|Volume 7 Number 2||www.ntskeptics.org||February 1993|
Fraud in Science
The first session on Saturday, (October 17, 1992) was a panel on fraud in science moderated by Ray Hyman. I missed most of the first speaker's presentation while having breakfast with a few members of the CSICOP Executive Council and the delegation of speakers from China, but did get enough of Elie Shneour's talk to hear him recommend the following policies: (1) Nobody who hasn't done any work should be listed as author on a scientific paper. (2) Papers should be subjected to peer review. (3) Bad papers shouldn't be published at all, which means many journals should be euthanized.
The second panelist was Paul Friedman, professor of radiology at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine. After the John Darsee affair at Harvard, Friedman helped write up a policy for dealing with allegations of research "hanky panky." In the past, the first reaction to such things would be to tell the perpetrator that "there's a mistake in your paper." If guilty, his reaction might be "I can't find my data," followed by "I resign," and the process would end there.
Friedman stated that the definition of "scientific fraud" depends on context. There are always problems with sloppy work, corner cutting, etc. that create noise in the scientific process, but deliberate fraud is not very common. It has increased, but seems to be proportional to the number of people practicing science. Senator John Dingell brought scientific fraud into the public arena, whereas in the past it had typically been kept quiet perpetrators being bought out, fired, etc. Was that appropriate? Friedman views that as an open question.
Generally, when something goes wrong, other researchers know about it. Younger researchers, however, worry about their careers being wrecked, worry that there may not really be anything wrong but they simply don't understand what's being done. When Robert Millikan performed his oil drop experiments to measure the charge of the electron, he did not report all of his data; he selected what he thought was representative. An experimenter may completely screw up an experiment and start over; nobody publishes all of their data. There is also systematic misrepresentation in journals of the order of experimental proceedings, and so forth (i.e., the logical structure of a paper is not the temporal order). In applying for research grants, researchers tend to report the most promising results which they've already obtained, leaving out the rest.
Peer review at the level of a journal submission or grant application, according to Friedman, is not capable of screening out fraud. A certain level of honesty on the part of researchers is assumed. On the other hand, peer review by other people in the same lab may be able to catch fraud.
Other touted self-correcting methods of science are also not so great, said Friedman. Replication, for example, may fail because the original work made a mistake. It may succeed even when the original work is fraudulent, if it was plagiarized from elsewhere. Furthermore, a large number of papers are never cited by anyone, and no replications are ever done. It does tend to be effective in work that is particularly interesting, such as superconductivity and cold fusion (two cases which have had very different results).
Friedman expressed some worry over the Office of Scientific Integrity, a self-perpetuating agency which gets millions of dollars a year. Will this agency harm the practice of science with fraud accusations? Institutions doing their own investigations, on the other hand, tend to deal with things very quietly to avoid wrongly damaging reputations.
The third speaker was Walter Stewart of the National Institutes of Health, who has been involved in numerous investigations of scientific fraud. He began by taking issue with a statement made by Richard Dawkins during the question and answer session following Friedman's presentation, in which Dawkins stated that although there have been some minor problems, the scientific community is a shining example to other professions, such as journalism, of self-policing that they would do well to emulate. By the time Stewart finished his presentation, Dawkins stood up to withdraw his previous remarks, but added that "science does, at least, have standards to violate."
The Baltimore - TIK Affair
Stewart discussed in great detail the case of MIT researcher Thereza Imanishi-Kari (also known as TIK), who fabricated data in a paper published with Nobel prizewinner David Baltimore as a coauthor.8 In essence, what occurred was that Margot O'Toole, TIK's assistant, discovered the fraud and brought it to the attention of other people, including MIT Dean Gene Brown and David Baltimore, in whose lab the experiments allegedly took place.
For her efforts, she was told by Baltimore that anywhere she went with her story, he would go too, and that he would be believed. She had given up when Stewart got involved, and they wrote a paper documenting the fraud which was rejected by Cell and Science, and sat upon for four years by Nature before being published. In 1988 Senate hearings on the matter took place, the Secret Service did analysis of the lab notebooks, and David Baltimore continued to defend TIK and call for support from the scientific community which he got. For three or four years, O'Toole was isolated from and ridiculed by the scientific community and was unable to find a job.
The second case Stewart described involved Heidi Weissman, who worked in the lab of radiologist Leonard Freeman at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Freeman plagiarized some of Weissman's work by whiting out her name on a photocopy and typing in his own. Weissman lost her job while Freeman was promoted to vice chancellor. (Stewart quips that the "freeman" is the unit of plagiarism.) Weissman sued for the rights to her work, and won. She has been effectively blacklisted from working in her field.
Paul Friedman remarked that Weissman had already been complaining about not being promoted and had a reputation for being difficult to work with, and that she took legal action before the university had finished investigating her complaints. Stewart responded that the legal case which she won has been out of the courts for three years now, and that a lawsuit is not a reason for scientists to avoid criticizing something (e.g., blatant plagiarism) that is clearly wrong. He said that he knew of no scientists who had publicly stated that Freeman was wrong; both Shneour and Friedman proceeded to do so. (Shneour maintained that other scientists had done so, but could not remember the names of any. He stated that he had a list of names at home.)
Crashed Saucer Claims
Following lunch and brief talks by Sergei Kapitza, editor of the Russian edition of Scientific American, and Evry Schatzman, founder of the French Union Rationaliste and former president of the French Physics Society, two concurrent sessions were offered. One was on crashed saucer claims; the other on the paranormal in China, specifically the form of Chinese traditional medicine known as qi gong. I attended the session on crashed saucers.
CSICOP Executive Council member and leading UFO skeptic Philip Klass moderated the panel, which looked at the three most famous cases of alleged crashed saucers: the Roswell, New Mexico, case, the Bentwaters/Woodbridge, England,case, and the Kecksburg, Pennsylvania, case.
Tucson resident and retired U.S. Air Force Major James McGaha spoke on the Bentwaters/Woodbridge incident, which took place in December 1980. This case involved sightings over two nights, December 26 and 27. None of the principals described any crash, but Jenny Randles, Dot Street, and Brenda Butler wrote the book Sky Crash about the incident, based on the claims of Larry Warren, who was a security policeman stationed at Woodbridge at the time. None of the principals involved in the sightings reported Warren's presence.
On the first night, airman John Burroughs heard a radio report that something had been tracked on radar at Heathrow, then saw a light in the woods which he thought might be a crashed aircraft. After obtaining permission to leave the base and investigate, he saw an object flying through the forest, which he described as being triangular and about ten feet wide (about the distance between the trees). The next day, some circular holes were found in the ground in the area.
On the second night, security police saw a light, called the deputy base commander, Lieutenant Halt, and left the base and entered the forest with equipment, planning to debunk the UFO claim. They saw a winking light, three lights in the sky, and a light beam coming down from the sky. Halt arrived and saw the light, which winked and broke up near a farmhouse, which was then lit with a red light, seemingly from within. (Vic Cuttings, the farmer who was present at the time, noticed nothing unusual.) Burroughs said he saw a light fly through the cab of the truck they had driven to the site.
McGaha explained how the TV show Unsolved Mysteries made these events seem more mysterious by reporting that on the second night, much of the equipment was working intermittently. McGaha pointed out that their radios were intermittent because they were line of sight radios, and their "light-alls," devices with very powerful lights on them, are notoriously unreliable. The holes in the ground were examined by the Suffolk police, who said they looked like rabbit diggings.
McGaha offered the following explanation for these sightings: On December 26, [the Soviet communications satellite] Cosmos 740 reentered the earth's atmosphere at around 21:10, and was picked up on radar. Shortly before 3 a.m., when the first light was seen, a fireball crossed the sky. At around 4 a.m., the Suffolk police were driving in the area (in response to the reports) with their lights flashing. McGaha attributes the lights seen by Burroughs to the fireball and the police lights. On December 27, the three lights in the sky were Vega, Deneb, and Sirius, while another light was a lighthouse 5 miles away (in the right direction) which has a 5 second period. Lt. Halt is on tape saying "there it is," followed by a five second pause, followed by "there it is again."9 Although McGaha gave his explanation to interviewers for Unsolved Mysteries and one of the producers told him that he wasn't sure the segment would be aired because McGaha had completely destroyed the case, the show aired anywaywith McGaha's explanations left on the cutting room floor.
Next month: The Kecksburg Meteor, The Roswell Incident, and Dealey Plaza.
(A portion of Note 7 of last month's installment was accidentally omitted. We reprint it here for accuracy along with notes 8 and 9 for this month's installment.)
7. See his book, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency. A "holistic detective" investigates a case under the assumption that all things are connected, and therefore everything is evidence, reminiscent of Carl Hempel's raven paradox ("All ravens are black" is equivalent to "all non-black things are non-ravens," so whatever is evidence for one is evidence for the other).
8. See, for one summary, Philip J. Hilts, The Science Mob, The New Republic vol. 206 (May 18, 1992):24-31. Stewart himself wrote a summary for Nature (July 28, 1988). The Stewart article makes the case that fraud occurred; the Hilts article covers how the scientific community and Baltimore in particular responded.
9. See, for more details on this case, Ian Ridpath, "The Woodbridge UFO Incident," The Skeptical Inquirer 11:77-81. Also see Robert Sheaffer's "Psychic Vibrations" column, The Skeptical Inquirer 10:209-210; Steuart Campbell's letter, "The Suffolk 'UFO' Lights," The Skeptical Inquirer, 11:425-426, and Ridpath's reply.
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Insurance companies that receive claims for medical services are at a definite disadvantage when it comes to being ripped off. A claim that's fraudulent can look just like a legitimate one, as long as the blanks are all filled in and the services rendered have some rational relationship to the diagnoses given. It happens all too frequently, for example, that a bill for medical services that have already been paid for by one insurer, workers' compensation in some cases, is submitted to another carrier so that the patient actually winds up making money.
In other cases, claims for unnecessary medical services or for those never rendered are submitted for payment, sometimes with and sometimes without the knowledge of the policyholder. In the former case the policyholder might be getting a kickback, either in cash, or in the form of a promise that they will not have to pay any out-of-pocket expense. More often, people are unaware that their insurance policies are being raped by profiteers.
Sometimes health fraud leaves clues, though. And sometimes those clues can only be spotted by a skeptic. As early as last spring, for example, the DFW Council Against Health Fraud had heard reports of questionable billing practices by an Arlington, Texas, firm called Metro Vascular Labs, Inc. It seems that medical claims were being received for doppler blood flow studies of people's arms, ostensibly in connection with diagnoses of atherosclerosis.
Atherosclerosis, or "hardening of the arteries" due to the deposition of cholesterol-rich plaque, is known to affect the coronary vessels of the heart, contributing to the number one cause of death in this country. It can also affect the large blood vessels that supply other major organs, the lower extremities, and even the brain. But atherosclerosis of the arms is simply not a legitimate clinical entity.
The newsletter of the DFW Council Against Health Fraud called attention to this problem in its August/September 1992 newsletter. We also noted at the time that Mr. Eli Maghi, the lab's director, was involved in a similar operation in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which ran afoul of the law there. In fact, federal charges filed in Oklahoma were only recently dropped because prosecutors were unsure of their evidence. Meanwhile, Texas law enforcement authorities began investigating Metro Vascular Labs and this was noted in the Council's last newsletter of 1992.
On January 7th 1993, the office of the Texas Attorney General filed a lawsuit against the company and obtained a temporary restraining order halting its operations and freezing its assets. The story hit the front page of the Dallas Morning News the next day. (Curiously, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram ignored the matter.) The company is charged with defrauding hundreds of area residents and their insurance companies. Texas Assistant Attorney General Robert E. Reyna estimates that up to $12 million could have been taken in over the past year.
The scheme rested in large part on a program of free cholesterol screening. In reality, participants were screened for having health insurance. Those who did were pressured into undergoing thousands of dollars of additional testing. According to a story in the Dallas Morning News that appeared on January 9th, many were frightened into believing that they were seriously ill. The lab also found victims by obtaining lists of insured individuals from area chiropractors, one of these being Eddie Rettstatt of Benbrook, who is named in the suit along with the lab's medical director, Donald Peterson, D.O.
Some federal authorities have recently been saying that not following Medicare billing rules to the letter is "health fraud." Alice Gosfield, president of the National Health Lawyers Association, has even said recently that following the instructions of a Medicare carrier concerning technical billing questions can get honest people into deep trouble. But the lesson of Metro Vascular Lab is that there's lots and lots of real fraud out there just waiting to be uncovered, if only it's looked for by those who are willing to exercise a little skepticism.
Four physicians are the target of an apparent SLAPP (Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation) lawsuit filed by Cancer Treatment Centers of America. The four were quoted in a June, 1992 Dallas Morning News article that was critical of the company. The suit accuses the four of malicious libel on the basis of the physicians' not having conducted first-hand investigations, site visits, and clinical record reviews before offering their comments. Inexplicably, the newspaper is not named in the action.
Vitamin C is the best-selling dietary supplement after multivitamin preparations, and many area residents are undoubtedly taking it this winter season in the belief that it will prevent colds. But thirty years of scientific research show that Vitamin C, whether taken in large amounts or small, does not prevent these troublesome viral infections. At most, and then only for some people, it may offer a slight reduction in the severity and duration of symptoms, measured in hours. Even then, the large daily gram doses recommended by some are of no more benefit than smaller amounts.
AND PRESIDENT CLINTON:
Although both the North Texas Skeptics and the DFW Council Against Health Fraud are nonpartisan organizations, there's cause for concern in President Clinton's public statements concerning regulation of the health food industry. Last October, Mr. Clinton referred in a letter to the "important role in preventive health" of dietary supplements "like vitamins, minerals, herbs and other nutritional substances," and stated that "the [Food and Drug Administration] must not be allowed to infringe" upon the promotion and use of these products.
Mr. Clinton also acknowledged the campaign support of Congressman Bill Richardson (D-New Mexico) and pledged to work closely with him and the "nutritional supplement community." Richardson was the House sponsor of the successful Hatch Bill that makes it virtually impossible for the FDA to regulate claims made for products deemed by their manufacturers to be "nutritional supplements."
This information is provided by the D/FW Council Against Health Fraud. For more information, or to report suspected health fraud, please contact the Council at Box 202577, Arlington, TX 76007, or call metro 214-263-8989. Dr. Gorski is a practicing physician, chairman of the D/FW Council Against Health Fraud and an NTS Technical Advisor.
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Not because of personal politics, and not even because of the stomach-churning, touchy-feely, self-congratulatory multiculturalism of the whole thing (Edward James Olmos: "My ancestors came from AFRICA! Thank you!...Moved to ASIA! Thank you!...Mingled with the MAYANS! Any MAYANS in the crowd?...THANK you!!...Any INCAS?"). No, what's got me sucking on the Industrial Strength Pepto-Bismol is the realization that the departure of the Republicans from the White House does NOT mean that religious zealots no longer have tremendous political power. All we've done is traded one set of holy Crusaders (the ones who support television ministries) for another (the ones who wear crystals and chant mantras to the Earth Goddess).
Any hopes that the coronation of two alleged techno-weenies might lead to a new respect for science and rationality in Washington were dashed quickly during the Inauguration. From the group of chanting New Agers who staged a mini-Harmonic Convergence to help jump-start the administration, to Maya Angelou's New-Agey "listen to the voice of the rock" poem (To hell with the rocks! Aren't there enough people in Washington already with rocks in their heads?), to the very idea of "Vice President Al Gore" (Al...read a REAL science book!), both the language and many of the participants more closely resembled a Shirley McLaine semimar than a presidential inauguration. The Dallas Morning News hit the nail on the head, perhaps unintentionally, when they ran the headline, "Clinton Ushers In New Age."
No wonder the event drew so many oatmeal-brained Hollywood actors, many of them no doubt clutching itineraries worked up by their personal psychics and astrologers. One of the more amusing sidelights had to be PETA's (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) "Vegetarian Inaugural Party" in honor of Socks the cat (cats being famous vegetarians). Waiters and bartenders at the party were nude, except for aprons reading, "I'd rather go naked than wear fur" (I'm sure some of them looked like they were wearing fur anyway...And what about Socks himself? He's wearing a fur coat! Kill him!).
Among the celebrities attending were animal rights activist Kim Basinger and her boy toy, Alec Baldwin. Baldwin told reporters he had become involved in animal rights when Basinger brought home some videos of animals being tortured, and they watched them together (by a romantic fire, perhaps?). He said Basinger had told him that a nation is only as strong as it treats its animals..."Gandhi said that, I think" (well, Gandhi, Kim Basinger, one of those deep philosophers). The reporter wrapped up the interview by asking Baldwin if his shoes were made of leather. And he said..."Yes."
Now don't get me wrong...I'm an animal lover myself. I am a great supporter of such groups as The Nature Conservancy, the World Wildlife Fund, and the Parrot Fund. And my wife is a vegetarian! But I just can't believe you're doing animals any favors by letting hypocritical nimrods such as Kim Basinger and Alec Baldwin speak for them. I have at least four parrots that make more intelligent conversation than those two do, and one of them can only say "hello!" But at least if you put a towel over his cage, he shuts up. Too bad that doesn't work with Kim and Alec.
Apparently, I wasn't the only one appalled by the mush flowing forth from D.C. Essayist Fran Liebowitz wrote a widely-quoted column for The New York Times in which she described her disgust in no uncertain terms, and coined a phrase that I predict will enter the language to stay: "The Religious Left." Just as the Religious Right has a full set of irrational beliefs that they want to impose on the rest of us, so does the Religious Left. These people may not gather in churches or share a belief in a single religious figure, but as Liebowitz noted, they are just as zealous as any snake-handler, and they DO believe in magic and miracles.
Want to end racism? Then let's all ring bells at the same time! Homelessness a problem? Join hands across America and everyone will magically have a home! People are starving in Ethiopia? Then let's all watch a concert on TV at the same time and feed them! Don't like the way history played out? Just rewrite the history books and change it! Wave those crystals! Chant those mantras! And all our problems are magically solved! Clap your hands if you believe in fairies...
The Religious Left. Now we can truly say that rational thought is under attack from both sides.
Oral Roberts has retired as president of Oral Roberts University in Tulsa and turned the job over to his son, Richard, whom he said "had the calling to become the second president." Notice how relatives never have the calling to become the janitor? Anyway, Oral will stay on in an advisory capacity, but now that he's 75, he decided that it was time to slow down. Apparently, he had a vision of a 900-foot Jesus playing golf.
Sorry, Monkey Trial fans, there will be no "Scopes III." A bubbling brouhaha that looked as if it might become another Scopes trial has been defused. The Vista, California, Unified School District was under pressure to teach creationism alongside evolution in science classes. But after a rowdy hearing on the subject (which drew hundreds of passionate participants from both sides), the board ruled that it was not worthwhile to challenge existing legal precedents, so science teachers will continue to teach evolution only. Kudos to the board members for refusing to let pressure groups make monkeys out of them.
The United Pentecostal Church this month will risk a major revolt and send letters to their 7,500 ministers, demanding that they swear to abide by a long-ignored "holiness code." The code requires ministers (and by extension, parishioners) to avoid activities "not conducive to good Christian living." These include "theaters, dances, mixed bathing, women cutting their hair, make-up, any apparel that immodestly exposes the body, all worldly sports and amusements, and unwholesome radio programs and music." Shades of the Ayatollah! Couldn't they start small...like maybe just try to get Jimmy Swaggart to give up hookers? Oh well, if it keeps people from watching Robert Tilton on TV, maybe it will help promote good Christian principles.
Entertainment Tonight would feature footage of the State Dinner welcoming the aliens - but only because River Phoenix was there, too...Politically correct people would attack anyone calling them "aliens" instead of "alternatively evolved"...And within a week, Oprah would have them on - yelling at each other!
So if you see your kid reading Mad Magazine instead of doing his homework...don't be too upset. In fact, buy him a subscription. It will probably do more to help him learn how to think logically than twelve years of public school.
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The CompuServe computer network is a gold mine for examining the interests, viewpoints and beliefs of thousands of people from around the world. I frequent several of CompuServe's "forums," areas organized by subject matter where users can exchange messages with others. Of the more than 300 CompuServe forums, some of the most alarming and entertaining material can be found on the New Age and Issues forums, where anything and everything concerning the offbeat is open for discussion.
As a tiny example, I reprint here just a single posting to the New Age forum headed with the simple title "Implant Revelation." Implants, you will recall, are the electronic modules purportedly installed in the skulls of alien abduction victims. Usually claimed to have been inserted via the nostrils or ears of abductees, no one has ever produced one of these little gadgets for examination, nor have any ever been discovered by surgery, CAT scan or X-ray. Regardless, abductee buffs are convinced that implants are part and parcel of the enormous abduction phenomenon, supposedly now to have claimed more than 3,000,000 Americans, according to one top-selling pro-UFO author.
Here is just one CompuServe user's slant on the subject of implants, reprinted verbatim from the service for your entertainment. If you can understand what this writer is saying, then the CompuServe New Age forum is the place for you!
WE ARE ASKING THEM TO HELP US
Probably not...we are too collectively asleep spiritually and too arrogant (I mean as a group ) to ask for help...you know how your friends stomp around complaining about the dismal state of their life...and it is obvious to everyone but them, what they should do...but they don't do it...this is similar except that the future of the universe needs to happen and it won't happen unless many people start awakening....likewise can you imagine praying to see the face of GOD and being faced with insect eyes? Does not compute!
The crystal in the head is the second crystal...it is not an individual soul crystal, it is a group soul crystal...so it is attempting to wake up many people, who have DARMA or an obligation as a group to do service of some kind in the world...service to improve the lot of spiritkind. Within this crystal is a connection to your individual crystal (the heart crystal [is] imbedded in the head crystal) ...which is why you are experiencing this on a VERY personal level...Both transformations are necessary...the changes that are being requested of you and the expectation of your service to the world...or your darma...[in other words], Karma (the soul crystal of your heart) and Darma (the soul crystal of your cosmic and real family of which you are a part). Through the work you will be doing on yourself...via the stimulation or cleaning/polishing/faceting of the crystal, you will clear your personal karma more rapidly and be able to get on with your darmic obligations.
As a crystal, it is a recorder of memory. It is your hard disk. It is your akashic record...as information...it is the belief systems that you work from whether consciously or unconsciously...thus as Karma (your individual memories) or as Darma ( the collective memories and beliefs of your ancestors and yourself)...it is a morphogenetic field that becomes solidified into habitual patterns (karma)...Isn't it nice that they are helping you clear the cobwebs of your mind....?
The only damage you can do to the crystal is to not do anything at all...it is all destiny to shine brightly as a diamond...it will happen...it is only a matter of time...
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