Friday, July 19, 2002
1. MISCONDUCT: MAYBE THE DISEASE IS
BEING SPREAD BY MOSQUITOS.
Following a year-long internal investigation, Lawrence Berkeley National
Laboratory has fired a physicist, Victor Ninov, for fabricating data in
the 1999 "discovery" of elements 118 and 116 and formally retracted the
Physical Review Letter that announced the discovery (V. Ninov et al. PRL
83, 1104; 1999). The physics community was already in shock over the investigation
of Jan Schoen at Bell Labs, who had seemed to be a rising star, for allegedly
fabricating results (WN 24 May 02). In both
cases, questions are now being raised about other work (WN
24 May 02). This raises serious questions for the physics community
and the APS in particular. If instances of misconduct now turn up in other
work published by the two, the boast that "the system worked" won't fly.
The responsibility of coauthors also needs to be clarified. While Ninov
and Schoen were first authors on the papers in question, they had as many
as 15 coauthors. Does being an "et al." mean you have certified a paper's
2. MASSAGING: SOMETIMES A MASSAGE MAKES
YOU A DIFFERENT PERSON.
According to the New York Times, Lee Schroeder, an LBNL official, characterized
Ninov’s misconduct as "some data had been massaged." It’s
not the first time this soft word has been used at LBNL to describe fabrication
of data. A biophysicist named Robert Liburdy who had played a prominent
role in the debate over whether power lines are linked to cancer, was
the only scientist who could find direct evidence that EMF has any effect
on living cells. In 1995, however, the APS "Statement on Power Line
Fields and Public Health," http://www.aps.org/statements/95_2.cfm
, pointed out there simply was no plausible interaction mechanism. After
the APS issued its statement, LBNL initiated an investigation of the Liburdy
claim. Finally, in 1999, Robert Liburdy was fired for "massaging"
data. Liburdy acknowledged that he had omitted some data for "illustration
purposes," but in one case investigators found he had omitted 93
percent of the data that did not agree with his hypothesis. To call that
a "massage" is like calling Michael Jackson’s cosmetic
alterations a "nose job."
3. MEDDLING: NCI CAVES IN TO CONGRESSIONAL
A key weapon of abortion opponents is that abortions are linked to an
increase in breast cancer. But Science reports this week that NCI revised
its Fact Sheet in March, pointing out that current scientific evidence
finds no increased risk for women who have had an abortion. However, 28
abortion opponents in Congress, led by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), sent a
letter to HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson saying that in their scientific
opinion the scientists at NCI had it just backwards. WN obtained a copy
of the letter. Barbara Cubin was the only one with a science degree (BS
Christy Fernandez assisted with this week's What's New.