What Happened to Gerald Schatten?

Gerald Schatten of the University of Pittsburgh was one of two corresponding authors (Hwang was the other) of Hwang et al 2005 (Science). As most CA readers know, the Hwang cloning results were fabricated – conduct that, in any field other than climate science, is regarded as more serious than copying boilerplate. For CA posts on this see here.

What happened to Schatten?

A university investigation found that Schatten was not a party to the fabrication of data and was unaware of it. The investigation reported that “Schatten’s only contribution as co-author was to suggest that a professional photographer take the dog’s picture”, that Schatten received over $40,000 from Hwang, including $10,000 in cash while attending a press conference after the 2005 paper was published and that Schatten nominated Hwang for foreign membership in the United States National Academy of Sciences and with others for a Nobel Prize.

None of this was held by the investigation to rise to “research misconduct”, finding Schatten had only committed the lesser and otherwise unknown “research misbehaviour”. See e.g. here here here

Schatten’s webpage shows that he continued to publish and continues to hold the prestigious positions of Director, Pittsburgh Development Center; Deputy Director, Magee-Womens Research Institute; Professor & Vice Chair of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences, and Cell Biology and Physiology, University of Pittsburgh; and Director of the Division of Developmental and Regenerative Medicine, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

Even though he was a corresponding author, Schatten was not found guilty of misconduct on the fabrication of data because he was unaware of the fabrication and none of the other seemingly questionable actions seem to have offended the university sufficiently to take public discipline.

The underlying events in Schatten’s case were about as serious as it gets in science. In contrast, the Wegman case involves copying of boilerplate text, something that,according to Office of Research Integrity policies , it takes a limited interest in:

“ORI generally does not pursue the limited use of identical or nearly identical phrases which describe a commonly-used methodology or previous research because ORI does not consider such use as substantially misleading to the reader or of great significance.”

Like Schatten, Wegman was unaware that one of his graduate students, as a coauthor of Said et al 2008, had copied boilerplate text into section 1. Despite the much lesser nature of the underlying offence both under ORI policies and common sense, George Mason, apparently responding to pressure from the climate activists, has spent far more time investigating Wegman than the University of Pittsburgh seems to have spent investigating Schatten.

The academic community, or at least climate academics, seems far more aroused by copying boilerplate than withholding adverse results – the precise opposite of the relative importance assigned to these offences by professionals. I wrote about the failure of academics take withholding adverse results as seriously as they should in a 2005 CA post (long before the present controversy) as follows:

It’s hard to find much discussion of case studies involving omission of data by scientists, as opposed to cases involving plagiarism or making up data. This, in itself, is interestingly different from business situations, where omission of information is usually the issue and deserves an explanation. To someone with a business background, the apparent preoccupation of academics with plagiarism, relative to full disclosure, appears rather precious. To some extent, the battles are about vanity and personal “property” interests, rather than about protection of the public.

In that post, I commented that the problem of withholding adverse data (e.g. adverse MBH98 verification statistics) occasioned zero interest among academics, although non-academics took it very seriously. The same issues arose with Hide-the-Decline, something that professionals were appalled by, but, by and large, didn’t bother academics. Pielke Jr explained that “fudging” to make a point is viewed by many academics as acceptable practice.

So what happened to Gerald Schatten? Despite the seriousness of the Hwang affair, between nothing and negligible. And it was over quickly. In contrast, despite the relative triviality of copying boilerplate without proper attribution and the fact that it was done by a junior coauthor/contributor, the Wegman inquiry has been going on for months and climate activists want blood – not from Walid Sharabati or Denise Reeves, but from Wegman.

34 Comments

  1. Robert Austin
    Posted May 31, 2011 at 10:45 PM | Permalink

    Yes, they think if they kill the messenger, they kill the message.

  2. mpaul
    Posted May 31, 2011 at 10:46 PM | Permalink

    Ironical, Wegman’s social analysis explains much of why the academic community reacts to pressure from people who are considered allies in other respects, but not to pressure from sources that are eternal to their extended peer group. While this behavior is universal in humans, it is particularly acute in the insular world of academia. Simply put, the power of social pressure decreases with the number of network hops required to deliver the pressure. Also see: BIRDS OF A FEATHER: Homophily in Social Networks; Annu. Rev. Sociol. 2001.27:415-444.

    http://aris.ss.uci.edu/~lin/52.pdf

  3. AntonyIndia
    Posted May 31, 2011 at 10:59 PM | Permalink

    Managing to publish in Nature or Science is a good career move, full apart from any scientific value. (Big) money can get involved: more reason that policies on archiving and due diligence improve, if better Science is the main objective. Otherwise, leave it as it is and let ego (power and money) dominate.

  4. Wolfgang Flamme
    Posted Jun 1, 2011 at 2:56 AM | Permalink

    Obviously the combination of intimidation and fairness holds the principle of justice and prosecution whereas the combination of intimidation and unfairness holds the princeple of intimidation.

    • Luis Dias
      Posted Jun 1, 2011 at 5:18 AM | Permalink

      That doesn’t make any sense at all

    • w.w. wygart
      Posted Jun 1, 2011 at 11:19 AM | Permalink

      Wolfgang I see the germ of your idea, maybe you could clarify.

      • Wolfgang Flamme
        Posted Jun 3, 2011 at 9:47 AM | Permalink

        Intimidation works by estabishing double standards and letting everyone know about it.

  5. bobdenton
    Posted Jun 1, 2011 at 4:37 AM | Permalink

    Schatten got lucky, very lucky, apparently. He wasn’t responsible for the fabrication of data and didn’t know it’d been fabricated. He, as co-author of a fraudulent paper, was held neither to blame nor in any way responsible.

    He stands in the same position as one co-author of the WR, David Scott of Rice University, who has been cleared of all blame any misconduct because he was not responsible for preparing the parts of the paper that were plagiarised. Schatten was not rponsible for preparing the data, that part of his paper which was fraudulent.

    Wegman (or Said) may acccept responsibility, at some level, for preparing the part of the report which was plagiarised, but there may be a distinction between accepting responsibility and accepting blame.

    Government ministers accept formal responsibilty for any misconduct by their departments and are accounable for it to parliament, even if they had no knowledge of it and were personally blameless. They accept responsibility without blame and are formally accountable for the misconduct.

    It seems to me co-authors may find themselves in a similar position, responsible but blameless, and Wegman may be one such.

  6. Latimer Alder
    Posted Jun 1, 2011 at 4:55 AM | Permalink

    Is it just climatology, or are all fields of academe tainted with double standards, hypocrisy and sleaze?

    If the guy didn’t even understand the work that had his name on it, how come he was a co-author?

    • Craig Loehle
      Posted Jun 1, 2011 at 8:28 AM | Permalink

      One can “understand” the work, but there is no way to know that lab data was made up short of following the coauthor around all day while he does experiments.

  7. golf charley
    Posted Jun 1, 2011 at 7:04 AM | Permalink

    Perhaps “Schatten” should become a verb, meaning to take credit, including finacial gain, for someone else’s work, and to avoid all blame and consequences when it turns out to be rubbish.

    Much like many politicians really

    • Posted Jun 1, 2011 at 9:56 AM | Permalink

      Like the “Schat hitting the fan”. Darn, I think Shatner’s already got that one.

  8. Posted Jun 1, 2011 at 7:55 AM | Permalink

    This post has a “hey look over there” feel about it. But Wegman withheld data too – the 9900 simulation results (out of 10000) that didn’t show a good enough hockeystick index in Figs 4.1 and 4.4.

    And even if Wegman can successfully transfer blame for the plagiarism to his students, it’s still the case that he trained and supervised them. And he was the author in charge.

    Steve: from limited information available, Sharabati appears to be Afghan. I presume that his “training” prior to PhD did not take place under Wegman. It appears that Wegman assumed that PhD students would know from earlier training that academic protocols require that they paraphrase and attribute standard boilerplate – an unwise assumption obviously.

    • Posted Jun 1, 2011 at 9:43 AM | Permalink

      Steve,
      There’s little indication that he was much involved in the Wegman Report, which is where most of the problems originated – indeed, most of the relevant text in said et al is a subset of text there.

      But I think you’re oversimplifying in saying it was just SNA boilerplate. The problems are widespread. I encountered an example (including Wiki) in Sec 2.2, eg on fractional brownian processes.

    • Posted Jun 1, 2011 at 10:29 AM | Permalink

      Re: Nick Stokes (Jun 1 07:55), I’m not so sure of that nick. I think what we are trying to do is establish what is fair in situations like this, by looking at other example. Establishing principles. Of course you will always argue that there is some difference somewhere. If Professor Alley in his congressional testimoney did exactly what Wegman did (or didnt do) you’d argue that the cases were different because the men had different names.

      Here’s an opportunity to clear something up. You claim that Wegman Trained Sharabati.

      Do you hold by that claim?

    • oneuniverse
      Posted Jun 1, 2011 at 12:27 PM | Permalink

      Nick Stokes: “But Wegman withheld data too – the 9900 simulation results (out of 10000) that didn’t show a good enough hockeystick index in Figs 4.1 and 4.4.”

      Nick, the selection method should have been specified, granted. Yet it’s unconvcing to claim that the report is misleading the reader, since figure 4.2 summarises for all 10000 simulations. The bias of the MBH algorithm is vivdly demonstrated, far more than any plots of individual simulations.

      Fig. 4.3, which compares PC1’s from MBH’s input data, when fed through the MBH algorithm, and through the standard centered algorithm, is also a devastating pictorial critique of MBH. There’s no subset of data involved there either.

      • pete
        Posted Jun 1, 2011 at 7:09 PM | Permalink

        So cherry-picking for Figures 4.1 and 4.4 is okay because there are other figures without cherry-picking? (Ignoring, for the moment, that only looking at the PC1 is another kind of cherry-pick).

    • Posted Jun 1, 2011 at 4:00 PM | Permalink

      Re: Nick Stokes (Jun 1 07:55), Nick:

      “But Wegman withheld data too – the 9900 simulation results (out of 10000) that didn’t show a good enough hockeystick index in Figs 4.1 and 4.4.”

      I think you are forgetting that they (McIntyre or Wegman) only had to show one result that contra-indicated the conjecture/hypothesis/theory.

      They did that. Now what?

    • pete
      Posted Jun 1, 2011 at 7:04 PM | Permalink

      But Wegman withheld data too – the 9900 simulation results (out of 10000) that didn’t show a good enough hockeystick index in Figs 4.1 and 4.4.

      This is probably a little unfair to Wegman. Wegman’s error was to use code which he didn’t understand. The cherry-picking is Steve’s, although Wegman has to take responsibility for using that in testimony to Congress.

  9. Ed_B
    Posted Jun 1, 2011 at 8:14 AM | Permalink

    Nick Stokes

    “This post has a “hey look over there” feel about it. But Wegman withheld data too – the 9900 simulation results (out of 10000) that didn’t show a good enough hockeystick index in Figs 4.1 and 4.4.”

    Huh?? That comment makes no sense. All 9900 data sets you say were withheld in fact were regressed to made the hockey stick. It was a duplicate of the Mannian process.

    • Posted Jun 1, 2011 at 8:28 AM | Permalink

      Re: Ed_B (Jun 1 08:14),
      No, these were not proxy data sets. These were runs used to show the effect of putting red noise through the Mannian process. 10000 were done, and the results sorted accordinbg to a “hockey-stick index” – how much do they rise at the end. The top 100 were selected, and the plots shown in those figs were taken from that sample, to show that the Mannian process generated hockey sticks. This selection process was not mentioned in the report.

  10. JohnH
    Posted Jun 1, 2011 at 8:49 AM | Permalink

    After Climategate Jones said he was going to make a correction or pull the paper, after the application of several layers of Whitewash he has decided it stays as is and can continue to be cited. Seems he now knows he has powerful friends and can do no wrong.

  11. kuhnkat
    Posted Jun 1, 2011 at 10:31 AM | Permalink

    So Nick,

    why don’t you present the results of the rest of the runs so we can see how extreme not presenting them was.

    • glacierman
      Posted Jun 1, 2011 at 10:57 AM | Permalink

      Or maybe Mann can show the results of all the other proxy runs minus Graybill bristlecones and upside down Tilander.

  12. David Jay
    Posted Jun 1, 2011 at 11:59 AM | Permalink

    Glacier:

    Tough without Tiljander and Graybill, but there’s always the “ONE Tree” to provide hope ;)

  13. Sean
    Posted Jun 1, 2011 at 12:29 PM | Permalink

    Steve, perhaps you’ve posted it before, but the text of Rule 10b-5 under the US Securities Exchange Act of 1934 is directly on point to your analogy.

    The rule makes it unlawful, in connection with the purchase or sale of a security:

    “To make any untrue statement of a material fact or to omit to state a material fact necessary in order to make the statements made, in the light of the circumstances under which they were made, not misleading”

  14. Posted Jun 1, 2011 at 12:45 PM | Permalink

    Steve- Here the link to my views on “fudge”:

    http://rogerpielkejr.blogspot.com/2010/05/picking-cherries-and-hot-fudge.html

    • Bad Andrew
      Posted Jun 2, 2011 at 8:19 AM | Permalink

      It looks like RP Jr. has resorted to legalism and academic mutations of word meaning to defend misrepresentation.

      (sigh)

      Andrew

  15. brent
    Posted Jun 1, 2011 at 6:20 PM | Permalink

    An Epidemic of False Claims

    Competition and conflicts of interest distort too many medical findings

    By John P. A. Ioannidis | May 31, 2011

    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=an-epidemic-of-false-claims

  16. John M
    Posted Jun 1, 2011 at 7:22 PM | Permalink

    Relevant to both Bret & Roger Pielke Jr.’s comments (and relevant to ethics in “modern science”).

    http://pipeline.corante.com/archives/2010/11/12/99_yield_that_friends_is_deception.php

    Note the commenter freely uses a word that’s not fudge.

    A follow up story appeared in this week’s C&E News, the house organ for the American Chemical Society (unfortunately, only available electronically to subscribers). In the more recent article, it is bemoaned how often terms like “novel” and “unique” are used in modern scientific literature in order to oversell the importance of the work.

    “Unprecedented” didn’t make the cut though.

    • John M
      Posted Jun 1, 2011 at 7:24 PM | Permalink

      er… make that Brent.

    • clazy8
      Posted Jun 1, 2011 at 9:06 PM | Permalink

      “Novel” is tiresome the way “utilize” is, but really, it only means “new”, hardly a grand claim. It’s not a case of overselling — actually quite modest, asserting no importance beyond the date of publication. “Unique”, on the other hand, is pretty extraordinary, indeed one of a kind — but there are different kinds of uniqueness, and most of them are trivial.

  17. xyzlatin
    Posted Jun 2, 2011 at 5:30 PM | Permalink

    Novel does not just mean new. It means new in an interesting or quirky way, designed to attract attention.

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  3. [...] that criticized the methodology in Mann's hockey stick chart. Alarmists have accused Wegman of plagiarism in their efforts to prop up Mann, but have not been able to refute the fact that it's always the [...]

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