Hard and Soft Science

August 30, 2010


Seriously! Who does GMP think she’s fooling?

She puts up a post and a series of polls asking where are all the “hard” STEM bloggers. And writes extensively distinguishing “hard” STEM from “soft” STEM. This latter, apparently constitutes all the bio-medical types.

Leaving aside the hilarious fact that GMP somehow failed to notice all the geo-science, math geeks, computer science nerds, fizzycysts, engineers and assorted other “hard” science bloggers, I note that GMP felt compelled to put up this corrigendum:

Some people dislike the hard STEM/soft STEM distinction as it seems to imply that one of them is hard as in difficult and the other one is not. I most certainly don’t think that and I don’t know anyone who does. I simply use the above distinction as equivalent to a non-bio STEM/bio STEM field distinction, and I think most people do the same. But, as Namezia says below, you can alternatively consider it the physical/biological sciences distinction, although I am not sure where this type of classification leaves math and CS people or people who are engineers.

Heh. heh. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAAH!!! oh, masterful!

Here’s the thing, GMP. Nobody who is in biology, neuroscience, psychology… or (gasp) social sciences….favors this distinction. That in and of itself should tell you how it is used. The only “most people” who use this distinction are so called “hard” STEM people who are, yes, most certainly trying to run down other scientific disciplines as less rigorous, less precise and favored by smarter undergraduates who do not require grade inflation.

So please. Spare us your disingenuous corrections. Just sack up and FWDAOTI like a proper member of the “hard” STEM disciplines! We can take it….

A Finding of Misconduct Notice in the NIH Guide today (NOT-OD-10-130) holds more than the usual interest, Dear Reader.

Elizabeth Goodwin, PhD, University of Wisconsin-Madison: Based on the report of an investigation conducted by the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-M) and additional analysis conducted by ORI in its oversight review, the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS) found that Elizabeth Goodwin, PhD, former associate professor of genetics and medical genetics, UW-M, engaged in scientific misconduct while her research was supported by National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), National Institutes of Health (NIH), grants R01 GM051836 and R01 GM073183. PHS found that the Respondent engaged in misconduct in science by falsifying and fabricating data that she included in grant applications 2 R01 GM051836-13 and 1 R01 GM073183-01.

The recent Marc Hauser misconduct case has been widely reported to have depended on or been triggered by whistleblowers from within his own lab. Comments in several places have praised the laboratory members for their bravery and willingness to take the inevitable career hit (possibly irrecoverable hit) in the service of correcting the scientific record.

Remember the profile in Science a number of years ago which described a group of trainees who blew the whistle on Elizabeth B. Goodwin?

Chantal Ly, 32, had already waded through 7 years of a Ph.D. program at the University of Wisconsin (UW), Madison. Turning in her mentor, Ly was certain, meant that “something bad was going to happen to the lab.” Another of the six students felt that their adviser, geneticist Elizabeth Goodwin, deserved a second chance and wasn’t certain the university would provide it. A third was unable for weeks to believe Goodwin had done anything wrong and was so distressed by the possibility that she refused to examine available evidence.

Two days before winter break, as the moral compass of all six swung in the same direction, they shared their concerns with a university administrator. In late May, a UW investigation reported data falsification in Goodwin’s past grant applications and raised questions about some of her papers. The case has since been referred to the federal Office of Research Integrity (ORI) in Washington, D.C. Goodwin, maintaining her innocence, resigned from the university at the end of February.

2006. My how time has flown. There was a brief note from someone in the student’s department indicating that other laboratories had helped them to bring at least one paper to press.

Most noteworthy are the young scientists who worked so hard on the paper at early stages of their careers–because they are victims of this unfortunate situation and are doubly victimized if the conclusion the scientific community reaches is that this paper has no merit. Although the scientific results are the most important component of the vindication of the work, I feel strongly that we owe it to our young scientists to draw attention to the verification.

Hmm, that appears to be the last paper published by O. Lakiza.

An update, which I missed, in Science from June of this year gave us a preview of the Notice.

Four years after a group of graduate students faced the agonizing experience of turning in their mentor for apparently falsifying scientific data, she has pleaded guilty to a criminal charge in the case. Elizabeth Goodwin, who was a biologist at the University of Wisconsin (UW), Madison, until resigning in February 2006, admitted “that she included manipulated data” in a grant progress report “to convince reviewers that more scientific progress had been made with her research than was actually the case,”

it also says this about the fate of the trainees.

But the outcome for several students, who were told they had to essentially start over, was unenviable. One, Chantal Ly, had gone through 7 years of graduate school and was told that much of her work was not useable and that she had to start a new project for her Ph.D. (The reason wasn’t necessarily because of falsified data but rather, Ly and the others thought, because Goodwin stuck by results that were questionable.) Along with two of the others, she quit graduate school. Allen moved to a school in Colorado. Just two students chose to stay at UW.

One hopes the outcome is slightly better for the Hauser trainees…

Another interesting thing that popped up in the Hauser affair was the mention of involvement from the US Attorney’s office. Maybe I’m so focused on the misconduct that I usually ignore any mention of legal penalties. But the Science bit on Goodwin emphasizes that the Department of Justice press release (pdf) indicates a $50,000 fine to the HHS has already been issued. Furthermore:

Goodwin will be sentenced on 3 September on the charge of making false statements and faces up to 1 year in jail and a $100,000 fine.

Again, I can’t recall seeing these before but I may just have missed it. I’m wondering if this represents a new stance in these prosecutions, or perhaps if the PIs in question were just so egregious in their misconduct and obstinate in their defense that the BigGuns were brought to bear.