Who Can You Believe In Academic Writing?

In January 2006, the journal Science retracted the 2005 paper by university professor Hwang Woo-Suk and co-workers which had proclaimed the existence of patient-specific embryonic stem cell lines. If the paper had been true, it would have suggested that tangible medical applications of embryonic stem cell might be close in time. Concerning the publication of this fraudulent paper, it is interesting to note BOTH that the referees and editors found no difficulty with the paper at submission AND that scientific experts in the embryonic stem cell field did not question the paper prior to the unraveling in December 2005. Nobody in the field could identify a fraudulent paper.
In my paper LESSONS TO BE LEARNED FROM THE HWANG MATTER: ANALYZING INNOVATION THE RIGHT WAY (88 JPTOS 239 (March 2006)), I noted that incidences of misstatements by academics in the published literature are not uncommon. For example, a Stanford University professor writing in the Stanford Law Review proclaimed that Gary Boone was the inventor of the integrated circuit. Mark A. Lemley, Patenting Nanotechnology, 58 Stan. L. Rev. 601, 612 (2005). This misstatement, ignoring the true inventors Noyce and Kilby, sailed right through the “review” process at the Stanford Law Review. Further, the “message” Lemley drew from the Boone invention of the IC was that The sum of all these stories is rather remarkable: for one reason or another, the basic building blocks of what might be called the enabling technologies of the twentieth century – including the computer, software, the Internet, and biotechnology – all ended up in the public domain. In reality, the IC is an example of a situation in which users had to pay royalties not to just one patent holder, but to two (Texas Instruments AND Fairchild).
Academic research is not the only area in which one must be wary.
Did New Jersey actually fund stem cell research?
A number of publications have suggested that the state of New Jersey was the first state to use public funds for research in embryonic stem cells:
New Jersey officials on Dec. 16, 2005 announced $5
million in grants for stem cell research, including
studies involving human embryonic stem cells. The
awards are said to be the first instance of a state
using public funds for such research.
The grants may appear to be modest compared with those
for other scientific endeavors, but they represent an
important step in New Jersey’s effort to establish a
stem cell research industry. With strong competition
already under way from California and Florida,
supporters say, New Jersey cannot afford to fall
behind.
”The grants we have awarded today are based on
science, not politics, and have been conceived by some
of the brightest minds and best institutions in our
state,” Acting Gov. Richard J. Codey said in a
statement. ”This funding will hopefully set the stage
for a new era in medical treatments that will ease the
suffering of millions and ultimately save lives.”
New York Times, B2, December 17, 2005
California’s pioneering initiative has caused a
backlash, as some states have enacted bans on publicly
funded embryonic stem cell research. Yet others —
including Connecticut, New Jersey, Texas and Illinois
— have recently approved small amounts of state
funding for research.
Los Angeles Times, B1, Feb. 27, 2006
“Californians’ decision to put out a welcome mat to embryonic stem cell research has prompted reaction among states that
don’t want to see a brain drain in biotech.
Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Jersey have passed
state laws to encourage embryonic stem cell research.”
New Jersey Law Journal, Feb. 20, 2006
At this point in time, it is not clear that both houses of the New Jersey state legislature actually approved this expenditure of money, or that actual money has gone from the state of New Jersey to research institutions for funding stem cell research.
Google uses citation hits, not accuracy, to determine ranking of hits in search engine results
People are still only willing to look at the first few tens of results. Because of this, as the collection size grows, search engines need tools that have very high precision (number of relevant documents returned, say in the top tens of results). Indeed, search engines want the notion of “relevant” to only include the very best documents since there may be tens of thousands of slightly relevant documents.
Briefly, Google, in part, assigns “rank” on its search engine results much as Science Citation Index (SCI) assigned the “value” of a scientific paper based on the number of papers who cite to it. Google assumes you will find a given webpage more valuable if others have created links to it.
–> If a human reads a web page and finds it relevant, that human might put a link to it on his or her own site.
–> The higher the number of pages that link to a given web page, the more relevant it is.
Thus was born PageRank, brought to us by a small search engine called Back-Rub that later changed its name to Google.
With Google, we have a strong goal to push more development and understanding into the academic realm. Academics love citation index, and create mutual societies of cross-citation: I’ll cite your paper if you cite mine. Although some will say this is “objective,” a more apt description is that it is “quantifiable” according to relatively simple rules.
The citation (link) graph of the web is an important resource that has largely gone unused in existing web search engines. We have created maps containing as many as 518 million of these hyperlinks, a significant sample of the total. These maps allow rapid calculation of a web page’s “PageRank”, an objective measure of its citation importance that corresponds well with people’s subjective idea of importance. Academic citation literature has been applied to the web, largely by counting citations or backlinks to a given page. This gives some approximation of a page’s importance or quality. PageRank extends this idea by not counting links from all pages equally, and by normalizing by the number of links on a page. Links from well-linked pages are better indicators of quality.
An interesting example of why Google’s ranking system is not necessarily effective was in a study of Google searches for +”patent reform” +2795, in the time period after Lamar Smith’s HR 2795 on patent reform was introduced in June 2005. Initially, Google searches seemed rather underinclusive, but at least gave hits relevant to the content of the bill. As time went on, the number of hits increased dramatically, but there was an almost selective “weeding out” of substantive hits (those which really discussed the content of HR 2795 and what it might mean) in favor of more popular hits giving only cosmetic discussion of the bill. Webpages with significant content were almost eliminated.

Academic Papers
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