Fall of top US scientists points to ethics gap in research

In this Dec. 6, 2016 file photo, Brian Wansink speaks during an interview in the produce section of a supermarket in Ithaca, N.Y. (AP)
Updated 24 September 2018
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Fall of top US scientists points to ethics gap in research

  • Links between a doctor leading a clinical trial and manufacturers of drugs or medical equipment used in the study can influence the methodology and ultimately the results

WASHINGTON: Three prominent US scientists have been pushed to resign over the past 10 days after damning revelations about their methods, a sign of greater vigilance and decreasing tolerance for misconduct within the research community.
The most spectacular fall concerned Jose Baselga, chief medical officer at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York. He authored hundreds of articles on cancer research.
Investigative journalism group ProPublica and The New York Times revealed on September 8 that Baselga failed to disclose in dozens of research articles that he had received millions of dollars from pharmaceutical and medical companies.
Such declarations are generally required by scientific journals.
Links between a doctor leading a clinical trial and manufacturers of drugs or medical equipment used in the study can influence the methodology and ultimately the results.
But journals don’t themselves verify the thoroughness of an author’s declarations.
Caught up in the scandal, Baselga resigned on September 13.

Next came the case of Brian Wansink, director of the Food and Brand Lab at the prestigious Cornell University.
He made his name thanks to studies that garnered plenty of media attention, including on pizza, and the appetites of children.
His troubles began last year when scientific sleuths discovered anomalies and surprisingly positive results in dozens of his articles.
In February, BuzzFeed published messages in which Wansink encouraged a researcher to extract from her data results more likely to go “viral.”
After a yearlong inquiry, Cornell announced on Thursday that Wansink committed “academic misconduct in his research and scholarship,” describing a litany of problems with his results and methods.
He is set to resign at the end of the academic year, but from now on will no longer teach there.
Wansink denied all fraud, but 13 of his articles have already been withdrawn by journals.
In the final case, Gilbert Welch, a professor of public health at Dartmouth College, resigned last week.
The university accused him of plagiarism in an article published in The New England Journal of Medicine, the most respected American medical journal.

“The good news is that we are finally starting to see a lot of these cases become public,” said Ivan Oransky co-founder of the site Retraction Watch, a project of the Center for Scientific Integrity that keeps tabs on retractions of research articles in thousands of journals.
Oransky told AFP that what has emerged so far is only the tip of the iceberg.
The problem, he said, is that scientists, and supporters of science, have often been unwilling to raise such controversies “because they’re afraid that talking about them will decrease trust in science and that it will aid and abet anti-science forces.”
But silence only encourages bad behavior, he argued. According to Oransky, more transparency will in fact only help the public to better comprehend the scientific process.
“At the end of the day, we need to think about science as a human enterprise, we need to remember that it’s done by humans,” he said. “Let’s remember that humans make mistakes, they cut corners, sometimes worse.”
Attention has long focused on financial conflicts of interest, particularly because of the influence of the pharmaceutical industry.
But the Wansink case illustrates that other forms of conflict, including reputational, are equally important. Academic careers are largely built on how much one publishes and in which journals.
As a result, researchers compete to produce positive, new and clear results — but work that produces negative results or validates previous findings should also be rewarded, argued Brian Nosek, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia who heads the pro-transparency Center for Open Science.
“Most of the work when we’re at the boundary of science is messy, has exceptions, has things that don’t quite fit,” he explained, while “the bad part of the incentives environment is that the reward system is all about the result.”
While moves toward more transparency have gathered momentum over the past decade, in particular among publishers of research articles, there is still a long way to go, said Nosek.
“Culture change is hard,” he argued, adding: “Universities and medical centers are the slowest actors.”


It takes a hacker to catch a hacker, says prize-winning Saudi cyber whiz

Cybersecurity is growing in importance and cyberwars now represent a serious threat to national security. (FIle/Shutterstock)
Updated 15 June 2019
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It takes a hacker to catch a hacker, says prize-winning Saudi cyber whiz

  • Cybersecurity specialist and winner of innovator award takes aim against rising threat of cybercrime

JEDDAH: A Saudi ethical hacker named “inspiring innovator of the year” at a prestigious awards ceremony in London has revealed her secret for staying one step ahead of cyberattackers.
“I act as an attacker and adopt the hacker’s mindset,” 28-year-old cybersecurity specialist Noor Al-Rayes told Arab News.
“It takes a hacker to catch a hacker.”
Al-Rayes, founder and CEO of Alien Security and co-founder and chief operation officer of Securmind, received the “inspiring innovator of the year” award from London-based private bank Arbuthnot Latham on June 5.

Information security
After accepting the award, she urged governments and businesses to step up their campaign and be more aggressive in the fight against cybercrime.
“Many companies offer ethical hacking services, but they approach it from an information security perspective, not a hacker perspective.
“We believe this service must be provided in a more aggressive way, exactly like hackers do,” she said.
“The severity and complexity of recent cyberattacks require more than traditional approaches to fight cybercrime and maximize cyber defense.
“Ethical hacking should be part of any organization’s cybersecurity strategy. When I provide ethical hacking services, I act as an attacker and adopt the hacker’s mindset. That way, companies will stay one step ahead of attackers and avoid costly cyber breaches.
“There is no better way to test the security level of IT systems than borrowing the skills of an experienced ethical hacker, which is why I created Alien Security,” she said.
Al-Rayes described recent major advances in the digital world as “a double-edged sword,” and warned that future cybersecurity incidents could prove “catastrophic.”
“Advances in technology have brought so many positive aspects, but there is a downside ... everything is susceptible to hacking,” she said. “If a hacker has the right skills, experience, knowledge, tools and time, they will be able to hack into any system.”

Serious threat
Cybersecurity is growing in importance, Al-Rayes said, and cyberwars now represent a serious threat to national security.
“The outcomes of a major cybersecurity incident of that nature could be catastrophic, which is why ethical hackers are a powerful addition to any defense strategy where they work both on the defensive and offensive sides,” she said.
Al-Rayes came to the UK on the King Abdullah Scholarship Program and gained a master’s degree in cybersecurity at City University of London.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Cybercrime will cost the world $6 trillion annually by 2021, up from $3 trillion in 2015, according to a recent report from Cybersecurity Ventures.

• Cybercrime costs include damage and destruction of data, stolen money, lost productivity, theft of intellectual property, theft of personal and financial data, embezzlement, fraud, post-attack disruption to the normal course of business, forensic investigation, restoration and deletion of hacked data and systems and reputational harm, according to experts.

“I was endorsed by the UK government and was granted an exceptional talent visa and world leader in technology. I also received the young achievers award at a ceremony at the Houses of Parliament, and was recognized as a future leader for my efforts for the cybersecurity industry,” she said.
The Saudi entrepreneur founded the cybersecurity consultancy Alien Security in 2018.
“We provide cybersecurity penetration testing, management and support. We also provide cybersecurity forensics where we launch a full cybersecurity investigation to explain how the cyberattack happened, why, when, and how we can fix it and avoid it in the future.”
Al-Rayes said she was honored to receive Arbuthnot Latham’s inspiring innovator of the year award.
“Arbuthnot Latham offers great support for startups and entrepreneurs. I am very happy I got the chance to share my passion with them and introduce Alien Security to the amazing audience at the event. I also hope that I made my country proud as the government and everyone at the Saudi Embassy and Cultural Bureau in London were extremely supportive and encouraging.
“As for receiving it as a Saudi woman, it is our mission as scholarship holders to represent our country in the best way possible, and I hope I fulfilled my part and will continue to do so throughout my journey,” Al-Rayes said.
“We already have such strong and amazing Saudi women ... and I hope this inspires more women and encourages them to get involved in science and cybersecurity.”
Al-Rayes also said that receiving the exceptional talent visa was a “great honor and a major boost as a cybersecurity specialist, woman and a Saudi student.”
“It pushed me to work harder. I was endorsed by the UK government and recognized as a world leader in technology because of my entrepreneurial career and also for the projects I am working on now, including a project fighting cyber terrorism.
“There are a lot of pressing issues that requires immediate attention such as human error in information security, improving facial and object recognition systems to minimize cyber terrorism, analyzing dark web criminal activity and detecting cybercrime. These are some of the projects that I am gathering data for.”

Artificial intelligence
Al-Rayes’ master’s project explored the targeting of cybercrime within dark web forums using machine learning, artificial intelligence and data mining techniques.
“The dark web is an underground society for criminal activity, including cyberterrorism,” said Al-Rayes.

 

 “The main goal of this project is to aid police and governments in fighting cybercrime using an advanced and intelligent system that can target specific crimes, detect and analyze them.”
She highlighted that many extremist groups use social media and the dark web to recruit young people.
“Using artificial intelligence and advanced technology to help fight these problems is important since it would be used not only for detection purposes but also for analyzing criminal behavior and recognizing threats before it is too late.
“That is why I am working on redeveloping this project and enhancing the training to make the system more powerful.”

Decoder

• Exceptional talent visas are granted to international individuals who can prove they have had an exceptional impact on the industry in which they work. • It is also given to people working on projects that will significantly advance the industry and benefit the economy.