Website copies articles documenting scandal of disgraced cancer researcher, then uses DMCA to get the originals censored

Retraction Watch, a website that documents the retraction of scientific papers, has had a series of articles about disgraced cancer researcher Anil Potti abruptly censored by WordPress in response to a DMCA copyright complaint from a dodgy Indian website that appears to have copied all the articles to its own site, then complained to WordPress on the grounds that Retraction Watch had copied it:

One of the cases they followed was Anil Potti, a cancer researcher who, at the time, worked at Duke University. Potti first fell under scrutiny for embellishing his resume, but the investigation quickly expanded as broader questions were raised about his research. As the investigation continued, a number of Potti's papers ended up being retracted as accusations of falsified data were raised. Eventually, three clinical trials that were started based on Potti's data were stopped entirely. Although federal investigations of Potti's conduct are still in progress, he eventually resigned from Duke.

In all, Retraction Watch published 22 stories on the implosion of Potti's career. In fact, three of the top four Google results for his name all point to the Retraction Watch blog (the fourth is his Wikipedia entry). Despite the widespread attention to his misbehavior, Potti managed to get a position at the University of North Dakota (where he worked earlier in his career). Meanwhile, he hired a reputation management company, which dutifully went about creating websites with glowing things to say about the doctor.

This morning, however, 10 of the Retraction Watch posts vanished. An e-mail Oransky received explained why: an individual from "Utter [sic] Pradesh" named Narendra Chatwal claimed to be a senior editor at NewsBulet.In, "a famous news firm in India." Chatwal said the site only publishes work that is "individually researched by our reporters," yet duplicates of some of the site's material appeared on Retraction Watch. Therefore, to protect his copyright, he asked that the WordPress host pull the material. It complied.

The Ars Technica article skirts outright accusation, but makes a clear inference that a "reputation management company" committed fraud as part of a campaign to rehabilitate the reputation of Potti.

One important thing to note is that WordPress isn't obliged to respond to DMCA takedowns, but if it fails to do so, it could be jointly sued, along with its users, over the alleged infringement. In theory, though, WordPress could decide that these takedown requests don't pass the giggle test, reinstate the posts, and tell the company that sent in the notices to sue and be damned.

Site plagiarizes blog posts, then files DMCA takedown on originals [John Timmer/Ars Technica] (via Making Light)

More on the fake stem cell researcher who faked stem cell transplants

Hisashi Moriguchi probably isn't a specialist in stem cell research. He doesn't have an affiliation with Harvard University. And he most likely has not injected reprogrammed adult heart stem cells into human test subjects. That has not stopped him from claiming all three facts were true, though — and it didn't stop a major Japanese newspaper from believing him. But Science Insider reports that Moriguchi's lies go back further than this one incident. He's apparently been claiming the bogus Harvard affiliation since 2002, and once even erroneously claimed to be a member of a co-author's department at Massachusetts General Hospital — all without getting caught.

Stem cell madness

Last week, Shinya Yamanaka won a Nobel Prize for figuring out how to make adult stem cells revert to an embryonic (and much more medically useful) state. Within days, another scientist unconnected to Yamanaka, claimed to have produced such cells from human heart tissue and injected them back into human patients in a clinical trial. What's more, the researcher, Hisashi Moriguchi, claimed that a measure of his patients' heart function improved by 41.5% after the transplant.

It's hard to say which is crazier: The claims themselves, or the speed with which Moriguchi's story has completely fallen apart. Evidence suggests that these kind of re-programmed adult stem cells might be more likely to turn cancerous. Because of that, one of the first questions people asked was about the ethics committee that approved the research. Moriguchi said he worked for Harvard and that Harvard had signed off on his clinical trial.

And that's where things got nuts. Because Harvard had never heard of this study. And Moriguchi does not work there, anyway. In fact, this might not even be his field — the only professional affiliation that New Scientist could track down for him was as a visiting researcher in cosmetic surgery at The University of Tokyo. Also: The transplants may or may not have actually happened and Moriguchi might be plagiarizing images from other scientists. The worst part about this (from my perspective as a journalist) is that it was stem cell researchers who had to call out the fraud, after a major Japanese newspaper swallowed the story hook, line, and sinker.

New Scientist has a nice summary of this mess

You can follow the story much more in-depth at IPSCell.com, the blog of UC Davis stem cell researcher Paul Knoepfler.

Check out this post of Knoepfler's — written the day before the Moriguchi madness began — for more information on the risks of reprogrammed adult stem cells, the ongoing safety research, and proposed time-tables for when we will likely try these things out on humans for real.

Water-powered car scammers through history

If you missed Jason Torchinsky's Jalopnik story about water-powered car hucksters of past and present, here's your chance to read it.
The idea itself— to build a car that runs on ordinary water— is total crap, scientifically. It violates at least one law of physics, and pisses off a few others. But the idea behind the idea— a car that runs on something so plentiful and cheap it’s almost valueless— will never go away. It’s just too tantalizing to give up.

Fraud, failure, and FUBAR in science

Here's an issue we don't talk about enough. Every year, peer-reviewed research journals publish hundreds of thousands of scientific papers. But every year, several hundred of those are retracted — essentially, unpublished. There's a number of reasons retraction happens. Sometimes, the researchers (or another group of scientists) will notice honest mistakes. Sometimes, other people will prove that the paper's results were totally wrong. And sometimes, scientists misbehave, plagiarizing their own work, plagiarizing others, or engaging in outright fraud. Officially, fraud only accounts for a small proportion of all retractions. But the number of annual retractions is growing, fast. And there's good reason to think that fraud plays a bigger role in science then we like to think. In fact, a study published a couple of weeks ago found that there was misconduct happening in 3/4ths of all retracted papers. Meanwhile, previous research has shown that, while only about .02% of all papers are retracted, 1-2% of scientists admit to having invented, fudged, or manipulated data at least once in their careers.

The trouble is that dealing with this isn't as simple as uncovering a shadowy conspiracy or two. That's not really the kind of misconduct we're talking about here.

Read the rest

8 habits of highly effective fraudsters

Scientists aren't always right. In fact, individual research papers turn out to be wrong pretty often and scientists are the first people to tell you that they don't know everything there is to know. They're just working on it with more rigor than most of us.

But scientists are also people. And sometimes, they lie. At Ars Technica, John Timmer looks at some of the most famous cases of scientific fraud and comes away with 8 key lessons that show us how science's biggest scam artists got away with faking their data—sometimes for years.

1) Fake data nobody ever expects to see. If you're going to make things up, you won't have any original data to produce when someone asks to see it. The simplest way to avoid this awkward situation is to make sure that nobody ever asks. You can do this in several ways, but the easiest is to work only with humans. Most institutions require a long and painful approval process before anyone gets to work directly with human subjects. To protect patient privacy, any records are usually completely anonymized, so no one can ever trace them back to individual patients. Adding to the potential for confusion, many medical studies are done double-blind and use patient populations spread across multiple research centers. All of these factors make it quite difficult for anyone to keep track of the original data, and they mean that most people will be satisfied with using a heavily processed version of your results.

3) Tell people what they already know. Since you don't want anyone excited about your work, due to the likelihood they will ask annoying questions, you need to avoid this reaction at all costs. Under no circumstances should your work cause anyone to raise an intrigued eyebrow. The easiest way to do this is to play to people's expectations, feeding them data that they respond to with phrases like "That's about what I was expecting." Take an uncontroversial model and support it. Find data that's consistent with what we knew decades ago. Whatever you do, don't rock the boat.

Read the rest of the list at Ars Technica

Gentleman facebutts police dashboard

Seen enough video of auto insurance fraudsters being exposed by front-facing dashboard cameras? One fellow in Russia thought up a clever way to get the police in trouble, but didn't count for the fact that dashcams can be turned around. [Video Link]

Sham's cam slams scam

In this video recorded on a dashboard-mounted camera, Raguruban Yogarajah stops his car in the middle of the highway—then lets it roll back into following traffic. Herman Sham, the other driver, claims to have been subjected to a shakedown as the two motorists examined the damage: $500 cash, or the cops get called.

Thanks to Sham's dashcam, however, it was Yogarajah who received charges: fraud, attempted fraud and public mischief.

Russia appears to be ground zero for this sort of shenanigan. Violent confrontations abound, but my favorite is this driver's ostentatious display of frustration and despair at being rear-ended by such an irresponsible dri--Oh wait, you have a dashcam? I'll be going, then.

There are lots of Dashcams on Amazon, but it looks like you need to spend at least $50 to get something decent. And they all kinda look janky, if you ask me. Would a GoPro be a better bet, or do you need a specialized device for battery-life reasons?

Cisco locks customers out of their own routers, only lets them back in if they agree to being spied upon and monetized

Owners of Cisco/Linksys home routers got a nasty shock this week, when their devices automatically downloaded a new operating system, which locked out device owners. After the update, the only way to reconfigure your router was to create an account on Cisco's "cloud" service, signing up to a service agreement that gives Cisco the right to spy on your Internet use and sell its findings, and also gives them the right to disconnect you (and lock you out of your router) whenever they feel like it.

They say that "if you're not paying for the product, you are the product." But increasingly, even if you do pay for the product, you're still the product, and you aren't allowed to own anything. Ownership is a right reserved to synthetic corporate persons, and off-limits to us poor meat-humans.

Joel Hruska from ExtremeTech reports:

This is nothing but a shameless attempt to cash in on the popularity of cloud computing, and it comes at a price. The Terms and Conditions of using the Cisco Connect Cloud state that Cisco may unilaterally shut down your account if finds that you have used the service for “obscene, pornographic, or offensive purposes, to infringe another’s rights, including but not limited to any intellectual property rights, or… to violate, or encourage any conduct that would violate any applicable law or regulation or give rise to civil or criminal liability.”

It then continues “we reserve the right to take such action as we (i) deem necessary or (ii) are otherwise required to take by a third party or court of competent jurisdiction, in each case in relation to your access or use or misuse of such content or data. Such action may include, without limitation, discontinuing your use of the Service immediately without prior notice to you, and without refund or compensation to you.”

Since the Service is the only way to access your router, killing one would effectively kill the other.

Oh, and Cisco reserves the right to continue to update your router, even if you set it not to allow automatic updates.

Cisco’s cloud vision: Mandatory, monetized, and killed at their discretion

Update: A Cisco rep comments below, pointing out that Cisco has since changed its privacy policy.

However, the current policy reserves the right to change it back.

The current policy also allows Cisco to discontinue your access to your router if you download pornography, or if someone complains about you, without a court order, evidence or a chance to state your case and face your accuser.

They have also provided users with a way to back out of the "cloud management" "feature."

But, as noted, Cisco still reserves the right to change how your router works, even if you set it not to accept automatic updates.

TV "psychics" are stock photos


Peter sez, "This blog entry describes how Alan Rice, a student in Ireland, became suspicious about some of the photos displayed as 'Live psychics' to be called at €2.44/min on Irish TV. He used image searches to find photos of some of the 'psychics' on stock photo sites. Other people chipped in and..."

Psychic Pat was in fact a bought stock photo! I quickly tweeted about this and from that I was pointed to the boards.ie thread about the show where I posted the same photos. Things certainly took off from there and some wonderful people there started finding pretty much all the psychics listed on their website from various places around the internet including, from what I gather, a personal Flickr photo. It really begs the question who are you talking to? And in some cases from what I’ve read you only get through to a hold message.

Not only are these “psychics” giving out random pieces of information based on any detail they get from a caller they are exploiting some really vulnerable people who are desperately seeking hope for their current situation. In the brief time I watched last night there was even a call about a missing son for Christ’s sake!

How on earth can TV3 let this deplorable scam be aired and stand over this? It must be stopped from broadcasting and the money (€60 in some cases) returned to the callers.

Con artists working on national television.

Wall Street, like the mafia, but more ambitious

In Rolling Stone, Matt Taibbi is his usual incandescent self in reporting on the United States of America v. Carollo, Goldberg and Grimm, a bid-rigging trial against brokers at GE Capital, which implicated virtually every bank on Wall Street (and many overseas banks) in a multibillion-dollar municipal bond bid-rigging fraud, a fraud that skimmed a piece of every substantial municipal project in America, from public pools and baseball diamonds to subway stations and housing projects. Bid-rigging, a process perfected by the mafia, has been practiced by the financial sector on a scale never dreamed of by the simple men of the crime syndicates, and the scam is starting to unravel.

The defendants in the case – Dominick Carollo, Steven Goldberg and Peter Grimm – worked for GE Capital, the finance arm of General Electric. Along with virtually every major bank and finance company on Wall Street – not just GE, but J.P. Morgan Chase, Bank of America, UBS, Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, Wachovia and more – these three Wall Street wiseguys spent the past decade taking part in a breathtakingly broad scheme to skim billions of dollars from the coffers of cities and small towns across America. The banks achieved this gigantic rip-off by secretly colluding to rig the public bids on municipal bonds, a business worth $3.7 trillion. By conspiring to lower the interest rates that towns earn on these investments, the banks systematically stole from schools, hospitals, libraries and nursing homes – from "virtually every state, district and territory in the United States," according to one settlement. And they did it so cleverly that the victims never even knew they were being ­cheated. No thumbs were broken, and nobody ended up in a landfill in New Jersey, but money disappeared, lots and lots of it, and its manner of disappearance had a familiar name: organized crime.

In fact, stripped of all the camouflaging financial verbiage, the crimes the defendants and their co-conspirators committed were virtually indistinguishable from the kind of thuggery practiced for decades by the Mafia, which has long made manipulation of public bids for things like garbage collection and construction contracts a cornerstone of its business. What's more, in the manner of old mob trials, Wall Street's secret machinations were revealed during the Carollo trial through crackling wiretap recordings and the lurid testimony of cooperating witnesses, who came into court with bowed heads, pointing fingers at their accomplices. The new-age gangsters even invented an elaborate code to hide their crimes. Like Elizabethan highway robbers who spoke in thieves' cant, or Italian mobsters who talked about "getting a button man to clip the capo," on tape after tape these Wall Street crooks coughed up phrases like "pull a nickel out" or "get to the right level" or "you're hanging out there" – all code words used to manipulate the interest rates on municipal bonds. The only thing that made this trial different from a typical mob trial was the scale of the crime.

USA v. Carollo involved classic cartel activity: not just one corrupt bank, but many, all acting in careful concert against the public interest. In the years since the economic crash of 2008, we've seen numerous hints that such orchestrated corruption exists. The collapses of Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers, for instance, both pointed to coordi­nated attacks by powerful banks and hedge funds determined to speed the demise of those firms. In the bankruptcy of Jefferson County, Alabama, we learned that Goldman Sachs accepted a $3 million bribe from J.P. Morgan Chase to permit Chase to serve as the sole provider of toxic swap deals to the rubes running metropolitan Birmingham – "an open-and-shut case of anti-competitive behavior," as one former regulator described it.

The Scam Wall Street Learned From the Mafia (via Naked Capitalism)

Florida voter-suppression campaign means WWII vet has to prove he is American or lose his vote

Florida governor Rick Scott has ordered a high-velocity purge of the state's voter-rolls, using secret criteria to target 180,000 Floridians and requiring them to prove their citizenship in 30 days or lose the right to vote. Democrats and activist groups claim that this violates federal laws. For 91-year-old WWII vet Bill Internicola, it's an insult. Greg Allen reports on NPR's Morning Edition:

"To me, it's like an insult," he says. "They sent me a form to fill out. And I filled out the form and I sent it back to them with a copy of my discharge paper and a copy of my tour of duty in the ETO, which is the European Theater of Operations."

Internicola's was one of more than 180,000 names Florida's secretary of state identified from motor vehicle records as possible noncitizens. Several weeks ago, the secretary's office sent county elections supervisors a first batch of some 2,600 names. County officials, who are also preparing for the state's August primary, started sending out letters to suspected noncitizens, saying they had 30 days to prove their citizenship or be removed from the voting rolls.

World War II Vet Caught Up In Florida's Voter Purge Controversy

LAPD probing Lap-Band weight loss surgery provider after patient deaths

Billboards for weight loss surgery provider "1-800-GET THIN" were ubiquitous around LA freeways until recently; the company has since come under scrutiny by the FDA, consumer affairs watchdogs and Consumer Reports for sketchy business practices. Now, the Los Angeles Police Department is investigating the firm over the recent death of a patient. Snip from LA Times report:

In a civil lawsuit, two former surgery center workers alleged that a series of medical gaffes contributed to [55 year old patient Paula] Rojeski's death. That lawsuit, filed in January, said an intravenous line was not properly inserted into Rojeski's arm during surgery, causing solution to pool on the floor of the operating room. Former surgical technicians Dyanne Deuel and Karla Osorio also said in the lawsuit that the anesthesiologist forgot to turn on the oxygen tank before surgery.

The LA Times report goes on to list four additional patient deaths. (photo: LA Times)

Independent watchdog says Canada's 2011 elections may have been corrupt

The independent nonpartisan NGO Democracy Watch says that Canada's elections regulator has failed in its duty to prevent fraud in Canada's elections. This comes on the heels of a voter-suppression scandal in which "robocalls" were placed, allegedly to voters likely to vote against the (now ruling) Conservative party, telling them that their polling places had changed. One whistleblower claims to have worked on the phone-bank that handled complaints from the robocalls, and says that she was instructed to tell people that she was working on behalf of the Conservative party, and to give out misinformation about where to vote. Jeff David of Postmedia News writes in the Montreal Gazette:

"Here we are 144 years since Canada became a so-called democracy and no one can tell whether Elections Canada is enforcing the federal election law fairly and properly because it has kept secret its investigations and rulings on more than 2,280 complaints since 2004," said spokesman Tyler Sommers.

The Harper government scrambled to keep pace with the burgeoning scandal during Tuesday's question period, after Postmedia News and the Ottawa Citizen unveiled new details of the election calls that had been routed through a Tory-linked firm.

A total of 1,334 complaints were filed with Elections Canada in the 2004, 2006, and 2008 federal elections, according to the agency's post-poll reports. Concerning the 2011 election alone, however, Elections Canada received 1,872 complaints about accessibility problems, 2,956 emails complaining of voting rule confusion in the Guelph area, and 1,003 complaints about other issues.

Elections Canada not doing its job: Democracy Watch

Rumblefish claims to own copyright to ambient birdsong on YouTube

Rumblefish, a company notorious for sending copyright takedown notices to YouTube alleging copyright violations in videos' soundtracks, demanded removal of a video whose audio consists entirely of ambient birdsong recorded during a walk in the woods. When the video's creator objected, Rumblefish repeated its accusation, and Google added the notation "These content owners have reviewed your video and confirmed their claims to some or all of its content: Entity: rumblefish Content Type: Sound Recording."

I posted a video which is basically just me walking and talking, outdoors, away from any possible source of music. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nPBlfeuZuWg

And apparently youtube identified my video as containing copyrighted music from a company called rumblefish. I filed a dispute, and now I'm waiting for said company to respond to it. Is this a freak occurrence? I feel pretty violated by this, a mysterious entity claiming to own my content and apparently profiting from it with ads.

There are birds singing in the background in the video, could they own the rights to birdsong?

Update: Rumblefish CEO Paul Anthony explains himself and his company in a Reddit AMA.

"Matched third party content. Entity: rumblefish Content Type: Musical Composition", but no music in the video (via /.)