If Scientists Were Wall Street Executives, Fraudsters Would Be In Jail
    By News Staff | July 15th 2014 08:32 PM | 3 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments

    Dr. Zulfiqar Bhutta, Robert Harding Chair in global child health and policy and Co-Director of the Centre for Global Child Health at the Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto says in BMJ that criminal sanctions are necessary to deter growing research misconduct.

    He says the fact that research fraud is common is no longer news, but a review by PubMed in 2012 found that 67% of research article retractions were "attributable to scientific misconduct, including fraud or suspected fraud". An article in the Wall Street Journal yesterday discussed the effort by NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins to mandate more rigor with the $30 billion each year that the National Institutes of Health gives out with little oversight.

     Bhutta says the consequences of research fraud on human health can be "huge" and that the damage to global vaccination coverage by, for example, Andrew Wakefield "has been incalculable". Wakefield, however, lives a free man, "raking in money from various support groups." Criminal proceedings after serious research fraud are rare with such practice being dealt with by institutions, he adds.

    Add that to green NGOs such as Greenpeace and Union of Concerned Scientists, which promote an anti-science agenda that is harmful to everyone, yet have little pushback in the United States. Canada stripped Greenpeace of its tax exempt status because they have no "public benefit" to Canada and simply use politics to promote fear and doubt about science.

    Some worry about the slippery slope and say it is difficult to know if researchers are incompetent or frauds or simply mistaken but Bhutta argues that that "deliberate fraud is often prevalent." And investigations are often expensive, costing between $116,160 and $2,192,620 per case.

    Current measures are not enough, he says. "Although many perpetrators of research fraud never return to academic life; others may claw their way back to active research."

    Bhutta concludes that although the costs of fraud are not known, "human, social and economic costs are likely considerable" and that "additional deterrence through punitive measures such as criminal proceedings should be added to the repertoire of measures available."

    He concludes that because consequences can be huge, "it is time to regard such behavior in the same category as criminal fraud and deal with it accordingly."

    Dr. Julian Crane from the Department of Medicine at the University of Otago in New Zealand, argues that criminalization would not have any deterrent effect and would undermine trust rather than improve it.

    Crane says the former editor of The BMJ Richard Smith recently defined research misconduct as "the gentlemanly phrase for scientific fraud" and asks who "would not have fallen foul of this definition, so are we all fraudsters?"

    Smith says research is "terrifyingly common" but only one in every 18,234 published abstracts are retracted because of real or suspected misconduct, which Crane adds "seems refreshingly small".

    Crane appreciates that research misconduct does cause harm, but asks "would inviting the police to investigate more satisfactorily uncover misconduct or prevent harm?"

    He believes that it lies with research organizations to reduce opportunities for misconduct and investigate appropriately. He concludes that criminalzsing research misconduct "is a sad, bad, even mad idea that will only undermine the trust that is an essential component of research and requires good governance not criminal investigators." 

    Citation: Zulfiqar A Bhutta, Julian Crane, 'Should research fraud be a crime?' BMJ 2014; 349 doi: Source: BMJ-British Medical Journal


    Not to downplay the serious consequences of research fraud, anyone who reads a newspaper knows that Wall Street executives who commit fraud do not go to jail.

    They sign a consent agreement where they are given a proportionately small fine, small in comparison to the damage done and small in comparison to their wealth, and they neither admit nor deny fault.

    Then they go back to work. Where plenty of them make more than $116,160 and $2,192,620 per month. Before yearly bonuses.

    Now if scientific misconduct were treated like possession of illegal drugs, they would be thrown in jail for having even minimal amounts, and would have their lab and all its contents seized as property used in commission of crime - regardless of whether they are found guilty or not, regardless of who owns the lab and its contents.

    As for the police, how would they be competent to understand the nature of the research, why fraud might or might not have occurred, and why it matters compared to tossing drug users and dealers in jail?

    "...anyone who reads a newspaper knows that Wall Street executives who commit fraud do not go to jail." There is a long list of fraudsters who served time:

    - Charles Ponzi served 12 years, was deported and died penniless in Brazil
    - Bernard Madoff - 2nd most famous name in Ponzi schemes now serving 150 years, minimum allowed under the court decision, for running his $65 billion Ponzi scheme.
    - Kenneth Lay, CEO Enron - sentenced to 30 years, died before starting his jail time
    - Bernard Ebbers, CEO WorldCom - now serving 25 years
    - Dennis Kozlowski - CEO TYCO - serving 8+ years
    - Martin Frankel - convicted in 2002 of insurance fraud worth - serving a 16+ year person term
    - James Lewis - ran a Ponzi - like scheme bilking investors out of $300+ million, serving 30 years
    - Lou "pump n' dump' Perlman - serving 25 years in federal prison, pleading guilty to charges of conspiracy, money laundering, and perjury during a bankruptcy proceeding; left over $300 million in debt
    - Frank William Abagnale, conman, forger and impostor (played by Leonardo DiCaprio played in the movie "Catch Me if You Can," master of passing off bad checks to the tune of over $2.5 million in 26 countries, making him one of the most infamous criminals of the '60s.
    Barry Minkow, of (carpet cleaning) ZZZZ Best - bilked people out of ~ $100 million was convicted of fraud and sentenced to 25 years.
    Raj Rajaratnam - former hedge fund manager and billionaire founder of the Galleon Group, a New York-based hedge fund management firm. Convicted on insider trading including all 14 counts of conspiracy and securities fraud, now serving 11 years in prison and fined criminal and civil penalties > $150 million.

    You need only count the 50 consecutive insider trading cases resulting in convictions by US Attorney General (NY Southern Dist) Preet Bharara, including Raj Rajaratnam. Although Bharara just lost a case against Raj's brother Rengan due to lack of evidence.

    With the exception of perhaps Rajaratnam, none of these people would be considered Wall Street executives. Some of the more prominent examples, Ebbers, Kozlowski, Lay, did not even work in the finance industry.

    "Wall Street executives" refers to people with authority at major financial institutions such as Citibank, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, AIG, and other institutions where financial flows through them on a yearly basis are measured in the 10s of billions to 100s of billions.

    I am referring to the alleged "too big to fail" institutions. Citibank just paid a 7 billion dollar fine and that's nothing to them.

    And you are reaching back decades for most of these examples. If you wanted to produce a list of petty drug dealers or consumers who went to jail you could make a longer list consisting of criminal convictions for just about any given day.

    Individual scammers such as Abagnale or even Ponzi himself are irrelevant to the economy of the country.