More examples of plagiarism from 314 Action

Earlier today, I went over the gun violence page on 314 Action.org and showed that two paragraphs were copied verbatim from other sources. Little did I realize, that was just the tip of the melting iceberg! (Note: while compiling this post, 314 Action took down their Issues page in a desperate attempt to hide their plagiarism. But I saved everything and will discuss the changes below.)

Two paragraphs on their climate change page were lifted from a 2007 Climate Change and National Security Report by Joshua W. Busby.

314 climate change plagiarism.png

They skip around a bit to remove the part where the NSS was quoted and omitted the first sentence of paragraph two, but otherwise the text is exactly the same. (This is from p. 13 of Mr. Busby’s report, should you wish to verify it on your own.)

Next, here’s their page on education.

education-part-1

The first part of this paragraph was copied, albeit with the reference to Sputnik removed, from “How Sputnik Launched Ed-Tech: The National Defense Education Act of 1958” by Audrey Watters, published on June 20 2015:

One year later, in 1958, Eisenhower signed into law the National Defense Education Act, a cornerstone of his administration’s response to Sputnik. The law helped reshape education in the US with a massive influx of federal dollars.

Further down on the page, we find a section on evolution:

314-evolution

The first part and last parts of the first paragraph are lifted verbatim from a page on Berkeley University:

Evolution is essential to our curriculum and to scientific literacy. Imagine teaching social science without teaching history; students would lack perspective on events going on today. Similarly, to understand the big picture of biology, students need to understand life on Earth in terms of its history and its future — the changing life forms and ecosystems that have arisen and changed over billions of years, as well as the mechanisms that have brought about those changes.

The middle of the first paragraph and the second paragraph come from The National Center for Science Education:

First, it is the fundamental, unifying theory that underlies all the life sciences. It has formed the basis of productive and active research for over 140 years and continues to do so.

Critical thinking is an important component of a good education. Critical thinking about evolution must start with a solid understanding of what evolution is and how contemporary scientists understand it.

It’s a shame they didn’t quote the entire paragraph from the NCSE, which ends with a discussion of hucksterism…it would have fit so well here!

The third paragraph again comes from Berkeley:

As is true of any subject, to teach evolution successfully, teachers need to be prepared with a conceptual understanding of the topic and with effective curricular strategies. Teachers that develop a depth of knowledge beyond what is actually expected of students will be able to confidently adjust instruction in response to students’ needs and inquiries.

Finally, here’s an excerpt from the page on energy.

314-energy

Comparatively speaking, this one isn’t too bad, with only a couple of sentences lifted from Fusion for Energy:

Nearly 2000 scientists and engineers are currently working on a broad range of fusion R&D projects in more than 20 laboratories, including JET. Fusion energy has the potential to provide a sustainable solution to European and global energy needs.

This one isn’t even an exact copy, maybe it would have been OK if they’d included a citation. But of course, they didn’t.

Now, what makes all this really funny to me is that after I posted to Twitter about their pages on gun violence and climate change, they decided to take down the Issues page entirely!

Here’s how the old site looked, with “Issues” across the top:

314-old-site

And here is the new one!

314-new-site

Right down the memory hole! George Orwell would be proud! But that’s OK. Here’s a zip file containing the original climate page so you can verify everything for yourself. (BTW to 314 Action, remember that if you want me to take that file down, you will have to admit it’s your content).

Be sure to read their Board of Advisors page to learn just who is behind this group. They include one Shaughnessy Naughton, a failed political candidate, Michael Mann, who has been involved in plagiarism before, and Joe Trippi, who ran the campaigns of notable failures like Walter Mondale, Howard Dean and John Edwards. The organization also says they will support only Democrat scientists running for office, which leads me to believe that perhaps this group is just another front for the Democrat party.

Whatever the case, there’s no place for plagiarism in science. Above all else, scientists must maintain integrity. 314 Action has shown they have none. Even after I posted two examples of their dishonesty, they have issued no apology, no acknowledgment of their behavior, nothing but quietly removing the plagiarized content without explanation. Scientists deserve better.

Why I’ll never support 314 Action

There’s a movement afoot for scientists to run for public office. 314action.org (meant to represent the first three digits of Pi) describes itself as a non-profit founded by members of the STEM community, grassroots supporters and political activists. Its stated goals are:

  • Strengthen communication among the STEM community, the public and our elected officials;
  • Educate and advocate for and defend the integrity of science and its use;
  • Provide a voice for the STEM community on social issues;
  • Promote the responsible use of data driven fact based approaches in public policy;
  • Increase public engagement with the STEM Community through media.

Sounds great! I can’t wait to run for office. I’ll trade my days of doing research, writing and teaching for a meager salary for raking in big bucks from wealthy donors all the while railing against waste, fraud and abuse.

In the debates I’ll accuse my opponents of being creationist Luddites who have been part of the War on Science since Galileo. Any response will be dismissed with “are you a scientist?”, because it’s clear that only those who have worked in the Ivory tower of academia have the real world experiences and common sense necessary to lead this nation.

In the statistically improbable event my campaign fails, I’ll accept a position on the Fox News Channel or talk radio as the token scientist and get paid to argue with people.

….Unfortunately I have a few concerns about 314 Action’s approach. First, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m not convinced “more public funding” is the way for science to go. Whenever the government gets involved, they will control what gets funded and what doesn’t. Do you believe the committee doling out government grants will be immune from bias and political pressure? What will prevent them from funding only those scientists whose views they agree with?

Second, and this is the much bigger problem, this site is run by a plagiarist who copies the words of others with no attribution. Since citing your sources is one of the most basic aspects of science, I suspect 314 Action may be the work of paid astroturfers masquerading as scientists. Here’s an example, from their page on gun violence:

Edit: After I posted this, 314 Action took down the page to try to hide their plagiarism! Fortunately, I took some screen shots 🙂

314-action-gun-violence

With approximately 30,000 men, women and children dying each year at the barrel of a gun in elementary schools, movie theaters, workplaces, houses of worship and on live television, the United States faces a public health crisis of gun violence.

This was taken word for word from the statement by the American Medical Association after the Pulse nightclub massacre:

“With approximately 30,000 men, women and children dying each year at the barrel of a gun in elementary schools, movie theaters, workplaces, houses of worship and on live television, the United States faces a public health crisis of gun violence,” said AMA President Steven J. Stack, M.D.

If the author of that post were a student in my class, he or she would find him or herself on a trip to the Honor Court. If I did that, I’d lose my job. Worse, the claim is misleading at best. Out of those 30,000 deaths, 21,334 were suicides.

Wait, where did I get that number? It must be an NRA talking point, right? Actually, I took it right from the CDC website. But how can this be? According to 314action.org,

The CDC studies several forms of violent activities, including child abuse, youth violence, suicides and sexual assaults, but the organization does not collect data on gun violence due to legislation dating to 1996 that prohibits research funds from being used “to advocate or promote gun control.”

Once again, this is a plagiarized quote. It’s taken word for word from an article in The Wire, published on December 17 2015 by Tom Waring. If I plagiarized twice in my profession, I’d never work as a scientist again.

But is this even true? Can the CDC really not research “gun violence”, a misleading term since violent acts are committed by human beings, not inanimate objects? Of course they can, here is a map from the CDC on firearm mortality by states.

cdc-firearm-mortality-by-state

What is the CDC barred from doing? The answer is in the last part of the sentence, “to advocate or promote gun control.” A government agency can’t advocate against a Constitutionally-protected right and for good reason. The Bill of Rights was written to place limits on the federal government to prevent exactly this kind of behavior.

I could go on debunking more of their claims, but I think you get the point. I know many of my friends in science want to become more politically involved. But don’t be fooled by phony sites like this one.

Marching for Science

Scientists are getting a march of our own! Finally! From http://www.scientistsmarchonwashington.com/:

“There are certain things that we accept as facts with no alternatives. The Earth is becoming warmer due to human action. The diversity of life arose by evolution. Politicians who devalue expertise risk making decisions that do not reflect reality and must be held accountable. An American government that ignores science to pursue ideological agendas endangers the world.”

That all sounds good. What scientist could argue with that? Certainly not this one! But here are a few other things that I’m wondering if the organizers and marchers will be willing to accept as facts:

1. Life starts at gastrulation.

An organism composed of cells, undergoing metabolism, capable of responding to external stimuli and undergoing mitotic cell division fits any definition of life I’m aware of. (On the other hand, whether or not this life should be afforded personhood and rights is more of a question of ethics and morals, which the scientific method is ill-equipped to handle.)

2. You can’t pick your sex.

Humans have sex chromosomes, an X and a Y. The genes on the Y chromosome determine whether or not you will develop as a male. (In the rare instance you find a female with a Y chromosome or a male with two Xs, it just means that section of the Y chromosome broke off and re-attached to an X during meiosis). “Gender identity” is not a scientific concept.

3. GMO foods are still safe.

There are plenty of reasons not to like GMO products, such as biodiversity loss, risk of crossing with wild organisms, etc. But the food products themselves have never given anyone cancer.

4. Barack Obama is not a scientist.

In December 2016, Scientific American claimed Barack Obama wrote the year’s most talked about science paper. He didn’t. His paper, published in he Journal of the American Medical Association was not a science paper, because it did not use the scientific method. Obama collected no data. He had no hypothesis. He ran no experiment. He had no results to discuss. Obama’s article was a thinly disguised promotion of the Affordable [sic] Care Act. The JAMA board should be ashamed of themselves for publishing this.

If you’re not upset with JAMA for publishing Obama’s propaganda, ask yourself honestly how you would feel if Donald Trump started publishing in academic journals to support his policies.

5. Science is not a democracy.

No, I don’t care that 97% of climate scientists believe in climate change. That number didn’t even come from a survey of scientists, it was just someone’s analysis of published papers. Either way, it doesn’t matter — that is not how science is decided. Nature does not care what you believe.

I could have gone on with many more examples. My point is, it’s not just the new administration who scientists should be concerned about.

Who should fund science?

I’m concerned that the March for Science seems to focus on increasing government funding of science. Is this really the road we want to go down? If the government gets a monopoly (or near monopoly) on funding scientific research, won’t it be easier than ever for the government to cut funding to projects or scientists it finds disagreeable? Is it possible that private funding of science could reduce the risk of having a small group of politicians being in a position to pick and choose what gets funded?

I realize the above point will be controversial. But maybe it’s time to think outside the box for science funding. At the very least, can we agree that publicly funded research should be made open access, so there’s no risk of the government deleting it? NASA, USGS, NOAA and many other agencies have already posted huge volumes of information to the public, I hope other agencies can follow suit.

An alternative?

Or maybe, there could be a march that isn’t about government policies at all? A poster on Reddit had this brilliant idea:

Idea: why not make this family friendly? Invite NASA and other organizations to have activities, run science experiments, have telescopes (in the evening), and maybe plant a tree?

This is an idea I’ll support 100%. Such an event could make science fun and accessible to everyone, especially young people who might be thinking about a career in science. Maybe there can be multiple events, for science outreach and a debate on science policies?

Either way, I am happy to see scientists getting their day on Washington. I just hope this can be open to scientists and people across the political and ideological spectra.