Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Agents of Fortune #2

Mention the Illuminati in just one two three little blogposts and the comment-spam invitations come flooding in to join the Illuminated Nigerian Brotherhood.
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Are our frequent allusions to the covert, almost invisible activities of Tristero rewarded with invitations to join that elusive organisation? ARE THEY BOGROLL. The Tristero crowd are not clear on the concept of "How to Recruit Minions and Tighten Your Grasp on Power".

Other favourite subjects for the comment-spam advertisers are
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and (2) Academic scamferences.
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Someone in the empire of mockademic-tourism grifts operating out of Flat 4A, Girija Apartments (Chennai) [TechnoArete / ARDA / Academic World Research / Conference Alerts etc.] thought that it made sense to extrude advertisements for those grifts where they could be read by prospective South Asian customers, i.e. appended to a blogpost pointing and laughing at those grifts.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Different Strokes for Different Folks

This collaboration with Tiger BB8 was previously cross-posted at Leonid Scheider's site. Re-posted here with Tiger's kind permission. I am retaining Leonid's frame-story for clarity and laziness.

What follows is a joint investigation of Smut Clyde and Tiger BB8 who tracked a string of fraudulent nanotechnology data and uncovered a maze of seemingly unrelated yet secretly connected Chinese authors, a treasure trove of reusable figures, diabetic rats rising from the dead to be treated with nanoparticles or with a “herbal” soup, depending on the language of publication. Most English papers even have give-away titles: “Fabrication of…”, an attempt at humour maybe.

The main characters here are a certain fabricator named Junyi Shen, who did a doctorate at Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, and his new boss Hui Cai, professor of Traditional Chinese Medicine with a desire to cure all diseases with fabricated nanoparticles. Because the civilian Dr Cai works in a military hospital in Nanjing, he sports an army rank which is equivalent to Colonel, and a bunch of medals, epaulettes and other military insignia to prove it.

In brief: Shen apparently set up a peer review ring between Nanjing and Shanghai, where he and other academic crooks use same images of brains or cells, flow cytometry plots or nanoparticle distribution histograms all over again (only Shen knows where all those originally got fabricated), with the end result that same figure appeared in papers which share no common authors. The context it was used in varies: different diseases, different treatments, and occasionally the pictures get rudely photoshopped, for example to make a healthy brain look like an infarcted one. Sometimes the rats were allegedly treated with ginseng-flavoured nanoparticles, sometimes they were described as force-fed with a “herbal” soup which was not entirely herbal after all. But because the papers are either English or Chinese, who would have noticed, right? Smut Clyde and Tiger BB8 did.

Weapons of Mass Fabrication

Is it time for another dive into PubPeer threads, to exploit the unpaid labour of anonymous contributors there? Apparently it is. Along the way I learned that if you put googly eyes onto a slice of partly-necrotic rat brain, it turns into a guineapig.

This post will be shorter than usual as I only touch on seven papers. All fall under the rubric of 'drug delivery"... the goal of encapsulating or binding some drug so that it arrives or concentrates at some targetted spot in the body, where it is released from its bonds at a desired pace. In practice 'encapsulation' means 'nanotechnology'. Thus four of the papers came out in International Journal of Nanomedicine from Dove Press (a pay-to-print open-access publisher that once earned Jeffrey Beall's disapproval for having negotiable reviewing standards, later acquiring higher ideals when it was bought by Taylor & Francis). Two other papers appeared in Artificial Cells Nanomedicine and Biotechnology (the Taylor & Francis group's own home-grown addition to their open-access stable).

Entering into detail: three of the seven papers involve a rat model of cerebral ischaemia (treatment of strokes, to discourage the insulted brain cells from self-destructing after blood-flow is resumed). They hail from Hui Cai's laboratory at the
Department of Integrated Traditional and Western Medicine, Jinling Hospital, School of Medicine, Nanjing University, Nanjing.

In this helpful summary diagram, they're enclosed by the central angular box.
The English Collection
The other four were brought to us by a looser network of researchers in Shanghai. Two aim to improve the targetted toxicity of chemotherapy drugs;
and two involve treating arthritis with triptolide, nanopackaging the drug in different polymers to reduce its toxicity.
But these are not the only actors in the dramatis personae. Prepare yourself for FACS histograms, distributions of nanoparticle size, drug-release curves, and a cast of images that were supposed to illustrate distinct conditions but overlap.

From (2):


(6) and (7):

One cannot read much into these, although the post-publication reviewers at PubPeer can be commended for their eagle vision, while the authors and publishers can be urged to correct the errors.

Oh yes, and some appetising slices of rodent brains. To provide the cerebral ischaemia in (2), a fine thread was pushed up the carotid artery of each rat, far enough to occlude the middle cerebral artery on that side and interrupt the blood-flow. Thus Figure 6, where the white zones have been stained to depict the damaged areas: largest in column (B), where the rats received no treatment after blood-flow resumed. Brains in column (A) received no maltreatment other than the slicing.

A similar process in (3) - though using a peptide / ginsenoside / 'nanocarrier' combination instead of nanoencapsulated RNA plasmids - produced that paper's Figure 5.

The punchline here is that the brains shown in Column (3)(B) are the same as in (2)(A), only flipped vertically, with the contrast turned up to "garish" and half of each slice bleached out in Photoshop. The texture of the matting is the same; the shadows and the reflected highlights are identical. (3)(A) shows the same slices as well, though with a change in the lighting. It is tempting to apply skeptical statistical scrutiny to the analyses of the measurements, but this becomes less urgent if the phenomena being measured never existed outside of Photoshop.

Recall the team's affiliation: "Department of Integrated Traditional and Western Medicine". It illustrates the awkward quandary that Chinese researchers face. Last year an official edict against data-faking shenanigans came down, and was widely reported, with its warnings of condign punishment. This new policy coexists with the official state support for TCM ('traditional Chinese medicine'), under which researchers are expected to find the ingredients of TCM to be at least as effective as drugs from other sources, i.e. data-faking is compulsory. (their situation could best be compared to that of Russian geneticists during the Lysenko epoch). Some wondered at the time whether the policy would be enforced with majestic impartiality, or just against poorly-connected out-of-favour individuals. Is it too early to ask how the crackdown on fraud is going?

The expectation operates at the institutional level, and the upper echelons and PIs in any Institute of "Integrated Traditional and Western Medicine" must necessarily be appointed for ideological rigour, perhaps to the exclusion of competence and incorruptible integrity. So in (1) and (3), Hui Cai's team addressed a component of ginseng squeezings ('ginsenoside Rg1'), which seemed to discharge their responsibilities enough to let them experiment with RNA plasmids in (2).

Anyway, here is Hui Cai, in uniform with a multicoloured barcode on his chest. Jinling Hospital is a military asset, operated by the People's Liberation Army (the commercial, corporate role of the PLA, as a special sector of the Chinese economy, far outweighs its ostensible purpose of winning battles).

Moving along, Leonid's readers will be familiar with FACS flow-cytometry plots: measuring the level of protein markers on the membranes of cells and using them as coordinates to locate each cell as a point in a 2D distribution. I am no expert on this technique but it does not seem normal for the distributions to have sharp-edged voids punched out of them, as if sliced with a cookie-cutter (3).

Of course FACS data can be plotted as 1D distributions, histograms plotting the number of cells counted at each level of a single membrane marker. Here, from (2),
"Figure 2. In vitro MPO RBE4 cell targeting assay. The cell targeting detected by flow cytometry assay (A–D) .... In vitro flow cytometry analysis of the MPO targeting. (A) RBE4 cells incubated with PBS, (B) RBE4 incubated with control plasmid, (C) RBE4 incubated with Meg3 plasmid, (D) RBE4 incubated with MPO".
And from (3),
"Figure 2. ... RBE4 targeting of PATRC was detected by flow cytometry method. (D,1) RBE4 cells incubated with PBS; (D,2) RBE4 incubated with iTP (10 μg/ml); (D,3) RBE4 incubated with PATRC (containing 10 μg/ml TP); (D,4) RBE4 incubated with TP (10 μg/ml)."
It is not good when "RBE4 cells incubated with PBS" and "RBE4 incubated with iTP" follow identical distributions.
Nor is it reassuring to find that "RBE4 incubated with control plasmid" and "RBE4 incubated with Meg3 plasmid" follow the same distributions as "(A) HUVEC cells incubated with PBS showed fluorescence intensity of 3.75, (B) HUVEC cells incubated with P40 (50 mg/ml) with fluorescence intensity of 10.4".

Here I have broadened the scope to include papers from the Shanghai network, and (4) in particular, for those authors provided a third set of charts for a third set of FACS conditions (Figure 5).

So "RBE4 incubated with TP (10 μg/ml)" and "HUVEC cells incubated with PAMCN (equal to 50 mg/ml mNGR) with fluorescence intensity of 99.77" again behave with surprising similarity. There is a single pool of histograms, and two groups of researchers are dipping into it any time they need to illustrate a purported experiment. Who acquired that pool, and how it came to be shared between laboratories, these remain a mystery.

Coincidences continue when we follow our curiosity to the 'Arthritis' pair of papers. Here are two charts from (1) and (6). The only difference seems to be whether it is triptolide or ginsenoside Rg1 being progressively released from different carriers and fitted with exponential curves.

Mirabile dictu, many of the same data points appeared for a third time in (7), albeit with an additional measurement at time = 120 hours, and a concomitant shift on the vertical axis. Given the high confidence of the values (indicated by the error bars on some points), the convergence is a remarkable finding, worthy of a publication in its own right.

The authors of (6) and (7) responded, explaining the convergence on the familiarity of the materials - poly-γ-glutamic acid-grafted di-tert-butyl L-aspartate hydrochloride [PAT] versus poly-γ-glutamic acid-grafted l-phenylalanine ethylester copolymer [PPT]. They did not venture an opinion on the Nanjing team's possession of the same chart.

One mystery remains. As noted by 'Indigofera Tanganyikensis', initiating this thread of inquiry, a single size distribution characterises the nanoparticles in five of these seven papers. In the helpful diagram above, they're enclosed by the dotted curved line.


Shanghai to Nanjing and back

As mysterious as it is, why would seemingly unconnected groups of authors share same figures and plots across their separate papers? To solve the mystery, let’s track the authors’ background and their publications in Chinese journals.

The first clue came from the funding source of the three Junyi Shen papers from the Nanjing group. A single grant from the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC) that was tied to no-one in the author list of these Shen papers, not even to the Nanjing Jinling Hospital where the authors work. How can this be? Why would the signatory principle investigator (PI) of this grant, Dr. Bangjiang Fang from Shanghai University of TCM, sponsor the research in Nanjing Jinling hospital, without being included as a co-author himself, without having at least his university listed as the place where the research was conducted?

A search on Chinese scientific publication database Zhi Wang (Zhi Wang means The Web of Knowledge) and Wan Fang academic database revealed a connection between Shen, the first author of the Nanjing papers, and Fang, the PI of the NSFC grant.

Records at Wan Fang (right) show that Shen earned his PhD on “TCM version” of internal medicine from Shanghai University of TCM in December 2016 under Dr. Fang and yet another source showed that Shen subsequently received a postdoctoral fellowship from Nanjing Jinling Hospital to train under his new postdoc mentor, Dr. Hui Cai, the senior and corresponding author of the Nanjing papers.

During his career from 2012 to 2019, Shen authored or co-authored 17 journal papers in Chinese listed below (herein we shall call them The Chinese Collection). Among them, papers 3 and 4 were written together with both his Shanghai professors and Nanjing colleagues, 1, 2, and 5-7 were with his Nanjing community only, and papers 8-17 feature only Shanghai professors and lab mates. These papers provided the figure data later published in the English-language papers. The experimental procedures changed in between, yet the pictures stayed the same.

The Chinese Collection

1 人参皂苷Rg1纳米颗粒的构建、表征和体外功能研究. 沈俊逸;赵智明;刘春丽;壮雨雯;徐文俊 东南国防医药 2019-01-20
2 复元醒脑汤对糖尿病脑梗死大鼠BMECs的影响及miRNA-320的调控机制研究. 沈俊逸;赵智明;刘春丽;壮雨雯;徐文俊 天津中医药 2019-01-12
3 复元醒脑汤对糖尿病脑梗死大鼠microRNA-503及CCNE1、CDC25A蛋白表达的影响及对促进血管新生的实验研究 沈俊逸;方邦江;赵智明;刘春丽;壮雨雯;徐文俊;蔡辉 中国中医急症 2018-11-15
4 复元醒脑汤对糖尿病脑梗死大鼠BMECs的影响及microRNA-503的调控机制研究 沈俊逸;方邦江;赵智明;刘春丽;壮雨雯;徐文俊;蔡辉 浙江中医杂志 2018-10-16
5 复元醒脑汤对糖尿病脑梗死大鼠神经缺损行为及糖脂代谢的干预作用 沈俊逸;赵智明;刘春丽;壮雨雯;徐文俊;蔡辉 西部中医药 2018-07-15
6 复元醒脑汤对糖尿病脑梗死模型大鼠梗死体积的影响及其分子机制研究 沈俊逸;赵智明;刘春丽;壮雨雯;徐文俊;蔡辉 江苏中医药 2018-05-05
7 OX26单克隆抗体耦联的人参皂苷Rg1纳米载药系统促进脑梗死后血管和神经新生的实验研究 沈俊逸;赵智明;刘春丽;壮雨雯;徐文俊;蔡辉 医学研究生学报 2018-04-15
8 复元醒脑汤对糖尿病脑梗死大鼠脑组织梗死体积及形态学影响的实验研究 凌丽; 沈俊逸; 陈淼; 方邦江 中国中医急症 2018-02-15
9 复元醒脑汤对糖尿病脑梗死大鼠脑组织SDF-1、CXCR4、VEGF基因及蛋白表达作用的研究 沈俊逸; 方邦江; 凌丽; 陈振翼; 王晓翠 中国中医急症 2016-08-15
10 方邦江教授论治慢性阻塞性肺疾病急性加重期经验初探 戴彦成; 王丹; 沈俊逸; 耿赟; 方邦江 云南中医学院学报 2015-10-30
11 方邦江教授序贯防治中风病学术思想撷英 凌丽;沈俊逸;耿赟;鲁婵婵;王蓓 世界中医药 2014-12-02 12:07
12 microRNAs在糖尿病脑梗死发病中的作用 杨婕; 耿赟; 陶丽; 沈俊逸; 方邦江 上海医药 2014-07-10
13 方邦江教授治疗急重症临床验案举隅 王蓓; 鲁婵婵; 耿赟; 沈俊逸 中国中医急症 2014-04-15
14 方邦江教授治疗外感热病验案举隅 戴彦成; 沈俊逸; 曹敏 中国中医急症 2014-04-15
15 方邦江教授治疗外感热病验案举隅 戴彦成; 沈俊逸; 曹敏 中国中医急症 2014-03-15
16 复元醒脑汤对糖尿病脑梗死大鼠脑组织梗死体积的影响 赵平;沈俊逸;魏俊平;王宏;陈宝瑾 上海中医药大学学报 2013-09-25
17 复元醒脑汤对糖尿病脑梗塞大鼠胰岛素抵抗干预作用的实验研究 方邦江;周爽;沈俊逸;王宏;陈淼 成都医学院学报 2012-08-29

Apparently, it was during that his 4+ years in Shanghai University of TCM when Shen had the chance to publish together with a group of people who are professors or lab mates in the same university; however, these people were all different from the Shanghai group of authors on the English Collection papers above (4-7).

Now we have 3 groups of authors to parse:

  • The Nanjing group, including first author Shen, the PI Cai, and others in Nanjing Jinling Hospital. This group published in both Chinese and English, using grant support from Dr. Fang from Shanghai University of TCM. Their English papers did not include Fang as co-author while two of their Chinese papers had Fang on board;
  • The Shanghai-Fang group, including Shen, his advisor Fang (the PI), and others in Shanghai University of TCM. This group published no English papers in this case;
  • The Shanghai-Liang group, including Li Zhang, Qianqian Liang from Shanghai University of TCM, and others, but without Shen. Some of them, e.g. Jing Huang, are from East China Normal University, also located at Shanghai. This group has been very productive and published in both Chinese and English, involving multiple NSFC grants and grants from other major funding agencies in China.
Shanghai-Liang group has never published together with the other 2 groups. Although Shen never published with this group together, that did not prevent him from providing the Shanghai-Liang group with pictures from the shared pool of goodies used in his English Collection papers 1 to 3.

As postdoc with the Nanjing group, Shen was particularly productive in 2018 and 2019, publishing 7 papers in Chinese journals (Chinese Collection 1-7) and 3 in English journals. In his 2017 paper (Shen et al IJN 2017, English Collection paper #1) with his Nanjing colleagues, Shen conveniently used 2 sets of photos of rat brain slices from two of his Chinese papers published with Shanghai-Fang group (Zhao, Shen, et al Academic Journal of Shanghai University of TCM, 2013, Chinese Collection #16) and with his current Nanjing team (Shen et al, 2018, Jiangsu TCM, Chinese Collection #6).

Also in that 2017 paper with Nanjing colleagues (Shen, et al IJN 2017, English Collection #1), the endothelial cells of Shen’s diabetic stroke rats that were treated with tail vein injection of ginseng nanoparticles had identical matrigel tube formation patterns in vitro as the cells from rats treated with oral gavage feeding of TCM herbal soup in his 2018 and 2019 Chinese papers (Shen et al Tianjin TCM 2019 and Shen et al Jiangsu TCM 2018, Chinese Collection #2 and #3). In these two Chinese papers, the treatment group of Shen’s rats was gavage fed with a TCM herb soup “Fuyuan Xingnao Decoction” and the effect of this soup was assessed for two different pathways of miRNA-503 and miRNA-320. Again, miraculously, the endothelial cells of those rats demonstrated identical tube formation results in both pathways, all because of the special TCM herb soup!

Maybe now is a good time to mention the “herbal” soup contains dried leeches.

It was not only the gulping of herb & leech soup and the venous infusion of ginseng nanoparticles which showed identical treatment effect for induced stroke in Shen’s diabetic rats: also having a stroke or not was only one image manipulation away in-between. A diabetic rat on which no stroke was induced (Sham surgery group) in Shen’s 2018 Chinese Collection paper #6 used to exist before, as a stroke-induced diabetic rat in Shen’s English Collection paper #1 from 2017, with its cerebral cortex deformed with supposedly infarcted brain tissue. The infarctious deformation was caused by some Photoshop stretching.

Of course, we should not forget that previously celebrated nanoparticle release curve, re-appearing once again in Shen’s latest publication, his January 2019 paper in Military Medical Journal of Southeast China.

Acknowledgements got to a certain “Morty”, Elisabeth Bik, and friends in China for their help with compiling the Chinese Collection.

The Chinese and English Collections

Now, if you are interested to try that all at home, here is the recipe for the miraculous Fuyuan Xingnao Decoction aka Awake Your Brain soup, concentration: 388g/L. Vegetarian & vegan warning: contains leeches!
TCM name English name Weight (g)
人参 Ginseng 10
三七 Panax notoginseng 10
石菖蒲 Acorus gramineus 12
水蛭 Dried leeches 10
益母草 Leonurus japonicus 30
生南星 Arisaema heterophyllum Blume 15
制大黄 prepared rhubarb 9

Thursday, March 7, 2019

"I'd like to ask your opinion about a problem in Hamlet. You see, if I cast a Great Dane in the role, they're gonna accuse me of being..."

Dog auditions for a role in an all-dog production of "Endgame".

Casting scene from 9th Configuration

These are people of the land. The common clay of the new West. You know… morons

Life here in the Shire is insular and parochial but the isolation is balanced by advantages, such as being too small a market to attract the great media empires from across the border through Breeland. In particular, the Nazgûl News Corporation [founder: Mouth of Sauron] has seen no profit in absorbing the Shire media. Thus we miss out on their agenda of fostering
  1. incurious gullibility;
  2. pants-wetting fear of dusky Southrons; and
  3. the crank-magnetism philosophy that once you accept one imbecilic conspiracy theory (like climate-change denialism), you should embrace an entire panoply of imbecilic conspiracy theories (or for short, the Republican Party Platform) to keep it company.
Nevertheless, a certain demographic of hobbits feel the need for conspiratorial ideation and end up embracing six impossible things before breakfast all by themselves, without encouragement, guided only by the principles that "Credo Quia Absurdum" and "Everything is true; nothing is permitted".

Which is a circumbendibus way of introducing the topic of the Great 1080 Panic.

H/t Naomi Arnold
"1080" here is Sodium Fluoroacetate, a toxin secreted by some Breeland Australian plants to discourage their consumption by mammals. It is a convenient and practical way to control populations of the various mammalian pests that European colonists entertained themselves by introducing into the Shire New Zealand. But perhaps the 'fluoro' part of the name triggers morphic resonance with longer-standing antifluoridation purity-of-essence obsessions; or the numpties confound 1080 with chemtrails because it is often distributed across NZ native forests as pellets, dropped from planes. Anyway, there is an anti-1080 lobby, convinced that the air-dropped pellets kill native birds (by falling on them, or by toxic emanations and miasmata) rather than the ground-based mammals who eat them. They are unwilling to trust their lying ears, let alone the dead-mammal / live-bird data collected by ecologists at the Department of Conservation or by independent groups.

In the Good Old Daze, 1080 agitation was the exclusive preserve of hunting enthusiasts, who are traditionally opposed to effective control of noxious species - mustelids and possums, but especially goats & pigs & deer - seeing little point in saving native species from extinction when they can't hunt those species. But then in the US and the UK and across Old Yurp, political entities weaponised the Crazy Conspiracy Truther crowd and harnessed them in the cause of rightwing politics. The NZ counterparts were left at a loose end [see above: no Nazgûl Media] and I can only suppose that they feel envious. In lieu of David Icke and QAnon and Pizzagate to cater for their need for drama and irrationality, they finally rallied around this 1080 cause. At least it harmonises with existing Purity-of-Body-Fluids alarm about electrosmog and GMOs and chemtrails and vaccination and 5G mobile telephony in children's ice-cream.

Thus the Shire has experienced such alarums and excursions as an anti-1080 bioterrorist extortion threat (and a conviction). Bird carcasses with various combinations of tyre-tracks and bullet-holes were flung into Parliament to dramatise the death-toll from 1080 (and to emphasise the sincerity of the carcass-flingers' concern for avian life). When campaigners couldn't sabotage a 1080 program they sabotaged a non-1080 program of pest control instead. If this is a grassroots movement, it suffers from a serious infestation of grassgrubs. The only remedy, I suspect, is to play up the natural green origins of sodium fluoroacetate and rebrand it with a Harry-Potter / Homeopathy name in cod-Latin.

Anyway, welcome to an excitable world, inhabited by anthropomorphic personifications of 10-Tesla Crank Magnetism... like Bronwyn Llewellyn (who also shows up in the fringes of UK 'Satanic Ritual Abuse' panics, but who will adopt any Suppressed-Truth Conspiracy Revelation that follows her home, as long as it is daft enough). Though she is a Trump-licking US refugee so arguably does not count. Or EnvironWatchRangitikei, who is a home-grown self-radicalised crazy as far as I am aware.

Also, to admire these scenes from the Hikoi of a Poisoned Nation. Basically this is Alan Gurden and Emile Leaf, professional flingers of roadkill / gunshot-wound avian collateral-damage (by appointment to the NZ Parliament). They are marching the leadth and brength of NZ under the auspices (one never encounters a single auspix on its own) of the Māori Government of Aotearoa because of course they are.

That top flag on their nithing-pole looks familiar, Uncle Smut.

Well-spotted, youngling! It is indeed the 1834 'United Tribes' ensign of national independence, which has been adopted into the iconography of UK Light-Brownshirt protesters to symbolise the illegitimacy of the UK gubblement, for reasons they could not conceivably explain. Previously featured here.

Now here in the Shire, the 1834 flag has been revived in recent decades to serve a range of purposes.
  • A. A reminder of broken promises from NZ's colonial-history shitshow, and of the unbroken nature of Māori claims to self-determination.
  • B. When hung on the wall of a student flat, an emblem of the staunchness of the occupants' right-on politics.*
  • C. Camouflage for various lowlife scammers and extortionists operating under the cover of A.
We have previously encountered a few examples from that parade of pelf.

"None of us would have known about the United
Tribes flag if John Wanoa hadn't told us about it."
John Wanoa - floridly querulant crazy person and con-man manqué - variously claims to be of Moriori descent, a Moai, and of the Tahitian / Hawai'ian / Easter-Island Royal Bloodline, though not "Māori" (because that is a fake word made up by English usurpers). But that has not stopped him co-opting the flag as part of his own artistic practice, to bolster his claim to be the real King of England. Don't ask me how that works... ask those UK protesters who chose Yellow to be their heraldic colour.

So now would be a good time for a Brief History of Maori Govts of Aotearoa!

1. The 2002 version, a.k.a. the New Zealand Armed Intervention Force, which caused some perturbation at the time on account of gun collections, military training, and a propensity for demanding money with menaces... also their Declaration of War upon the established gubblement. All now co-opted for John Wanoa's artistic practice. Membership of this group of "Maori radicals" / extremists was dominated by one Kelvyn Alp and his white supremacist cohort.** Alp subsequently opted for mainstream politics and was last seen trying to flog his MGA passport as a valuable historical memento.

2. A 2005 MGA declared in the East Cape area by Sue Nikora... I do not know if the 1834 flag featured in her scheme for extorting money from moteliers. John Wanoa has made the pilgrimage to Nikora to pay homage to her role in this tradition.

3. A 2008 MGA declared by Nellie Morton in Whangaparoa. This is still extant, and has a Faceborg page, primarily focused on microchip implants.

4. I figure that the current MGA is probably different from the 2002 version, with less white supremacy. The contact details on its webpage are shared with the Maniapoto Tribal Govt and The Gazette of Nu Tireni - New Zealand, so I will go out on a limb and speculate that all three entities are likely the same couple of grifters in Hamilton. They sprang into being in August 2017 and solemnised their claim to represent all Māori in New Zealand by sending a gloriously pompous submission to a tax-reform commission (as one does), spelling out the framework for a transfer of power. That document further sets out their stance against water fluoridation and 1080 pest control, though regrettably chemtrails go unmentioned.

The MGA's primary or Other Other Operation consists of sending fictitious demands for 'rates' or 'lease' demands to the owners of attractively covetable properties in the area, and claiming ownership of those properties when money is not forthcoming, in the hope that the actual owners will pay them something to just piss off.

Their interest in the 1080 crusade is of a similar shake-down nature. As well as encouragement for the Gurden-Leaf excursion, legal-cosplay 'liens' and 'interlocutary orders' - ripe with legal-looking flimflam - are dispatched to anybody or entity involved in or supporting the use of 1080.

An uncharitable interpretation is that they are waiting for someone to pay them to just go the fuck away.

* For a previous generation of students, that role was filled by the Tino Rangatiratanga flag, but that is passé, has specific political-party associations, and has the disadvantage of looking like a beach-towel.

** Much of the incoherence surrounding the 2002 M.G. of A. and its NZAIF military arm becomes clearer when we discover that the leaders had been inhaling the farts of Sovereign Citizen / Common-Law solipsistic bafflegab.
All Government and de-facto government agencies including the Judicial System in New Zealand are corrupt using fraud; deception, trickery and force to snare the unsuspecting, Natural Person into doing Commerce (business) with the "State" and the rules of the commercial game are known only to them. Sovereign Law has been created in order to help you remember what is inherently etched within the conscience of your Soul, "Common-Sense".
"Common Law" (Law Of The Land) is superior to the subordinate statute law (Private / Commercial Law). DO NOT be fooled in believing over wise. Knowledge is power - Remember once you have the Knowledge - and you will indeed hold the power.
Alternative title: "Wings Wetted Down, stumbling on the ground".

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Thursday, February 21, 2019

The mountains skipped like rams, and the little hills like lambs

This post was earlier cross-posted at Leonid Schneider's site, hence the unfrivolous tone. The version there is improved by Leonid's editing and frame-story.

These curious images first appeared in PubPeer threads four years ago. They are ostensibly Transmission Electron Microscopy enlargements of Ag₂S or Ag nanoparticles, though with the replicated skulls or masks in motion across a backdrop of nanodetritus, they could easily be cover art for a Bauhaus or Wire bootleg album.

The response of the journals' editors, after F.-X. Coudert alerted them to the presence of Hallowe'en-themed 80s prog-rock covers, was mixed. In the case of the left-hand Figure 1c, from Kumari, Chandran and Khan (2014) - the later-submitted of the two, by a few days - the paper was eventually retracted, for this and other repetitions.
"Self-portrait with Skulls"
In the case of the right-hand Figure 1c, from Alam et al. (2014), the authors assured the editors that the identical particles 'A' and 'B' had not been cloned in Photoshop, and the editors accepted that assurance:
“Author […] stated that they were not duplicated. We accepted his statement and have no information that contradicts it.”
They did eventually publish a Corrigendum, replacing Figures 1c and 1d with completely different images. We'll come back to Fig 1d.
The wrong figures were submitted for Fig. 1c and d in the above referenced article. The correct figures are attached below. The authors regret for the error.
Did I mention that both journals are published by Elsevier?

I described the skulls as 'in motion', because there is a third version, with the skulls in an altered arrangement, while the material of which they are composed has changed to 'citric-stabilised magnetite' Fe3O4:
Equilibrium and kinetic studies on adsorptive removal of malachite green by the citrate-stabilized magnetite nanoparticles
"Malachite Green" was the hero in a series of Sherlock Holmes-pastiche detective novels from the 1930s. Not many people know that.

Perhaps they are being juggled.

At any rate, the retraction and correction focussed attention on a Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) image present in both original versions as Figures 1d or 1b, though identified as Ag and as Ag₂S nanoparticles.

The intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic who hang out in PubPeer discussion threads were quick to point out that overlapping enlargements of the same Giger-esque particulate landscape appeared in three other papers... shifting their allegiances to ZnO, ZnO, and a ZnO / CdO composite.

And we shouldn't forget "Toxic potential of iron oxide, CdS/Ag₂S composite, CdS and Ag₂S NPs on a fresh water alga Mougeotia sp" (2015), in which Figure 1 is a tour-de-force of versatility. Three of its four panels consist of further enlargements from the same Protean nanoscape, variously rebranded as iron oxide AND CdS AND Ag₂S NP. Did I mention that all these papers have one author in common?

That team's microphotographic virtuosity does not end there. Further anonymous / pseudonymous scrutiny brought to light a sparser selection of nanodetritus in four-fold repetition, variously identified as colloidal-silver nanites; Titania / TiO₂ [Oberon not included]; Ag again; and ZnO. In that fourth appearance the fragments of nanodandruff have been shuffled around and recomposed within the digital image, with particle reduplication to maximize the aesthetic effect.

Our author of interest was not content with the scruffy, slightly-foxed imperfection of these images, and worked with his students in the quest for neatness and technical elegance:
For the past few years my students are working continuously in my laboratory to get hexagonal shaped ZnO NPs and we could achieve the same. The results were so perfect and TEM images were taken until we get very low noise and perfect hexagonal structure. The low noise was avoided by adjusting the contrast of the image.
They responded to his challenge with these Platonic visions of geometrical purity:
"Influence of humic acid on the stability and bacterial toxicity of zinc oxide nanoparticles in water" (2015)

"Interaction of colloidal zinc oxide nanoparticles with bovine serum albumin and its adsorption isotherms and kinetics" (2013)
We should also admire these two versions of a hexagonal ZnO crystal, affected by exopolysaccharides in one case and by capping agents in the other, which have left the crystal's internal structure unchanged while radically revamping the other contents of the micrographic frame. And changing its scale.

But appreciation of electron-microscopy manipulations should not distract us from the group's real metier, which lies in synthetic spectroscopy. "Unregistered Submission" at PubPeer brought together XRD patterns from five publications (and five materials). Here 'XRD' is X-Ray Diffraction: a crystal reflects an incident beam of X-rays at certain specific angles where the spacing of atoms along some plane within the crystal lattice matches the X-ray wavelength, allowing the crystallographer to characterise that arrangement of atoms and confirm or falsify what it's supposed to be. XRD does not require a single large crystal... like a rainbow, forming from light bouncing off a random cloud of raindrops without the need for a single large prism to refract the sunlight, it can work on a powder of tiny crystals (nanoparticles) in random alignments.

But there is inevitable noise in any diffractogram: small-scale fluctuations smearing out the flanks of the diffraction-angle peaks and ploughing up the flat baselines between them. Bear in mind that it is the business of the future noise to be dangerous different each time.

The earliest XRD trace in this set was from 2013 - at the bottom, here - and it seems to be the original. The material was ZnO. The small peak at 2θ = 18° was surplus to requirements, so in the 2014, 2014 and 2015 versions it was replaced by copy-pasting a small-angle squiggle (conceivably a signature).

The Solar Energy paper from 2015 ("Photocatalytic activation of CdS NPs under visible light for environmental cleanup and disinfection") is a special case where the target of the X-ray beam had changed to CdS nanoparticles. This required the creation of a new diffractogram by cutting the original one into peaks and baseline squiggles and reassembling them in new locations, copied where necessary.

Once you taste the joys of copy-pasting squiggles it is hard to stop. Akhil (2016) brought multiple variations on a theme together in one place: ostensibly independent measurements of ZnO NPs, separately synthesized while fine-turing their surfaces with ethylene glycol, polyvinyl alcohol, polyvinylpyrrolidone and gelatin. They differed only in the duplicated stretch spliced into the middle of each exhibit, with the bulk of the 2013 XRD pattern remaining constant.

As crystal-lattice fingerprints, these are nonsense; how could any competent reviewers accept these Photoshop [or MS Paint] confections?
But wait, there's more from S. Sudheer Khan's team! Please admire "Fig. 3. X-ray powder diffraction analysis of ...(b) CdS/Ag2S composite", from Jagadeesh et al (2015).

The next two XRD patterns were not reconstructions of the 2013 ZnO original. Both supposedly came from experiments with iron oxide. One is Figure 3(a) from Jagadeesh again; the second is Fig. 1(d) from Mishra, Chandran & Khan (2014) (which is the Malachite Green paper we encountered near the start). Both are Frankenstein-style patchwork productions. Neither is at all authentic.

Finally, a relatively subtle piece of digital retouching. Perhaps there was a gap left by removing a peak in the wrong place, to be bridged with what appear to be small, laterally-compressed Airedales. Closing the circle, this is Figure 1(e) ("XRD pattern of freshly synthesized Ag NPs") from Alam et al. (2014) - the corrected Spectrochimica Acta paper with which we began.

The authors had an opportunity to amend this Figure when they replaced 1(c) and 1(d), but passed it by, so I guess they still stand by 1(e).

As always, I am only showing the shiniest objects from the PubPeer threads, which readers should explore for themselves. More could be said about S. Sudheer Khan's colleagues at the same institution:
This paper is by authors from VIT Vellore. Several papers from this institute in Vellore have been discussed in Pub Peer. In the present case there is an extensive recycing of the same figures / data. It is hoped that the authorities of VIT Vellore will look into this and start taking approriate action to stop this practise.
Indeed, the "digital dandruff" image is not original to S.S.K., and its first two appearances [above] were in papers without his co-authorship; his colleagues passed it on when they had finished with it, like a half-sucked lollipop. But anyway, this is really a concern for Indian scientists. I am more interested in the whole saga as a symptom.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Crap papers are written for any number of reasons. The general theme that as long as "science" is seen as a Good Thing, people will be keen to pretend that their mental effluvia count as "science" - even if they would be rejected from collections of Vogon Poetry. So we rely on the journals and their tradition of peer review to function as the Gate-Keepers of Academia... keeping the Literature unsullied by displays of gratuitous incompetence; by word-wooze churned out by seat-warming drones for CV-polishing and career enhancement; by alt-med grifters engaged in cargo-cult science and white-coat cosplay; by fabrications intended to camouflage someone's political agenda as Objective Fact.(thereby forcing all these different kinds of interlopers to launder their productions through journal-shaped dumpsters from predatory publishers, in the form of paid press releases in paper disguise).

But here the gate-keeping was an abject failure. The gates are wide open and so many Trojan Horses have trundled into Troy that the streets are congested and there is no space for the townspeople to go about their business. Emblazon the Wall of Shame with the names of the offending journals:

Bioprocess and Biosystems Engineering
Colloids and Surfaces B Biointerfaces (x 4)
Journal of Basic Microbiology (x 2)
Journal of Environmental Sciences
Journal of Photochemistry and Photobiology B Biology (x 5)
RSC Advances
Solar Energy
Spectrochimica Acta Part A

Not the Elsevier logo
This would be easy to understand if these were Open Access journals, with the authors paying for the expenses of science publication (including the publishers' profits!)... for arguably the OA paradigm discourages publishers from rejecting papers and imposing standards any higher than a Limbo bar, thereby turning down money [**cough** Frontiers]. But in this case the offenders were subscription-model journals (where readers pay for those expenses, which generally means "university libraries"). In fact the list is dominated by Elsevier assets - the Evil Empire of science publishing. Colloids and Surfaces B boasts of an Impact Factor of 3.997.

A contributing factor could be the dominant market positions of a few publishers. Or it could be the journal editors, who are often fighting to increase the prominence and prestige of their particular specialty (that's why they became editors!), even at the cost of padding out the page-count of their journals with empty pixels. But why bore you with my speculations, when I could be boring you with more examples of research malfeasance?
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
So a challenger appears! Again, commended to our attention by F.-X. Coudert. The aptly-named Ali Fakhri [Young Researchers and Elites Club, Science and Research Branch, Islamic Azad University, Tehran] is at present represented in PubPeer by 16 23 threads of post-publication enquiry - the same number as more than Sudheer Khan but they are all recent papers from the last three years (in contrast to Khan who took eight or nine years to enliven the literature with his creations).
[updated in proof]

Fakhri's talents include liquid chromatography (Fakhri & Nejad, 2016):

...and patchwork Fourier-Transform Infrared spectra (Gupta et al. 2017)

However, his specialty consists of the production of XRD scans for a diversity of nanotechnology materials, plotted in a way that highlights the pixel-level jaggies of noise replicated across them.

Peaks duplicate and shift location like jumping genes, within single Figures and between papers. They bring to mind the Māori legends of migratory mountains.

The mountains skipped like rams, and the little hills like lambs.

These patterns are especially noteworthy for their baselines - the flat-line, diffraction-free, noise-only stretches between the peaks - where we find the noise repeated like a tape-loop or a music sample in some aspiring rapper's demo track (Fakhri & Kahi 2017).

Two more variations on the theme of graphene-oxide XRD:

Sometimes these reverberant noise sequences are assembled from smaller units, in the manner of trains, and it is tempting to turn them into animated GIFs in which they chug across the diagram trailing smoke. Sometimes they even find their way into XRD patterns made up for more than one paper.

The pinnacle of Fakhri's art practice was arguably Fakhri et al (2017), with two plots of XRD residuals - that is, the difference between the noise-ridden data and a theoretical angular distribution as predicted by a diffraction model with optimized parameters. These tracks of isolated noise are invented, bearing no discernible relationship to the purported "data", but even so they are identical across much of their angular range. The author could not be bothered fabricating two different noise tracks... or perhaps the duplication was deliberate, a challenge to the journal's editors and reviewers, boasting about the fictitious nature and daring them to challenge it.

This is what keeps bringing me back to the nanotechnology field (or Advanced Materials Science if you prefer). These are not marginal journals (IJBM has an IF of 3.909). Many of the people publishing in them - perhaps even the majority - are not fakes and frauds. But how are readers to tell which is which?

International Journal of Biological Macromolecules (x 6)
Journal of Colloid and Interface Science (x 2)
Journal of Inorganic and Organometallic Polymers and Materials
Journal of Materials Science Materials in Electronics (x 3)
Journal of Molecular Liquids (x 2)
Journal of Photochemistry and Photobiology B Biology (x 9)

Editors and reviewers looked at these 16 papers and thought "Yes, this is how XRD patterns are supposed to appear, full of rap-music samples, migratory mountains and toy train sets". Someone looked at these energy-dispersive Element Maps (Hosseini et al, 2018) and thought "Sulphur atoms in these MnS₂ particles are distributed in multiple copies of Freytag's Pyramid? That seems about right".

Fakhri et al (2019) include "Fig. 3 EDS elemental mapping of the of CoS₂–SiO₂-1/CS nanocomposites":

The Si and O panels, at least, were not obviously constructed from extensive use of the Clone stamp. Mind you, the Cobalt panel mostly looks plausible enough, except for the zone which was filled in with a repeating tow-truck motif.

Having started this post with TEM shenanigans, we should probably finish the same way:

The right-hand image nominally portrays a "CdSe quantum-dots-decorated SnO2 nanotube", but I like to think that it is really a digital plant-stem, suffering from an infestation of Photoshop scale-bugs.

Fakhri is not bound to a regular team of co-authors, and juggles a diverse list of collaborators (I surmise that he is invited into multiple projects to lend his X-ray diffraction skills). It does not do to think of all the well-intended researchers whose own work in these projects could become collateral damage in the event of any retractions.