Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Who Guards the Guardians?

  • Fraud and misconduct in research
  • Junk science in the courtroom
  • Fraud and misconduct in law enforcement

 From junk science and fraudulent laboratory results in courtrooms, to misconduct in scientific research, to fake experiments, and to plagiarism, the criminal science investigator ensures honesty within the halls of science and the halls of justice.  The Office of Research Integrity of the US Department of Health and Human Services is the top of the CSI pyramid. 

Every research university has its own “institutional review board” to ensure that experiments conform to best practices.  Students at all levels in all disciplines are bound by an equivalent code of honor.
 In the picture above, it would be easy to assume that the woman to our right, in blue, is the Guardian.  But law enforcement often depends on the findings of scientists, technicians, and other professionals.  Who, then, is the guardian? 

  • Some remain beyond reproach after careful investigation.  That is what makes science work so well. 
  • Others are simple errors, easy to fix. 
This still leaves too many cases where scientific findings are falsified or falsely reported.  That includes those used by law enforcement and prosecution.

If you are interested in a career in forensic investigation, think beyond the "mass mediated hyper-reality" of TV drama.  The federal government, major research universities, and large corporations all employ scientific auditors.  Private practice is always an option. 

Even if you have no interest in criminal investigation, the same ethics of scientific research presented here apply to technology, business, trade, and commerce.
Within the scientific community, crimes are known.  As you will find below, it is an easy estimate that 20% of reports and findings are potentially suspect.  That seems like a large number, but it remains that 80% are not suspect.  Of those that are questionable, not all are the consequence of willful fraud, deception, or misconduct

Morality and Ethics

These are hard questions. 

Long ago, in a physics class, the professor got tired of answering homework questions.  Students would raise their hands and ask, "How do you do Number 6?"  .... "I couldn't get the answer in the back of the book for Number 7?"...  "What equation do you use for Number 3?" ...  Finally, he stopped.  He said that any of us would go out in the backyard and shoot hoops for 45 minutes, not make even one basket, and still claim to have had a good time.  "How long did you spend working the problem?" he asked.  "What methods - how many methods - did you try?"  So it is with morality and ethics.

In English, we use the words "morality" and "ethics" as synonyms.  In fact, they may mean very different things.  On my website, Washtenaw Justice, I propose that morality and ethics are different (link here). 

Morality defines objective requirements based on the real nature of the actor. Morality starts with you.  Morality is your path to survival.  Every choice - even for the girders on a bridge -  ultimately comes down to one question: right or wrong?

 Ethics is group behavior.  Different societies have different ethical rules, and often they cannot be proved to be morally superior to any other.  In some societies, the "bride price" is offered by the family of the groom.  In others, the bride's family offers a dowery.  In some "bride price" societies, morganatic rules allow the bride to keep her payment even if she quits the marriage.  In our society, we get presents on our birthdays.  In the world of J. R. R. Tolkein, hobbits give presents to others on their own birthdays.  There is no way to prove that one mode or manner is better than the other. 

If you were alone on an island you could make up your own ethics, but you would still need morality as a code of values against which to judge the choices that will keep you alive.

John Rawls (1921 – 2002) was the leading American philosopher of "social justice."  His key challenge was this: Design your ideal society.  Decide what institutions exist and how they are structured.  Decide who gets ahead and how.  ... No, you do not know in advance what your place in this world of yours will be.
Rawls is best known for A Theory of Justice, Belknap Press Harvard University, 1971.
Discussion by Dr. Jan Edward Garrett of Western Kentucky University here.
Discussion from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy here.

Ayn Rand (1905-1982) was the leading American philosopher of "ego-centric ethics."  Her non-fiction works include The Virtue of Selfishness, Capitalism: the Unknown Ideal, and The Romantic Manifesto.  She also wrote several novels, three of which were made into movies.
As you will see below, almost every professional society has some code of ethics.  They often say the same things, sometimes in different words.  It is easy to make up general rules for everyone else to follow.  It can be harder to know how to apply those general principles to daily problems.  But the answers exist.  They are knowable.  But it takes more than a minute to figure it out. 

Professional Codes of Conduct

Every professional society has a Code of Ethics.  Sometimes, these are expressed within a Mission Statement or Vision Statement.  More often, they are stated explicitly in a separate document.  Sometimes, these are brief lists of broad commandments.  Usually, they run several pages.  The Ethics statement of the Association of American Geographers runs ten pages followed by four pages of citations and acknowledgements. 
Follow the links to read the Code of Ethics of these professional organizations.
 What do they have in common?  Why do they differ?  The American Physical Society publishes these Supplemental Guidelines for Coauthors and Collaborators.  It reads in part:
"All collaborators share some degree of responsibility for any paper they coauthor. Some coauthors have responsibility for the entire paper as an accurate, verifiable, report of the research. These include, for example, coauthors who are accountable for the integrity of the critical data reported in the paper, carry out the analysis, write the manuscript, present major findings at conferences, or provide scientific leadership for junior colleagues."
This obviously applies to all work, whether for life science, social science, business administration, or performing arts.

University Research

When you enter college, you have the opportunity to work as an assistant at many levels as you progress through your course of studies.  Whether you choose engineering, business administration, life sciences and medicine, or physical sciences, you will be held to the same general code of conduct.  All colleges and universities publish their codes of conduct.  These apply to the classroom, of course.  Cheating and plagiarism are never tolerated.  With research, the standards are higher, defined more completely, and applied more broadly. 

The website has a recent (February 2012) blog entry, "The 10 Greatest Cases of Fraud in University Research."  Here is the link.

The Integrity in Scholarship webpages of the University of Mchigan Office of the Vice President for Research here describe in full detail what is expected.  That means both how they expect you to fulfill your obligations, as well as what they expect you to know.
Generally, nothing here should be surprising, confusing, or arguable.  This has been worked out over many years by many people.  Also, several interesting cases have tested the limits of these policies and they always stand up.

Stated one way or another. every college has these rules.

Misconduct in the pursuit of scholarship and research includes at least the following major offenses:
  • Fabrication of data: dishonesty in reporting results, ranging from fabrication of data, improper adjustment of results, and gross negligence in collecting or analyzing data to selective reporting or omission of conflicting data for deceptive purposes:
  • Plagiarism: taking credit for someone else’s work and ideas, stealing others’ results or methods, copying the writing of others without proper acknowledgment, or otherwise falsely taking credit for the work or ideas of another;
  • Abuse of confidentiality: taking or releasing the ideas or data of others which were shared with the legitimate expectation of confidentiality, e.g., stealing ideas from others’ grant proposals, award applications, or manuscripts for publication when one is a reviewer for granting agencies or journals;
  • Falsification in research: deliberately misrepresenting research, including the progress of research, to a research sponsor;
  • Dishonesty in publication: knowingly publishing material that will mislead readers, e.g., misrepresenting data, particularly its originality, misrepresenting research progress, or adding the names of other authors without permission;
  • Deliberate violation of regulations: flagrant and repeated failure to adhere to or to receive the approval required for work under research regulations of Federal, State, local or University agencies, including, but not limited to, guidelines for the:
  • protection of human subjects
  • protection of animal subjects
  • use of recombinant DNA
  • use of radioactive material
  • use of hazardous chemicals or biologicals
  • conduct of classified research
  • Property violations: stealing or destroying property of others, such as research papers, supplies, equipment, or products of research or scholarship;
  • Failure to report observed major offenses: covering up or otherwise failing to report major offenses or breaches of research ethics by others that one has observed.
  • Retaliation: taking punitive action against an individual for having reported alleged major offenses.
"Plagiarists have been demoted, dismissed from their schools, from their jobs, and their degrees and honors have been rescinded as a result of their misdeeds (Standler, 2000)."
On the ORI website is the case of a researcher who had 15 ethical violations. The first two charges against him included falsification of PowerPoint presentations.

The Office of Research Integrity

The Office of Research Integrity (ORI) is within the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

To work for the ORI, you need to have education and experience in a combination of areas that may include medical and biological sciences, or physical sciences, as well as business administration, accounting, criminology, or other fields.  Like all agencies, ORI and HHS also hire peopel for administrative, clerical, and information technology opportunities.

Read about HHS jobs briefly here.
Then, visit the federal government job site here.

The Office of Research Integrity is headed by a Director who reports to the Assistant Secretary of Health.  
"The Office of Research Integrity (ORI) promotes integrity in biomedical and behavioral research supported by the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS) at about 4,000 institutions worldwide. ORI monitors institutional investigations of research misconduct and facilitates the responsible conduct of research (RCR) through educational, preventive, and regulatory activities."
Office of Public Health and Science is responsible for overseeing the research at these federal programs:
  • National Institutes of Health.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • The Food and Drug Administration
  • The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
  • The Health Resources and Services Administration
  • The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.
  • The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
  • The Indian Health Service
  • Office of Regional Health Administrators
"In FY 2004, the PHS provided at least $30 billion for health research and development, primarily in the biomedical and behavioral sciences through its extramural and intramural programs."

Read the full history of ORI here.
"Research misconduct became a public issue in the United States in 1981 when then Representative Albert Gore, Jr., chairman of the Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee of the House Science and Technology Committee, held the first hearing on the emerging problem. The hearing was prompted by the public disclosure of research misconduct cases at four major research centers in 1980. Some twelve cases of research misconduct were disclosed in this country between 1974-1981. Congressional attention to research misconduct was maintained throughout the 1980s by additional allegations of research misconduct and reports that the National Institutes of Health (NIH), universities, and other research institutions were inadequately responding to those allegations."

The Case of Junghee J. Shin, Ph.D.

From the Office of Research Integrity, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, website, the full case study is here.   Students need be aware of several key facts.
  1. Dr. Shin is a researcher today.  He continues his work. 
  2. He committed the infractions when he was a graduate student in 2004.
  3. The fraud was discovered and he published a retraction in 2008.
  4. Then, in 2010, the ORI followed up on the separate crime of fraud with federal funding based on the harms committed in 2004.
 Where were you seven years ago?  If you are in the 8th grade now, then you were in the first grade then.  Suppose you cheated on a spelling test.  That fact was not revealed until the tests were regraded three years later.   You then write a letter of apology to your 1st grade teacher and the principal.  Then, four years after that, your current school announces that because you cheated on a spelling test in the 1st grade, you will report to the office every day to tell them that you are not cheating now.  In research this is called a "remediation plan."

That may all seem unfair. But that is how science works; and it is how federal funding of research works.  Actions have consequences.  If you commit research fraud, that fact will never be erased, expunged or forgotten.  It will come back to haunt you repeatedly.

Moreoover, every such case is always reported in The Federal Register.  It becomes part of the documentary history of the United States. (The abbreviation GPO stands for Government Printing Office.)
[Federal Register: August 25, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 164)]
[Page 52346]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access []

Furthermore, consider the impact not only on Dr. Shin, but on his colleagues.  He committed two separate acts of "fudging" his data and his reports.  His work was part of a group effort. Therefore, his retraction also invalidated their work.  Even if their results were beyond reproach, the paper and the manuscript were withdrawn, thus negating the valid work of his colleagues. 

Junghee J. Shin, PhD, New York Medical College: Based on the report of an investigation conducted by New York Medical College (NYMC) and additional analysis by the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) in its oversight review, the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS) found that Junghee J. Shin, PhD, former graduate student, NYMC, engaged in research misconduct in research supported by National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), National Institutes of Health (NIH), grants R01 AI048856 and R01 AI043063.
PHS found that the Respondent engaged in research misconduct by falsifying data in Figure 4 of a manuscript submitted to the journal Infection and Immunity (Shin, J.J., Godfrey, H.P., & Cabello, F.C. "Expression and localization of BmpC in Borrelia burgdorferi after growth under various environmental conditions." Submitted to Infection and Immunity; hereafter referred to as the "manuscript") and Figure 5 of a paper published in Infection and Immunity (Shin, J.J. Bryksin, A.V., Godfrey, H.P., & Cabello, F.C. "Localization of BmpA on the exposed outer membrane of Borrelia burgdorferi by monospecific anti- recombinant BmpA rabbit antibodies." Infection and Immunity 72(4):2280-2287, April 2004, hereafter referred to as the "paper." Retracted in: Infection and Immunity 76(10):4792, October 2008).

The Mass-Mediated Hyper-reality of Crime

The CSI franchise, the Law & Order franchise, the NCIS franchise (will there be a new show, NCIS: Port to Port?), these are businesses that sell fiction as closely related to criminology as Star Trek is to physics. 

We know rationally that few human problems as intense as marriage and murder can be solved in 54 minutes.  The telescoping of time is a convenience for storytelling.  The real problem with crime fiction is that it obscures basic truths by projecting startling anomolies as real.  Corporate executives do not kill each other - in real life, deaths come from corporate irresponsibility and the victims are anonymous and many.  When "the boys in the hood" kill each other over drugs, we do not see who owns the airplanes (and submarines) that bring the stuff in.  More to the point, it is not necessary for the poor to commit homicide to go to prison.  According to University of Michigan law professor, Samuel R. Gross,  as many as 80,000 people have been wrongfully imprisoned in the past generation. They were not corporate executives framed for murder. 

It is also true that, generally, at the time a so-called "first offender" first makes a court appearance he has committed about 30 previous felonies for which he was either not caught or otherwise avoided consequences. 

In order to separate fact from fiction, it is important to define the crimes, harms, actors and circumstances.

Generally, any police chief will tell you that 80% of the problems come from 20% of the addresses in any neighborhood.  The sons of lawyers, doctors and accountants are just as likely to shoot out street lights with a pellet gun as the friends they don't have across town.  Their fathers are just as likely to strike their mothers or abuse their cousins.  The difference is in the response of the criminal justice system - even as the ultimate response (doing nothing) may be the same. 

On the other hand, when a series of burglaries is reported and when the neighborhood calls the city council representative to get action from the police, the response is widely different across neighborhoods.  In the suburbs, useless patrols roll through the subdivisions more often.  In the city, "known offenders" are rounded up and charged with crimes.

For the accused youth in the suburbs, there are more resources.  Plea bargaining is not a matter of choosing jail over prison by admitting to crimes they did not commit so that the police can "clear" a string of reported harms.

And we are talking about youths. Burglary, shoplifting, petty drugs, graffiti, and vandalism are the crimes of youth - and most offenders simply age out of crime.  Marriage, family, work, and overall maturity take a toll on the headstrong and carefree. 

But that does not make a good TV franchise.

 In the city much retail business is "off the books."   Plumbers, electricians, auto mechanics, and beauticians are among the many productive people who look "unemployed" to the authorities.  The businesses themselves are illegal, being unlicensed.  Making an honest living is against the law.  Again, that does not play well on TV or in the movies.

When gangs of toughs shake down neighborhood merchants, we call that a shake down.  When Goldman Sachs extracts a $12.9 billion dollars from the people of the United States, we call that quantitative easing.

As a result of the mass-media distortions that reflect back to us the reflected images we sent back to them, among the most common fears of crime is among old, white women in the suburbs who watch out for serial cannibals. It is unlikely that the neighborhood librarian poisoned her nephew to prevent him from coming out.  However, it is likley that she has been visited by federal agents wanting to know who is reading which books.  That, too, is a story that does not play well on television crime franchises.

Eastern Michigan University professor of criminology Gregg Barak is responsible for several innovations in the sociology of crime.  Most recently, he and his collaborators, Prof. Young S. Kim, and Hon. Donald E. Shelton, published a series of papers on the "CSI Effect"  (summary here.).  Among Dr. Barak's other investigations is "newsmaking criminology" the relationship between the mass media and the reality of crime. 

Click on "Older Posts" to contine presentation.

Junk Science in the Courtroom


Some of these are real.  Fingerprints exist.  They can be matched.  Blood grouping (blood is "grouped" not "typed") can place an individual within a "race" or "gens" or "family" narrowing the range of suspects.  Shoes and firearms do leave marks.  But millions of people have the same blood "type" (O, AB, A, B; positive or negative), and even after identifying a dozen proteins to place the sample within a  "race" or other group, many people have these proteins and they are inherited across groups.  Moreover, we do not understand fully the mechanisms of mutation that cause these variations.  Blood grouping is a statistical outcome only, not an identifier of an individual.

What makes these junk science is the way prosecutors use them in the courtroom, inflating their accuracy, precision, and reliability beyond reason. 

Consider DNA evidence.  The results are given as a percentage of likelihood.  No such numbers are offered for fingerprints. 

Meticulous cataloguing suggested that no two people had the same set of prints.  That may well be true.  We do not know for sure.  This is an empirical truth only.  It is the Problem of the Black Swan. Until the discovery of Australia, Europeans said that all swans are white.    Like primitives for whom the sun has always come up in the east, but who have no knowledge of astronomy, we can take all the measurements we want, but we do not know the genomes and alleles for fingerprints; we know the what, but not the why.

Fingerprint examiners never disagree with each other in court.  They only agree that the prints identify or are "inconclusive."  In Suspect Identities, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001) Simon Cole tells the story (pp. 264-266; 272-274; 282) of experts in disagreement all of whose certifications were revoked because that was the only way for the International Association for Indentification to maintain the fiction that experts do not disagree about fingerprints. 

The fact remains that fingerprints have been forged by several methods by police and by criminals.  (The FBI first found a forgery by a law enforcement officer in 1925.)

These same problems are unanswered for matching bullets to guns, or tire treads, or shoe prints, etc., etc.  No rigorous scientific study has established a statistically valid database. 

Recovered memories and psychic evidence are even worse.  Everyone knows that a new event or perception can trigger an old memory.  When we meet our friends and relatives, we love to "remember the time when... "  But we also know that memories change over time: they degrade and become confused.  A skilled and forceful interrogator can plant memories in an accused suspect or an alledged victim.  There are no scales or rulers or filters - there is no way to measure the results for accuracy.  Belief in psychic phenomena is common across cultures, as are other superstitions.  The CIA, KGB, and astronaut Edgar Mitchell all famously attempted to find scientific validity for psychic phenomena.  None succeeded.  Whatever our desire to believe, it is wrong to send people to prison based on folk tales and wishful thinking.

I say a bit more on my blog, Necessary Facts here .

When you practice these forensic techniques yourself, you learn the strengths and weaknesses of laboratory evidence.  These are all basic skills for home, hobby, crafts and laboratory. Some of them - such as plaster casting - are centuries old and have many applications, aside from criminalistics. 

Author: Kenneth G. Rainis
A search for "forensic science experiments" on Google Books returned about a dozen hits.  Your librarian usually can find what you need, if online reading is not rewarding.  A search via MelCat (Michigan eLibrary Catalog) returned over 20 useful titles. Your school librarian can tell you which are available for inter-library loan. 

Forensics includes document examination, to detect forgeries and counterfeits.  Today's computer printers often put a nearly-microscopic pattern of yellow dots on every sheet to identify the source.  Today's scanner's can identify currency (paper money) and will record the time and date of the action.

Forgeries of paintings and other fine art objects are traditional crimes.  Numismatists must be able to identify when historic money objects have been altered to increase their value.  Mintmarks have been added or removed from coins; signatures have been added to banknotes. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Misconduct in Police Laboratories

A web browser will deliver hundreds of hits.  Search for "police laboratory misconduct" and "forsenic fraud" and similar terms to uncover case after case.  These are the among the most prominent recent examples, but they are not alone or exceptional.
  • Houston Police Department
  • Detroit Police Department
  • North Carolina Bureau of Investigation
  • San Francisco Police Department
Several problems work at once.  First, to err is human.  If a laboratory is 99,9% perfect and runs 10 tests a day, then three mistakes per year are likely.  That is not too bad -- except that the mistakes put innocent people in prison... and on death row.  Labs are over-worked.  Everyone wants "CSI evidence."  Haste leads to errors; and double-checking is not cost-effective or time-effective.  Then, there is the fact that police labs support police expectations.  If evidence is inconclusive, laboratories may report what the police tell them is most likely.
Laboratories are no different from any other human social structure.   In 2004, Brandon Mayfield of Washington County, Oregon, was accused of participating in the terrorist bombing of the Madrid, Spain, train station.  The Spanish police sent fingerprints and other evidence from the scene to agencies around the world, including the FBI.  The FBI fingerprint lab found a possible partial match indicating Brandon Mayfield, a lawyer, whose fingerprints were on file.  After close examination, two different examiners ruled him out.  In their opinion, it was not a match.  However, their boss, the fingerprint laboratory supervisor insisted that they were wrong and argued them into changing their opinions.  In 2006, the US Government admitted its mistake awarding a damage claim to Mayfield.
Use your browser to find out about Brandon Mayfled
Here is the Report from the Department of Justice's own Office of the Inspector General.
Fred Zain
 Forensic scientist Fred Zain lied about his credentials when he got his job at the West Virginia state police crime lab.  He lied about his college major, claiming chemistry.  In fact, he majored in English and got a D in the only chemistry class he took.  Zain later got a job in Texas with the San Antonio police department.  However, the problems with the West Virginia lab continued, after his leaving.   “Independent expert Mark Stolorow found that every category of misconduct that was committed by Fred Zain was also committed by Fred Zain’s assistants” after Zain left..."  
(National Association of Criminal Defense Laywers here.)
Joyce Gilchrist
A forensic scientist with the Oklahoma City police department, Gilchrist's testimony sent 12 men to the electric chair.  In her 21 years on the department, she received only positive evaluations, was awarded Employee of the Year, and was promoted to supervisor.

The Innocence Project

"The Innocence Project was founded in 1992 by Barry C. Scheck and Peter J. Neufeld at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University to assist prisoners who could be proven innocent through DNA testing. To date, 268 people in the United States have been exonerated by DNA testing, including 17 who served time on death row. These people served an average of 13 years in prison before exoneration and release."
 "Unvalidated or improper forensic science is a leading cause of wrongful convictions. In more than 50% of the DNA exonerations nationwide, unvalidated or improper forensic science contributed to the underlying wrongful conviction."

According to the University of Michigan Law School which has an Innocence Clinic (here) these are the leading causes of wrongful conviction: 
Eyewitness Misidentification Eyewitness misidentification is the single greatest cause of wrongful convictions nationwide. Research shows that the human mind is not like a tape recorder; we neither record events exactly as we see them, nor recall them like a tape that has been rewound. Instead, witness memory is like any other evidence at a crime scene; it must be preserved carefully and retrieved methodically, or it can be contaminated. 
Junk Science Many forensic testing methods have been applied with little or no scientific validation and with inadequate assessments of their significance or reliability. As a result, forensic analysts sometimes testify in cases without a proper scientific basis for their findings. And in some cases, forensic analysts have engaged in misconduct.
False Confessions In many cases, innocent defendants make incriminating statements, deliver outright confessions, or plead guilty. Regardless of the age, capacity, or state of the confessor, what they often have in common is a decision—at some point during the interrogation process—that confessing will be more beneficial to them than continuing to maintain their innocence.
Government Misconduct In some cases, government officials take steps to ensure that a defendant is convicted despite weak evidence or even clear proof of innocence.
Snitches Often, statements from people with incentives to testify—particularly incentives that are not disclosed to the jury—are the central evidence in convicting an innocent person. People have been wrongfully convicted in cases in which snitches are paid to testify or receive favors in return for their testimony.
Bad Lawyering The failure of overworked lawyers to investigate, call witnesses, or prepare for trial has led to the conviction of innocent people.
According to Samuel R. Gross, professor at the University of Michigan Law School, it is statistically likely that as many as 80,000 innocent people have been convicted since 1980

Target's Forensic Laboratory: Private Service for Public Agencies

If you want a career as a forensic scientist, you might think of the FBI or your state police or big city police department.  Would you consider Target?  Television brings us dramas about public police.  The newspapers print stories - good and bad - about public police.  But public policing is only about one-third of the market in security and  protection. 

 For over 40 years, the private sector has been larger and growing.  Securitas, headquartered in  Stockholm, Sweden,  employs 90,000 guards in the USA and over a quarter million (280,000) in 45 nations worldwide. They are not the largest, G4S of London, employs 625,000 in 120 countries.  Securitas owns the American companies formerly known as Pinkertons and Burns.  G4S bought the American firm Wackenhut. 

Counting private forensic laboratories is problematic because registration, licensing, and association memberships are not regulated uniformly across states.  Private forensic laboratories are not directly regulated in Michigan.

Thursday, February 09, 2006
Target sets sights on hard-to-crack cases
I got an unusual assignment this week -- Target's crime lab. Yes, I'm talking about that Target, the national "upscale discounter," as they style themselves in the information package the company hands out to reporters.

Turns out Target has one of the most advanced crime labs in the country at its headquarters in Minneapolis, Minnesota. It was initially set up to deal with things like theft, fraud, and personal injury cases in their stores. Now, Target also helps law enforcement agencies nationwide solve crimes, even murders. Target has worked with the Secret Service, the ATF, and the FBI, to name a few.

Target does the work for free, seeing it as a kind of community service. It doesn't advertise its crime lab services, but word started spreading and law enforcement agencies started asking for help. Some government agency labs aren't as well-equipped as Target's. In other cases, Target can get results faster because of logjams in agency labs.

Target's lab is run by an ex-FBI agent and boasts a staff of forensic experts. They spend a lot of time analyzing video from surveillance cameras in their own stores.
Full story here


Richard P. Feynman, "Cargo Cult Science"
This was Dr. Feynman's graduation address to the class of at the California Institute of Technology where he had been a professor since 1950.

I think the educational and psychological studies I mentioned are examples of what I would like to call cargo cult science. In the South Seas there is a cargo cult of people. During the war they saw airplanes land with lots of good materials, and they want the same thing to happen now. So they've arranged to imitate things like runways, to put fires along the sides of the runways, to make a wooden hut for a man to sit in, with two wooden pieces on his head like headphones and bars of bamboo sticking out like antennas--he's the controller--and they wait for the airplanes to land. They're doing everything right. The form is perfect. It looks exactly the way it looked before. But it doesn't work. No airplanes land. So I call these things cargo cult science, because they follow all the apparent precepts and forms of scientific investigation, but they're missing something essential, because the planes don't land.

[What is missing is ] a kind of scientific integrity, a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of utter honesty--a kind of leaning over backwards. For example, if you're doing an experiment, you should report everything that you think might make it invalid--not only what you think is right about it: other causes that could possibly explain your results; and things you thought of that you've eliminated by some other experiment, and how they worked--to make sure the other fellow can tell they have been eliminated.

Misconduct Cases
from the Office of Research Integrity of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. About 40 cases going back to before 2007 are summarized.
"The Office of Research Integrity (ORI) promotes integrity in biomedical and behavioral research supported by the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS) at about 4,000 institutions worldwide. ORI monitors institutional investigations of research misconduct and facilitates the responsible conduct of research (RCR) through educational, preventive, and regulatory activities."
All investigations and their results are entered into the [Federal Register and become part of the permanent documentary history of the government of the United States of America. 

The ORI also provide tools for detecting plagiarism ( and a rich set of guidelines for avoiding plagiarism here:

Voodoo Science by Robert Park.
"Robert L. (Bob) Park is professor of physics and former chair of the Department of Physics at the University of Maryland. For twenty years, research into the properties of crystal surfaces occupied most of his waking hours, but in 1983 he was recruited by astrophysicist Willie Fowler (who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics later that year) to open a Washington Office of the American Physical Society. Bob initiated a weekly report of happenings in Washington that were important to science, and with the development of the internet, the weekly report evolved into the news/editorial column What's New. For the next twenty years he divided his time between the University and the Washington Office. In 2003 he returned to the University full time. With the support of the Department of Physics of the University of Maryland, he continues to write the occasionally controversial What's New, which has developed a following that extends beyond physics.
"Dr. Park has also written two books based on his Washington experience:
Voodoo Science: The Road from foolishness to Fraud (Oxford, 2000)
Superstition: Belief in the Age of Science (Princeton, 2008). "
In addition to "free energy" and "cold fusion" Voodoo Science also exposes the unscientific claims for human space travel, planetary exploration and colonization.

Plastic Fantastic by Eugenie Samuel Reich.

"Between 2000 and 2002, Jan Hendrik Schön, a researcher at Bell Laboratories, published more than 20 articles on electrical properties of unusual materials. He shot to the very top of the booming field of “molecular electronics”—a wonder field in which researchers aim to shrink computer chips down to single-molecule components. At Schön’s peak, he was submitting 4 or 5 articles per month, most of them going to top journals like Science and Nature. He hit his record in autumn 2001, turning out 7 articles that November alone. The output was staggering. It’s rare for a scientist—even a string theorist, beholden neither to instruments nor to data—to submit 7 articles in an entire year, let alone one month. And Schön’s papers were no run-of-the-mill exercises. In them, he announced one unbelievable discovery after another: He had created organic plastics that became superconductors or lasers; he had fashioned nanoscale transistors; and more. The editors of Science hailed one of his many contributions as a “breakthrough of the year” in 2001. The CEO of Lucent Technologies (parent company of Bell Labs) likewise touted Schön’s work when courting investors. Everything Schön touched seemed to turn to research gold.
"Alas, it was fool’s gold."
The website has a new (February 2012) blog entry, "The 10 Greatest Cases of Fraud in University Research."  The link is:

The Lab: An Interactive Video

The Office of Research Integrity of the US Department of Health and Human Services produced a learning tool to help understand the ethical, moral, and legal requirements of scientific investigation.
The full version is online and you can download a guide.
"In The Lab: Avoiding Research Misconduct, you become the lead characters in an interactive movie and make decisions about integrity in research that can have long-term consequences. The simulation addresses Responsible Conduct of Research topics such as avoiding research misconduct, mentorship responsibilities, handling of data, responsible authorship, and questionable research practices."

Search Engines and Indexes

First you must search before you research

When you begin an investigation, you need to map out the limits of your study.  You need to see what others before you have done.  You need to learn the key concepts, terminology, and questions.
  • Google
  • Google Scholar
  • Google Images
The Google products are very popular because they meet most needs of most people most of the time.  However, other search engines engage other algorithms for parsing information.  They return different hits to your query.
  • Bing
  • Yahoo
  • Ask
  • Lycos
In addition, there are "meta" engines that combine the resources of several other engines at the same time.  Dogpile is popular.  However, try Metacrawler.
Exalead Search was recommended to general scholars by the Library at the University of California Berkeley.  It will seldom return the answers you expect.

Your school librarian and your community librarian can provide you with access to sophisticated databases of peer-reviewed academic journals and research publications.  In addition, those periodicals are indexed and cross-referenced by other services. 

These are among the largest general-purpose indexes. JSTOR tracks over 1400 peer-reviewed academic journals, typically the most important in each of 50 academic fields, including social sciences, life sciences, and physical sciences.  Gale (headquartered here in Farmington Hills, Michigan)  is a major provider of indexing, abstracting, and sourcing databases.  Among Gale's many services are Cengage and Academic Onefile.   Your librarians (school and community) can help you locate reliable research and reporting.

Among the over 200 available catalogs, indexes, and collections are these:
  • Abstracts in Anthropology
  • ACM Digital Library (Association for Computing Machinery)
  • Biological & Agricultural Index
  • CAMIO - Catalog of Art Museum Images Online
  • Directory of Open Access Journals (Scholarly journals that are free on the web)
  • Dissertations & Theses Full Text
  • ERIC - Key source for Education articles and reports
  • Linguistics & Language Behavior Abstracts
  • MathSciNet
  • MEDLINE (via FirstSearch)
  • Ornithological Worldwide Literature (OWL)
  • PsycINFO
  • Scitation (American Institute of Physics)
  • Sociological Abstracts
  • SPORT Discus
  • THOMAS - U.S. Congress on the Internet
  • TOXNET - Toxicology Data Network
  • Wiley Online Library
  • WorldCat - via FirstSearch
  • Writer's Reference Center