Дмитрий К.Юрьев

Nature Editors Conceal Fraud

Apparently, most editors of sci. journals publicly agree that to some extent they are responsible for publishing fraudulent papers (as well as erroneous, plagiarized etc.). So did Nature's editor P.Campbell, declaring in a recent big "briefing on science and fraud" that:

"Nature's policy is to publish whatever information it can about published papers that have proved suspect or false. Although after due consultations" (Nature, 398:15, 1999).

Yet, of course, officials may lie and actual behaviour of editorial boards may significantly differ from announced principles. Here are the instructions I received from Nature editorial office in response to my finding proving that some paper published in this journal is at least "suspect"

I suggest that you write to the authors themselves and to their institution and/or funding source (as detailed in their paper) so that the matter can be looked into. If it does emerge after investigation by the funding body or institution that the authors published fraudulent data, the authors will be asked to withdraw the relevant papers. In this event they will inform us and we will print a correction.

That is, I had to bring from the authors of fraudulent publication their permission to publish my findings!!!???

Surely, my case is not unique; take look, for example, at relevant chapter of  a book "A Habit of Lie" by John Hewitt discussing real world editorial practices from more philosophic point of view.

So, in more details, in 1996 I have published in Internet an article proposing (among other things) a funny "indicator" of sci. fraud - physically impossible appearance of certain type of graphical data presentation which seems impossible to explain otherwise than by "absent-minded" data fabrication. (That my finding is shortly explained at the picture below.)

In 1997 I have found an instance of such graph in article by J.W.Nice & W.J.Metzger, Nature 385:721, 20Feb 97 and sent a "whistle blow" (appended below) to its editorial office. At first, there was no response at all, even after an additional query. Only after I have sent appropriate information to the sci.fraud maillist, editors vouchsafed me fruitful advice to send my information to anybody else. (Perhaps, it was meant by Mr. Campbell statement that performing "due consultations" is exclusively whistle blowers' burden?) Then it was said that my accusations are "too serious" whereas I have presented no "compelling evidences". And finally Nature published an elegant confession by the authors that something "was misdrawn" in their paper without mentioning my submission at all. (further correspondence appended below).

I think, it is a quite appropriate behaviour for editorial board of scientific tabloid. Russian proverb ruling it is that "the crow would not peck at the other crow's eye" (I will look for english equivalent, help would be greatly appreciated). Actually, it is also difficult to blame Mr. Campbell for his lie and to pretend that he should call a spade a spade and openly admit this policy.

Surely, lying is not criminal. Yet another interpretation seems more promising:
The fact that picture in article by J.W.Nice and W.J.Metzger is not based on real data is my scientific finding. Publication of "correction" in Nature 27 November 1997 (vol 390, page 424) also saying that it is not based on real data without mentioning my authorship of this finding is theft and it is criminal (I hope).


March 7, 1997
Sir - Recent publication in your journal (J.W.Nice & W.J.Metzger, Nature 385:721, 20Feb 97) presents on Figures 2 and 3 data from four experiments each drawn on linear coordinate plane and on Scatchard plane. Easy to see on Fig.3 that Bound concentrations on linear coordinate planes (Y-axis) do not coincide with Bound concentrations on Scatchard plot (X-axis).

Moreover, none of Scatchard plots on Figs.2,3 can not be based on any real data. It is a peculiar property of Scatchard plot that both X- and Y- coordinates on this plot are linear functions of measured signal (Bound); so pairs of datapoints obtained at the same concentration of added ligand in two experiments should lie approximately on the line drawn through the start of coordinates. Obviously, these pairs in Fig 2 and 3 lie precisely one under another - it is a rather typical error in fabricating Scatchard plots.

Perhaps, my paper 'Absurd Trivial Errors in Scatchard Plot Analysis' may be of use for your 'peer reviewers'. I think it is shameful for such pretentious journal like yours to publish works committing any of those errors. 


Additional graphical illustration (this is NOT the original figure discussed in my letter to Nature above, just an explanatory illustration):

The left panel presents a typical scenario of binding experiment: signals Y are measured in two experiments over the same set of X values. It results in pairs of points with the same X-s and two diferent Y-s lying one under another on this coordinate plane.

Two other panels are Scatchard plots: the plot Y vs. X is redrawn on an extremely awkward coordinate plane Y/X vs. Y

Central plane shows correct appearance of Scatchard transformation of data on the left panel. Both horizontal (Y) and vertical (Y/X) coordinates on this plot are linear functions of measured signal Y. So, now these pairs lie on the lines drawn through the start of coordinates.

Right panel presents fabricated Scatchard plot: pairs of datapoints can not lie precisely one under another on this coordinate plane.

Obviously, if you try to fabricate Scatchard plot, you would not first fabricate the picture at the left and then carefully transform it to a trustworthy picture at the centre. Almost certainly you would immediately fabricate the Scatchard plot. Then, most likely, you would draw a picture like that on the right panel which perfectly fits the common notion of a usual "nice looking curve". This type of folly is rather widespread; I've even made an attempt to develop some statistics for quantitative measuring sci. fraud on that base (see Statistics of Sci.Fraud). Dear Dr Yuryev,

Thank you for your letter of 7 March. We suggest that you point out to the authors of the paper that you believe there is an error in their Scatchard plots. They can then send us a correction, if appropriate.

Yours sincerely,

Dr Maxine Clarke Executive Editor


Not so;

I do NOT "believe there is an error in their Scatchard plots"

I see a peculiarity in their Scatchard plots which proves that these are fabricated plots. The error was in the process of fabricating. In this regard, what sort of correction you expect from the authors? Correct fabrication?

Stop kidding. I see your slightly belated response as intentional misinterpretation of my submission.

Sincerely, Dmitriy K. Yuryev



13 Oct., 97
Just a reminder. I have informed you (on March, 7th) about presence of falsified data in an article: J.W.Nice & W.J.Metzger,Nature 385:721, 20Feb 97.

Please, confirm whether you have disregarded my message. Previous corresondence appended.

Thank you in advance
Dmitriy K.Yuryev


14 Oct., 97
Dear Dr Yuryev

Thank you for your message. We did not realise you were expecting a reply. If you think that the data reported in this paper were fraudulent, I suggest that you write to the authors themselves and to their institution and/or funding source (as detailed in their paper) so that the matter can be looked into. If it does emerge after investigation by the funding body or institution that the authors published fraudulent data, the authors will be asked to withdraw the relevant papers. In this event they will inform us and we will print a correction.

But fraud is a very serious accusation to make, and one that should not be made without compelling evidence. You certainly do not provide any such evidence or give us any reason to believe that the authors of the paper in question reported fraudulent data based on what you have told us. The case rather seems to be that you and the authors have a difference of opinion about the way in which the Scatchard plots were derived, which is a completely different matter from fraud, and is a matter which you and the authors should be able to resolve directly, as we've already advised.

Technical disagreements and fraud are not the same. An accusation of fraud should not be made irresponsibly, and it seems to us that a more constructive and professional initial course for you to take would be for you to discuss the Scatchard plots with the Nature authors, rather than dismissing this course out of hand.

Yours sincerely
Maxine Clarke
Executive Editor


21 Oct, 97

Dear Dr. Clarke,

You wrote:

> We did not realise you were expecting a reply ...

Apparently, your tabloid still pretends to be a scientific journal; You should know that a usual practice of dealing with submissions to such journals is that you may either to publish it or to send a motivated rejection note. Delivering fruitful advices and meaningless reinterpretations of submitted materials is just wasting time.

> But fraud is a very serious accusation to make, and one that
> should not be made without compelling evidence. You certainly
> do not provide any such evidence

As I wrote you before "I see a peculiarity in their Scatchard plots which proves that these are fabricated plots". Your statement obviously means that you have decided that this pecularity does not prove it. It is a serious accusation, but, unfortunately, I don't see any trace of explanations why you think so. Therefore, you have made an absolutely empty claim quite sufficient to decide that your present reply is just a "unmotivated rejection".

Sincerely, Dmitriy K.Yuryev


8 Dec., 97

Dear Dr Yuryev,

Some time ago you wrote to us about a paper by Nyce and Metzger published in Nature earlier this year. This note is just to let you know that we printed a correction of some errors in this paper on 27 November 1997 (vol 390, page 424).

Yours sincerely
Maxine Clarke
Executive Editor


19 Jan. 98

I have read your note. The only sentence about Scatchard plots was:

>>"... Scatchard plots of saturation curves were misdrawn"

Unfortunately, I failed to understand whether this abstract confession confirmes or refutes my "too serious accusations". Therefore, in my opinion, this note is not relevant to the content of my submission.

Sincerely, Dmitriy K.Yuryev



16 June 2000

Dear Mr. Charkin, Dear Mr. Holtzbrinck,

In 1997 I have submitted to Nature editorial office a note reporting some fault in an an article published earlier in this journal.

My note was rejected, yet on 27 November 1997 (vol 390, page 424) Nature published a "correction" of this fault by its authors which did not mention my submission at all.

I was recently adviced to think about legal prosecuting Nature journal as this case seems to be a violation of my authorship rights. Please, inform me if you are interested in some other settlement.

My correspondence with Nature editorial office on this case may be found at:
http://www.orc.ru/~yur77/natur.htm

--
Yours sincerely, Dmitriy K. Yuryev


5 Sep 2000

Dear Dr Yuryev

Thank you for your letter to Mr von Holzbrink and Mr Charkin, which they referred to the Editor of Nature, who has looked into this matter with our editorial manager. They have asked me to write to you in response to your letter.

Although we underdstand your natural disappointment that we were unable to publish your letter criticising the paper in question, we do not see that there is any way we can continue to consider your comment for publication, for the reasons we explained to you at the time. The authors' correction was made at the initiative of the authors themselves and not because of your or any other criticism we received immediately after publication. So far as our readers are concerned, they were made aware promptly of errors in a Nature publication, and  anyone interested in knowing more could and still can contact the authors directly. We did not, and do not, feel on editorial grounds that further comments on the errors were or are necessary. We are not aware of the legal concept of "authorship rights" in the context of our declining to publish your comment on the paper on editorial grounds.

As your comments on the Nature paper are now available publicly via the Internet, we cannot in any event consider it for publication: our guide to authors on our website explains that we do not consider for publication material that has been already published. (And, I should point out, that correspondence between Nature and potential authors is a confidential matter between us and them, and not for public display).

Thank you again for writing to us. Please note this letter is intended for you personally and not for public dissemination.

Yours sincerely
Maxine Clarke