Wednesday, 4 June 2014

The greater the reward the higher the chances of fraud

It's nice to have the chance to write about law again after so many years away as a teacher. Having studied some criminology the motivation and history of dishonest people has never changed from day one. Basically you have three levels of individual. The leader, the one who is a psychopath and has no morals whatsoever, the follower, the one who either is pressurised into joining in from the combination of threats and rewards, or simply works to hide the fraud without benefitting directly, and the clean one who refuses to get involved and is often sacked or implicated as a whistleblower.

Having done a short survey of scientific and related fraud cases, the formula there is no different. The bell shaped curve of most people who wouldn't do it but a few at the end who always do, with more who will given the conditions, and it applies exactly the same to science as every other field. Why not? Scientists don't have an integrity field not present in all other areas, like everyone else they are human first and scientists second. The same spread of good and bad people and equal susceptibility to outside pressures. And in science with fierce competition for publication and ultimately maybe even a Nobel Prize the stakes become incredibly high.

So as a result we have a recent 21st century record of mainly internally administered discipline, but at the far end at least one court case as the system decided the fraud was too serious to overlook. I won't make this into a database of related cases as there's no shortage of those already, but a way to analyse and present the formula involved of scientific fraud, especially the major issue that nearly every guilty example was indeed peer reviewed. This is because peer review assumes honesty so was never designed for it. Therefore more garbage gets through and the general public simply assume it's genuine as they don't know how the system works, and takes a sharp eyed witness to call them for something not feeling right. I'll add some links at the end to see the details. But the main formula here is the greater the reward the greater the chance of fraud. Cut to America and the EU. They have spent billions of government (our) money on one thing in the last decade, climate research. That is where the big bucks are, and traditionally scientists have studied very hard, worked even harder, and like performers only the top few have done really well. The rest make a good living, but nothing like law or accountancy. They are partly teachers and partly researchers, and if not employed by the private sector have their salaries limited by public funds, which represent the great majority employed in universities.

Competing for grants means each project is funded, but the expenses and exact fate of the amount is barely followed, the money is for the research and expected to be used for it. If they produce the results then no one goes back and asks how many hotel rooms were paid for, it is assumed the money was spent on the research and whatever else was required to do so. This means roughly if they produce the results in the reasonable time, no one will check the hours they actually spent and whether £500 went on computer time, test tubes or a week's holiday. You get the drift. But the really big rewards are from fame, with the associated speaking fees and media appearances, like footballers. Get a major paper used by the government and you're a scientific celebrity. Some can charge many thousands for a single lecture and enhance their salary ten times or more from being the person who wrote that paper. The rarity with which they actually catch them out for faking either some or in some cases the entire material means the risks involved are almost zero. Which takes us nicely in a circle to the rule, the greater the reward the likelier the fraud.

Then imagine the protection required to maintain the golden goose laying its eggs. Climategate exposed the backroom mechanisms in both calling some experts in private on their cheating, which is obvious to their real peers who know exactly what they're doing and how they do it, and far worse the vast efforts they made to hide it when they did pick it up. Looking back on the famous frauds like Enron and Bernie Madoff which took years to discover, totally by chance after passing various investigations officially, it shows even though sharp eyes can spot the signs instantly the system itself takes years to decide to investigate the rare times it does (normally they are part of the fraud so the great majority go unchallenged), but with criminal prosecutions for Libor fixing, gold price fixing and doctoring police evidence at the very top in Hillsborough looking very far away, despite the confessions already being made and civil penalties collected in some cases, shows how unlikely anyone involved will ever be dealt with. Knowing this those with the will to do so realise they are almost certainly fireproof, and if ever challenged can usually get those same peers (like Lord Oxburgh who headed the Climategate investigation, who was part of the same community he was investigating) to get the result they want. With Libor, claims the banks only did it as they were ordered to makes perfect sense in two ways, firstly how can banks cheat the figures every single day for years without the slightest reaction, and secondly and more importantly, if any case went to trial then the perpetrators who gave the orders would be revealed, and the government would end up prosecuting its own civil servants at the very top. Imagine the effect on the voters. Even if the ministers themselves could protect themselves from direct implication the confidence would go down the toilet and people would rightly assume it wasn't just this lot but probably all of them.

It really doesn't take much to draw your own conclusions from here. The links below show the examples, the mechanisms involved, and the total absence of any scrutiny from peer review.

First US case of criminal science fraud

"My interest is in correcting the science and bringing this academic cheating to light," he said, "and maybe sending a message saying, 'You're being watched, and you shouldn't do it.'"

The case is: U.S. ex rel. Jones v. Brigham and Women's Hospital, et al, 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No: 10-2301

You can't get grants easily without cheating

Returning to my target of climatologists having the currently greatest temptations and largest protection system on the planet, here is the only parliament in the world prepared to question the IPCC and its entire system directly, albeit only the opposition in the form of the US Republican party, the only serious group on the planet not part of this dominant mindset.

US IPCC committee findings

 “Well, the IPCC does not perform science itself and doesn’t monitor the climate, but only reviews carefully selected scientific literature.”

Now what this is basically saying is the IPCC is the highest level of peer review, meaning it does not question the veracity of its studies (otherwise how would Greenpeace articles written to scare people to stop using fossil fuel, or fabricated figures about melting Himalayan glaciers which had never actually be measured pass the test?) but treats it all pretty much the same and with a built in agenda appears to either get a vast majority of similar material presented, or in the case of Richard Tol who actually wanted his own genuine findings to be used, reject them when they do not agree. So any claims of consensus or homogeneity are merely the effect of self selection and if the figures don't fit the first time do what the accountants are trained to do in the first year (I was there so I know), take the same figures and use them to present a profit or a loss depending if it's for the shareholders or the taxman. And as climatology isn't as tightly regulated as accounting then you needn't hold the figures over till the following year as you have to present them eventually, you can keep them under the carpet indefinitely. Warming they say is bad for the planet but bloody good for the career, so it has to be maintained, even when it isn't happening and not happening so much they can't even adjust it away. If global warming was as real as they claim, then if the temperature started falling they'd all be dancing in the streets, not claiming it must be hiding somewhere else. And as the majority of them claim it's in the deep ocean where it's impossible to physically measure but they still insist that's where it nearly all must be, we're back to the Himalayan glacier situation again, except in this case it's probably never going to be possible to measure the true figures. That wouldn't happen in a genuine area.