Skip navigation
ACS Industry

Retractions

Posted by ACS Industry Apr 24, 2015

“When the FDA finds significant departures from good clinical practice, those findings are seldom reflected in the peer-reviewed literature, even when there is evidence of data fabrication or other forms of research misconduct.”  Ouch. That is the conclusion of a study by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration published this month.

 

Another report mentioning scientific misconduct and another example where the peer-review system is letting us down.  Important societal and personal decisions involve technology.  What should we do about climate change? What should be done about invasive species? How do we save the bees?  What kind of light bulbs should I buy?  We need those decisions to be based on a sound foundation, yet the foundation is showing itself to have cracks.  At a time when the credibility of science is very important, science is letting us down.

 

I can’t find data that explains whether we just have a percentage of bad actors that is constant, leading to more incidents of fraud as the number of total publications rises, or whether the fraction of scientist falsifying data is increasing. But I certainly hear about fraud more these days.  A cornerstone of academic science is peer review.  Credibility is gained by having experts cull incorrect, plagiarized, and fraudulent work before it is published.  Flaws in the peer review process have been clearly exposed.  We have examples of gibberish papers being selected for publication after supposed peer review; examples of clearly flawed papers clearing the hurdle of peer review; and, most recently, authors that gamed the system by peer reviewing their own papers.  No longer are retractions just for honest mistakes. Some are calling for a revamp, others elimination.  The scandals dont seem to be letting up and the system is being assaulted from all sides.

 

The first assault on peer review I really internalized was at an ACS National Meeting several years ago.  I got invited to be on a panel discussion about new media and chemistry.  The group of talks before I took the stage was about blogging.  This was soon after claims of arsenic-based life had been called into question.  The blogging community was taking credit for correcting that record and, flush with their perceived victory, were taking shots at peer review.  To their collective eye, the slow pace of academic publication is an antiquated relic in need of an overhaul.  Scrap the current system and just let the results flow. The collective intelligence of the web would surely sort out the issues open source. 

 

This was blasphemy to me.  I had always believed that a pillar of modern science was the offering of work to peers to review.  Committed editors and reviewers who were entrusted with insuring the process remained robust. That process was integral to how science progressed.  We had the debacle of cold fusion, in part, because peer review was skipped and science was taken directly to society. 

 

As an industrial researcher, I certainly rely on the academic literature as a foundation to build upon.  I want that foundation to be trustworthy and accurate.  Industrial work, if it is noteworthy, will be immediately reproduced by others.  Taking a discovery from the lab to commercial product is an exercise in successive, repetitive reproduction of results.  There isn’t really room for honest mistakes or falsification of results because it will be immediately detected.  It is a very different world from an academic lab where the output is publication.  The output of the industrial lab is a product. The trip from lab bench to product requires that others make it work at ever increasing scale.

 

Some industrial work gets published in the academic literature, but most doesn’t.  The patent literature is the publication outlet for discoveries with commercial potential. It is a trove that must be greeted with skepticism.  Patents aren’t peer reviewed at all.  Ironically, as important as they can be in protecting commercially interesting technology, the “first to file” system adds a fragility to the system that means there are many patents that actually aren’t worth much.  Unexpected results are extrapolated in patents that seek the widest coverage.  Metrics that seek to measure patent strength look for patents that reference few others, but are widely referenced.  Companies build on important technologies, surrounding them with what is sometimes called a picket fence of extending patents.  Important patents form the foundation for other patents.  What you find when you look at patents is that many are not referenced by others, meaning that they either aren’t commercially important or they are wrong.  Unlike the academic literature, where retractions are intended to remove flawed conclusions, they just build in the patent literature. 

 

I myself have fallen victim to claims that could never be reproduced.  One of the biggest projects I ever worked on was started on the basis of a patent where an apparently small change to a catalyst made a big change in its performance. Our work and the work of others all confirmed that analytical abnormalities were to blame.  Use a GC that resolves two compounds and the catalyst system is squarely with the rest of the pack.  Nothing special.

 

I had fallen victim to the trash that exists in the global patent system.  It is like space junk, useless pieces of information whirling around waiting to hit some unsuspecting researcher on a quest for the next great discovery.

 

-------------------------------------------------------------------

Mark Jones is Executive External Strategy and Communications Fellow at Dow Chemical since September 2011. He spent most of his career developing catalytic processes after joining Dow in 1990. He received his Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry at the University of Colorado-Boulder doing research unlikely to lead to an industrial career and totally unrelated to his current responsibilities.

mary.jpg“Your career is what you make it,” once said Mary K. Engelman, an inaugural fellow of the American Chemical Society.

 

From a staff sergeant in the US Air Force to a college student at a community college, from a technician to a respected leader in a large chemical company, from a student affiliate to an ACS Fellow, Engelman has successfully advanced a beautiful yet unusual career path. Along the way, she has proved that one can achieve career success without an advanced degree.

 

Born to a military family in Germany, Engelman felt it was a natural choice for her to join the military when she was 19. In the military, she received extensive training in engineering and served the Air Force for 9 years. After receiving an honorable discharge, Engelman enrolled at Northeast State Community College in Tennessee and studied chemistry. She earned an associate degree in applied science in 1991. The degree landed her a job at Eastman Chemical, and she has been working there for the past 23 years.

 

At Eastman Chemical, Engelman gradually advanced her career from a technician to an Innovation Process Manager. Today, her main responsibility involves project and portfolio management in process and application innovation in the Strategic Technology Department. Her job requires her to meet with chemists, engineers, and managers on a daily basis. The chemistry education she received from Northeast State Community College and her training in the military have proved invaluable. But a drive to continue learning and growing, the best advice she received early on from a mentor, has helped her move further in her career advancement.

 

To succeed in the field, Engelman believes that great communication skills, a drive to succeed, and an ability to adjust are important. And she attributes the following for her own success.

 

  • Continuing to learn and grow
  • Seeking and creating opportunities
  • Working outside her comfort zone

 

In addition, she credits ACS for helping her improve her leadership skills, and for providing her opportunity to network with others. “Network is a must in today’s society,” Engelman says.

 

A mother to two daughters and a grandmother to 3 grand children, Engelman is passionate about mentoring the next generation science professionals. To give back, she has been serving the ACS as a career consultant since 2007. And she frequently hosts Webinars and gives presentations on career advancement. Not surprisingly, her tireless contributions have been recognized many times by ACS, the government, and other institutions. In 2009, ACS named Engelman an ACS Fellow for her outstanding contributions to ACS and the chemical professional in general. And in 2011, Northeast State Community College presented her an Outstanding Alumni Award.

 

Engelman is proud of her career achievements. But she is quick to point out “it takes time to get anywhere in life.” To achieve your goal, Engelman believes you need to “keep learning” and strive to make every day a great day. “At the end of day I always ask myself ‘Am I pleased with what I have accomplished for the day?’ If I can say yes,” says Engelman, “that is a great day.”

 

------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Yanni Wang is a principal scientific writer and the owner of International Biomedical Communications, a company dedicated to translating research data into clear messages. Yanni has a PhD in chemistry and writes about biomedical research-related topics for professional audiences and the general public.

I first stepped foot on a sailboat on the coast of Maine in the fall of 2005. From the moment we hoisted the mainsail on that sixty-foot wooden schooner it was love at first sail. I have yet to experience anything as relaxing as the rhythm of the boat bouncing against the bow wave, the popping of the sails, the clanging of the lines against the mast like a steel drum line. Upon returning to the Midwest, I was fortunate to meet a friend with a boat that would teach me to sail.

boat.jpg

Over the years, I have learned that sailing mirrors many aspects of life and I have been particularly mindful of lessons I learned from a boat that have helped me navigate my career. Lessons such as:


Choose wisely:

Choose your boat (company) wisely.First and foremost, your boat must be seaworthy and your company sound. Before you buy that beautiful-looking boat in the marina, you are definitely going to make sure the hull is sound and the sails are not torn. In the same way, when choosing a company, you want to work for one with strong business fundamentals and an inspiring vision. But you should also choose a company based on the environment in which you think you will thrive. If you like excitement and agility, you might choose a 24’ racing yacht (a startup). But if you are a fan of safety and steadfastness, that 60’ schooner (Fortune 500 company) is more your style. Do your homework and know yourself.


Know the waters:

A good sailor never sails in waters without consulting the nautical chart to plot the best course and to avoid the obstacles. You should always have a map of your career in mind and a pathway to achieve your career goals. Just as you are at the mercy of the wind in a boat, your career is also subject to forces outside of your control. In both cases the path is almost never short or straight, but paying attention to your sails and the wind will allow you to chart a successful course. It is also crucial to seek out a trusted guide. In the world of sailing you need a good captain, but in your career you need mentors with enough experience to know your field, your path, and the possibilities so that they can help you “read the chart” and help you make the connections that will lead to a fulfilling career.


Weather the storm:

Lastly, you will probably never be so lucky to experience smooth sailing every time. Storms will come that will challenge your meddle and resolve. One of the pioneers of the protein folding field was Fred Richards. Fred was also an avid sailor. When he passed away a few years ago, one of his students, Frank Schley, said this about his former mentor:

 

"From you I learned not to fight the storm. The storm will always win. Secure your lines, shorten your sails and wait. The storm will pass and the world will settle down. There is no reason to batter yourself and your boat trying to maintain speed. Have patience, Boyo. Just slow down. You taught it is not failure to heave to for awhile, it is wisdom."

Often when circumstances in our industry become uncertain, when we find ourselves in a storm, we can spend copious amounts of energy and time on things outside of our control. Those are the times we should heave to, focus on things within our control, come out of the storm safely, and make it to our destination with boat and crew intact.

 

These are a few of the important things I’ve learned about my career from sailing. Choose a good boat (company), find a skilled captain (mentors), know the waters in which you sail (career), and you will likely come out fine. Until next time, happy sailing!

 

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- --

Jeff Seale is a Science Fellow at Monsanto where he has worked for 18 years building world-class protein engineering platforms and developing the next generation of science leaders. Outside of work he enjoys watching his children's artistic and athletic endeavors, sailing with friends and working to end extreme global poverty with the ONE Campaign.

不管在哪个公司,都很容易想象午饭后同事聚在一起聊天喝茶喝咖啡的情景。而在上海跨国公司,仅次于这个热闹程度的时候却一定在晚上下班以后。为什么?开电话会议。公司里每 一个同事基本都是电话会议的参与者 ,大到副总裁讨论各种项目的生死,小到供应链的专员讨论原料的价格和质量。电话会议作为组织多人参与讨论的工具,已经在公司里被广泛使用。你可能想问我为什么要写电话会 议。上海跨国公司电话会议的特别之处在于会议的时间通常不在工作时间。为了适应世界另一侧总部的时间,电话会议经常在深夜举行。这个现象成为上海跨国公司的一个核心工作文 化,让我娓娓道来。

 

我完全能理解同事们抱怨这些奇怪时间的电话会议。有时候在结束了又一个深夜电话会议以后,和另一个“受害者”在电梯口遇到,我们便开始开玩笑我们的公司是多么的“国际化” 。有些同事私下里告诉我他们极力避免晚上十点以后的电话会议,不管这些会议有多重要。是的,我举双手赞成 - 没有人喜欢开深夜电话会议。

 

显然,深夜电话会议和普通电话会议最大的区别就是它们进行的时间不同。最近我参与了一个全球四个部门共同合作的项目,地点分别在英国的剑桥,美国的圣迭戈,美国的波士顿和 中国的上海。遇到这样的情况,找出一个大家都方便的时间定期开电话会议便成为一个难题。比如这一次时间就敲定为英国的下午三点,美国圣迭戈的早上七点(冬令时),波士顿的 早上十点和上海的晚上十一点。这个让圣迭戈和上海尴尬的时间并非无法克服。如果你在圣迭戈,请你把闹钟像前拨两个小时;如果你在上海,像我一样,就请熬夜两个小时吧。

 

当你组织这种类型的电话会议,选择你想邀请的参与者就变得更加重要。如果你邀请了那些不是直接相关的同事参加深夜电话会议,奇怪的时间就显得更加令人恼火。记得有一次我们 开电话会议主要讨论的是跟项目相关的化学问题,到电话快结束的时候,一个被邀请参会的生物学家那儿已经是晚上12点了。整个会议上他基本没有太多的机会参加讨论,最后终于生气的说道:“你们化学家的讨论我本可以不用出席。”

 

尽管有着这样和那样的不方便,作为一个药物研发的科学家,我还是认为经常性的电话会议交流十分重要。研发项目需要许多不同方面的专家,解决问题也有多种可能的方法。任何一 个人都很难看清整个大画面。同时,制药业存在了很长时间,有很多过去积累下来的经验,业界的人需要互相询问交流。通过电话会议这样的方式,不同的分部,以及公司和外部之间 增加了交流。我们进而可以制定更好的策略同时避开可能的陷阱。

 

同时,让项目里分散在时间各地的同事每两周见一面很不现实。这也是为什么电话会议成为一种必需吧。而对于许多项目来说,总有人得面对晚上开电话会议的现实。而且,在电话会 议里,我们还面临缺乏非肢体语言的交流和信任建立的困难。它不是一个完美的答案,但是比深夜开电话会议更糟糕的事情也许就是完全不开电话会议吧。当你真正需要当面交流的时 候,请亲自跑一趟。这不,我已经买好了去美国的往返机票,即将和我的电话会议同事来一次真正的对话了!

 

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- ---------

Quan Zhou has studied and worked in the pharmaceutical center of Boston and biotech center of San Diego for eight years. He moved back to China in 2014 and started his career as a drug discovery scientist.

It is easy to imagine an office of people chatting and laughing during their lunch break in any company. However in Shanghai multinationals, this wave of commotion happens again later in the evening. What for? Telephone conferences (TC).  Colleagues at nearly all levels are participants in TCs. Up the ladder to the VPs who make go/no-go decisions of global projects, down to the supply chain specialists who discuss the quality and price of raw materials. You may wonder why I am even talking about TCs; they are part of business as usual in most places, used to engage people into discussion. What is unique about the TCs in Shanghai multinational corporations is that they are not usually during normal work hours. These calls often take place late in the evenings in order to adjust for time differences because many of the corporate headquarters are located on the other side of the world. These late night TCs have become a central piece of Shanghai multinationals’ work culture and so I thought I would tell you more about them.

 

Understandably, people complained about the odd hours of TCs. My colleagues sometimes joke about how “international” our company is as we head to the elevator after yet another late evening TC.  Some of my colleagues tell me that they try to avoid any TC held after 10pm no matter how important it is.  Yes, I could not agree more – no one actually likes late night TCs!

 

Obviously, the difference between a late night TCs and normal TCs is when it is held.  Recently, I have been working on a global project that involves four different sites located in Cambridge UK, San Diego US, Boston US and Shanghai China, respectively. On projects like these, it is impossible to find a perfect time to hold regular TCs for all four sites. In this case our teleconference was finally scheduled for 3pm in UK, which is 7am in San Diego, 10am in Boston and 11pm in Shanghai. It is slightly painful, although not impossible to adjust for the awkward time - by turning your alarm clock 2 hours ahead if you are in San Diego or staying up 2 more hours if you are in Shanghai like me, you can make it work.

 

When planning these types of TCs it is even more important to carefully select the participants that you need to include on the call. The odd hours make it even more of an inconvenience for those colleagues who are asked to attend but are not critical to the issue being discussed.  Onetime we had a TC discussing a primarily chemistry related project. At the end of the TC, it was almost 12pm for the biologist who had been asked to attend.  He did not have much input for this particular meeting and finally exclaimed, “You chemists could have had this meeting without me.”

 

Despite the potential pitfalls, as a scientist who works on these types projects, I think it is extremely important to use TCs for frequent communication. Discovery projects need a variety of expertise and have many possible solutions. It is difficult for anyone to get the whole picture alone. Also, the pharmaceutical industry has been around for a while; there is a treasure trove of developed tools and advice about what has or has not worked in the past, people in the field just need to ask each other. By enhancing communication across different sites and with outside talents, we can develop better strategies to move forward and avoid reinventing the wheel.

 

Of course, it is impractical for everyone, scattered around the world, to meet face to face every other week so that is where teleconferences come in. TCs become a necessity for many projects and that means that someone will always have to take the late night time slot. With TCs, we also encounter additional problems, like lack of non-verbal communication and inefficiency to build trust. It isn’t a perfect answer, but I think the only thing worse than having late night TCs is not to have any TCs at all! Then when you really need to, you can go visit the other offices. Look, I have already booked my flight tickets to the US. I am going to have a “real” talk to my dear TC colleagues.

 

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- ---------------------------------

Quan Zhou has studied and worked in the pharmaceutical center of Boston and biotech center of San Diego for eight years. He moved back to China in 2014 and started his career as a drug discovery scientist.

As an entrepreneur, you are going to need to give the pitch for your business constantly. Effective pitching opens a lot of opportunities for startups, including direct sales, meetings with investors, and admittance into accelerators and competitions. Whether you are delivering a planned presentation, giving your 30 second elevator pitch, or just dropping a single sentence summary, you will encounter a wide range of situations where you will need to quickly communicate what your company is about, and why people should be excited about it.

 

One of your goals should be to whittle your pitch down to a single sentence. One of my favorite examples is a recent startup called Washio. Washio is an app where customers enter how much laundry and dry cleaning they need washed and then choose when they want it picked up and returned. A Washio “ninja” then comes to the customer’s house, picks up their clothes, and brings them back when they’re clean. Everything is paid through the app and customers are only charged upon delivery of their clean clothes.

 

Or, to communicate that whole paragraph in four words, Washio is: “the Uber of laundry.”

 

In four words, that phrase communicates what they do (bring laundry service to you, on demand) and why you should be excited about it (you don’t have to deal with your laundry). In the beginning, it will be difficult to summarize your business so succinctly. It will likely take you between two and five minutes to describe to people what you do, the problem your business solves, and why they should care. In Washio’s case, it helps that there is a well-known, existing app for a different service (Uber), whose concept Washio can easily co-opt to explain their own. If you can do something similar, go for it, otherwise, just keep honing until you have a compelling one sentence summary.

 

Most people imagine pitching in a controlled situation, like a pitch competition, but the vast majority of the time, you’ll be pitching on the fly. That’s why the famous “elevator pitch” is necessary, and you should become adept at delivering it as if it’s the first time, every time. If the person is intrigued, they will either ask you follow-up questions, or arrange to talk more in the near future. And if you find peoples’ eyes glaze over during your 30 second pitch, or don’t understand what you do by the time you finish, then you need to rework it so that it’s clearer and more exciting.

 

You will also need to be ready to deliver your pitch in casual conversation. You should begin with your one sentence summary, or drop a few juicy parts of the business to bait the person to ask you more. If they bite, then you can move on to your one minute pitch and progress from there if they are still asking questions. Since you will spend so much time doing more formal pitches (like at networking events or business meetings), it can be tempting in casual situations to give a lackluster pitch or show visible signs of being disinterested in sharing. Even when you’re not, you are always interested in talking about your business. You never know how a casual conversation could end up helping you, and the more often you do a subpar pitch, the more that will become your norm, and leak into more formal settings. It can be emotionally exhausting, but being an entrepreneur means constantly being on your toes.

 

Even when you’re not technically selling your product, as a startup founder, you are constantly selling both your business and yourself. You will be challenged with many scenarios that require different kinds of pitches, from longer and more formal presentations in controlled environments, to one sentence pitches in casual conversations. It will often feel like you’re constantly telling people what you do and it will be difficult to make your pitch sound fresh every time, but it is imperative that you master the ability to communicate the essence of your business succinctly, while generating enthusiasm about your concept. Crafting a killer pitch will create a lot of opportunities for your business and is a basic and critical part of starting a company.

 

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- -------

Jack Fischl is a co-founder at Keteka.com - a website that connects travelers with authentic tours and activities in Latin America and allows them to book their experiences online.

Last month, I analysed Napa Valley-type companies, with long lead-times for R&D, and long product lifecycles.  This month, let’s look at how a completely different type of company operates: Silicon Valley-type companies with very short lead times and lifecycles.

 

Their planning and product development horizons are based on Moore’s Law, named after Gordon E. Moore, the co-founder of Intel.  He suggested that the power of transistors in an integrated circuit would double every year.  Since then, 18 months has become accepted as the standard timescale.

smartphones.png

 

The chart highlights the implications of this lightning-quick development cycle in the smartphone market.  2 years ago, Samsung was leading the pack, with a third of the global market.  But by the end of last year, their market share had crashed to just 20%.  Apple had just completed a spectacularly successful iPhone 6 launch, whilst low-cost Chinese players such as Xiaomi were wooing customers with great features at affordable prices

 

So imagine you are Samsung’s CEO for a day.  What would you do to rescue the company?

 

Unfortunately, you don’t have much time.  Unlike the Napa Valley companies discussed last month, you are effectively in crisis mode.  Your mobile phone profits fell by two-thirds in Q4 as sales collapsed.  And you know, from the complaints of Samsung phone users, that a range of problems has been left to fester for years.  The New York Times listed 3 of them in a recent article:

 

The plastic hardware looked cheap, the most promoted features were mostly useless and the software was too complicated.”  

 

It’s also clear today that your vast marketing budget hasn’t built real brand-loyalty.  You’ve instead been operating in the middle-market, where many people bought your phones only because they wanted a larger screen, or didn’t want to pay Apple’s prices.  Now they have a choice, customers are deserting very quickly:

 

  • Some have switched to Apple now it has released a bigger phone
  • Others have gone to Chinese suppliers offering similar phones at half your price

 

Your very latest phones confirm the deep-seated problems. They do offer a better user experience, but they can’t hide your lack of good software.  Instead the phones contain apps from Google, Microsoft and consumers’ own carrier as well as your own, to try and fill this gap.  But can this be a permanent solution?

 

As CEO, you’ve also got to worry about the quality of your top team, who have allowed all these problems to develop.  And a quick assessment of the market suggests that your middle-market positioning may no longer be supportable.  So should you instead accept the inevitable, and sell off the consumer business whilst it still has value?  That would at least leave you free to re-focus on the manufacturing operations, where you still have a good reputation.

 

It’s your decision as CEO.  And as you’ve probably just realised, your main problem is that as a Silicon Valley-type company, you really don’t have much time to decide, before customers disappear forever.   Good luck!

 

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- ----------

Paul Hodges is chairman of International eChem (www.iec.eu.com), trusted advisers to the chemical industry and its investment community. He is a member of the World Economic Forum’s Industrial Council on chemicals, advanced materials and biotechnology, and presents the ACS ‘Chemistry & the Economy’ webinars.