Schneider Shorts 17 December 2021 – Russian mathematicians plead for support of abused colleague, bullying MRC boss to head EMBO, two scientists retracting their second paper, another Uyghur genomics paper retracted, mass-retractions at papermill-infested journal, COVID-19 cure from Florida, and a dead harasser’s sister fundraising to sue his victims.
Table of Discontent
- Fiona the Bully: MRC head Fiona Watt about to become EMBO president
- Soo OK Lee innocent! University of Rochester investigated
- Sodhi asks for retraction – coauthors remain silent
- Rocket Surgeons – BMJ reveals the scary truth
- Frontiers investigates – concerns expressed about homicidal quackery
- Lactoferrin again – solution found in Florida
- Journal meltdown – SAGE mass-retracts, cancels submissions
- Uyghur genetics – German professors saw no need for informed consent
- Brave mathematicians – an open letter to International Mathematical Union
Fiona the Bully
Fiona Watt, stem cell researcher at King’s College London, is currently ending her term as the head of UK Medical Research Council (MRC) and is about to take the position of director of the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO, the current EMBO director Maria Leptin is taking over the presidency of European Research Council, ERC).
Research Professional reports :
“Following enquiries by Research Professional News, UK Research and Innovation confirmed that in December 2020 it received an anonymous complaint of bullying against MRC executive chair Fiona Watt (pictured) that triggered a whistleblowing investigation. Research Professional News has seen evidence that the investigation, carried out by an independent organisation, was completed by May 2021 and concluded there was a need to take action. […]
UKRI said it accepted the investigation’s findings and that “appropriate action has been taken”. The funder said the details of the investigation and the actions taken are confidential, but Watt confirmed she had apologised to multiple people as a result.
“I engaged fully with the investigation, accepted the findings and offered written apologies to the individuals involved,” Watt told Research Professional News.
“I would like to apologise to them again publicly. I was devastated to learn that my actions and behaviours had affected colleagues in a negative way.”
A source who gave evidence to the investigation told Research Professional News they themselves had experienced what they described as “bullying” by Watt. The individual, who wishes to remain anonymous, said the culture at the MRC was “toxic” and claimed Watt’s conduct included “classic bullying behaviour” such as isolating or publicly undermining colleagues.
Ottoline Leyser, chief executive of UKRI, said: “It is profoundly upsetting that people have experienced this behaviour and I am grateful to those who have taken the difficult step of speaking up. Bullying is not tolerated at UKRI.”
Watt will not be removed from her post as MRC president because her appointments ends in early 2022 anyway when she would switch to the presidency of EMBO. She also remains professor at King’s College, we are however informed that “the university supported the whistleblowing investigation.”
“Leyser said UKRI had taken the original complaint “extremely seriously” and had “worked hard to ensure that appropriate action has been taken in line with UKRI policy”.
In a statement the funder said: “There is no place for bullying and harassment at UKRI or in our research and innovation communities. We are committed to ensuring we continuously improve our culture.”
“We have addressed the issues raised as part of this process and we have also used the experience to strengthen our ongoing work to eliminate bullying and harassment.”
Nobody at EMBO replied to me when I asked whether Watt is still to take the position of EMBO President next year.
Soo OK Lee innocent!
A second retraction for the cancer researcher Soo Ok Lee and her colleagues at University of Rochester Medical School in USA. Read about the first retraction here, and here is the main story Smut Clyde and I wrote.
This is the retracted paper, with just some of its fake data:
Feng Chen , Xiaodong Chen , Yu Ren , Guobin Weng , Peter C. Keng, Yuhchyau Chen, Soo Ok Lee Radiation-induced glucocorticoid receptor promotes CD44+ prostate cancer stem cell growth through activation of SGK1-Wnt/β-catenin signaling Journal of Molecular Medicine (2019) doi: 10.1007/s00109-019-01807-8
Back in June 2019, Lee announced on PubPeer:
I informed the Medical School, which Vice Dean for Research, Steve Dewhurst, thanked me for my “commitment to promoting scientific integrity” and announced an investigation:
Well, now the retraction notice for the above paper reveals what his investigation uncovered. Ready?
“An investigation by the University of Rochester Medical Center did not find any evidence of misconduct.”
The utterly fake yet misconduct-free paper was retracted anyway, because “owing to the number of errors the Editor-in-Chief no longer has confidence in the reliability of the work presented in the article.“
In this regard, an earlier letter from Rochester to another journal:
Sodhi asks for retraction
Komal Sodhi, associate professor at Marshall University, also had her second retraction, together with her mentors Nader Abraham and Joseph Shapiro (the inventors of charcoal as COVID-19 cure). I wrote about this team before:
The first retraction happened in September 2021 for Lakhani et al Int J Mol Sci 2019 at MDPI, because “Following publication, concerns were brought to the attention of the publisher regarding the figures.” I never contacted MDPI, but I did inform PLOS One, who now in turn informed me of this retraction:
Komal Sodhi , Nitin Puri, Gaia Favero, Sarah Stevens, Charles Meadows, Nader G. Abraham, Rita Rezzani, Hayden Ansinelli, Edward Lebovics, Joseph I. Shapiro Fructose Mediated Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Is Attenuated by HO-1-SIRT1 Module in Murine Hepatocytes and Mice Fed a High Fructose Diet PLoS ONE (2015) doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0128648
Sodhi was the corresponding author, and she requested the retraction:
“The corresponding author requested retraction of this article. They stated that data underlying some of the article’s results are currently held by Marshall University, and that the original data underlying Figs 4A and 7A are not available.
Due to the extensive image concerns and the author’s comments regarding data availability, PLOS ONE concluded that the results and conclusions reported in the article are not reliable. Therefore, the PLOS ONE Editors retract this article.
The article’s authors either could not be reached or did not respond directly to comment on the retraction decision.”
There will be more, surely.
The BMJ has a tradition of a Christmas special issue, where studies are published which are not entirely serious, sometimes satirical, often funny, but always supported by actual research.
The recent joke was good, but its main punchline somehow went missing.
Inga Usher, Peter Hellyer, Keng Siang Lee, Robert Leech, Adam Hampshire, Alexander Alamri, Aswin Chari, on behalf of Brainbook “It’s not rocket science” and “It’s not brain surgery”—”It’s a walk in the park”: prospective comparative study, BMJ (2021). DOI: 10.1136/ bmj-2021-067883
A BMJ press release explains the findings:
“Despite the commonly used phrases “It’s not rocket science” and “It’s not brain surgery” the findings show that both aerospace engineers and neurosurgeons have similar levels of intelligence to those in the general population.
As such, the researchers say that both specialties might be unnecessarily put on a pedestal, and that phrases unrelated to careers such as “It’s a walk in the park” might be more appropriate.
To help settle the age-old argument of which phrase—”It’s not brain surgery” or “It’s not rocket science”—is most deserved, researchers compared the intelligence of 329 aerospace engineers and 72 neurosurgeons with 18,257 members of the general population.”
Turned out, rocket scientists and brain surgeons were not smarter than the general population:
“The results show that aerospace engineers and neurosurgeons were equally matched across most domains but differed in two respects: aerospace engineers showed better mental manipulation abilities, whereas neurosurgeons were better at semantic problem solving.
When these scores were compared to the general population, aerospace engineers did not show significant differences in any domains. Neurosurgeons were able to solve problems faster than the general population but showed a slower memory recall speed.
These results suggest that, despite the stereotypes depicted by the phrases “It’s not rocket science” and “It’s not brain surgery,” all three groups showed a wide range of cognitive abilities, explain the researchers.”
But the results can also be interpreted that….
Sit down please, and brace yourself….
…that the scientists in general are not smarter than the general population!!!
That despite scientists and their progeny having valuable IQ genes, which blue collar workers, immigrants and women are generally known to lack!
In this regard: Merry Christmas from your favourite eugenicist Stuart Ritchie and his friends!
New developments in the murderous proxalutamide affair, where the Brazilian investigators Cadegiani, Zimmerman et al were accused of poisoning hundreds of COVID-19 patients to death with their bizarre “standard” treatment because they needed a high mortality in the control arm.
Since even the Brazilian senate is investigating these actions as “crime against humanity“, Frontiers got a bit nervous. After all, theirs was the only “proper” journal accepting the fake clinical trial claims of the proxalutamide quackery, after “rigorous” peer review. Just to be on the safe side, the publisher now issued this (well-hidden) Expression of Concern on 13.12.2021:
“With this notice, Frontiers states its awareness of serious complaints regarding this article. This expression of concern has been posted while Frontiers investigates the allegations. The situation will be updated as soon as the investigation is complete.”
The journal’s Editor-in-Chief, the Belgian professor Michel Goldman, stopped replying to my emails long ago. He probably has no say there anyway. Maybe Frontiers will invite Torello Lotti’s gang as experts?
I wonder what the Frontiers editorial office experts is actually investigating here? Whether the reputational damage from NOT retracting homicidal quackery is worse than scaring off other paying fraudster customers by retracting homicidal quackery? Tough choices, I know. That’s what happens when your business model is to accept papers in exchange for cash with only pretend editorial oversight.
The magic supplement which Italian scientists once declared to be the solution for COVID-19, is back!
But as a therapy for SARS-CoV2 infection lactoferrin must be combined with something, so it can be patented. A press release by University of Florida explains:
“The combination includes diphenhydramine, an antihistamine used for allergy symptoms. When paired with lactoferrin, a protein found in cow and human milk, the compounds were found to hinder the SARS-CoV-2 virus during tests in monkey cells and human lung cells.
The findings by David A. Ostrov, Ph.D., an immunologist and associate professor in the UF College of Medicine’s department of pathology, immunology and laboratory medicine and his colleagues, are published in the journal Pathogens.
“We found out why certain drugs are active against the virus that causes COVID-19. Then, we found an antiviral combination that can be effective, economical, and has a long history of safety,” Ostrov said.” […]
Due to his earlier research with colleagues at UF, Ostrov already knew diphenhydramine was potentially effective against the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The latest discovery has its roots in a routine meeting of scientists with the Global Virus Network’s COVID-19 task force. One researcher presented unpublished data on federally approved compounds that inhibit SARS-CoV-2 activity, including lactoferrin.
Like diphenhydramine, lactoferrin is available without a prescription. Ostrov thought about pairing it with diphenhydramine and ran with the idea.
That trash was published not even in Frontiers, but in MDPI.
David A. Ostrov, Andrew P. Bluhm, Danmeng Li, Juveriya Qamar Khan, Megha Rohamare, Karthic Rajamanickam, Kalpana K. Bhanumathy, Jocelyne Lew, Darryl Falzarano, Franco J. Vizeacoumar, Joyce A. Wilson, Marco Mottinelli, Siva Rama Raju Kanumuri, Abhisheak Sharma, Christopher R. McCurdy and Michael H. Norris, Highly Specific Sigma Receptor Ligands Exhibit Anti-Viral Properties in SARS-CoV-2 Infected Cells Pathogens (2021) DOI: 10.3390/pathogens10111514
“D.A. Ostrov and M.H. Norris have filed provisional patents for diphenhydramine (#63/070,124) and diphenhydramine plus lactoferrin (#63/126,082) treatment of COVID19. D.A. Ostrov, C. R. McCurdy, and M.H. Norris have filed a provisional patent for use of sigma receptor ligands to treat COVID19 (#63/145,807).”
That same university was caught deleting COVID-19 data and silencing scientists to please Florida’s far-right covidiot governor Ron DeSantis. I am sure he will love Dr Ostrov’s solution though.
“SAGE is currently investigating a number of articles published in The International Journal or Electrical Engineering & Education after becoming aware of concerns in relation to the journal’s content. The investigation is being carried out in accordance with the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) guidelines.
On December 15th 2021, SAGE retracted 122 articles where there are clear indicators that the submission and/or peer review process was manipulated. SAGE also added expression of concern notices to an additional 318 articles while it continues its investigation. Further editorial action will be taken where appropriate, including articles undergoing full re-review and potential additional retractions.
While the investigation is ongoing, all unpublished submissions have been returned to their authors and the journal is closed to new submissions. We will provide further information once the investigation is complete.”
The journal is led by Khaled Ahmed, reader at the University of Strathclyde, UK, boasting 137 papers and “Total citations of 4811 and h-index of 29“. Various other editorial board members are based in US and Europe. Maybe the publisher will need to replace them all.
Yet another paper was retracted because it used human DNA from the oppressed Uyghur minority, which Chinese authorities obtained by force and coercion (read more here). This time, the lead authors are German professors, apparently utterly clueless what the Nuremberg Code of 1947 was about, especially its point 1:
This is the retracted study by Prof Dr Michael Nothnagel, geneticist at the University of Cologne, and Prof Dr Lutz Roewer, forensic geneticist at Charité Berlin, whose lab is funded by and collaborates with German law enforcement.
Michael Nothnagel, Guangyao Fan , Fei Guo , Yongfeng He , Yiping Hou , Shengping Hu , Jiang Huang , Xianhua Jiang , Wook Kim , Kicheol Kim , Chengtao Li , Hui Li , Liming Li , Shilin Li , Zhao Li , Weibo Liang , Chao Liu , Di Lu , Haibo Luo , Shengjie Nie , Meisen Shi, Hongyu Sun, Jianpin Tang, Lei Wang, Chuan-Chao Wang, Dan Wang, Shao-Qing Wen, Hongyan Wu, Weiwei Wu, Jiaxin Xing, Jiangwei Yan, Shi Yan, Hongbing Yao, Yi Ye, Libing Yun, Zhaoshu Zeng, Lagabaiyila Zha, Suhua Zhang, Xiufen Zheng, Sascha Willuweit, Lutz Roewer Revisiting the male genetic landscape of China: a multi-center study of almost 38,000 Y-STR haplotypes Human Genetics (2017) doi: 10.1007/s00439-017-1759-x
The retraction notice from 1.12.2021 declared:
“The Editors-in-Chief have retracted this article because doubts arose as to the formal correctness of the informed consent procedures related to the research reported. Upon original submission, the authors had informed the journal that informed consent had been obtained from all study participants. For this the authors had relied upon the fact that all data used in the study had been previously used in other research articles. It has not been able to fully verify whether appropriate informed consent was obtained from all study participants in this article.
Authors Michael Nothnagel, Kicheol Kim and Lutz Roewer agree with this retraction. Authors Suhua Zhang, Yiping Hou, Hongyu Sun, Hongyan Wu, Yi Ye, Guang-Yao Fan and Sascha Willuweit do not agree with this retraction. The other authors have not responded to correspondence regarding this retraction.”
The Intercept however explains that, unlike the retraction notice insinuates, it was not Nothnagel and Roewer who discovered the lack of Uyghur consent and who then requested a retraction:
“The scientist who spearheaded the retraction campaign, Yves Moreau, said he was thankful that Springer Nature had investigated but that there was more work to be done, noting that the paper’s findings had been used in over two dozen other papers. “This is not only a matter of informed consent, but also a matter of retracting and not publishing research clearly linked to serious harm,” said Moreau, who is a bioinformatician at the University of Leuven in Belgium. “It raises the question of what will happen to those almost 40,000 DNA profiles.” The anonymized profiles remain in an online database in Germany that can be freely queried by anyone.
At least nine of the paper’s 30 co-authors are affiliated with Chinese police departments or police academies, and several others are affiliated with forensic science departments at Chinese universities. Researchers are often given co-author slots in exchange for collecting samples and data, said Moreau, making it likely that at least some of the Chinese samples were collected by police. China’s Ministry of Public Security, which oversees police across China, has been building out a national DNA database, overthe objections of human rights activists.
One of the lead authors on the retracted paper, Lutz Roewer, oversees the German database, which is housed at the Charité research hospital in Berlin. Called the Y-Chromosome Haplotype Reference Database, or YHRD, it is often used by police around the world who are seeking more information about specific DNA samples. It has recently come under scrutiny for including DNA from the persecuted Roma ethnic group as well as Uyghur and Chinese DNA that ethicists presume was collected without informed consent.”
This long-read Spektrum article from June 2021 explains how Moreau reported his finding regarding the now retracted paper to Charité Berlin, who simply refused to investigate, in fact the medical school even denied being associated with the database. And (translated from German):
“Moreau also discussed his concerns directly with Roewer and Willuweit. Roewer agrees with Moreau: Researchers shouldn’t use DNA that was taken without informed consent. However, it is not at all the task of the YHRD to check or investigate this: “We are not an ethical supervisory authority”. Roewer adds that the overview study from 2017 required neither an ethics approval nor a review of the data collection, as the data included were collected in the context of other studies.”
Maybe Roewer is not such a big expert on the ethics of forensic data after all.
It’s great to see that not everyone in Putin’s Russia is cowered into silence. 86 Russian mathematicians already signed this open letter in defence of an abused colleague, and I hope the Neostalinist terror regime won’t take revenge:
An open letter of Russian mathematicians to IMU Executive Committee regarding mathematician and political prisoner Azat Miftakhov
“Dear members of the International Mathematical Union (IMU) Executive Committee,
In Summer 2022, mathematicians of the world are going to convene to mark the achievements of our colleagues and discipline on the whole during the International Congress of Mathematicians scheduled to be held in Saint Petersburg, Russia. This event is of utmost importance for the global mathematical community. Freedom of association, open scientific cooperation between academic communities from different nations, and political neutrality are all cornerstone values that the Congress is set to secure for all mathematicians, which is why we laud the decision to hold the Congress in Russia and make it possible for hundreds of our colleagues to participate. Yet one of Russian mathematicians is deprived of this opportunity on political grounds by Russian authorities — in contrast to the very values that IMU holds dear.
We are referring to Azat Miftakhov, a graduate student at Faculty of Mechanics and Mathematics of Moscow State University and an anarchist activist, who has been unlawfully incarcerated by the Russian authorities since February 1, 2019. Accused of breaking a window of a local office of Russia’s ruling party, he was initially detained under charges of attempting a terrorist attack. Thanks to the prompt reaction of civil society and the global mathematical community, this charge was dropped by the state prosecutors, but Miftakhov was nonetheless convicted of committing “hooliganism” and sentenced to six years in federal prison — the term he has been serving to the present day. As of now, he is forced to work on a timber mill despite health conditions and is refused access to the recent English-language mathematical publications.
Facts leave no doubt about the political motivation behind his persecution. It has been scrupulously reported that Azat and other detainees were tortured in order to force out confessions (including threats of penetration with a screwdriver); authorities pressured Azat’s family in the course of criminal proceedings. The whole indictment is based solely on the testimony of a “secret witness” that fails to stand up to public scrutiny. In addition, there was an apparent smear campaign against Miftakhov in jingoist media, some of them state-controlled, that involved using homophobic slurs against him and sharing private information that could not have been acquired in a legal way, such as leaked intimate photos of Azat or recordings of the phone calls with his mother.
The Miftakhov case is by no means an outlier: ever since January 31, 2018, when the crime Azat had been accused of took place, Russia’s Federal Security Service (also known as FSB) only doubled down on its crackdown on people with anarchist views in Russia. However, the academic community in general has since become the target of mounting pressure or even outright repression from Russian authorities. There is a long list of Russian scientists arrested by FSB for alleged treason or espionage including Valery Mitko, Valery Golubkin, Viktor Kudryavtsev and many others. The repressions against Russian scholars are not limited to the natural sciences, with a sociologist and a rector of a major Russia’s non-state university Sergei Zuev being among the most recent victims.
Endorsements coming from the American Mathematical Society, London Mathematical Society, Mathematical Society of France, Italian Mathematical Union, Brazilian Society of Mathematics, and, last not least, from 54 members of the Russian Academy of Sciences serve as ample evidence that the international mathematical community is indeed gravely concerned with the situation. A petition to raise the voice about the Miftakhov case was signed by more than 300 mathematicians and supported by Mathematical Societies of Spain, France, and Ukraine. After all, the International Mathematical Union has itself called the Russian government to let Miftakhov finish his graduate studies in France, where he was proposed a position by the Fondation Mathématique Jacques Hadamard and the Laboratoire de Mathématiques d’Orsay.
Without taking a more steadfast and active stance on the matter, the call for Miftakhov’s release would fall upon deaf ears and result in no action on behalf of the Russian government, like the call of the 54 Russian academicians fell. Simply letting the FSB officer Dmitry Derevyashkin to be listed as a co-organizer of the International Mathematical Congress (ICM) and allowing the Prime Minister of Russia Mikhail Mishustin to promote himself on the ICM official twitter account, while Azat is kept incarcerated and forced to work on a timber mill in lieu of doing mathematical research, is an act that goes against the values of political neutrality and professional solidarity that IMU is built upon. We agree that boycotting scientific events is unacceptable, but neither is continued collaboration with the very people and organizations who perpetrate political persecution of scientists in our country. This is why we support the idea expressed by Ahmed Abbes and Cédric Villani and call for IMU to do something it has once had the bravery to do in response to repressions against fellow mathematicians — that is to defer the International Congress of Mathematicians to the moment Azat is released from prison or his case is reviewed in a process that respects his constitutional rights. Moreover, we believe that the Congress, being held in Russia, must include a sectional panel on mathematicians in danger, such as those persecuted on political grounds by authoritarian regimes, which would be open to the public and widely covered by independent journalists.
Azat’s sentence is expected to end on December 5, 2023, which makes it completely possible to preserve the kind of celebration ICM is for everyone, not just those lucky not to be arbitrarily persecuted by an authoritarian government.Reluctance to act would be a scar upon the good name of IMU as a professional organization committed to the values of scientific freedom and political neutrality.
Signed by 86 Russian mathematicians, including 23 non-public signatories whose names we are withholding for their safety and protection.“
Problem is, the western peers of these brave scientists are so far not bothered at all. So what a peer is being wrongfully imprisoned and even tortured while they drink champaign at their conference in Putin’s favourite city, St Petersburg. The ICM website currently informs dryly:
“The ICM will take place on 6–14 July 2022 as planned. If the situation requires it, part of the congress will be virtual.“
They instead ticked-off any diversity concerns:
The seat of International Mathematical Union is in Berlin. Germany. The IMU leadership did not reply to my email inquiry if they intend to react to the open letter.
News in Tweets
- “In our Emissions Impossible series, we have examined the agricultural emissions of multinational livestock and dairy companies. In 2018, in a joint report with GRAIN, we showed the scale of those emissions, which rival those of Big Oil. In 2020, our Milking the Planet report exposed the continued rise of emissions from global dairy companies. In this latest iteration of the series, we focus on companies based in Europe. We show how — rather than reducing livestock emissions — Big Meat and Dairy are employing narratives and strategies that result in a green smokescreen over the industry’s contribution to climate change.” – Emissions Impossible Europe, IATP report
- The papermill sleuth Nick Wise asks: “How does a journal come to publish hundreds of nonsense papers? How does nobody notice for several months?” Nick, that’s because NOBODY reads those manuscript submissions before publication. Nobody reads them at the editorial office, not even the assigned academic editor, nobody reads them during peer review, even if it’s not papermills themselves sock-puppetting as reviewers, nobody reads this gibberish at the copy-editing. These papers are not meant to be read anyway, they are meant to cite and be cited, and to bring money to all parties involved.
- The late Jonathan Tennant used to be the king of Open Access (OA), beloved, admired and often feared by everyone in the OA circus (including the Plan S author and former EU Commissioner Robert-Jan Smits). But then in October 2019, Tennant was ousted by OA network OpenCON over ominous misconduct, which his victims later reported to be sexual harassment. Tennant never denied the charges, he even promised to better and apologised to one of his victims. His once closest OA friends publicly distanced themselves, including his long-term girlfriend. One midnight in April 2020, Tennant crashed with his motorcycle in Bali and died. Since then, his sister Rebecca (a law student) and his associates at the Bali-based IGDORE have been crying conspiracy and even murder, threatening Tennant’s victims and OpenCon with lawsuits. Rebecca Tennant has raised money for these lawsuits, and now the British tabloid Express is on her side to help her raise even more. The victims’ perspective is not relevant for this newspaper: