Statisticians Asked to Commit Scientific Fraud

1 in 4 Statisticians Say They Were Asked to Commit Scientific Fraud – By Alex Berezow — October 30, 2018

This article definitely points toward a sad truth, but the sample of 390/522 statisticians from whom they “received sufficient responses” doesn’t look like a representative sample at all.

Only someone who’s been in this situation themselves would answer a survey about  “inappropriate requests”. For those who haven’t, they would only check some box saying “it hasn’t happened to me” and then the rest of the survey would be pointless to fill out because it wouldn’t apply to them.

Without access to a full explanation of how they picked their sample, I wouldn’t quote these results. However…   

In all the scientific articles I’ve read over the last years, I’ve noticed this trend as well. The article will be full of convoluted sentences, double negatives, and irrelevant detail, giving the impression that the study’s authors put the data through some torturous gyrations to ensure the results align with their employer’s desires.

And how can they not?

If they expose results damaging to their employer,’s bottom line, not only will their research never leave the lab, but they will lose their job and be blacklisted as a “troublemaker”, eventually losing their whole career.

When everything is valued only in dollars, I see no solution for this. Not many can afford huge financial and social consequences of “biting the hand that feeds you”.

As the saying goes, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” We know that’s true because statisticians themselves just said so.

A stunning report published in the Annals of Internal Medicine concludes that researchers often make “inappropriate requests” to statisticians.

And by “inappropriate,” the authors aren’t referring to accidental requests for incorrect statistical analyses; instead, they’re referring to requests for unscrupulous data manipulation or even fraud.

The authors surveyed 522 consulting biostatisticians and received sufficient responses from 390.

Then, they constructed a table (shown below) that ranks requests by level of inappropriateness. For instance,

  • at the very top is “falsify the statistical significance to support a desired result,” which is outright fraud.
  • At the bottom is “do not show plot because it did not show as strong an effect as you had hoped,” which is only slightly naughty.

On the right, the authors report how often the biostatisticians estimated that they received such a request over the past five years. The results are jaw-dropping.

The absolute worst offense (i.e., being asked to fake statistical significance) occurred to 3% of the survey respondents.

Another 7% reported being asked to change data, and a whopping 24% — nearly 1 in 4 — said they were asked to remove or alter data.

Unequivocally, that is a request to commit scientific fraud.

As if this weren’t bad enough, the comments on this article were even more shocking. They revealed that these kinds of deception are well-known and common.

In light of the current political and economic situation, this is just a logical outcome when a researcher’s job depends on achieving results favorable to his employer.

William Brown 2 months ago

When I took my first post-graduate course in evaluation at a major state university, we were told by our professor that, if we did not take into consideration our client’s wishes, “we might find ourselves teaching school in Peoria.”

It seems that this is what had happened to him, after he spoke the truth to the client who supplied his income.

Although we did not question our professor’s integrity, we realized that our future sustenance clearly depended on satisfying the wishes of whoever paid our salaries.

The saddest impact of this situation is in the pursuit of government funding for research.

Because politics creates strange bedfellows, in any sensitive area in which certain outcomes are preferred by the political classes, evaluation is highly dangerous if objectivity is practiced by the evaluators.

This explains exactly why countless studies devise creative ways to demonstrate that “opioids are bad”, yet none dare challenge this viewpoint in this virulent anti-opioid political culture. I demonstrated this in Opioids Blamed for Side-Effects of Chronic Pain.

Serious statisticians find it difficult to walk the minefield of grant writing and final reporting when their livelihood is challenged by political correctness.

 

8 thoughts on “Statisticians Asked to Commit Scientific Fraud

  1. canarensis

    Excellent post with excellent points.
    I never encountered direct requests to “massage” my data, but I was merely the person who did the work that produced the data & had very little actual input to the writing of the papers that arose from that data. I know that I’d bank on 3 our of 4 of my Principle Investigators NOT committing fraud (gotta admit I have doubts about 1 of them), but the whole idea of data massaging was a constant topic of joking (& not so joking) among all the researchers & technicians around me.

    I sure have had direct experience with folks willing & eager to ignore, subvert, pervert, & outright falsify data & evidence after spending a year fighting the Oregon chronic pain task farce…they’re not even subtle about it. And the hierarchy above them in Oregon guv clearly doesn’t not care, or actively encourages it, as well as ignoring the fact that the task farce members stand to directly benefit financially from their own edicts.

    The entire concepts of truth, ethics, & morals are completely dead in this country, & not just in science. I almost wish I were older, to have less time to be involved in the destruction of this society & millions of blameless people in it.

    Liked by 1 person

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      1. canarensis

        What a messed up time, eh? I’m not one of those old fogettes who swear that everything was better when she was young, but the screaming defects in the way things are going are so screamingly obvious…except to too many (even many who are victims of it). I’ve always wondered why some religions consider despair to be a big sin…seems like it’s the only sane response to many situations, particularly when one is utterly powerless to really change things.

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  2. peter jasz

    Seriously, listen to the language used here !

    “And how can they not?”

    ” …A stunning report …. concludes that researchers often make “inappropriate requests” to statisticians.”
    ” …And by “inappropriate,” the authors aren’t referring to accidental requests for incorrect statistical analyses; instead, they’re referring to requests for unscrupulous data manipulation or even fraud.”

    OR EVEN FRAUD ? IT IS FRAUD, plain and simple. It’s criminal. The sloppy, flowery, flaky language must stop -immediately. Here yes, in the words quoted above, but more importantly the wishy-washy stink’in “language” used to conceal criminal (oft times deadly) activity. Stop with the unnecessary soft language -seen/read all over the place.

    Continuing:
    ” …because it did not show as strong an effect as you had hoped,” which is only slightly naughty.”

    Naughty, Cyp ? When people are suffering, being poisoned, mistreated, under-treated, not-treated, neglected -culprits are being “naughty” ? Let’s ‘grow’ some here.

    ” …The results are jaw-dropping.
    ” …The absolute worst offense (i.e., being asked to fake statistical significance) occurred to 3% of the survey respondents.”
    ” …Another 7% reported being asked to change data, and a whopping 24% — nearly 1 in 4 — said they were asked to remove or alter data.”

    ” …As if this weren’t bad enough, the comments on this article were even more shocking. They revealed that these kinds of deception are well-known and common.” …”

    Shocking, yet well-known -and common ? Hmmm, what percentage does that account for then?
    The same 25% (as above), or double that ?

    And we wonder why there is a drug/alcohol ‘crisis’ in our nation ?

    Let’s make it a point to call-out who and what it is -for what it’s proven to be. And move on.

    peter jasz

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  3. Pingback: How to lie, cheat, manipulate, and mislead with statistics | EDS and Chronic Pain News & Info

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  5. canarensis

    Zyp;
    I was re-reading Twain’s “Life on the Mississippi” for about the 10th time the other day, & got to thinking about the abuse of stats when ran across the part where he talks about how the river frequently cuts across the narrow neck of one of the sharp meanders and therefore shortens itself. He goes on to discuss what conclusion one could reach if they were one of the “ponderous scientific people” and picture how it was if one applied current info to the past:*

    “In the space of one hundred and seventy-six years the Lower Mississippi has shortened itself two hundred and forty-two miles. That is an average of a trifle over one mile and a third per year. Therefore, any calm person, who is not blind or idiotic, can see that in the Old Oolitic Silurian Period, just a million years ago next November, the Lower Mississippi River was upwards of one million three hundred thousand miles long, and stuck out over the Gulf of Mexico like a fishing rod. And by the same token, any person can see that seven hundred and forty-two years from now the lower Mississippi will be only a mile and three quarters long, and Cairo and New Orleans will have joined their streets together…”

    He said many great things about the use & abuse of statistics, but in such a way as to not be so ponderous.

    *Twain says it much, much better, obviously.

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  6. Pingback: A doctor crusades for caution in cutting back | EDS and Chronic Pain News & Info

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