January 30, 2013

Doubling down on research

Shame on these people. It seems that some researchers are applying for grants to study XYZZY at several different granting agencies.

From Anthony at Watts Up With That:

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.

A bit more:

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.

$20 Million in fraud and this is just the low-hanging fruit found by two people and a computer. Working on a best estimate they say:

“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.”

Very seductive — come up with an interesting research project, get funding, do the project and write the paper and then a year later, change the name to protect the corrupt and submit it to another funding agency. Get the grant, re-hash the old data, write another paper and hang out for another year. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

This comment sums it up:

As our esteemed Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton would say: “WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES IT MAKE!”
Posted by DaveH at January 30, 2013 09:52 PM