Fraud in Science II

There were several cases of fraud in science that received coverage in the US media:

  1. The Darsee case – painting mice: John Darsee was a very successful cardiologist at Harvard.  In 1981 some colleagues who were suspicious of his incredible output (5 major papers in 1.25 yrs) went to the lab director and complained.  An internal investigation found that he had been altering results and he was suspended.  An NIH investigation showed that most of his supposed data was fraudulent and he was fired. In experiments on mice Darsee had claimed genetic changes, but he had actually painted black spots on the mice skin.  This was the first case where an institution was required to return funds to a granting agency.
  2. The Baltimore Case: David Baltimore was a Nobel Laureate and Head of Rockefeller University and his co-worker was Dr. Imanishi-Kari.  It was alleged by a former student that a paper by them in 1986 had fraudulent data. There was a Congressional hearing by Rep. Dingell.  Because of this the FBI was involved and they found alterations of data in Imanishi-Kari’s notebooks.  The finding was that some data had been falsified and the paper was subsequently retracted. But,  following further investigation the case was dropped
  3. The Marc Strauss case: Marc Strauss was a very successful oncologist working at the Boston Univ. School of Medicine.  Several of his nurses and co-workers came forward and alleged that he had falsified results, including patient records. Since the work was supported by the NCI this was a federal offense. Although proclaiming his innocence, Strauss resigned in 1978 and continued to carry out oncology research elsewhere.  In 1982 he filed a m$33 lawsuit against 5 of his former co-workers.  Fraud was never proven on either side and eventually Strauss was reinstated
  4. The Spector/Racker Case: Efraim Racker was a leading expert in the area of energy metabolism and signal transduction at Cornell University.  Mark Spector was his wunderkind, who had just obtained his PhD in 1981.  He claimed to have obtained data to prove a series of cascade reactions that were supposed to cause cancer. Doubts were raised by some and Racker himself tried to reproduce Spector’s results, without success.  Under pressure Spector withdrew his Thesis and his results while maintaining his innocence.
  5. The Cold Fusion Case: In 1989, two scientists Martin Fleischman and Stanley Pons claimed that they had produced “excess energy” from an apparatus containing palladium and hydrogen at room temperature.  They attributed this to a nuclear reaction and claimed this discovery of cold fusion could revolutionize energy production in the world.  After an initial media frenzy, others tried to reproduce their results and could not.  This is now viewed by many as an example of a fraudulent claim in science.

To be continued.

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The Murder of Ari Fuld

A 17-year-old Palestinian youth stabbed Ari Fuld, 45, father of four, to death in a Mall at the Gush Etzion junction on Sunday.  This is an area where Israelis and Palestinians regularly mix (there is no apartheid, if there was the Israeli death toll would be much less).  Ari, a well-known rabbi and Israel advocate, although stabbed in the back, chased his assailant, pulled his gun (necessary in those parts) and shot the perpetrator.  He is Khalil Yusuf Ali Jabarin, from the town of Jatta near Hebron.  He was injured and was taken into custody by Israeli authorities.  Fuld later died of bleeding from his wound.  He was a dual Israeli-US citizen.  Both the US and EU condemned this terrorist attack.

Although we call these “lone wolf” attacks, I fail to believe that a 17-year-old boy simply decides one day to go to a Mall and stab a Jew.  He must have received training and motivation from a terrorist organization. He must have been told when and where to attack.  He carried a long knife used only for murder.  Further, the culture of the Palestinians and of their leaders supports an atmosphere of murder of Jews.  The PA media played down the incident and reported it as “Occupation injures a boy South of Bethlehem.”  This is a typical media distortion that many pro-Palestinians in the West will believe.

The PA announced only a day after the murder that the family of Jabarin will receive NIS 1,400 ($400) per month for 3 years.  If this isn’t support of terrorism what is?  Also, where does the money come from, the PA depends entirely on foreign aid from the US, EU and other countries (not much from the Arabs).  So your tax dollars are being used to fund Palestinian terrorists murdering Jews.  There is a bill being prepared before the Israeli Knesset to deduct such payments from any tax revenues that Israel owes the PA .

Also, the IDF announced it is preparing to demolish the family home of the killer.  Call this revenge or call it a justified punitive method that Israel inherited from the British, but it is one of the few measures that Israel can take to let the Palestinian people know that we won’t tolerate these attacks.  If we were like the Burmese, Syrians, Iraqis or most other countries in the world, there would be massive retaliation against the civilian population.  But, Israel doesn’t do this, although we easily could, because we are civilized.  But, there comes a point when even a civilized country must protect itself against this form of terror attack by all necessary means.

Fraud in Science I

I was asked to give a talk at the AACI in Netanya, and because of the current focus on “fake news,” this set me thinking regarding science, so I thought of “fake science” or rather “fraud in science.”   Most people cannot believe that there is such a thing, since the advances of technology both in electronics and medical sciences has been nothing short of astounding.  Yet, indeed there is fraud in science and much of what is known about this happened during the 1980’s.

In a sense, scientists today hold the position that  priests in various religions held in the past.  They are the source of enlightenment and power, they know esoteric information that the common people don’t understand, and they are supposed to use that information only for the good.  Scientists are expected to be totally honest and to only seek the truth.  Yet, there are many cases where that is not true.  Why would scientists falsify or alter results?  It could be for money, for example in the  development of a new drug, it could be for fame and for obtaining notoriety and it could be for promotion and obtaining a higher position.  Also, some experts were prepared to “cut corners” to arrive at the results they expected sooner.

One of the first cases of so-called falsity in science was deemed to be none-other than the founder of modern genetics, the priest, Gregor Mendel.  Working with pea plants in Brno in 1866, Mendel established the basic rules of genetics.  But, in 1936, Ronald Fisher subjected his results to statistical analysis and proved that Mendel’s results were in effect too good to be true, they lacked experimental error.  But, it should be pointed out that in 1866 the rigor that is expected today of scientific data was not applied then, and Mendel had in fact excluded data that did not fit his expectations.  This is something that would be considered unacceptable in today’s science.

In 1912, in an era when the idea of evolution was actively in people’s minds due to the publication of Darwin’s iconic “On the Origin of Species,” an amateur archaeologist Charles Dawson claimed that he had found one of the much-sought after “missing links” when he reported a find in a pit in the village of Piltdown in England.   This became known as “Piltdown man,” and was considered to be an ape-like skull intermediate between apes and man.  However, careful examination by experts revealed that this was actually a fraud, some human and animal bones were mixed and the skull itself was an ape skull that had been altered.  The Piltdown hoax was considered to have set back belief in Darwin’s theories for some years.

I will continue this subject in a subsequent blog article with more modern examples of fraud in science, but for now I must sign off, because I have a bad cold and also because it will be Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, in 2 days.

 

 

 

Rajneesh in America

I watched the 6-part Netflix documentary series entitled “Wild Wild Country” about the establishment of the settlement of Rajneeshpuram in the wilds of central Oregon. This was supposed to be a farming community of the followers of the Indian guru Rajneesh, named the Bhagwan. They had been essentially forced to decamp from their compound in Poona, India, for tax and other violations. The Bhagwan, a frail beaming, long-bearded man, usually dressed in pure white flowing robes, entrusted this move to his assistant, a 17-year-old Indian acolyte named Sheela.

This seemed quite a risky thing to do, but Sheela was bursting with confidence and hubris, and as the representative and top administrator of a new religion, she chose to move the whole religious cult to the USA and to the wilds of Oregon.  Let it be said that although she was an excellent organizer, she knew precious little about the US and although she chose an isolated area, she misjudged the reaction of the American people.

Rajneesh had written some books on philosophy and had developed what in America was called a New Age Cult, a mixture of Indian mysticism, free love, and opposition to established values.  What attracted many western youth to his cult was that they were allowed to express themselves without restraint and to engage in unbridled sexual activity and they were also expected to engage in meditation and self-criticism.  The sessions with thousands of people consisted of these 4 main aspects, always ending with the sex that went on for hours.

Sheela took a course at a College in the US and met and married an American Jew and became Mrs. Silverman.  But, her husband soon died, and played no role in the further events.  Sheela chose an area in central Oregon near a small town (pop. 40) called Antelope, where the cult bought a large unused farm.  They seemed to have unlimited money, although they depended on the contributions of their followers (called sanyasins), who all dressed in maroon or orange clothing.

Once they had bought the farm in 1981 they started moving in and developing the area, both expanding the farming and building many buildings.  To do this they had their own experts in construction, architecture, plumbing and so on.  They had their own generators and water supplies.  The inhabitants of Antelope were both amazed and frightened by the influx of strange people dressed in red passing thought their small town.  They became upset that the local authorities and the State of Oregon did nothing to check what the Rajneeshis were actually doing on their farm, now a new town called Rajneeshpuram.  They seemed to have unlimited funding, they built roads, an airfield, they had two planes and the Bhagwan had 7 Rolls Royce cars, that later became 20, all money supposedly obtained from their followers.  Certainly the locals were upset with what they heard was going on there, but they also resented that all this development was going on without any permits or checks as required by law.

A law suit was started because the Rajneeshis were supposed to be developing a farm not a city, that they said would have 10,000 people and eventually 100,000.  Because they did not have any legal right to incorporate as a city, Sheela, the manager of the whole project, found a  way around this.  They bought up property in Antelope, forced some of the people out, and took over the City Council and voted to merge Rajneeshpuram with Antelope, and then dropped the latter name.

Then Sheela made a big mistake, she went on TV and said that yes, they had taken over the town of  Antelope and they would soon take over the Wasco County.  This made people sit up and take notice and a movement started to prevent their expansion plans.  The Bhagwan had given Sheela the task of getting some Rajneeshis on the County Council.  But, she realized she did not have the votes, so she made another clever move.  She sent buses out all around the US, as far away as New York, Texas, and Minnesota, and they picked up all the homeless people they could persuade to go with them.  Some 2,000 were bussed back to Oregon, where they were given food and a place to sleep, and were registered as voters in the County.  Now she hoped she could obtain enough votes.

But before the next election, this tactic backfired.  Some of the homeless became unruly, they started fights, destroyed property, and one even tried to choke Sheela.  She had no option but to remove these anti-social elements from her “perfect” society, so she put them on buses and dumped them in the surrounding towns.  This did not sit well with the local inhabitants, who now had the homeless from all over the country dumped in their lap.  As a result of the bad feelings the hotel that the Rajneeshis owned in Portland was bombed and went up in flames.  It was at this point that Sheela started buying weapons on a large-scale and threatening that if they were attacked the Rajneeshis would fight back.  See how quickly a cult based on free love turned to violence.  It was also at this point that she started planning the assassination of several US officials.

Sheela also organized a campaign by her followers to spread salmonella over the salad bars in local restaurants so that people became ill.  But, to ensure that the Rajneeshis did not take over the county, the inhabitants did the same as Sheela had done, they bussed in people from surrounding areas and they stayed with them for a few days as required to register to vote and they then outvoted the Rajneeshis who got no representation on the County.  This was a significant defeat for Sheela.  Soon after this the Wasco County offices were set on fire.

At more or less the same time, in 1984, a group of wealthy Californians moved to the ranch, and one couple became very close to the Bhagwan, the man became his doctor and the woman an adviser.  Sheela saw her control over the Bhagwan and access to him being eroded.  By this time she had a small group of her own loyal followers and so they decamped in a plane to Germany.  In doing so she narrowly missed being arrested. The Bhagwan denounced her, claimed that she had stolen m$45 from his Foundation that she was administering, and cooperated with the police in attempting to get her extradited and charged.  In doing so he claimed no knowledge of any crimes she had committed.  He also claimed that he had never had sex with her, although this seemed unlikely since she had joined him when she was 16 and openly stated her love for him, and he preached free love.

After an investigation by the FBI, she and others were charged with the following crimes: 1. Attempted murder of the AG of Oregon and the US Federal AG (she had planned these assassinations and the US AG narrowly missed being shot); 2. Spreading bacterial infection (a bio-terror incident) in order to affect the outcome of an election; 3. Burning down the Wasco County Offices; 4. Illegal activities at Rajneeshpuram that included, an extensive secret wire-tapping system, including in the Bhagwan’s house, buying arms illegally and outfitting an army larger than the combined police forces of the State of Oregon;  5. Fleeing the US to avoid arrest.

Sheela was finally extradited from Germany to the US, where she was tried, found guilty and received a sentence of 20 years.  She now lives in Switzerland where she runs a Home for the aged and infirm.  Two of her loyal supporters received sentences of 10 years. Sheela claimed that the Bhagwan was complicit in all her crimes, but the FBI could not prove this. However, his claim that he was a religious leader was undermined by the fact that he had taken a vow of silence and had not preached in three years.  He was arrested in 1985 while fleeing to South Carolina and given a choice, either go on trial or leave the country.  Although he claimed his innocence, he chose the latter and returned to India, since no other country would allow him entry. He died there in 1990, with rumors circulating that he had been poisoned by some of this followers to obtain access to the wealth he had amassed .

In the course of 5 years he and Sheela had done irreparable damage to the inhabitants of the State of Oregon and to the trust anyone might have in such so-called “enlightenment” movements.  The Bhagwan had turned from a relative aesthete to a power-hungry leader, from wearing pure white clothes to flashy jewelry, gold watches and thick blue robes and driving around in his many Rolls Royces.  Sheela had turned from an ambitious girl to a murderous criminal.  And yet people gave up their lives and their fortunes to follow them!  It is ever thus.

US Closes PLO Office

I have always thought that it was an anomaly that the PLO had an official office in Washington DC.  After all, it has always been a declared terrorist organization dedicated to murdering Jews (whether Israelis or not) and whatever they say, they have not actually changed their charter dedicating them to the destruction of the State of Israel.  Also, there is no office of any other terrorist groups, such as Hezbollah, Al Qaeda, or IS, so why should the PLO he accepted? Therefore it seemed anomalous for the US to recognize them by allowing them to have an office in DC.  Of course, the culprits were Pres. Carter and Clinton, who believed you could engage with the PLO as an equal with Israel.  As Pres. Trump is finding, their intransigence and rejectionism prevents even the minimal negotiations.

In order to persuade them that it is in their interests to actually come to the table, Trump has cut their funding (by m$300) and cut the US contribution to UNRWA (by m$360) and now he has decided to close their office in DC. Trump believes that economics is the basis of politics (in that respect he agrees with Marx), and he believes that he can bully/persuade the Russians, the N. Koreans, the Chinese and the PLO/PA to come to terms with him or at least negotiate.

This new policy was announced by Trump’s foreign policy adviser John Bolton.  You can be sure that Bolton had a hand in advising the Pres that this was a good move.  Not only as I have said is the PLO office an anomaly, but in the past and even more so under Trump, the PLO/PA has become increasingly stridently anti-American and the US is under no obligation to accept a diplomatic office of a non-state entity in DC.

Further, the PA under Pres Abbas is doing all it can to defame Israel before many international agencies.  This is contrary to US policy and also puts the US and other countries in danger, since their military could also be accused of “war crimes” if a precedent is set, for example at the International Criminal Court (ICC) where the PA is pushing to have Israeli military officers labelled as war criminals.  This is ridiculous, that a terrorist organization that kills civilians should be trying to get the officers of a disciplined army such as the IDF labelled as war criminals.  It boggles the mind, and indeed the US has now officially warned the ICC not to give in to the PLO’s ridiculous  pressure.

 

Not Serene

Serena Williams lost it in the final of the women’s tournament at the US Open.  She went ballistic when the umpire docked her a point for “coaching.”  But, the problem was that the coaching was done by her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, sitting in the stands, not by her.  This is a justified reason for a violation being adjudicated, and indeed not only did Patrick later admit to the coaching infringement, but it was captured on TV.  However, we do not know if Serena saw his hand motions urging her to go forward, and if she did not that might explain why she was so upset about losing a point.  But, she over-reacted, she went towards the umpire Carlos Ramos and screamed on live TV before millions of watchers that “I am not a cheat and I would rather lose than cheat.”  That may be so, but the umpire wasn’t accusing her of cheating, he was accusing her coach of coaching.

Soon after, Serena lost an advantage over her opponent Naomi Osaka of Japan, a 20 year old in her first Grand Slam final, while Serena has won 23 such finals before.  Instead of accepting this loss as usual, Serena smashed her racket to pieces.  This was certainly unprofessional conduct and she was docked a further point by the umpire for “racket abuse,” which is a definite violation of the code of conduct.  Once again Serena over-reacted, she unleashed a  torrent of abuse at the umpire, calling him a “thief” for taking her points and insisting that he owed her an apology.  By, the way, this was in the middle of the second set and let’s be clear Serena was already losing without these reductions to her score.  This diatribe went on for several minutes, during which she told the umpire to shut up and in some way threatened him.  As a result the umpire docked her a whole game for umpire abuse, which was totally justified in view of her appalling behaviour.

At this point she started crying and screaming and shouting almost incoherently, and she called for tournament officials to come and help her. Note that this is in fact the fourth time that Serena has acted in this way.  Two people came on court, a man and a woman, they remonstrated with her, they told her they could not change the judgements, which she accepted, and they tried to persuade her to stop her outburst and finish the match.  After some time she calmed down somewhat and did finish the match, which she lost 6-2 6-4.

What further aggravated the whole thing was that of course during the award ceremony she had to justify herself, she not only attacked the umpire, but framed the whole incident as a case of sexism, she asserted that a man would not have been treated in this way, and she asked for support for her “cause,” a typical case of “political correctness.”  Meanwhile poor Naomi Osaka was also crying, in effect Serena upstaged the winner and took all the attention onto herself and totally disrupted this important tennis match.

I have watched professional tennis for many years and this was the most disgraceful scene I have ever witnessed on a tennis court (including the outbursts of John McEnroe).  In my opinion, Serena was acting like a spoiled brat, thinking that by force of her personality and status she could overcome the umpire, and she took the attention of the public away from the match that she was losing onto her own personal histrionics.  Maybe she was overly emotional because she is a recent mother, but she has played in so many matches that she knows this kind of behavior is unacceptable.  I am glad the tennis authorities have fined her $17,000.  But, this is a trifle compared to the m$1.85 she won as the runner-up, and anyway she is a multi-millionaire.  Above all she did a great dis-service to the game of tennis and spoiled Naomi Osaka’s excellent win, and I hope she retires as soon as possible, if not immediately.

On Remaining Youthful

A few weeks ago I was at the gym working out (which I do 1-2 times a week, for an hour).  One of the trainers came over to tell me how to use the machine I was using correctly.  I explained to him (in Hebrew) that I was not really interested, I only wanted to stay healthy at my age.  He asked me how old I was, and I asked him to guess.  He guessed “60.”  When I told him I was very nearly eighty, he was really surprised.  I have often encountered this kind of reaction when I tell people how old I am.  To look ca. 20 years younger than I am is somewhat unusual.

People ask me how I remain so youthful-looking.  I really don’t know, but I have some opinions that might be of interest.  The first reason I can give is that in my youth I suffered from palpitations, a medical condition called tachycardia.  When I first experienced this phenomenon as a young teen I thought I was having a heart attack and was about to die.  But, after medical consultation they told me it was not dangerous, was not uncommon in people my age and it would probably gradually cease as I grew older, and indeed it did.

But, having my pulse running at a rate of ca. 170 beats per minute instead of the usual ca. 70, was always a shock.  There was nothing to do except wait for it to pass.  Sometimes the attacks lasted five mins and sometimes for hours.  After an attack like that I would feel completely exhausted.  The doctor told me it was like my heart was running a marathon while I was sitting still.  I think this is one reason I have remained youthful, it’s as if I was running marathons at an early age, and my steady pulse now is around 56, equivalent to that of a dedicated athlete.

When I moved to Israel at the age of 55 for some mysterious reason the palpitations came back.  At first I did not take much notice of it, but one day we were visiting the Roman remains at Beit Shean, and I climbed the central acropolis in the heat and I started a palpitation.  I walked down slowly, walked all the way to the car and my wife drove me to the nearest hospital at Afula.  There they thought I was having a heart attack until I managed to explain to them what was happening.  They treated me and the palpitation stopped after a few hours.

I knew then that I had to do something about this, so I went to the Cardiology Dept. at Tel Hashomer Hospital, where I worked.  There they did a capillary intervention, passing two capillary tubes containing electrical wires up through the vein in my leg into the heart (I could see this on a screen from the X-ray) and then when they found the nerve node causing the palpitations, they could turn it on and off with one wire, and then they ablated (burnt) it with the other wire, and miraculously since then I have never had another palpitation.

The second reason I can suggest for why I remain youthful is that in 1990 I had an occurrence of selective blindness (part of my vision was lost).  This was diagnosed to be due to a benign growth on my optic nerve called a meningioma (from the meninges, the envelope that covers the brain).  This was removed in an operation (that took 7 hrs), that damaged the pituitary gland that is right next to the optic nerve as it enters the base of the skull.  As a result my glands do not produce the necessary hormones, and so I have to take a few tablets to substitute for them.  By taking these hormones I have avoided the usual decline in hormone production that occurs in most men (and women) as a result of aging.  I do not know if the two reasons I have cited are indeed anything to do with my supposed youthful appearance, but they might be.

PS. To all my readers, a Happy New Year (Shana Tovah), in peace and health.