney is superbly qualified to work for the Clintons).

You might wonder why he asks all these outrageous questions. I think he sees this as an opportunity to fill in the details of his favorite fantasy: the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy.

You and I know that it’s madness, but he really believes it (not for nothing do his cohorts call him “Grassy Knoll Blumenthal”), and you’ve made his suspect list. That’s why he wants to know whom you talk to.

Technically, of course, it won’t be Sidney himself, it will be his legal mouthpiece, an attorney from Baltimore named McDaniel (although Sidney and his wife were both present for our depositions, and Sidney passed little scribbles to his lawyer from time to time). McDaniel is one of those attorneys who thinks that you can be shaken and intimidated by the asking of nasty questions in an aggressive manner. McDaniel’s going to make you as uncomfortable as he can; he wouldn’t let Barbara get a glass of water when she got thirsty.

Think of it as an opportunity to show the American people what sort of frauds work in the White House nowadays. Sidney poses as a defender of free and open journalism, but his actions show he’s just the opposite. I’d be grateful if you all insist that the depositions be open to the public (he refused when we requested it). If he says no, then ask that a pool reporter be permitted to attend (he refused that one, too. . .).

And when you’re done, do what we did: Get the transcript from the court stenographer, and post it on the Net. Sidney doesn’t want everyone to know what he’s really up to; he demanded that the judge forbid any future posting. Don’t let him get away with it. Last time I checked the First Amendment was still on the books.

Sidney Blumenthal has re-entered our consciousness just in time to remind us what a Hillary Clinton presidency would be like. The notion of a “new” Hillary Clinton was always implausible. Now, as Rich Lowry says, “it’s impossible to credit ‘the new Hillary’ so long as she is dependent on the same old cronies.”

The Wages of Liberalism Is Death

The Left’s ceaseless attacks on law enforcement are having the predictable effect: elevated homicide rates in the cities where policemen have come under attack. Paul wrote here about out-of-control violence in Baltimore in the wake of the anti-police protests there, and the indictment of six officers. Baltimore’s CBS outlet updated the numbers yesterday:

It’s the deadliest month Baltimore has seen in more than 15 years. More than two dozen shootings over the holiday weekend alone have city police working around the clock. …

From West Baltimore, to the East Side, Govans, to Reservoir Hill, a spike in weekend violence is plaguing all parts of the city. Over the Memorial Day Weekend alone, city police report 28 shootings and 9 homicides.

It is no coincidence, of course, that May was the deadliest month in more than 15 years, i.e. since the 1990s. Violent crime in the U.S. peaked during the mid-1990s, and since then has been cut approximately in half, largely as a result of more aggressive law enforcement techniques that were pioneered in New York City. When the police are seen to be hamstrung, criminals seize the opportunity, as they did decades ago.

Speaking of New York, the Post reports that homicides are up 45%. Mayor de Blasio campaigned on a promise to do away with stop-and-frisk. He has made good on that promise, and the result is more dead New Yorkers:

Murders are way up so far this year in Manhattan, The Post has learned. Sixteen people were killed around the borough between the first of the year and Sunday. Over the same period last year, the figure was 11. That’s an increase of about 45 percent.

Shootings in the borough have also soared. There have been 50 “shooting incidents” since Jan. 1, compared with 31 in the same time period in 2014 — an increase of about 38 percent. Some of these “incidents” involved more than one victim. The number of shooting victims nearly doubled, from 33 to 61.

Congratulations, Mayor de Blasio! De Blasio is now running for president, or something, so maybe someone will fill him in on the numbers next time he passes through the city. (By the way, apropos of nothing in particular, did you know that de Blasio’s real name is Warren Wilhelm? He became Bill de Blasio in 2001, at age 40.)

Another place where there has been a massive attack on law enforcement is Ferguson, Missouri, which is about eight miles from St. Louis. What has happened to the homicide rate in St. Louis? KMOV reports:

Twenty people were killed in St. Louis City throughout the month of April, bringing the yearly total homicide count to 60. …

According to officials, the number of homicides at this point in the year has doubled over the past two years.

St. Louis City Police said crime is up across the board. There has been a 43 percent increase in robberies, 15 percent increase in aggravated assaults and 40 percent increase in aggravated assaults with a gun. Burglary, larceny and car thefts are up a combined 17 percent, according to police.

It is really quite extraordinary. Violent crime rose until the mid-1990s, when the public demanded a widespread police crackdown that proved immensely successful. Homicide rates declined nationwide by around 50%, and there were similar drops in robbery, rape, aggravated assault and other violent crimes. QED: America had learned how to combat violent crime. But now that lesson has been unlearned, as liberals have concluded that police forces are to blame for the ills of inner-city America. The resulting attack on law enforcement has crippled multiple police forces’ ability to fight crime aggressively. So, what has happened? In areas where liberals have seized control and attacked the police, violent crime appears to be returning to its mid-1990s level.

Will liberals ever learn? Don’t hold your breath.

More Thoughts on Today’s Fifth Circuit DAPA Decision

Paul has already written about the order today by a three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit, declining to lift the injunction the district court in Texas v. United States of America has imposed against implementation of the administration’s DAPA program. I want to emphasize one or two points about the status and significance of this case.

First, while this is not always clear from news accounts, no court has yet gotten anywhere near the merits of the case. The trial court found that the State of Texas and the other plaintiff states are likely to prevail on a single argument on the merits, that is, that the administration did not comply with the notice and comment requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act in adopting DAPA. The other issues raised by the states, including the constitutionality of Obama’s executive order and whether DAPA is authorized by any statute, have not yet been addressed in even a preliminary way. That will happen down the road, when the district court holds a trial or hearing on the merits of the case.

Second, the debate so far has been mostly over the states’ standing and the justiciability of the claims asserted by the states–that is, whether the federal courts have the authority to hear those claims. Today’s panel split two to one. The two judges in the majority held that the states do have standing, as they will suffer concrete monetary harm if DAPA is implemented. They held further that Congress has not placed the administration’s actions beyond judicial review.

The dissenting judge, an Obama appointee, argued that DAPA is merely an “internal guidance document” that articulates DHS enforcement policies, and as such is not reviewable by the courts:

I would hold that Supreme Court and Fifth Circuit caselaw forecloses plaintiffs’ arguments in challenging in court this internal executive enforcement guideline. …

For the foregoing reasons, I would grant a stay of the district court’s preliminary injunction because I believe the policy articulated in the November 20 memorandum is non-justiciable.

Here is the point: the Obama administration has launched a broad attack on the rule of law, extending over multiple fronts. It has sought not only to bypass Congress, but to reverse and annul federal legislation by executive order. It has directed federal agencies to carry out programs that were never enacted by Congress. All of this is happening at a time when many are questioning whether the entire apparatus of the administrative state–the fourth branch of government–is consistent with the Constitution.

At this moment in history, it is imperative that the federal courts be willing to review the administration’s executive orders (and those of any future administration) on the merits; that is, to determine whether they are constitutional and authorized by statute. The already-tangled history of Texas v. United States of America shows how doctrines of standing and justiciability can raise significant obstacles to such review. Judicial oversight is at best a cumbersome process, but in the months and years to come it is essential that judicial oversight be allowed to function.

Fifth Circuit denies stay of the injunction against Obama’s executive amnesty

A panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has denied the Obama administration’s motion to stay the preliminary injunction against implementation of its Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) pending appeal. The Court also declined to narrow the injunction’s scope. As readers will recall, Judge Hanen issued the injunction on the view that the government is likely to lose the lawsuit challenging DAPA

The Court of Appeals denied the government’s motion because it concluded that “the government is unlikely to succeed on the merits of its appeal of the injunction.” The decision was 2-1, with the Republican appointed judges voting to affirm and the Obama appointed judge voting to reverse.

The opinions are here. The majority, per Judge Smith, undertakes a long, persuasive slog through the factors that apply when a party seeks to stay an injunction pending appeal. As such, there is no single “money quote.”

The majority’s discussion of “prosecutorial discretion” — the basis upon which Team Obama purports to justify granting amnesty and eligibility for benefits to millions of illegal immigrants — is illuminating, though. Here is what Judge Smith had to say about this issue:

Some features of DAPA are similar to prosecutorial discretion: DAPA amounts to the Secretary’s decision—at least temporarily— not to enforce the immigration laws as to a class of what he deems to be low-priority aliens.

If that were all DAPA involved, we would have a different case. DAPA’s version of deferred action, however, is more than nonenforcement: It is the affirmative act of conferring “lawful presence” on a class of unlawfully present aliens. Though revocable, that new designation triggers eligibility for federal and state benefits that would not otherwise be available.

“[A]lthough prosecutorial discretion is broad, it is not ‘unfettered.’” Declining to prosecute does not convert an act deemed unlawful by Congress into a lawful one and confer eligibility for benefits based on that new classification. Regardless of whether the Secretary has the authority to offer
those incentives for participation in DAPA, his doing so is not shielded from judicial review as an act of prosecutorial discretion.67 And as shown above, neither the preliminary injunction nor compliance with the APA requires the Secretary to prosecute deportable aliens or change his enforcement priorities.

This logic seems unassailable. Unless you’re a partisan, I don’t see how you reject it.

The Justice Department is said to be “reviewing its options.” They include attempting to get the full Fifth Circuit to reconsider the panel’s ruling.

Both the State of Texas and the Obama administration have signaled their willingness to take the case to the Supreme Court. That Court would be unlikely to decide it until 2016 — a presidential election year.

Another option would be simply to wait for a full hearing of the government’s appeal of the district court’s underlying decision, which is scheduled for July. Jonathan Adler says, however, that this appeal will be heard by same panel rendered today’s decision, which provides “a fairly good indication of how the court is likely to rule.”

I’m not personally up-to-date with the Fifth Circuit anymore, but it is said to a be pretty conservative court. Thus, Adler believes the Obama administration might well proceed directly to the Supreme Court.

We will probably have more to say about today’s decision, including perhaps the dissent.