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“Severe” manipulation of figures from lab that studied gene silencing technique

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Image result for plant vector graphic public domain But the reason for the manipulation is unclear:

A fresh investigation into publications from a French plant-biology laboratory has revealed “severe” and “intentional” manipulation of research figures. No one has yet been named as responsible for the misconduct, but the institute that led the investigation is expected to announce disciplinary measures by the end of September.

The inquiry — led by France’s national research council, the CNRS, with the participation of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH Zurich) — investigated five molecular-biology articles from researchers at the CNRS Institute of Plant Molecular Biology in Strasbourg, France. The now-defunct lab was renowned for its work on how a gene-silencing technique called RNA interference helps plants, invertebrates and mammals to combat viruses.

The statement notes the investigation found that there was no clear scientific advantage in manipulating the figures, so the motivation behind the alterations is still unclear. Declan Butler, “‘Severe’ figure manipulation found in studies from leading plant lab” at Nature

Butler tells us that “The investigation is the latest twist in a long-running saga,” which suggests that a publisher might be interested in the whole story if the writer can throw in some high-level high-biotech intrigue.

Again, so much hand wringing and theorizing these days about why people don’t trust science. Increasingly, the question is, why should we? Most of us believe that the problems are fixable, of course. But are they getting fixed in proportion to their prevalence?

Note: Today we featured a number of stories on misdoings in science because the stories were piling up, it’s near the end of the month, and I want to write about other stuff in October.  Tomorrow back to our regular routine. (O’Leary for News)

See also: At the Guardian: The “widespread notion that academia is morally superior is ridiculous”

From Chemistry World: Forensic science is “in crisis”

and

Study of causes of science skepticism sails right by the most obvious cause

8 Replies to ““Severe” manipulation of figures from lab that studied gene silencing technique

  1. 1
    random.dent says:

    Forensic science has been in crisis for a while. The most egregious example I can think of is the situation where the FBI claimed they had lab methods for determining when a bullet was from a specific batch. Turned out to be a complete lie.

  2. 2
    Seversky says:

    I was very concerned by the closure of the National Commission on Forensic Science by the Session’s Justice Department which was set up under the Obama administration to review standards in the field. As a long time fan of CSI I understood where the show stretched reality for dramatic effect but I was alarmed to learn just how far short the provenance of fields like bullet identification, handwriting analysis, fingerprint matching or hair analysis fall from what you’d hope and expect they would be.

  3. 3
    random.dent says:

    @Seversky: The National Commission on Forensic Science would have been a real help. Too many people think CSI is reality. You want to be horrified, look into the ‘scientific’ evidence about that fire in texas that got that dude executed. Absolute BS.

  4. 4
    R J Sawyer says:

    I have spent a lifetime working in the analytical chemistry field, the last fifteen involved in the accreditation of laboratories to ISO/IEC 17025 and other related standards. Accreditation has resulted in a significant improvement in the quality of laboratory data, but it is far from perfect. Sadly, medical and forensic testing are late to embracing accreditation.

  5. 5
    ET says:

    This sounds like what is happening with global warming- manipulate the data until it agrees with what you want it to say.

  6. 6
    R J Sawyer says:

    Sadly, falsification of data is nothing new. We had a local lab that was hired by engineers to tests soil samples as part of environmental assessments of industrial sites conducted before redevelopment. The lab never performed the analysis, which is costly, and reported results that would lead the developers and regulators to believe that the site was clean. Their clients were happy because of the money they would save on not having to remediate the site. And the lab owners were happy because of the profits they made.

    The point here is that the motive was human greed. It was not an indication that testing laboratories are inherently dishonest.

  7. 7
    News says:

    One real problem with corrupt forensics is that it brings the law into disrepute. When people riot over injustices, often it’s the tip of an iceberg. Riots won’t change anything but we can expect to see more of them if problems that could be addressed are not addressed.

  8. 8
    R J Sawyer says:

    News@7, I would argue that there is no such thing as corrupt forensics. Forensics is just a field of testing and interpretation. All testing has a measure of uncertainty associated with it. The national metrology institutes (e.g., NIST, NRC) spend millions of dollars every year understanding these uncertainties and trying to get them lower. Whenever interpretations are in the mix, the uncertainty increases significantly.

    Interpretations can be wrong due to the use of flawed or inaccurate assumptions,but this does not involve corruption. Incompetence, possibly, but not corruption. When corruption is involved, it is the people intentionally falsifying the data who are corrupt, and the people pressuring those that falsify the data. But the science itself is not corrupt. Things like accreditation and certification will reduce the incidents of these corrupt acts, but, unfortunately, they will not eliminate them.

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