JOEM retracts fraudulent paper

I wrote earlier about how consultants for PG&E published a fraudulent article exonerating chromium-6. The Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine is now publishing a retraction of the paper. From the EWG press release:


The July issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (JOEM), the official publication of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, will carry a retraction of a 1997 article published under the byline of two Chinese scientists, JianDong Zhang and ShuKun Li.

The article appeared to be a reversal of an earlier study by Zhang that found a significant association between chromium pollution of drinking water and higher rates of stomach cancer in villages in rural northeast China. Since its publication, the fraudulent article has influenced a number of state and federal regulatory decisions on chromium.

“It has been brought to our attention that an article published in JOEM in the April 1997 issue by Zhang and Li failed to meet the journal’s published editorial policy in effect at that time,” says the retraction, written by JOEM Editor Dr. Paul Brandt-Rauf and obtained by EWG. “Specifically, financial and intellectual input to the paper by outside parties was not disclosed.” …

PG&E hired ChemRisk to conduct a study to counter Hinkley residents’ claims of cancer and other illnesses from chromium-6 in their water. ChemRisk tracked down Zhang, a retired Chinese government health officer, and paid him about $2,000 for his original data. ChemRisk distorted the data to hide the chromium-cancer link, then wrote, prepared and submitted their “clarification'” to JOEM under Zhang and Li’s byline, and over Zhang’s written objection.

Zhang has since died. But JOEM located his co-author, ShuKun Li, who agreed that the article should be retracted.

Comments

  1. #1 Pinko Punko
    June 2, 2006

    AS the kids say, pwn3d, cobags.

    Is this the same ChemRisk? They seem to be doing quite well for themselves. Sad.

  2. #2 Meyrick Kirby
    June 2, 2006

    It should be understood that there is no evidence to suggest the existence of scientific fraud in this work and that the factual content of the article has not been re-evaluated. This decision is based solely on the violation of the journal’s policy regarding disclosure.

    From a copy of the JOEM retraction

  3. #3 Pinko Punko
    June 2, 2006

    Hmm, some industry funded dudes coopt some research, rewrite the paper, then don’t put their names on it. How could anything in the paper be trusted. The paper must be treated as if it didn’t even exist. The ethical lapses of the the industry people in the paper rules out any possible evaluation of its merits. The paper was presented fraudulently, as in the authors of the paper were not represented as such. We could quibble as to whether they made stuff up or not, but there is no point.

  4. #4 Dominion
    June 3, 2006

    Gee, I thought that failure to disclose “financial and intellectual input” WAS fraud. Silly ethical me!

    Even so, I would think that even Kirby would agree that the fact that Zhang did not write the paper did not agree with it’s conclusions, or the fact that the paper was actually written by consultants who worked for a PR firm hired by an interested party would rise to the level of fraud?

    Right?

  5. #5 Hank Roberts
    June 3, 2006

    It’s worth reading the background material. PGnE settled out of court in shame when this trickery was disclosed months ago. The published transcripts are scanned pictures of pages.
    Don’t settle for a summary.

    Don’t miss the judge’s question about the ‘hot tub study’ they did on human exposure, for example.

  6. #6 Robert
    June 3, 2006

    Hank Roberts advised:

    Don’t miss the […] question about the ‘hot tub study’ they did on human exposure

    Pages 276-280 of [this](http://www.ewg.org/reports/chromium/pdf/kerger-01.pdf).

  7. #7 Meyrick Kirby
    June 4, 2006

    Even so, I would think that even Kirby would agree that the fact that Zhang did not write the paper did not agree with it’s conclusions, or the fact that the paper was actually written by consultants who worked for a PR firm hired by an interested party would rise to the level of fraud?

    Err … No! To prove fraud you have to demonstrate that the person(s) deliberately intended to deceive readers. Legally speaking this is very hard to prove beyond reasonable doubt. It could be argued that the writers honestly believed that since the data was from Zhang, his name should be on the paper, even though he did not agree with the papers conclusions. It may even be argued the authors didn’t know Zhang did not agree with the conclusions.

    In reality they probably did deliberately set out to mislead readers, but there is insufficient evidence to prove this. My point is that it is dangerous to throw around accusations of fraud without carefully considering what the word “fraud” actually means and the burden of evidence required to substantiate such a claim.

  8. #8 Tim Lambert
    June 4, 2006

    The real authors’ names weren’t on the paper. That was intentional.

  9. #9 Meyrick Kirby
    June 4, 2006

    Yes, but can you prove that the authors’ deliberately intended to deceive? They could argue that they didn’t think they need to add their names. I know this sound daft, but that’s the sort of thing that is argued (and works) in courts of law.

  10. #10 Pinko Punko
    June 5, 2006

    Given that the rules for disclosure exist so that conflicts of interest are apparent, the only conclusion that can be made is that deception was desired. There are very few reasons the actual author of a paper would not be on a paper. Deception is very obvious, and I think it si clearly beyond a reasonable doubt. The word is reasonable. They would be dead in a court of law.

    To ChemRisk hack on the stand, from prosecutor”

    Pros: “How many papers have you written?

    CR: “X”

    Pros: “How many of those do you appear as an author, and how many do you not?”

    Pros: “Please read for me the JOAE guidelines to authors on conflict of interest. Were you aware of these guidlines when you submitted this paper on behalf of the chinese “authors”?”

    And every lie the ChemRick guys gives, the courtroom will laugh at, as the prosecuter proceeds to call 100s of scientists and editors and ask them “is this the usual way of going about publishing a scientific paper and establishing authorship? Given that CR has published X number of papers, and has appeared as an author on every single one, except this one, and that everyone in the universe considers the behavior of ChemRisk to be odd, do you have a reasonable doubt in your mind that ChemRisk was trying to deceive the editors and readers of this journal?”

    Case closed. These guys are a joke.

  11. #11 Meyrick Kirby
    June 5, 2006

    Sorry, but legally speaking fraud is infamously hard to prove, that why lawyers usually go for negligence, which is probably why JOEM included the bit above.

  12. #12 Dominion
    June 5, 2006

    Sorry, but legally speaking fraud is infamously hard to prove, that why lawyers usually go for negligence, which is probably why JOEM included the bit above.

    You keep saying that, but other than a bald assertion what other evidence do you bring to the table that this is so?

  13. #13 Ian Forrester
    September 23, 2006

    Meyrick Kirby said: “Yes, but can you prove that the authors’ deliberately intended to deceive? They could argue that they didn’t think they need to add their names. I know this sound daft, but that’s the sort of thing that is argued (and works) in courts of law.”

    Scientists should hold themselves up to a higher standard than the legal sytem. Whether or not this counts as “legal fraud” it should be seen as scientific fraud and the guilty parties should be held 100% guilty.

    Ian Forrester

  14. #14 Robert
    February 6, 2008

    From the JOEM retraction cited by Meyrick Kirby in #2 above:

    It should be understood that there is no evidence to suggest the existence of scientific fraud in this work and that the factual content of the article has not been re-evaluated. This decision is based solely on the violation of the journal’s policy regarding disclosure.

    [The factual content of the article has now been re-evaluated](http://www.epidem.com/pt/re/epidemiology/abstract.00001648-200801000-00004.htm;jsessionid=HpxF8JG2S1W0cZnhGTH1pY8Gw9VMlz5GJlnDb2KbmsPhjR7V4yml!1138671057!181195629!8091!-1).

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