I’ll not bust Paul’s chops over his assertions of Dalibor Sames because his opinions were honest and, in this fine day and age, an honest opinion is something that should be valued. I can’t, however, agree with his position on Sames. If the question posited is “Is Sames a dick?” I would have to say – in so far as I can tell, yes. Sames does appear to be a dick. Kickin’ kids out of your lab is a dickhead thing to do. But chemistry is FILLED with dicks, most of whom we know and love. I can’t hold that against him, even though it’s been widley acknowledged that he may, in fact, be a dick.
Fine. Let’s move on.
Is he a fraud? Now that’s the real question. Character assassinations aside, is he a fraud is a serious question because the answer carries serious weight. If everyone agrees that Sames is a fraud (which isn’t the case) then there would be nothing to talk about. But, as it turns out, Sames IS NOT a fraud, at least so far as anyone can reasonably prove. And going on about his publications in JACS and JOC as if he should be banned from publishing is nonsense. He shouldn’t be, because as far as we can tell, he was only complicit in misplacing trust in a crooked student and no evidence has emerged (or most likely will emerge) that he was any more complicit than that.
To put this into perspective, let’s look at another man in the field who got caught with his hand in someone else’s cookie jar for a second. WAY BACK in the olden days a man named Leo Paquette was busted for lifting a line or two from so and so’s NIH propsal:
The US National Science Foundation (NSF) and prominent Ohio State University chemistry professor Leo A. Paquette have apparently agreed to a legally binding settlement, in which Paquette excludes himself from receiving any federal funding for the next 2 years, while NSF agrees not to issue a finding of scientific misconduct. NSF evidently concluded that Paquette violated the integrity of the peer review process by lifting background material from a proposal he had reviewed for NSF and publishing the material in the Journal of the American Chemical Society in 1992. During the investigation of the case there were also charges against Paquette of obstruction of a federal investigation after he submitted falsified evidence to the agency. Paquette admits the evidence was falsified, and his secretary has claimed responsibility for it. Ohio State University has agreed with NSF that Paquette improperly used material from an NSF proposal. The university’s chemistry department, however, considers the plagiarism charge insignificant, saying that Paquette’s actions “could be considered sloppy, but do not constitute plagiarism by most definitions.” The material lifted from the NSF proposal appeared only in the introductory paragraphs of Paquette’s published paper. NSF’s General Counsel has stated Paquette “poses too great a business risk to receive government funding.”
QY: Linda Raber email@example.com (Chem. & Eng. News 9 Mar 98)
Paquette’s case was, at least externally, more cut and dry. It didn’t provide a lot of wiggle room for him to get out of – the result wasn’t a cascade of papers that lead people erroniously down a bad research pathway, rather it was the cheapening of the trust of those that submit their very secret work with the hopes that, when they get it back, it will make them famous. You can bicker about which is worse – my research was unaffected by Sames’ publications, so I can take the moral road and just say they’re both equally bad. However, the nitty gritty of Paquette’s case was, like Sames, not so cut and dry:
An investigation conducted by the University found that Dr. Paquette had submitted a grant application to the National Institutes of Health in which sections of the research design were plagiarized from an unfunded grant application written by another scientist. Dr. Paquette had received the other scientist’s application in confidence as a peer reviewer for the NIH. Dr. Paquette claimed that inclusion of the other scientist’s text was inadvertent; he said that he had given the other scientist’s application to a postdoctoral fellow, whom Dr. Paquette refused to name, for an educational exercise, and that text had somehow been inadvertently used in his own application. The ORI concurred in the University’s finding of misconduct. Dr. Paquette stated that he was accepting full responsibility for this occurrence. The ORI has required institutional certification of proper attribution in any future grant proposals to the PHS from Dr. Paquette and has prohibited him from serving on Public Health Service Advisory Committees, Boards, or review groups. These actions are effective for a ten year period beginning December 31, 1992. -link
I’m willing to take Paquette’s word on face value; it was some kind of accident. Draw your own conclusions if you must, but this much is clear: Leo Paquette’s contributions to chemistry are tremendous and, even with that blemish, they can’t be denied. The issue was dragged out into the open, exposed for all to see, and then rolled back up when he got his licks in. No censoring of his science needed. If you silence a man like Paquette, you’re only doing chemistry harm.
Sames has yet to make evident that his contributions to chemistry are going to be as great as Paquette’s. His rough dealings with students are a testiment to his personality, which is unfortunate. In a personality contest I’m sure Paquette would do very well – he’s quite a nice person.
So, in short, I’m not going to suggest we hold Sames’ publications hostage because no one is suggesting Sames fabricated data. That he should be punished as much as the offender is excessive, as he wasn’t aware of the offender’s actions, even though they were under his employment. Even in our sad court system, such a defense is a reasonable one. Should you ever find yourself in a similar situation, you may come to appreciate that.