Case Summary: Chang, Hung-Shu

This case of research misconduct involved Hung-Shu Chang from Washington State University.  Here data was falsified in the manuscript “Transgenerational epigenetic imprinting of the male germline by endocrine disruption exposure during gonadal sex determination” in the journal Endocrinology.

Out of curiosity I looked up the paper and found that it is still posted, but with the words “A retraction has been published” in big red letters.  When I clicked on this link it brought me to the retraction which explained what part of the paper was falsified and said that it was retracted due to the inability to “locate” the data.  Whereas the case summary on ORI said that these experiments were not done.

I was a little disappointed that the article was still available on the journal website, and that their retraction statement seems to downplay the situation a little.  I would’ve liked to have seen just the title of the paper, with “this manuscript has been retracted”.

However I also feel bad for the coauthors of the paper that apparently were unaware of the fraud.  Their hard work is now tarnished by those big red letters on the title page of the article.

Posted in Prep Future Prof

“Hold paramount the safety, health, and welfare of the public”… and make as much money as you can

The very first canon of the American Society of Civil Engineering (ASCE) code of ethics is:

Engineers shall hold paramount the safety, health and welfare of the public and shall strive to comply with the principles of sustainable development in the performance of their professional duties.

It seems obvious that engineers in charge of building our infrastructure should value the safety of the public.  However based on the couple of internships I have had, and the countless of ethic case studies.  The main problem comes from two things, time and money.  Building things that are best for public are hardly ever best for the contractor building them.  Everyone is under pressure to get things build quickly and save as much money as possible while doing it, especially on public projects like roads, bridges, water and wastewater treatment infrastructure.  These type of projects often go to the lowest bidding contractor and therefore to compete with other contractors they will have to cut it very close to the “perfect scenario” cost.  This causes problems when something goes wrong or they get behind schedule.  Because the contractor is already in a tight situation, this encourages cutting corners or covering up mistakes.

One example of this happened when a bridge was being built and a bent (main support of a bridge) settled into the ground several inches.  When the contractor realized this, instead of bringing it to the attention of the state inspector they tried to cover it up and move forward with the project.  When the inspector caught them doing this, the company quickly declared bankruptcy and the project took several more years to complete.

It is this type of situation that makes this seemingly obvious canon of serving the public have some terrible pitfalls that can wind up harming the public.  Companies are trying to make money and do things quickly which can lead to pressure to ignore this canon.

These same type of scenarios can conceivably happen in research as well.  Where faculty are trying to get the next grant and get data quickly which can lead to corners being cut, and possible harm to the public.  Although it is a hard thing to do, I think it is important to weigh the pressure you get to be productive with the importance of doing good research.


Posted in Prep Future Prof

Grade Inflation due to Academic Entitlement

I started noticing a change in kids these days, when I was still one of those kids.  When I was in elementary school, I was terrified of middle schoolers.  Then when I was a middle schooler, I was terrified of high schoolers.  But when my friends and I made it to high school, we found that the respect we had of our elders was not in the elementary or middle schoolers… They had already embraced the attitude of the entitled generation.

When I made it to senior year of undergrad, I felt that there were a lot of my peers getting grades they may not deserve.  I especially noticed this in group projects, working with people that I didn’t think should be getting degrees to build roads, bridges, and buildings, but were getting them.  Looking back, I’m not sure if it is a big deal and they are probably qualified for the jobs they now have.

I’ve often thought about how I will teach this entitled generation if indeed I wind up becoming a professor.  While scrolling through The Chronicle website this cold Sunday morning, I came across this article addressing this issue:

This article asks teaching professionals how they deal with students asking for higher grades on a paper in which they earned a C, but “worked really hard on.”

Some of the responses are funny, some let them down easy, and some are just mean.

Here are some of my favorite lines that I could see myself using if I find myself in a similar situation:

Please be advised: I am often too generous rather than too stingy. Thus is possible that when I re-examine your paper your grade might be lowered. I await your response.

I know that it is unfair that some students spend no time at all on schoolwork and get A’s while others struggle and barely scrape C’s. I suggest you quickly cry a river, build a bridge and get over it. In the meantime, reflect on whether you want other students graded based on how hard they try. I don’t know about you, but I would much rather that papers for Surgery 101: How Not to Kill the People You Cut Open and for Architecture 101: How to Build Bridges That Do Not Collapse and Leave People Plummeting to Their Deaths were graded on students’ demonstration of correct understanding of the concepts, not how much effort they put into writing it.

Thank you for the note. I have reread your email several times, and I am very impressed with your committed engagement with one of the signature cultural issues of our age, college grade inflation. Your letter takes its place alongside many highly distinguished essays and investigative forays into the deforming of the classic “bell-shaped curve” into a top-heavy inverted cone in which the overwhelming majority of students reside in the topmost regions of excellence and the merely average are troubling outliers.

I think these are great lines to get entitled students thinking about whether they actually deserve a better grade or are just angry about getting a low grade.

What do you think the best approach would be?

Posted in Prep Future Prof

The core difference in Virginia Tech and Radford University

The mission statements I chose to compare were those of Virginia Tech and Radford University.  I wanted to compare these universities because one is obviously a large research oriented university, and I assume that Radford is more focused on teaching.


This is reflected in the mission statements of these universities.  In Virginia Tech’s mission statement it says central to its mission is the “discovery and dissemination of new knowledge.”  Although the mission statements states a focus on teaching and learning, this focus is only mentioned a couple of times. Most of the focus is on research and the application of knowledge to society.

Radford University’s mission statement on the other hand is very teaching and education focused.  It emphasized teaching and learning, development of students, and that the university is student-focused.  The only mention of research is to underscore that at RU it is only used as a teaching and learning tool.

I interpret these mission statements to be polar opposites of one another.  VT shows a dedication to research and the benefits of producing knowledge, with just a phrase or two about education.  Whereas RU dedicates its entire mission statement to education and student development and stresses that research is only used as a teaching tool at RU.

I think these two styles both have their benefits, but also their draw backs.  I’m sure RU is more student focused as the say, and professors there most likely have more time to dedicate to teaching undergrad courses.  However research is important to societal improvements and can be used in undergraduate education through undergraduate research opportunities in great research labs.  Although VT does have great research opportunities, I’m sure most faculty here cannot devote the time they would like to better teach undergraduate classes due to their research commitments.

Posted in Prep Future Prof

TTU vs JMU Missions

In thinking about mission statements to compare I wanted to compare a large research university with a semi-large grad school, and a smaller university with a smaller graduate program and less research intensive.  I chose my undergraduate university, Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas for the large school, and James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia for the smaller university.  Both mission statements are relatively short, for TTU a quick three sentences and for JMU and even quicker one sentence.

TTU explains in their mission statement how it is a public research university advancing knowledge through teaching and research.  It goes on to explain that TTU prepares ethical leaders for the workforce and is “committed to enhancing the cultural and economic development of the state, nation and world.”

Since JMU’s mission statement is one sentence, I won’t paraphrase it, here it is:

We are a community committed to preparing students to be educated and enlightened citizens who lead productive and meaningful lives.

It is clear from the mission statements that both universities are focused on education.  Both of them mention preparing students for their future.  TTU focuses on preparing students to be “ethical leaders for a diverse and globally competitive workforce.”  There are a couple things that stood out to me when I read this.  First I really liked the focus on ethics in the classroom.  I also think it’s interesting that they included “globally competitive workforce.”  I’m not sure why they felt they needed to stress the globally competitive thing.  Is there a difference in the way TTU would prepare their students if this wasn’t included in the mission?  JMU’s short and sweet educational message had obviously similar tones as TTU’s, with their reference to the students’ future in, “lead productive and meaningful lives.”

The obvious difference in the two mission statements is TTU’s focus on research, and the total absence of research from JMU’s mission.  It makes sense that TTU would include research as they have a large graduate school and most of the faculty are research focused.  What I find interesting is that JMU doesn’t include research at all.  My fiancé attended JMU and so I know that they do have undergraduate research opportunities and therefore some research going on there.  I take this omission of research in their mission to mean that although there is research at the university, it is used as an educational tool and it is not the main focus of the university to bring in as much research as they can.  But I could be wrong.  Maybe they are just in a transition and soon research will be in the mission and be more of a focus for them.

Any input on what I’ve taken from these mission statements would be greatly appreciated.

Posted in PFP14F

Nobel Winner Boycotts Nature, Cell and Science!!!

After reading the article above I was so shocked that somebody that high up in his field would speak out against the journals that helped get him there.  I’m not saying that as a bad thing at all.  I think it is extremely admirable that someone in his position would be so critical of the top journals.  It also shows that his loyalty is to good science, and not to his own career or the top journals that once helped his career.

In terms of this class it’s refreshing to see a scientist at the top of his field do the right thing.  As opposed to the couple of papers we read about scientists at the top of their receptive fields being guilty of serious misconduct.

I would also hope that this would help the cause for open access journals, or at least a new way of present scientific research.  I thought his criticism of impact factors was interesting, that an article could be sited a lot not just because it contains good science, but simply because it is “eye-catching, provocative, or wrong.”

It was also nice to see that Schekman is passing down his attitude to his students, that do not want to work at institutions where all they care about is how many times you have published in a major journal.  Maybe if enough people get this attitude it will inspire a change in how science is presented.

As we have spoke about in class though, are the alternatives (open access, public peer review) any better?

Posted in Uncategorized

Beef industry and the public

For my final required blog, I’m going to talk about my project topic a little bit.  In about 30 minutes you will all hear my presentation, but 10-12 minutes is a short time and I’m going to be leaving some things out.  So I figured I could put my thoughts here instead.

I looked at the use of hormone implants for growth promotion in beef cattle and its human health, environmental, economical, and social impacts.  In the presentation I will hit pretty hard on the first three of these but not so much on social impacts.  While doing my research for this project I didn’t really see many social impacts show up in literature or fact sheets, but after my interview and thinking about it for a while I recognized some.  I interviewed a rancher in California that raises grass fed beef and doesn’t use hormone implants.  I thought it was really interesting listening to him because he wasn’t so much concerned about the practice of using implants, or the human health and environmental impacts, all he cared about was his costumers.  He kept saying that he’s raising what his customers want, and they don’t want hormones in their meat.  He thinks that a lot of farmers have lost touch with their consumer, and instead of listening to what they want, they just tell them what they are going to get… cheap beef.

Does this look similar to something we’ve talked about this semester??? Maybe how engineers and scientists don’t communicate with the public either?

Farmers and ranchers consider themselves experts in what they do, and for good reason.  As in any business there is a lot to know about raising beef cattle and the people who run the industry are extremely good at it.  Just the way scientists and engineers are knowledgeable about what they do.  So it seems that what people learn a lot about one thing, they no longer want to listen to the public about that topic, even though the public is the consumer and their wants and needs should be considered in management decisions.

I hope this will change in the future and farmers start communicating and listening better to their consumers.  Just as I hope engineers and scientists will listen to the public and those they serve.

Posted in Uncategorized

Things worth more than 80-100 thousand per year

So this blog may be a little corny but it something I’ve been thinking about quite a bit around the holidays, especially Thanksgiving.  In the beginning of the year, around when we did our first version of our story of self, we talked about how much money we want to make to be happy.  I said around 80-100 thousand a year.  Then Dr. Edwards told us about a study that looked at the correlation between money and happiness and how it there was a correlation up to about 40 K/year, then there wasn’t one.  This really surprised me, and I felt a little embarrassed about my original answer ever since.  I didn’t grow up with a lot of money, my mom is a secretary at the local school and my dad is a male nurse and farmer.  Money was tight and my parents fought A LOT about it (probably not an uncommon thing), which may have significantly contributed to their separation.  I grew up in a small town (about 2,000 population) and in that setting I got a lot of values like hard work, honesty, being charitable and neighborly, but maybe something I missed was the lack of value of money.

The farm I grew up on in upstate New York

The farm I grew up on in upstate New York

Since this class I’ve thought about the things that really make me happy (it’s about to get real corny).  I can think of a lot of things that make me happy that cost money, like playing golf, fishing, sporting events, good beer.  But a big part of why I like doing these things is because I like golfing with my brother and my friends, fishing with my girlfriend and my best friend from high school, watching sports with my brother, and drinking good beer with all of the above.  Especially apparent around the holidays is the value of relationships.  My life has changed quite a bit in the past few years and it has me thinking very different than a year ago.  I have two nephews who are the coolest little kids I’ve known and who think I’m cool a cool uncle, I’m getting paid to go to school and learn stuff I really like learning, I’ve met a great girl who I have more in common with than I could have ever imagined having in common with a girl, and I’ve adopted a dog that is well behaved (for the most part).

Me, my girlfiend Mary Kate, and my dog Tucker on a road trip

Me, my girlfiend Mary Kate, and my dog Tucker on a road trip

After having this little wake-up call in class, I realize that I definitely don’t need to make 80-100 thousand a year to be happy, all I need to do is keep my relationships with the ones I love healthy and stay in a job where I like what I’m doing (for the most part).  Hopefully this realization will help me stay ethical when confronted with temptations that will boost my wallet, I can realize that money is not what makes me happy.

Posted in Uncategorized

And the Blood Banks Played On

While watching the movie for class, I think there were several things that came up in the movie related to the class and how engineers can become unethical.  The part of the movie that most connected with me and relating to engineering was the blood bank contamination issue.  This part connects with a common theme of this class in that when engineers get disconnected from those they are supposed to be serving, it opens the door for harm to come to those they are meant to protect.

In the DC lead case an example of this is Lynette Stokes ignoring the threat of lead in water and not listening to the public she is meant to serve.  In the movie it was the blood banks who refused to recognize that people getting contaminated blood was a problem.  This is highlighted in the meeting between the CDC and the blood banks where the main character yells at them, “How many hemophiliacs have to die before you’ll do anything!?”  It is a very interesting issue to think about cost benefit analysis of how many people need to get hurt before you accept the extra cost needed to correct the issue.  How many hemophiliacs need to die before testing all the blood in the blood banks?  How many children need to get lead poisoning before correcting the water chemistry? How many people need to burn alive in Ford Pintos before accepting the extra $11 per car to correct a faulty design?  In all of these cases those who have the jobs of providing a good product, blood, water, and cars, have gotten lost in the business end and failed their customers, hurting their business far worse than if they would have just accepted the extra cost.

In the movie 28,000 people received AIDS contaminated blood, in DC children got lead poisoning and fetuses were aborted, and in Ford’s case people burned and died.  This was also highlighted in the movie when it is said at a meeting, when doctors start acting like business men, where will people turn for doctors? (not in quotes because I can’t remember the precise wording)  I really liked this point because I think you can replace doctors with a lot of professions and get a valuable lesson.

Posted in Uncategorized

The Dumb People

In this class we have been told to listen to the public and take their knowledge seriously.  I completely understand the value of this, but the problem I have is how do you know who to listen to when so many people are clueless to important issues.  I know this sounds harsh but we all know it’s true. <– A person is smart, people are dumb

I know this clip from Men in Black is from a slightly fictional movie, but I think it still holds true.  There are examples of people being stupid or ignorant all around us.  Here is another funny video from Jimmy Kimmel showing how little people know about a hot topic in US politics.


So lets say, that for some reason I’m an engineer reaching out to learn what the public thinks about the health care act.  After talking to people like the ones above why should I trust public opinion at all?  Or worse yet, what if I don’t understand the issue and turn to one of these people for advise on the topic? If I trust their “knowledge” I will be greatly mislead in this issue.

I guess that if we take the lessons learned from this class, the answer may be that you have to listen to everyone and try to extract any useful information from everyone.  But it’s hard to extract knowledge when you don’t know yourself.  As was said at a conference I recently attended, it’s not the known unknowns that are most dangerous, it’s the unknown unknowns.  Meaning if I realize that I didn’t get the whole picture from someone then I am in a better position than if I think I have gotten an accurate picture from someone who is mistaken on the topic.

What do you guys think?  How do we weed through public misperceptions and ignorance to extract useful knowledge from them?


Posted in Uncategorized