Friday, September 13, 2013
Most outrageous scientific fraud evahh?
Probably not but it's right up there. Introducing Bruce Murdoch, professor at the University of Queensland, founding head of the Centre for Neurogenic Communication Disorders, and for nearly a decade dean of the UQ School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, author of nearly 400 peer reviewed journal articles and 13 books. Murdoch caused a sensation back in 2012 when he presented findings that transcranial magnetic stimulation -- basically applying powerful magnetic fields to the brain -- caused people with advanced Parkinson's disease to regain the ability to speak.
This historic, miraculous breakthrough was then published in the European Journal of Neurology. Here's the funny part though, you'll really find this amusing. He never did the study. He made the whole thing up.
You've probably heard, and it's generally true, that most cases of research fraud are all about the intense, cutthroat competition for faculty appointments and promotions. We're turning out many more PhDs then will ever have a decent academic job (yes, I count myself lucky), and the competition for research funding also grows ever more brutal, so young people sometimes get desperate. Clearly, this explanation does not apply hear, as it also did not apply to Marc Hauser.
What is going on here? I'm not entirely sure but my guess is that the egotism and ambition that help drive people to the top ranks of academia are ultimately not satisfied by the very narrow circle of fame that pertains. That all the investigators in the field of neurogenic communication disorders have heard of you only slakes your hunger for admiration. When you go to those conferences, you still have to fly economy class, carry your own luggage, and make a 15 minute presentation on the same stage with assistant professors and post-docs. Your students only pretend to worship you because they want a recommendation or a toehold appointment as a lecturer. But if you can do something really astonishing, that will get your name on the television or even an appearance on a talk show, now you'll really be a celebrity, everybody will know you're the really big deal you already know you are.
In discussing other cases, I've pointed out the immense swath of destruction cut by this behavior. His students and post-docs will have trouble finding employment. The university may not be able to find alternative placement for some of them. His collaborators are disgraced. Funding that could have gone to productive research has been squandered. The very limited space in a top journal has been stolen from a legitimate study, and scientists the world over deceived. Some may have initiated work of their own which turns out to be a total waste. Thousands of people around the world have been given false hope.