Academic Publishing University Affairs

Lex Bouter, King of Research Integrity

My uninvited contribution to WCRI 2022

Rejoice, people, for Elsevier has solved the research integrity by bringing you the Salvation to the Plague of bad science. Its anointed face is that of a old white man and the Saviour answers to the name of Lex Bouter. As the name says, his words are the law. Even if the words are “alternative medicine” or “mo’ money”.

Bouter now invites you to yet another Elsevier-sponsored travelling circus World Conference on Research Integrity (WCRI), this time in Cape Town, South Africa, 29 May – 1 June 2022.

An Elsevier-sponsored research integrity conference, you sneer? What next? An Alcoholics Anonymous meeting sponsored by Heineken? Weight Watchers seminars courtesy of Mars Inc?

In this regard, the Flying Dutchman, who used to be the Rector Magnificus of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, describes himself on his VU Amsterdam website:

“Lex Bouter is author or co-author of 735 scientific publications contained in the Web of Science, which have been cited more than 75,000 times leading to a WoS h-index of 132 and a Google Scholar h-index of 179.”

Now recall this Christian hypocrite’s tweet, inviting to an Elsevier-organised conference: “Researchers should be assessed on quality not quantity…”

Obviously other researchers, not himself. But OK, let’s see what quality science shall we celebrate Bouter for. Here a medical study this Dutch professor of epidemiology published with his affiliation “vice chancellor (rector magnificus)“:

Eric Manheimer, Grant Zhang, Laurence Udoff, Aviad Haramati, Patricia Langenberg, Brian M Berman, Lex M Bouter, Effects of acupuncture on rates of pregnancy and live birth among women undergoing in vitro fertilisation: systematic review and meta-analysis BMJ (2008) doi: 10.1136/bmj.39471.430451.BE

It was not original research, but a meta-analysis. Here it seems our hero and his team trawled the relevant “peer reviewed” literature, which is full of fake and fraudulent clinical trials from China, to prove a pet theory about Traditional Chinese Medicine and acupuncture. Specifically, Bouter and his team did this:

“We searched the following terms as free text terms and MeSH terms (shown in italics): (acupuncture; acupuncture therapy; auriculotherapy; electroacupuncture; Medicine, Oriental Traditional; Medicine, Chinese Traditional; moxibustion) and (reproductive techniques, assisted; fertilization in vitro; embryo transfer; oocytes; egg collection).”

And they concluded that yes, their “significant and clinically relevant” results prove that the Chinese woo works:

“Current preliminary evidence suggests that acupuncture given with embryo transfer improves rates of pregnancy and live birth among women undergoing in vitro fertilisation.”

Surely there must be some meridians to prick in order to direct the Qi towards male embryos, professor? Recognition arrived on the spot, as Dutch news source Het Parool reported, translated:

“Rector Magnificus Lex Bouter of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam has been nominated for the Meester Kackadoris Prize – with which the Association against Quackery ‘honours’ people who, in its view, promote quackery. According to the association, Bouter should have known better when he concluded that IVF works better after acupuncture. Bouter has ‘a love for alternative medicine’. Even scarier: he is a ‘devil in disguise’. […]

But according to the VU, ‘extremely surprised’ by the nomination, Bouter is a ‘strong advocate’ of ‘proper empirical research’ into new treatment methods. “The nomination of Prof. Bouter does not do justice to his undisputed scientific reputation and qualities…””

The Meester Kackadoris announcement explained its decision to award The magnificent rector Bouter (translated):

“We will not hold against him that he was a paranymph in the promotion of Keppel Hesselink (yes, this acupuncturist has been promoted, ladies and gentlemen). The fact that he was a member of the scientific advisory board of Keppel Hesselink’s IOCOB until recently is a serious reproach: he thus conferred status on this very deficient club. His help and effort to the Center for Integrative Medicine in Baltimore, which thanks to Bouter’s help, received all kinds of subsidy money from the politically driven, but scientifically very controversial National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) from Bethesda, speaks volumes about his love for quackery. The fact that he defended chiropractors in their own journals against critical publications about this medicine is also very special and he was barely in office when a chiropractor at the VU obtained his doctorate on his strange medicine. He has never put anything in the way of ‘private tutoring’ in homeopathy. The fact that he insulted or confused the doctors of the IVF center of the VU and their patients with a publication this spring about the success of Chinese acupuncture in IVF also completely fits the image that Bouter evokes. A man with two faces, who takes alternative medicine almost as seriously as regular medicine. Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde: something like that is nice in literature, but in medicine and science one has to speak with one mouth.”

In that 2008 paper, the authors declared to have no conflicts of interests. But another acupuncture study (for knee arthritis, Manheimer et al 2010) admitted some previously undisclosed COI for Bouter’s coauthors:

Mr. Manheimer works at the same research center at which the two Berman trials were conducted, Brian Berman, […] and Eric Manheimer received honoraria for preparing and delivering presentations on acupuncture at the 2007 meeting of the Society for Acupuncture Research.

Once our alternative medicine paranymph resigned as Rector Magnificus in 2013, he published a follow-up study (Manheimer et al 2013) grudgingly admitting that “We found no pooled benefit of adjuvant acupuncture for IVF“.

VU Amsterdam may have celebrated Bouter’s “undisputed scientific reputation and qualities” of acupuncture and TCM as his scientific stroke of genius, but not everyone in the academic community agreed. The Meester Kackadoris awardee not only resigned as rector, he never returned to his field of epidemiology, which is a grand loss for the world, which was deprived of his “alternative medicine” when the COVID-19 pandemic stroke.

Instead, Bouter became the all-knowing top expert in The Netherlands on research integrity. Regarding his rectorial resignation, the Dutch magazine NRC reported in 2013, translated:

“Rector Magnificus Lex Bouter of the Free University (VU) resigns. Insiders confirm this to NRC Handelsblad . President of the Executive Board René Smit is finishing his term, which runs until November of this year.

The resignation of Bouter, who has held the position of rector since 2006, is the result of a breach of trust that had arisen with the board of deans, the directors of the twelve faculties of the VU. A majority of the deans had informed the supervisory board on Tuesday that they no longer had confidence in the executive board.

The administrative unrest is the direct result of an internal investigation into the quality of education that went poorly for the VU. The report, which is in the hands of NRC Handelsblad , states, among other things, that the VU’s educational vision is “insufficiently concrete” and that the policy has “been focused on growth for too long”. […]

Bouter, who was originally a medical biologist, is returning to science, he says. In response, the supervisory board praises Bouter’s great achievements.”

It is quite possible Bouter had to stop being Rector Magnificus because of internal whistleblowers. No wonder the Elsevier-anointed king of research integrity calls academic whistleblowers names in this “Typology of whistle blowers“:

  1. Honestly concerned, sincere, fact-oriented colleagues
  2. Angry colleagues that may act out of revenge
  3. Machiavellists with self-serving motives
  4. Crazy people:
  • Paranoid, stalking or insulting
  • Write long and confused messages with lots of CAPITALS and!!!!!!
  • To everyone they can think of

Our Ethics Champion also proposed to sanction “mala fide” whistleblowers with research misconduct themselves (Bouter & Hendrix 2017), should their “victims” be declared innocent by an institutional investigation. Like Paolo Macchiarini was initially absolved by Karolinska Institutet, and the four whistleblowers were punished, you know.

In that paywalled paper, the Open Science champion Bouter and his colleague Sven Hendrix (who invented the above-quoted “Typology of Whistleblowers) seem to see the danger of malicious whistleblowing to be just as serious as that of actual research fraud. I never heard of such cases of “mala fide” whistleblowing, the scientists whom I know of having been wrongfully accused of misconduct were the whistleblowers themselves, charged by the very same people the blew the whistle on, and by the institutional elites keen to defend their fraudsters friends. Again, just as it happened in Macchiarini case.

This statement in Bouter & Hendrix 2017 is just plain wrong, and I don’t care if it references peer-reviewed literature:

“Mala fide whistle blowers have the intention to damage the reputation of a specific scientist with a false accusation. But also bona fide whistle blowers can inflict great harm when their allegations turn out to be incorrect and for that reason they must proceed very carefully and cautiously (Klotz, 1998). In cases of research misconduct the accused is often considered to be guilty until proven innocent and the burden of proof seems to lie predominantly with the accused (Goldenring, 2010).”

The latter literally never happens – not only is the burden of proof placed solely with the accuser, it is often enough for the accused to have the evidence and the case dismissed because the whistleblower is painted as a vengeful loser, a failed scientist, an ungrateful snake, to be punished accordingly. And this is indeed when the accused whistleblower “is often considered to be guilty until proven innocent“. Bouter and Hendrix got it all backwards.

Maybe our King of Research Integrity claims such nonsense because he still bears a grudge against certain people at VU Amsterdam whose whistleblowing may have cost his throne as Rector Magnficius? Literally cost him, because money is an important issue for Bouter.

In his Elsevier editorial on WCRI from 2016, the VU Amsterdam’s Professor of Methodology and Integrity and co-organiser of the World Conference on Research Integrity events proposed to mass-sack scientists to liberate money for high-performers like himself:

In my view lack of money in the absolute sense is probably not the main driver of questionable research practices or worse. But the available finances relative to the scientific work force may very well be an important determinant. The fact that in my country and elsewhere the ‘hit rate’ of grant applications is now below 10% may be a strong driver to cut corners with a view to making your work look more spectacular. Next to increasing budgets, which is unlikely to happen, a decrease in the number of scientists is an option we may need to consider seriously.

No wait, the big irony is coming. Bouter may deny others an academic job on even the lowest salary, but for his own salary sky is the limit.

As Het Parool wrote in 2015 (translated):

“It took more than a year before the minister responded to the questions asked by SP MP Jasper van Dijk after reporting by Het Parool about the golden handshakes for René Smit and Lex Bouter. The VU works council called the rewards for the former board members ‘undesirable’ at the time.

Smit’s contract as chairman of the Executive Board expired on December 1, 2013. He received a severance payment of 242,645 euros. This severance payment is more than three times higher than the maximum according to the Standards for Remuneration of Senior Officers Act (WNT): 75,000 euros. […]

The compensation and sabbatical of former Rector Magnificus Bouter are also in accordance with the rules, concludes Bussemaker. Bouter resigned in early 2013. His salary as professor was raised in 2013 and also in 2014 to that of the level when he was rector magnificus. In his case, it concerns a total of 105,000 euros. The work council called that amount ‘difficult to reconcile with his new job as professor of integrity’ last year.”

Bouter was unwilling to return the extra money he granted himself despite harsh criticism from government officials (see this comment and the files here). Now, VU Amsterdam is a Church-owned university, so the government’s options were limited, despite the university being financed from public coffers. Bouter is a devout Christian, thus please allow me, an atheist Jew, to teach Bouter some Christian ethics:


“Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless. “

Ecclesiastes 5:10

And as Jesus has warned Bouter:

“Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”

Luke 12:15

Jesus also said about Bouter:

“Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

Matthew 19:24

His Magnificence never replied to my email, unsurprisingly. But now you see why this Mammon-worshipping fraud-peddling science-poisoning predatory publisher Elsevier needs Bouter as their champion of research integrity for that travelling circus called WCRI. The other regular co-organiser of WCRI events is Lancet’s Sabine Kleinert. Her day-job is to defend Paolo Macchiarini and other dangerous fraudsters from the “Machiavellist” whistleblowers whom Bouter warns you about.


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7 comments on “Lex Bouter, King of Research Integrity

  1. Zebedee

    “LB: There are many types of whistleblowers. We get plenty of emails ranging from honest allegations to completely deranged. Each one takes a long time to check.”

    Code for Lex Bouter is not up to it. How long des it take?
    Most people make many decisions each day, often on lots of evidence.
    Is Lex Bouter blessed with a slow brain? It is a distinct possibility given all the higher education that has been done to him.

    Like

  2. Klaas van Dijk

    Thanks for this contribution.

    Item 3 (c) of the 2022 version of the Academic integrity complaints procedure of VU Amsterdam states:

    “If the duty of confidentiality is contravened by the complainant, then the committee can decide not to handle a complaint further. The Executive Board can attach appropriate consequences to the contravention of confidentiality.”

    Source: https://vu.nl/en/about-vu/more-about/academic-integrity-at-vu-vumc

    So this Committee of VU Amsterdam is only able to stop processing the complaint when the complainant is using the public opinion to make his point, and/or when the complainant is asking through public channels for more / better arguments to substantiate the complaint, and/or when the complainant is using public channels to sort out if others have also filed a (comparable) complaint, etc.

    I also have severe difficulties to understand how such an unequal treatment of both parties, the complainant and the respondent, is in line with the law, see eg https://mensenrechten.nl/nl/welke-mensenrechten-zijn-er

    I totally fail to understand why these procedures have to be confidential. How comes that more or similar procedures against medical practitioners are not confidential at all? See, eg, https://www.tuchtcollege-gezondheidszorg.nl/ik-heb-een-klacht

    Like

    • Not just this.
      Section 5.5:
      A complaint will only be accepted for handling if the following conditions are fulfilled:
      i. the complaint includes a clear description of the alleged breach of academic
      integrity, and is accompanied by the relevant documents;
      ii. the complaint is dated and includes the complainant’s name, position and contact
      details.
      […]
      e) Contrary to the provisions of point 5.5b ii, the committee can investigate the complaint
      without being aware of the identity of the complainant. Anonymous complaints will only be
      accepted for handling if:
      i. the identity of the complainant is known to the confidential counsellors for
      academic integrity; and..

      Meaning, emails by Clare Francis or any other anonymous PubPeer sleuths will not be considered despite the evidence speaking for itself and being in public domain. Call this the Lex Bouter, pun intended.

      Like

      • Did Bouter write this?
        5.7 Ending of the handling before completion of the investigation
        a) The committee can end the handling of the complaint before the completion of the
        investigation, also without having heard the complainant and the respondent, if in its
        opinion:
        i. the complaint is manifestly of insufficient importance; or
        ii. the complaint is manifestly unfounded; or
        iii. the complaint was sufficiently investigated earlier by the committee or an
        equivalent committee; or
        iv. if too long a period has elapsed after the alleged breach, or the complainant has
        waited for an unreasonably long time before submitting the complaint (in principle
        a period of ten years applies as unreasonably long); or
        v. such a breach of confidentiality has taken place that it is not justified to accept the
        complaint for handing.

        Translation: we reserve the right to drop the investigation willy nilly. And then we will destroy the whistleblower:
        7. Protection of persons concerned
        The submission of a complaint in pursuance of these regulations cannot lead to any disadvantage to
        the complainant, unless the complainant did not act in good faith.

        Like

  3. Klaas van Dijk

    LOWI https://lowi.nl/en/home/ has dropped several of my complaints, one of them about a confirmed case of plagiarism by Willem Vermeend, because LOWI had unilaterally decided that I had filed these complaints in bad faith. This took place in October 2018. LOWI also unilaterally decided that they would not communicate with me about this topic. LOWI has of course posted their views in lengthy documents at their website. That’s how it works in The Netherlands.

    It is my understanding that Lex Bouter was involved in the preparation of these new regulations for processing complaints. These new regulations are more or less similar for all Dutch universities, and they are annexed to the 2018 version of the Code of Conduct.

    Like

  4. Klaas van Dijk

    Participants of the WCRI2022 and others might be interested in the views of Lex Bouter about a lengthy case at VU Amsterdam against Peter Nijkamp and Karima Kourtit. The first part of this story took place when Lex Bouter was rector magnificus of VU Amsterdam.

    Lex Bouter has, towards the best of my knowledge, never made public comments on this case.
    https://www.advalvas.vu.nl/nieuws/vu-schoof-verantwoordelijkheid-af-zaak-nijkamp

    Like

  5. Alexander Magazinov

    I wonder, how Elsevier explains zero retractions connected to last year’s clownshow in Microprocessors and Microsystems. Someone please ask them at WCRI. Only “withdrawals,” many of them, but if something has been assigned to a “numbered volume” of that trash journal will apparently stay there forever.

    There’s a lot yet to be written on that topic, but I’ll wait for a better opportunity.

    Like

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