Duplicate science: ‘funding agencies may have awarded millions and possibly billions of dollars to scientists’ for duplicate studies

From the:

Virginia Bioinformatics Institute at Virginia Tech

…comes this press release that makes me wonder why the University of Virginia spent close to a half million dollars trying to keep Dr. Michael Mann’s emails out of an FOIA request and lawsuit by the State attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli and the American Tradition Institute. I think with this new revelation of apparently widespread funding duplication in science, and the active reticence to produce those emails demonstrated by UVA, the justification to see those emails has now increased.

“… over the past two decades funding agencies may have awarded millions and possibly billions of dollars to scientists who submitted the same grant request multiple times — and accepted duplicate funding.”

I’m sure that if there is no issue, UVA will work quickly to put the issue at rest. It may be nothing, and there may be no duplication of any kind, but it would benefit everyone involved to put all the UVA email issues to rest. As it says in the Nature article: “There is no implication that McIntire or any of the other researchers connected to the cases in this news story committed any wrongdoing.”. However, I don’t think that “academic freedom” ensures full autonomy with grant money. Grant recipients are still beholden to the issuing agency and the taxpayer. I’m sure if nothing else, this revelation will cause some additional investigations, and if there was any grant duplication at UVA, it can likely be determined independently as the authors have demonstrated, and confirmed with grant papers and emails.

Scientists may have received millions in duplicate funding

Virginia Tech scientists use text-mining software to find cases of duplicate funding

Big Data computation at the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute at Virginia Tech reveals that over the past two decades funding agencies may have awarded millions and possibly billions of dollars to scientists who submitted the same grant request multiple times — and accepted duplicate funding. 

An analysis led by Harold R. Garner, a professor at Virginia Tech, not only indicates that millions in funding may have been granted and used inappropriately, it points to techniques to uncover existing instances of duplicate funding and ways to prevent it in the future. The analysis was presented in the comment section of this week’s Nature.

Submitting applications with identical or highly similar specific aims, goals, objectives, and hypotheses is allowed; however, accepting duplicate funding for the same project is not.

To estimate the extent of double-funding, Garner and his team, including programmer Lauren McIver, systematically compared 858,717 funded grant and contract summaries using text-similarity (text mining) software followed up by manual review.

These summaries were downloaded from public websites in the U.S. for the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy, the Department of Defense, and Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

Although the researchers could not definitively determine whether the similar grants were true duplicates — this would require access to the full grant files, which were not publicly available — they found strong evidence that tens of millions of dollars may have been spent on grants where at least a portion was already being funded. In the most recent five years (2007-2011), they identified 39 similar grant pairs involving more than $20 million.

“It is quite possible that our detection software missed many cases of duplication,” Garner said. “If text similarity software misses as many cases of funding duplications as it does plagiarism of scientific papers we’ve studied, then the extent of duplication could be much larger. It could be as much as 2.5 percent of total research funding, equivalent to $5.1 billion since 1985.”

Co-researcher and medical science ethicist Michael B. Waitzkin said, “In line with the Government Accountability Office report issued February 2012, these findings suggest the research community should undertake a more thorough investigation of the true extent of duplication and establish, clearer and more consistent guidance and coordination of grant and contract funding across agencies, both public and private.”

The researchers did not reveal specific principal investigators or research organizations identified as double-dippers, but said that no instances of double dipping were found at Virginia Tech.

###

Source: http://phys.org/news/2013-01-scientists-millions-duplicate-funding.html

Nature article: http://www.nature.com/news/funding-agencies-urged-to-check-for-duplicate-grants-1.12317

Note: In the Nature article the lead paragraph starts off with:

When neuroscientist Steven McIntire of the University of California, San Francisco, submitted a five-year, US$1.6-million grant application to the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) in November 2001, he did not mention that just five months earlier, the US Army had awarded him $1.2 million for a project with strikingly similar scientific aims.

Readers should note that this is NOT Steve McIntyre of Toronto, Canada, the operator of the skeptic website Climate Audit.

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55 thoughts on “Duplicate science: ‘funding agencies may have awarded millions and possibly billions of dollars to scientists’ for duplicate studies

  1. Maybe Anthony can set up a second Web site, call it MuttsUpWithThat or something, post the same stories there as here, and get twice the number of Big Oil checks!

    On second thought…

  2. What a surprise if it turns out that the scientists and administrators involved in these things just “happened” to pay themselves a duplicate salary from the duplicate funding. That would just be an honest mistake, easy for anyone to make, right?

  3. My God, the thievery. The more we delve into this, the uglier it becomes. The uglier it becomes, the more pressing it is to have full disclosure. It’s the ringing of one alarm bell after another, drawing more and more attention until something is done. It’s good to see this massive scam unravelling.

  4. A light bulb moment?
    I have been baffled by the silence of the academic experts toward the climate-gate revelations.
    But if the corruption is shared by the group,then light will be shunned, correction avoided.

  5. “… funding agencies may have awarded millions and possibly billions of dollars to scientists’ for duplicate studies.”

    Stop your howling Anthony; we all know the Trillions in $$$$, you and Dog are raking in from tapping into multiple pockets of Big Oil! ;)
    /sarc

  6. but said that no instances of double dipping were found at Virginia Tech.
    =========
    “Mares eat oats and does eat oats and little lambs eat ivy.”

  7. “As it says in the Nature article: “There is no implication that McIntire or any of the other researchers connected to the cases…”
    ###

    HUH??? Don’t the propagandist ever rest? The only reason that McIntire’s name appears in this paragraph, which otherwise makes absolutely no sense, is because it would not due to have the Manniacs name in the same paragraph were researcher wrong doing is being discussed. It could produce unintentional connections in the cognition of students who are still undergoing indoctrination.

  8. “Readers should note that this is NOT Steve McIntyre of Toronto, Canada, the operator of the skeptic website Climate Audit.”
    ###
    Um nevermind ….

  9. Am I the only person who thought ‘Tell me something I didn’t know’ when I read this? Seriously – we are all aware of the stupidity and wide ranging inefficacy of the public-funded AGW memed research. FFS, if the research was that good, with that much funding, surely the science would be settled (/sarc?).
    I am now curious as to how much as been spent on cancer research, or anti-malaria research, etc just for a comparison?

  10. “University of Virginia spent close to a half million dollars trying to keep Dr. Michael Mann’s emails out of an FOIA request and lawsuit by the State attorney general, …”

    Does this possibly point to a certain mann getting paid to molest GW data, and getting paid to torture GW data?

  11. I am sure the legal beagles involved already followed this path, but has anyone asked for a FOIA on the complete email account of the Grant Administrator? Sometimes its not the Big tree that starts a forest fire, but a little tree with lots of duff under its limbs that fuel the forest fire. A grant administrator email account makes for an interesting place to find loose strings.

  12. They used text comparison software to analyze grant report summaries. This hardly is a rigorous review considering the fact that many research programs are a series of similar studies with each successive one following up on detail or extending into unsampled areas (geographic regions, populations, time periods). Thus it’s quite likely summaries would have similar text yet be perfectly legitimate and separate studies. Furthermore, universities have separate research grant accounting offices to comply with federal regulations and which are subject to separate audits. Also there’s much competition for funding (about 1 in 5 applications is funded, IIRC) so it’s hard to justify a total replication without complaints coming from the competitors who didn’t get funded. don’t doubt that researchers network and know what’s going on and lobby for their projects through back channels.

    That being said, there have been cases of fraud taking place so oversight is necessary. This report just sounds a little too breathless to not have a skeptical eye turned on it.

  13. Both VA and the US have the False Claims Act for which violations can result in draconian sentences and recapture liability. The VA FCA is the law being used to by the VA AG to investigate Michael Mann.

  14. I can see funding different people to research the same questions as a cross check (there is too little of attempting to duplicate results). But not the same people.

  15. “Maybe Anthony can set up a second Web site, call it MuttsUpWithThat”

    No, then he would get inundated with complaints from dog lovers about the lack of dog related stories. :)

  16. I’m not sure how it works in the US but in the UK it’s common, and in many cases mandatory, for anyone who’s involved in a grant funded project but not 100% full time dedicated (i.e. as well as eligible activity – activity as outlined in the grant application – but who also engages in ineligible activity – activity not related to the grant application) has to keep a timesheet which can then be reconciled to payroll records.

    This prevents grant awarding bodies from paying recipients from using the grant for things that the awarding agency didn’t intend.

    It also highlights people who work rather too many hours and prevents multiple agencies for paying for the same person at the same time.

    Simple and quite effective.

  17. It does bring together why they talk about a ‘Doubling of CO2′ and a ‘Doubling of Warming’ – it seems that it could be said they might arrive at that due to a doubling of income?

    There is a DoulbleMint Gum prank in this somewhere. Or a Josh Cartoon.

  18. I would like to see a requirement that the funding be described in the abstract of any paper published.

  19. Its worth bearing in mind that a researcher can move universities and then ‘redone ‘ early research or that different researchers can be covering the same idea , not aware others are doing it and that new research is built on early research so may cover some of the same ground .
    There is quite a bit of work needed to short this out probably.

  20. No, No, you people don’t understand. They weren’t “duplicate studies.” They were “confirmation studies.”
    [/sarc]

    theduke

  21. At the UEA wasn’t there a famous Professor who admitted in a CRU e mail that he was being double funded by the Americans?

  22. “Readers should note that this is NOT Steve McIntyre of Toronto, Canada, the operator of the skeptic website Climate Audit.”

    Pity. His website is at least worth funding and it doesn’t seem as though the dispensers of taxpayers money would even notice…

  23. Is this illegal or is it just unethical?

    Because in climate science, it has to be something even the pro-AGW investigators can’t stomach for anything to happen.

  24. I’m not especially upset at this, for the same reason that I’m not upset at Congressional ‘earmarks’.

    Bringing home the bacon (military construction, roads, etc) gives politicians a meaningful way to reward the public for voting. It maintains a real-life “business” connection with people and communities. Without pork, politicians get elected solely on the basis of their ability to quote ideological slogans, which leads to evil.

    Big-time professors have to keep a large research facility running, and they do a lot of tricky funds transfers and empty grants to make it happen. Constant funding makes good science EASIER. You can run innovative little projects or dissertations that couldn’t get a grant. Not all profs do this, but without the “grease” it’s not possible at all.

    These auditor types or pork-busters keep public outrage focused on small “businesslike” irregularities, which makes it easier for the big ideological projects to get approved without any oversight.

  25. Eisebhower predicted this :

    Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers.

    The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present and is gravely to be regarded.

    Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientifictechnological elite.

  26. Look, there’s nothing wrong with duplicate studies per se. It’s an important check and balance which prevents data which turns out to be wrong from spawning several fruitless investigations which require it to be correct for the subsequent investigations to have meaning.

    It may be the case that it happens in slightly different ways, but sometimes slightly different results emerge which are complementary.

    You’d all be up in arms if scientists wasted £20m because a new ‘landmark discovery’ turned out to be faulty, it having not been confirmed independently by independent groups, eh??

  27. This Nature commentary is slander, pure and simple. Why don’t we just skip the science and fund more paperwork, like overlap declarations, and research for overlap, and committees to remove funding if your projects are too similar? This “result” is sure to be misinterpreted by the public and congress. In fact, someone should look into the funding of this study. It sounds to me like they found what they were paid to look for. And since they found what might be fraud, no doubt future funding is required. Excellent job professor Garner!

  28. polistra says:
    January 30, 2013 at 5:49 pm
    “Without pork, politicians get elected solely on the basis of their ability to quote ideological slogans, which leads to evil.”

    Pork – i.e. vote buying – better than ideas? (An ideology is a collection of ideas)

    In fact, vote buying is an ideology on its own, the ideology of the cleptocracy.

  29. Rhys Jaggar says:
    January 30, 2013 at 11:38 pm

    Yes, I see your point – but there’s duplicate ‘check’ studies and downright ‘multiplication’ studies, as well as the extension type studies (like, we found X affects Y, so we then applied to study if X also affects Z – despite the fact that Z and Y are essentially the same thing! – for example, Y, could be a certain type of tree and Z, a similar type of tree – but both trees are affected by drought/CO2/sun, etc, etc – the duplicity of the work therefore being largely pointless!) .
    Also, you are perhaps ignoring the genuine (and in my opinion primary) purpose of peer review which is to thoroughly check ‘new’ work so that, in the main, it doesn’t require duplication or further checking, especially when it’s simply data manipulation (I do accept that many real scientific experiments often require independent duplication for confirmation) Otherwise, we would have people still applying for grants to show that a moving magnet through a wire coil produces electricity! The AGW funding gravy train is largely based on ‘tweaking’ stuff just to add the AGW meme to an existing proposition or simply ‘refine’ past work.

  30. Rhys Jaggar says:
    January 30, 2013 at 11:38 pm

    Look, there’s nothing wrong with duplicate studies per se….

    Rhys, the problem lies with duplicate payments for the same study, this is commonly called fraud.

  31. “Readers should note that this is NOT Steve McIntyre of Toronto, Canada, the operator of the skeptic website Climate Audit.”

    I’m sure you could make that a darned sight clearer if you’d a mind to.

  32. Lol.
    Not a few researchers around the world submit their work for duplicate publication, or with only minor changes, so perhaps some of them think they should also be paid twice.

  33. Pardon my opening my yap when I haven’t even finished reading the aticle. I wish to comment at the earliest moment I can. My memory has it that the university spent over 5 million dollars defending the FOI request, claiming it would cost them half a million dolars to provide the requested information.
    The recent death of my elderly computer means I cannot source that quote immediately.
    I’ll check for it. Anthony, you or commentaters might also be able to confirm or refute it before I can confirm my recollection.
    Of course, as I’m currently relying on my meat memory, I may be wrong :)

  34. The editors at Nature are petulant to try to spice up the lead-in with a name that is recognizable to many of its readers, even though the specific reference is to a neuroscientist. Then again, I bet there is a back story going on. Either this Steve guy said use my name, or the rag possibly slandered him with innuendo, or the reference is made up of whole cloth. In all these scenarios, the name similarity is just plain schoolyard childishness.

  35. I think it’d be better if you made it clear which McIntire you _are_ defaming, rather than which one you’re not.
    Either that, or decline to defame any McIntire by redacting the article.

  36. Hey, VA Tech, my alma mater. At least the engineering college was mostly PC-free in the late ’70s (it cost me a mere ~$2500 a yr back then).

    I really don’t want to know about the situation now…..

  37. Occam’s razor: they have a boilerplate bunch of text that goes into every grant application. Press all the “right” buttons. “Climate change”, “unprecedented”, “warmest in history”, “diversity”, “yay science!”, “dead white men”, etc.

  38. What is amusing really about this is what Penn State Professor Scott Armstrong wrote as advice to those publishing Peer-reviewed Papers.

    From the Philadelphia Inquirer, March 23, 1982.
    Plain Prose: It’s Seldom Seen in Journals
    Written by Dick Pothier

    If you want to publish an article in some scientific or medical journal, here is some unusual advice from Scott Armstrong, a professor of marketing at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School: Choose an unimportant topic. Agree with existing beliefs. Use convoluted methods. Withhold some of your data. And write the whole thing in stilted, obtuse prose.

    Armstrong, who is the editor of a new research publication called the Journal of Forecasting, offered the advice in a serious, scholarly article last month in the journal’s first issue. He said yesterday that he had studied the publication process in research journals for years.

    “Although these rules clearly run counter to the goal of contributing to scientific knowledge — the professed goal of academic journals — they do increase a paper’s chance of being published,” Armstrong said….

    In one study, Armstrong said, academics reading articles in scientific journals rated the authors’ competence higher when the writing was less intelligible than when it was clear.

    In another study, Armstrong said, research papers were mailed to a sampling of dozens of researchers. Half the scientists received a paper that described an experiment confirming existing beliefs; the other half received a paper describing an identical experiment but with a different conclusion that challenged the consensus.

    Although the methods used in the two sets of papers were identical, the scientists surveyed generally approved of the procedures used in the papers that confirmed existing beliefs and generally disapproved of the same methods when they were used to contradict what most scientists believed, Armstrong said.

    “Papers with surprising results are especially important for adding significantly to what is known. Presumably, the editors of journals want to publish important papers,” Armstrong said. “On the other hand, they are concerned that the journal might look foolish — and so they reject many of the important papers.”

    For young academics who wish to be published in such journals, Armstrong said, “the factors that would seem to be a deadly combination would be choosing an important problem and obtaining surprising results.”

    Other studies, Armstrong said, indicate that obscure writing helps those who have little to say. And having little to say may also be an advantage, especially if the author withholds some significant data. “This will allow the researcher to continue publishing slightly different versions of the same research,” which Armstrong says is a common practice. ….

    This is another great article by Scott Armstrong:

    Bafflegab Pays May 1980

    “If you can’t convince them, confuse them.” Simply put, this is the advice that J. Scott
    Armstrong, a marketing professor at the Wharton School, coolly gives his fellow academics
    these days. It is based on his studies confirming what he calls the Dr. Fox hypothesis: “An
    unintelligible communication from a legitimate source in the recipient’s area of expertise will
    increase the recipient’s rating of the author’s competence.”

    …To test whether such bafflegab also pays in print, Armstrong asked 20 management
    professors to rank the academic prestige of 10 management journals that had varying degrees of
    readability according to the well-known Flesch Reading Ease Test. Sure enough, the top-rated
    journal was the hardest to read; the lowest-rated one, the easiest.
    But might not the more prestigious journals have addressed more complex subjects and
    required more difficult language? Armstrong tested that possibility by rewriting sections from
    management journals to make them more readable without changing the content—eliminating
    unnecessary words, substituting easy words for difficult ones, breaking long sentences into
    shorter ones…..

    Armstrong gave easy or difficult versions of four such passages to another group of 32 management professors and asked them to rate, on a scale from 1 to 7, “the competence of the research that is being reported.” The professors were not told the name of the journal or the author. Once again, the professors rated the easy version lower than the more difficult one….

    A more serious paper:

    Research on Scientific Journals: Implications for Editors and Authors
    Implications for Authors Regarding Intelligibility
    Scientific contributions
    Researchers who have a significant contribution can afford to write clearly. This is especially so if the researcher hopes to have an impact on decision-making or research. Furthermore, if “contributions to related fields” is used as a measure of importance, clear writing is vital. For important papers then, there is little conflict between career advancement and scientific contributions.

    Career advancement
    Good arguments exist for writing papers that are difficult to understand. It takes less time and it may increase the likelihood of acceptance. The writing could also be passive and use the third person to create the illusion of objectivity; Gilbert (1976) says that this gives the appearance that the researcher was not actively involved in the study. This advice on writing is especially important if the author has little to say. Unfortaunately, this advice is detrimental to scientific contributions…..

    Objectivity
    Objectivity can be defined as the extent to which a study is independent of the researcher’s bias….

    ….The goal of objectivity is one that is sought but seldom achieved because the bias of the researcher is always present. The fact that it is seldom achieved has been cited by Mitroff (1972) as an argument that objectivity is an unrealistic goal. Rather, he claims, scientists should recognize their biases openly, then be advocates for their favored hypothesis. He concluded that scientists became famous not by being objective, but by being advocates. This appears to be true. Advocacy is a good strategy for career advancement. However, I believe that it is bad advice for making scientific contributions (Armstrong, 1980a). Proponents of advocacy believe that the “marketplace for ideas” provides an efficient way to separate the good ideas from the bad. Under this system, scientists write papers to advocate their viewpoint. These papers are examined by secret peer review, then they are published and subjected to further review by readers. But numerous case histories illustrate the failure of the marketplace to provide an objective and efficient approach to science. For example, scientists tried to deny an opportunity for Immanuel Velikovsky to present his findings because they were in conflict with established scientific viewpoints in many scientific disciplines in the 1950s. These scientists boycotted the Macmillan publishing company, which had published Velikovsky’s Work….

  39. Sleepalot says:
    January 31, 2013 at 6:25 am

    I think it’d be better if you made it clear which McIntire you _are_ defaming, rather than which one you’re not.
    Either that, or decline to defame any McIntire by redacting the article.

    I’m not sure if McIntire is being defamed (and it would be by Nature, not Watts). Or are you suggesting that there are two McIntires and each submitted a grant application for the same thing? Besides, Nature said “There is no implication that McIntire or any of the other researchers connected to the cases in this news story committed any wrongdoing.” That doesn’t seem defamatory to me.

    It’s clear to this non-Canadian, non-Scot that McIntyre is not a subject of the Nature or Virginia Tech writings.

    Humble apologies if you’re heard this post via a text to voice application.

  40. Oops!
    I’m embarrassed.
    The only figures I have been able to find are: “UVA, with approximately $500,000 in support from private donors, has resisted an earlier records request under a Civil Investigative Demand by Virginia Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli, which he initiated pursuant to the Commonwealth’s Fraud Against Taxpayers Act (FATA). ”

    http://www.atinstitute.org/american-tradition-institute-v-university-of-virginia-dr-michael-mann/

    I had found an article that claimed (UVa’s) costs were rapidly approaching 1 million, but I can’t lay my hands on that, and nowhere have I found support for my idea that they spent so much more on lawyers than the cost they claimed to be avoiding.
    I was wrong.

  41. Geoffrey Thorpe-Willett says:
    January 30, 2013 at 10:33 pm

    Eisebhower predicted this :…………………………The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present and is gravely to be regarded.

    Thank you for that most apt reminder. The only difference is that the federal government is not innocent but is in on this funding fraud to raise taxes and get more power.

  42. Let me help out our visually challenged freinds.

    “… over the past two decades funding agencies may have awarded millions and possibly billions of dollars to scientists who submitted the SAME grant request MULTIPLE times — and accepted DUPLICATE FUNDING.”

    [My caps]

    This is not fraud because it’s being done for the greater good with regards to climate change. Let’s just turn a blind eye shall we. :-P

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