Pale And Wan, We Sink

The last brick in a long road?

PART 1: RECAP

Introduction

Then The Fun** Started

Motivation

Somebody has to say ‘this isn’t right’. Because everyone else is saying “It’s morning in America!”. Somebody’s gotta say “IT’S FUCKING MIDNIGHT, MAN!”

He is quite compelling.
  • some idea of integrity (custom more honoured in the breach etc. etc.)
  • the reputational loss to the school of said academic staying or going
  • the loss of grant money/awards/other funds
  • the hole created by removing a dean/lab head/committee XYZ member
  • the legal basis they have on which to act (you can’t just hoof out a tenured faculty member if they pocket a box of paperclips, you need to have cause),
  • the litigious/difficult nature of the faculty (and BOY does this vary), and
  • the demands of employees/staff/funders etc. with regards to the issues in question.
  • What’s not been discussed so far is the role of the government and in particular the USDA, from whom Prof. Wansink received a great deal of money and support. Governmental organisations that fund research (DARPA, NASA, DHHS, USDA, et al.) have different funding structures, different record-keeping requirements and different oversight measures to grant bodies. In my limited experience, these are all more stringent than grant agencies. They also do NOT tolerate people sodding about with their money. So far, we haven’t heard a single muttered word from the USDA. However, (A) I sincerely doubt they’re ignoring this issue and (B) they’re generally even slower than university administration. Perhaps there are further steps yet to happen.
  • The resignation of a named chair with a massive public profile subsequent to a misconduct investigation is a big step. Without knowledge of what conversations took place — we’ll never know how much this step was ‘encouraged’ — it’s hard to say what message was delivered. I wonder if the phrase ‘jump or be pushed’ was mentioned.
  • While Cornell has obviously conducted a serious process here and reached a conclusion of misconduct, they’re hardly blameless. Certainly they have had no contact with any of us whatsoever, and we are not mentioned at any point in any official document. They also conducted an initial investigation which concluded that everything was just fine, thank you very much (although it undoubtedly examined different issues to its subsequent longer brother).
  • The above media releases mention, in part, a 160 page investigative report which has been written and not released. Instead, we got a rather anaemic summary statement which only partially overlaps with issues we discovered. There is a certain irony to an secret investigation which finds a variety of problems that could have been solved by a lot more transparency. Perhaps we will yet see this document. GOD, I want to see it.
  • The forcing function here was the JAMA journal group. Their own internal investigation, which resulted in six expressions of concern followed by six retracted papers, landed like a comet about three weeks back. JAMA obviously took this problem seriously and acted, with no external prompting. Seems like they were aggressively proactive. This doesn’t happen often.
  • And, the thing I really want to talk about…

PART TWO: STRATEGY

  1. How I’m wired (less important). Finding errors is interesting to me at some level, as much as it’s often incredibly boring to do. I have six to ten puzzle games on my phone at any given point in time. I do crosswords with my wife. I will ruin you at Scrabble.
  2. What I believe (important). The best way for science to be seen as trustworthy is to be trustworthy. You might have noticed we have a minor image problem. This includes never being seen to clean house when problems in the academic process occur, and the lack of reckoning with the consequences of doing so. I honestly think this is an issue you can get in front — you hang out a big shingle under a bright light, and you say WE’RE GOING TO FIX THIS, AND THERE WILL BE CONSEQUENCES. This work is central to science staying at the center of public understanding as an enterprise which improves.

    This is why I loathe the jeremiads about science is self-correcting, forced between smug lips, from someone who never corrected a single question mark. I’ve heard a hundred whispers of cynical, ruinous scientific processes which go into a global enterprise that runs a very real risk of undermining itself. We love talking about trust in the publication process, trust between scientists. Well, the trust of everyone else and the people who run the country is more important.
  3. How I plan (most important).

OXYGEN

*putt* *splutter* *crunch* *mechanic*

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I write about science. We can probably be friends.

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