Frequently unasked questions

story.jpg

What is going on?

I can describe the patterns (see Problematic ethics). I can tell you what it is not - it is not research. 

How did this happen? Who is in on it?

This kind of scandal on this kind of scale obviously does not and did not happen overnight. Also obviously, players outside NTU, NUS, NNI, and A*STAR (all in Singapore) are needed for whatever this is to happen. Here are some considerations:

  1. Autonomous institutes. The institutes themselves, of course. That is what universities in Singapore and elsewhere became at some point in history. I think 'autonomous institute' is supposed to mean 'self-regulating', they make their own decisions without interference. Here it seems to mean 'above the law and beyond accountability'. Internal checks and balances, such as carried out by the Ethics and Compliance office, failed miserably. It might have to do with the fact that autonomous institutes have shareholders. Who are maybe not as interested in producing knowledge as they are in generating 'profit'. Obviously, Imperial College London (with Nanyang Technological University) and Duke University (with National University of Singapore) have roles to play. ICL and Duke have roles to play because their name is on the door. After submitting my report and sending messages (gentle reminders) to ICL, I was told to shut up and go away. Duke University never acknowledged. Karolinska in Sweden and Max Planck Institutes (the one in Florida, but the main office in Germany never acknowledged neither) are also suspicious in that Ethics and Compliance offices and Ombudsman at these institutes did not acknowledge receiving the report I sent them, and which potentially includes misconduct by researchers at these institutes.

  2. Publishers. There are several examples of erratic publication practice. Frontiers is one. When I sent a report to Frontiers on the editorial practice of George Augustine, they just lied about the facts and said it's all cool. Scientific Reports is another name that appears rather frequently in publications by the Dementia Consortium members. As well as others, have a look at the report and draw your own conclusions. For example have a look at 'data' in a couple of articles by Mitra in Scientific Reports and Heliyon. These journals, in the reputable Nature and Cell Press groups, should have transparent and robust mechanisms for investigating reports of research misconduct in articles published by them.

  3. Research regulatory bodies. In Singapore one very obvious party is Animal & Veterinary Services or AVS. There are only two possibilities. The first is that AVS staff are dead at their desks. They can't be sleeping because then they would wake up every now and then. You do not have to be any kind of expert to see something is terribly rotten in the state of animal experiments at NTU for example. The two staff members I met with at AVS have no research experience and appeared neither competent nor qualified to be in such a regulatory position. The second possibility is that high ups at AVS are in on it. There is no third possibility.

  4. Funding bodies. Grants are invariably competitive which means many groups submit grant proposals and only a few groups get a grant. We can assume there is a panel of experts to assess the grant proposals and recommend or decide which proposal and group gets to be funded. There should be a panel of experts or an expert assessing grant updates which the research group sends in to the funding body at intervals, and also at the end of the funding period describing the grant outcome. In other words, it is not (or should not be) some paper-pusher rubber stamping some drivel spewed out by the researcher the night before. You have to show the funding body bang for the buck - impressive pictures of brain neurons, a list of publications produced in high impact journals, catchy posters produced by students, conferences attended, so on. One funding body to mention is Human Frontier Science Program, download the full report here. I informed them of misconduct by Vyas specifically in relation to the grant he got from them as well as others in Singapore. Their answer was: we asked NTU if there is any misconduct, and NTU said no. That's like asking a criminal if he committed a crime, and when he says no, you take his word for it. Is there no one at Human Frontier Science Program who can read the report I sent them to investigate themselves? Who chooses the grant proposals to be funded at Human Frontier Science Program, an eight-ball? Perhaps a slot machine?

  5. Financial regulatory bodies. Whether the money comes from the State or a private foundation, there should be someone looking into it, no? Like an auditor general. Perhaps these are easy to fool. Too easy it seems.

  6. Fear and silencing.

Why is this happening? To what end?

I do not know. An easy reason to consider is money. What does not make sense is to have the infrastructure to actually do research, and then not do research. It's like having a multi-million dollar casino where the only people allowed to visit are actors playing with mock money, whether or not the casino also launders real money under the table. Needless to say, the infrastructure in Singapore is nothing short of amazing, both in terms of daily life and importantly in terms of research facilities and technology. Perhaps the most important 'resource' is the sheer number of clever, creative, and extremely competent students. See Vyas and Mitra for more on demoralization of students by members of the Dementia Consortium.