Editor: “Close to 10% of the papers we receive show some sign of academic misconduct”

The latest issue of Elsevier’s Editors’ Update is part one of a two-part series on publishing ethics. It contains a bevy of articles on various issues that will be be familiar to Retraction Watch readers, from bias to research misconduct. (Not surprisingly, given the sheer number of journals they publish, Elsevier shows up regularly on Retraction Watch.)

In one of the pieces, Applied Surface Science editor in chief Henrik Rudolph pulls no punches:

Close to 10% of the papers we receive show some sign of academic misconduct, but since the total number of submissions is increasing, the absolute number is also rising. The most common issue we see is too large an overlap with previously published material, i.e. plagiarism. Cases are evenly divided between self-plagiarism and regular plagiarism. These submissions are most often identified in the editorial phase (by the managing editor or editor) and are rejected before they are sent out for review. iThenticate is an important instrument for detecting academic misconduct, but often common sense is an equally important instrument: do certain parts of the paper look much more polished language-wise than the rest? Has the spelling suddenly changed from UK English to US English? We have even had cases where authors have copied the spelling mistakes in the papers they have plagiarized. If it looks fishy it probably is fishy.

From the introductory editorial, here’s what you’ll find in the issue:

Part I of our Ethics Special opens with a Guest Editorial by our SVP and General Counsel for the legal department, Mark Seeley. He reflects on the rise in publishing ethics cases and talks frankly about his own thoughts on how they should be addressed.
In Understanding and addressing research misconduct we hear from an Elsevier lawyer and a publisher about what constitutes research misconduct and the roles editors and publishers have to play once a case has been identified.

Two editors from the journal Biochemical Pharmacology explore research bias – and its implications – in Bias in research: the rule rather than the exception?.

We also hear from the editor community in Research misconduct – three editors share their stories. Our interview subjects discuss the ethics challenges in their fields and how they are working to combat them.

It’s not only authors who can find themselves crossing ethical boundaries and in The ethics pitfalls that editors face we examine two of the most common editor pitfalls – undisclosed conflicts of interest and citation manipulation.

Lessons learnt at the 3rd World Conference on Research Integrity highlights the key points one of Elsevier’s publishing ethics experts took home with her from this year’s World Conference on Research Integrity.

We complete the edition with Editor in the Spotlight – Professor Margaret Rees. As Editor-in-Chief of Maturitas and current Secretary of COPE (the Committee on Publication Ethics), she draws on her extensive ethics experience to answer our questions.
a range of articles designed to keep you up to date with the publishing ethics support on offer. Features include an interview with the current Chair of COPE, tips on dealing with the media, information on how we are working with authors and reviewers to train them on good ethical practice and a range of practical advice (and an offer of free software!) from The Office of Research Integrity.


‘Follow the Money': NSA Monitors Financial World

In the summer of 2010, a Middle Eastern businessman wanted to transfer a large sum of money from one country in the region to another. He wanted to send at least $50,000 (€37,500), and he had a very clear idea of how it should be done. The transaction could not be conducted via the United States, and the name of his bank would have to be kept secret — those were his conditions.

Though the transfer was carried out precisely according to his instructions, it did not go unobserved. The transaction is listed in classified documents compiled by the US intelligence agency NSA that SPIEGEL has seen and that deal with the activities of the United States in the international financial sector. The documents show how comprehensively and effectively the intelligence agency can track global flows of money and store the information in a powerful database developed for this purpose.

“Follow the Money” is the name of the NSA branch that handles these matters. The name is reminiscent of the famous catchphrase by former FBI Associate Director Mark Felt, the whistleblower known as “Deep Throat” who offered the information to Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the Washington Post reporters investigating the Watergate scandal in 1972.

Financial transfers are the “Achilles’ heel” of terrorists, as NSA analysts note in an internal report. Additional fields of activity for their “financial intelligence” include tracking down illegal arms deliveries and keeping tabs on the increasingly lucrative domain of cybercrime. Tracing international flows of money could help reveal political crimes, expose acts of genocide and monitor whether sanctions are being respected.

Data Access vs. International Laws

“Money is the root of all evil,” joke the intelligence agents. According to the classified documents, the spies’ activities primarily focus on regions like Africa and the Middle East — and their efforts often focus on targets that fall within their legal intelligence-gathering mandate. However, in the financial sector, just as in other areas, the NSA also relies on maximum data collection — an approach that apparently leads to conflicts with national laws and international agreements.

Some members of the intelligence community even view spying in the global financial system with a certain amount of concern, as revealed by a document from the NSA’s British counterpart — the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) — that deals with “financial data” from a legal perspective and examines the organization’s own collaboration with the NSA. According to the document, the collection, storage and sharing of “politically sensitive” data is a highly invasive measure since it includes “bulk data — rich personal information. A lot of it is not about our targets.”

Indeed, secret documents reveal that the main NSA financial database Tracfin, which collects the “Follow the Money” surveillance results on bank transfers, credit card transactions and money transfers, already had 180 million datasets by 2011. The corresponding figure in 2008 was merely 20 million. According to these documents, most Tracfin data is stored for five years.

Monitoring SWIFT

The classified documents show that the intelligence agency has several means of accessing the internal data traffic of the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT), a cooperative used by more than 8,000 banks worldwide for their international transactions. The NSA specifically targets
other institutes on an individual basis. Furthermore, the agency apparently has in-depth knowledge of the internal processes of credit card companies like Visa and MasterCard. What’s more, even new, alternative currencies, as well as presumably anonymous means of payment like the Internet currency Bitcoin, rank among the targets of the American spies.The collected information often provides a complete picture of individuals, including their movements, contacts and communication behavior. The success stories mentioned by the intelligence agency include operations that resulted in banks in the Arab world being placed on the US Treasury’s blacklist.

In one case, the NSA provided proof that a bank was involved in illegal arms trading — in another case, a financial institution was providing support to an authoritarian African regime.

The most politically explosive revelations, though, concern the agency’s secret access to the SWIFT networks. Following extensive debates, in 2010 the European Union signed the so-called SWIFT agreement with the US. From its headquarters in Belgium, SWIFT handles international transactions for banks and other financial institutions. For many years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the US lobbied for access to this international financial data, which SWIFT virtually monopolizes worldwide.

An initial agreement failed in early 2010 after it was vetoed by the European Parliament. A few months later, a slightly watered-down SWIFT agreement was signed with the express approval of the German government.

Read more

The Rally: Vaccination Choice is a Human Right

Mary Holland, JD. Mary tells us why vaccination choice is a human right. She teaches at New York University Law School and previously worked for the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, a national human rights advocacy organization. Mary clerked for a federal district court judge, taught international human rights advocacy at Columbia Law School, served as a consultant to the Aspen Institute Justice and Society Program, and has practiced law at two international law firms. She is a founding board member of the Center for Personal Rights and the Elizabeth Birt Center for Autism Law and Advocacy.


Major air rescue planned in flooded Colorado county

Residents of Boulder County, Colorado are being asked to help guide helicopter pilots to their locations Monday as a major air rescue is being planned to take advantage of a clear weather forecast.

“The pilots are going to go anywhere and everywhere they can,” Gabrielle Boerkircher, Boulder County spokeswoman Gabrielle Boerkircher told the Daily Camera. “People need to be prepared to be evacuated. They need to try to flag down the choppers in any way they can.”

Residents are being encouraged to use white sheets, reflective mirrors, flares and signal fires to attract the attentions of the pilots and told to have a bag of medications, clothes, and other important items ready for when help arrives.

Elsewhere, emergency officials say at least 1,000 people in Larimer County were still waiting to be rescued from the floodwaters, but adverse weather conditions had grounded helicopters and supply drops.

Type 2 Rocky Mountain Incident Management Team commander
Shane Del Grosso said Sunday that many people had made contact with requests for evacuations, but authorities were in a “waiting game” due to the rain.


Doctors resign from UC Davis after getting caught infecting cancer patients’ brains with fecal bacteria

Sometimes, things happen that are so shocking that not only do they defy belief, but they defy explanation. For instance, why a pair of neurosurgeons with decades of education and training would throw it all away on a goofy, if not novel, medical procedure that had no prior track record.

According to CBS Sacramento, the two California neurosurgeons infected brain-cancer patients with bowel bacteria “in an effort to save their lives.” In light of the treatment revelations, the two surgeons – Dr. J. Paul Muizelaar and Dr. Rudolph J. Schrot – have since resigned their posts at the University of California-Davis “after officials concluded their actions violated the school’s code of conduct.”

More from The Associated Press:

[The surgeons] had the permission of the three patients to try the injections, but university officials concluded they failed to get the required prior approval from either the school or the federal Food and Drug Administration for such an experimental treatment that had not been tested on animals.

Investigations, then came resignations

All three of the patients – a middle-aged man and two middle-aged women – had been diagnosed with glioblastoma, which is a potent, highly malignant brain tumor. The surgeons said they had hoped that injecting the patients with some live bowel bacteria would stimulate their immune systems and perhaps prolong their lives.

But that didn’t happen. The first patient developed sepsis – illness caused by serious infection – and died within two weeks. The second died within a month; the third lived for more than a year, which gave the surgeons hope that perhaps the treatment was working.

After the first patient died, the university launched an investigation. When the Sacramento Bee newspaper reported on the treatments in July 2012, a second investigation was launched, and it resulted in the surgeons’ resignations.

University officials and investigators came to the conclusion that Muizelaar and Schrot “deliberately circumvented” the schools’ internal ethics policies, “defied directives” from top leaders and dodged federal rules.

“Investigators I appointed heard from some witnesses that there is perception that compliance with university policies and external regulatory requirements is not a universally held value,” said Ralph J. Hexter, the school’s provost and executive vice chancellor.

As a result of the investigation, Dr. Claire Pomeroy, dean of the university’s school of medicine, also resigned. She left her post last June.

‘I would do this for myself’

More from the AP:

Muizelaar, who headed the university’s neurosurgery department, also left in June. Schrot plans to leave at the end of the month.

The doctors told the Bee they weren’t trying to do unapproved research or create a treatment they could profit from. They said they only wanted to give their patients a last-ditch chance at survival, Muizelaar adding that the treatment had been suggested by a colleague.

Said Muizelaar: “I was simply thinking that I could help patients. My whole medical practice is guided by actually only one principle, namely: What would I do for my mother, my son, myself?”

Despite the patients’ giving their permission, two of the families sued.

From the Bee:

Two of the families later settled claims against the university for $150,000 and $675,000, creating a new tangle in the controversy that has raised complex questions about the nature of consent, what constitutes research – and how to safeguard vulnerable patients.

The two doctors said that the internal investigations into their conduct were both biased and incomplete.

“I lost confidence, if you will, in the ability of the university administration to fairly handle it,” Schrot told the paper.

The California Department of Health has also piled on. It has fined the university $50,000 for the surgeons’ work.





Read more

Fish Listen to Music, Prefer Bach


Goldfish not only listen to music, but they also can distinguish one composer from another, a new study finds.

The paper adds to the growing body of evidence that many different animals understand music.

Lead author Kazutaka Shinozuka of Keio University’s Department of Psychology told Discovery News that “goldfish could detect complex properties of sounds, such as pitch and timbre.”
For the study, published in the journal Behavioural Processes, Shinozuka and colleagues Haruka Ono and Shigeru Watanabe played two pieces of classical music near goldfish in a tank. The pieces were Toccata and Fugue in D minor by Johann Sebastian Bach and The Rite of Spring by Igor Stravinsky.

The scientists trained the fish to gnaw on a little bead hanging on a filament in the water. Half of the fish were trained with food to gnaw whenever Bach played and the other half were taught to gnaw whenever Stravinsky music was on. The goldfish aced the test, easily distinguishing the two composers and getting a belly full of food in the process.
The fish were more interested in the vittles than the music, but earlier studies on pigeons and songbirds suggest that Bach is the preferred choice, at least for birds.

“These pieces can be classified as classical (Bach) and modern (Stravinsky) music,” Shinozuka explained. “Previously we demonstrated that Java sparrows preferred classical over modern music. Also, we demonstrated Java sparrows could discriminate between consonance and dissonance.”

“Generally speaking,” he added, “modern music includes much dissonance. Thus, although there is no direct evidence, Java sparrows might prefer classical music because of less dissonance.

In general, non-human animals prefer silence to our music.

“Did we really think that bats would get little tears flowing up their little faces when listening to the Ave Maria?” said David Teie, a lecturer in the School of Music at the University of Maryland who is also a professional cellist.

Teie studied how cotton-top tamarins react to music. The monkeys showed little response, but surprisingly seemed to calm down whenever they heard the heavy metal band Metallica.
The diminutive, fluffy monkeys also listened intently to music Teie created that was based on the structure of their own calls.Shinozuka did not rule out that it might be possible to tailor make music to please fish and other non-human species, but said “ability for acoustic communications” might be needed by the animal.

There appears to be no winning formula, though, for creating music to please all people.

As Shinozuka said, “Some people enjoy classical music, but other people become sleepy when they hear it. Some people enjoy rock music, but other people experience it as noise.”

In terms of the fish findings, Clive Wynne of the Arizona State University Department of Psychology told Discovery News that he agrees with the new study’s conclusions.
Wynne said “the paper shows that fish hear sounds and can tell the difference between two pieces of music … Whereas people will pay money for music, the fish were not willing to hang out in a particular part of their tank in order to have the music turned on.”

Many families keep goldfish for pets. Shinozuka suspects most of us underestimate their abilities.

“Scientific studies have demonstrated that fish are more intelligent than people believe,” he said. “Please value your goldfish!”


Toxic UK: pesticide levels in our food are rising

A new report by the Pesticide Action Network UK has found tha,t contrary to many people’s assumptions, levels of pesticide residues in our food have risen over the last few years.

The report Pesticides on a Plate shows that 46% of the food surveyed contains residues of one or more pesticides. This figure has increased every year and has almost doubled since 2003 when it was just 25%.

As well as fruit and veg, bread and flour also rank highly. Moreover, several fruit categories had residues exceeding Government limits.

The figures are based on an analysis of government tests looking for hundreds of different pesticides in everyday foods. This reanalysis by PAN-UK shows that overall as much as 40% of the food we eat contains residues of highly toxic substances that have been linked with developmental defects, cancers and other disorders.

No such thing as ‘safe’ levels

In most cases the traces were below official ‘safe’ levels, but this does not mean they are safe. Increasingly the science of pesticide toxicity is pointing to what is called the ‘cocktail effect’ where small doses of different poisons can combine to become extremely toxic. Around 19% of samples in this survey contained more than one residue.

Among the foods surveyed residues were found in
•98% of oranges
•97% of flours
•97% of pears
•93% of pineapples
•91% of grapes
•91% of apples
•81% of dried grapes
•76% of raspberries
•74% of bread
•73 % of carrots
•70% of peppers

Worryingly, considering it has been banned for years, the survey also uncovered DDT in 35% of burgers, oily fish, liver and smoked fish.

NYR’s own survey found similar results

The results of the PAN survey closely mirror those of our own review. In 2012 we studied the UK’s Pesticide Residue Committee’s (PRC) published test results for 46 types of fruit and vegetables commonly found in the UK’s shopping baskets.

We discovered that 43 of them contained pesticide residues, 41 contained multiple residues and 21 had residues over the permitted maximum residue level (MRL) and should not have been on sale. (You can read that report, Five a Day Without Pesticides, with downloadable charts, here.)

Organic is the way forward

Studies in the USA are starting to show that exposure to the chemicals in our environment, including pesticides, are having numerous effects on children and may cause problems such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), autism and developmental delays.

The report, which was released just before ‘Organic September‘, points the finger at chemically intensive farming for the continued presence of pesticide residues in our food and calls on the UK government to support organic producers and also promote Integrated Pest Management (IPM) which focuses on non-chemical pest and weed control methods.

It calls also on retailers to support organic and IPM right through their supply chains and for consumers to vote with their trollies in choosing organic.