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Blind Alley

Paul Alper points in a comment to an excellent news article by James Glanz and Agustin Armendariz:

Dr. Carlo Croce is among the most prolific scientists in an emerging area of cancer research . . . a member of the National Academy of Sciences, Dr. Croce has parlayed his decades-long pursuit of cancer remedies into a research empire: He has received more than $86 million in federal grants . . .

Over the last several years, Dr. Croce has been fending off a tide of allegations of data falsification and other scientific misconduct, according to federal and state records, whistle-blower complaints and correspondence with scientific journals obtained by The New York Times.

In 2013, an anonymous critic contacted Ohio State and the federal authorities with allegations of falsified data in more than 30 of Dr. Croce’s papers. Since 2014, another critic, David A. Sanders, a virologist who teaches at Purdue University, has made claims of falsified data and plagiarism directly to scientific journals where more than 20 of Dr. Croce’s papers have been published. . . .

From just a handful of notices before 2013 — known as corrections, retractions and editors’ notices — the number has ballooned to at least 20, with at least three more on the way, according to journal editors. Many of the notices involve the improper manipulation of a humble but universal lab technique called western blotting, which measures gene function in a cell and often indicates whether an experiment has succeeded or failed.

Hey—this sounds pretty bad!

Despite the lashing criticisms of his work, Dr. Croce has never been penalized for misconduct, either by federal oversight agencies or by Ohio State, which has cleared him in at least five cases involving his work or the grant money he receives. . . . Now, in the wake of those and other questions from The Times, the university has decided to take a new look to determine whether it handled those cases properly. . . . Whatever the outcome of that review, Mr. Davey said, decisions on research misconduct at Ohio State were based solely on “the facts and the merits of each individual case,” not a researcher’s grant money. Any other suggestion would be “false and offensive,” he said, adding that the university has “spent significantly more to support his research program than he has brought in from outside sources.”

Sunk cost fallacy, anyone?

But let’s hear Croce’s side of the story:

During an interview in October, and in a later statement, Dr. Croce, 72, denied any wrongdoing . . . “It is true that errors sometimes occur in the preparation of figures for publication,” Dr. Croce said in the statement, issued through the Columbus law firm Kegler Brown Hill & Ritter. Any mistakes with figures were “honest errors,” he said, adding that he did not condone plagiarism but that he must rely on co-authors to provide proper attribution.

Also this juicy bit:

Dr. Croce, who has a medical degree but no Ph.D., showed his own willingness to buck scientific consensus when he became an adviser to the Council for Tobacco Research. A federal court later found that the council was central to a conspiracy to deceive the public on the dangers of smoking. Dr. Croce stayed on until the council was disbanded in the industry’s more than $100 billion settlement with tobacco plaintiffs in 1998.

Wow, this guy touches all the bases: National Academy of Sciences, plagiarism, fake data, cigarette funding, . . . I haven’t looked at any of the guy’s papers but I can only assume that, even in the legitimate work, the conclusions based on p-values obtained via the garden of forking paths and that all his estimates are exaggerated. Just throw in some evolutionary psychology, a collaboration with Dr. Anil Potti, and statistical consulting by Weggy, and we’ve pretty much got it all.

P.S. Check out that New York Times article. What are the chances of finding an article whose two authors both have names ending in z? (1/26)^2, that’s p less than 0.001. Highly statistically significant. Someone send this to Susan Fiske so it can be published in PPNAS!

3 Comments

  1. zbicyclist says:

    “the university has “spent significantly more to support his research program than he has brought in from outside sources.””

    Sounds to me like Hollywood accounting [if you have a share of the profits, there never are any profits]. But I will yield to those more familiar with this process.

  2. paul alper says:

    The mysterious Clare Francis is mentioned several times in the NYT article; Francis is of unknown gender and from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clare_Francis_(science_critic) Francis, similar to the legendary Nicolas Bourbaki, may be more than one person:

    “Clare Francis is a pseudonym used since 2010 for hundreds of whistle-blowing emails sent to the editors of scientific journals that call attention to suspected cases of plagiarism and fabricated or duplicated figures.”

    I did not find any references to Clare Francis in previous postings of this blog and wonder why.

  3. Cliff AB says:

    Wait, finding a SINGLE author who has a name ending in ‘z’ has a p-value of 0.03846154!

    So you just need one ‘z’ and that’s publishable.

    Very surprisingly, this also applies to ‘a’, ‘b’, ‘c’,…

    The enormous power of statistics is counter-intuitive sometimes!

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