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Re: <nettime> Netizens expose scientific fraud in South Korea [2x]
nettime's message splicer on Tue, 3 Jan 2006 13:26:54 +0100 (CET)


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Re: <nettime> Netizens expose scientific fraud in South Korea [2x]


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   Re: <nettime> Netizens expose scientific fraud in South Korea [2x]              
     "Joanne Mule" <mulperf {AT} hotmail.com>                                             

   Re: <nettime> Netizens expose scientific fraud in South Korea [2x]              
     John Hopkins <jhopkins {AT} neoscenes.net>                                           



------------------------------

Date: Mon, 02 Jan 2006 16:04:12 -0500
From: "Joanne Mule" <mulperf {AT} hotmail.com>
Subject: Re: <nettime> Netizens expose scientific fraud in South Korea [2x]

Ronda,

I see your point.  Online, people have time to write and get more specific 
detail on a subject and put much more thought into it.  I have been able to 
get more details online about a particular event than I could have gotten 
out of the newspaper or on t.v.  In addition, one is able to access 
worldwide sources from one location where previously we could not.  It is 
quite incredible.  Thanks for your insight.


>From: nettime's message splicer  <nettime-l {AT} bbs.thing.net>
>Reply-To: nettime's message splicer  <nettime-l {AT} bbs.thing.net>
>To: nettime-l {AT} bbs.thing.net
>Subject: Re: <nettime> Netizens expose scientific fraud in South Korea [2x]
>Date: Mon, 02 Jan 2006 10:48:22 -0500

------------------------------

Date: Mon, 2 Jan 2006 19:09:59 -0700
From: John Hopkins <jhopkins {AT} neoscenes.net>
Subject: Re: <nettime> Netizens expose scientific fraud in South Korea [2x]

>To the contrary. Without netizens at the scientific web sites being
>able to post their critique of the fraudulent papers they would not
>have been able to expose the fraud.

Romantic as this might seem, I have seen no evidence that the chatter 
on blog sites in any way changed or revolutionized what is a 
relatively routine process of peer-review.  In all the comments below 
- -- keep in mind there is a HUGE difference between the process of 
journalistic reporting on a scandal, and the process of peer-review.

As a regular reader of Science journal, the retraction of a paper, 
while unfortunate, is not a ground-breaking occurrence.  It happens 
on a regular basis.  Science (the journal) has given the Korea issue 
good critical coverage from the beginning.  Sure, nobody likes a 
retraction,  but the mechanism is not controlled by Science.  The 
editorial staff of course looks carefully at the issues, but it is 
the peer-review process that is ultimately the arbiter -- and that 
process is not controlled by anything but the international community 
of scientists doing research relevant to the paper in question.

The weakness in the original article (published in February 2005) was 
already under heavy scrutiny before publication, and began to unravel 
publicly when the journal Nature published a heavy attack on ethical 
grounds in early May 2005.

While prestige is as common in science as in any social endeavor, in 
general, the scientific community does exhibit a degree of 
self-censorship that is probably unique among transnational social 
systems.

((Imagine if the art world had peer-reviewed curation?))

Yes, sure, there is the opposite issue of the lone scientist bucking 
the trend, hated and made fun of by colleagues for outlandish notions 
- -- scientific disciplines can be myopic -- until experimental data 
proves him right.  So the monolithic structures can fall to the 
revolutionary notions of the loner.  Very romantic.  Don Quixote.

No doubt, in this age, science is a religion, and its tenets are 
often held to irrationally (especially by the public who often has 
little or no clue about what is actually going on).  A good example 
is the incredibly slow adoption of the consequences of a Quantum 
Physical view of the world versus a 300-year-old Newtonian view by 
the general public.  Holding on to ideas as static objects is a 
hopeless but generally popular way to live.

And though any scientist would admit that the pressures to produce 
(for funding purposes mainly) does take its toll in the form of 
sloppy experimentation and data-taking, peer-review is a powerful 
leveling mechanism.  It  is rarely a back-slapping-nod-and-a-wink 
kind of process --  for several reasons -- 1) ones peers may be 
directly competing with you for funding, so proving an other's 
research to be faulty is a big plus; 2) by supporting faulty research 
in the peer review process, one becomes culpable immediately if the 
research is shown by others to be faulty -- possibly a serious career 
blow; 3) scientific research generally likes to be on solid ground 
for further advances -- an experiment that is not repeatable in 
several labs comes under tremendous scrutiny for the simple reason 
that on one wants to follow a dead-end research path built on a 
faulty premise.

Big science, like any other high-rolling social enterprise is not for 
those unwilling to become the focal point for intense scrutiny.  The 
scientific community surfaces many scandals often related to money, 
but usually the scandal surfaces first in falsified data, not in 
straight-forward theft of funds.  If the scientist or lab is big 
enough, then the public becomes aware of the fact -- especially if 
the research funding is from the state.  The fact that this latest 
scandal made the blogosphere at all relates to 1) the wide-reaching 
power of the pharmo-genetic industry in this era; 2) consequently the 
large sums of money/power involved in genetic research; 3) the 
intensity of the competition for those funds; and 4) the passing 
interest in the wider population in titillating research into cloning 
and other more onerous forms of eugenic research.

Genetics is the next-big-thing (as many pundits have already noticed) 
in terms of a global industrial gold-rush -- why else is there 
intense national competition to attract the top researchers; why else 
did California (the world's 6th largest economy) skip the right-wing 
rhetoric about stem-cell research and start its own R&D initiative; 
why was Bush ultimately shut-up on the stem-cell issue -- because 
there's so damn much money at stake.

>A TV program tried to expose some of it but was accused of not being
>able to challenge a paper that had been accepted by the journal Science.
>
>But scientists at scientific online web sites could explain the problems
>in the papers, and also have this information spread to others online.
>
>This was a key ingredient in the exposure coming to light.

Scientists have used networks both analog and digital for years 
(decades, centuries) to argue and discuss.  This is not a 
contemporary 'netizen' phenomena...

>The South Korean government, a tv program and others in the power
>structure were backing the scientists and to get this fraud unearthed
>meant going against the power structure.

Those structures had absolutely no power over the peer-review process 
of the journal Science.  The only power was in the momentary desire 
by peer scientists that the research was indeed viable -- they wanted 
it to be true, because of the spectacular consequences in the hot 
research field, but once the small mistakes (in graphics) were 
pointed out, the entire paper came under intense scrutiny by anybody 
involved in that branch of research.  Public pressure was not a 
factor in the 'outing.'

>Not an easy undertaking in any society. And with the prestige of a
>scientific journal behind the scientist whose work was fraudulent,
>this made it even more difficult.

While I understand your belief in this position, I think you do not 
have a clear understanding of the relation scientific funding, 
publication, and peer-review.

>This is where we disagree.
>
>I do not think it would have been possible to have been able to
>demonstrate the nature of the fraud of the articles published in
>'Science" and then to have spread this knowledge sufficiently so that
>the powers that be would have to acknoweldge the problem.

It is absolutely possible, and it happens all the time -- it's only 
that a wider audience became aware of the mechanism...

Cheers
John

PS -- it will be interesting to see if, with the intense interest in 
the procedure thought to be discovered by  Woo Suk Hwang and  Shin 
Yong Moon -- that new research arises (and possibly vindicates 
them!).  They were caught by procedural (and ethical) issues, not on 
the (possible) viability of their original ideas...  Hwang is no 
slouch.



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