Secrecy shrouds case of scientist caught squandering grants

An investigation into the professor's spending found "substantial evidence" of misconduct and fraud involving science grants. The federal government released the report but redacted all details that could help identify the professor or university involved. ~ M.Munro Photo

An investigation into the professor’s spending found “substantial evidence” of misconduct and fraud involving science grants. The federal government released the report but redacted all details that could help identify the professor or university involved.
~ M.Munro Photo

Published: January 27, 2014

The professor used $1 million in Canadian science grants as a piggy bank to finance personal travels and his private business.

He expensed trips to science conferences he did not attend, rented apartments for extended stays outside the country, loaned business associates money, and bought gear that had nothing to with his research, according to documents describing the misconduct.

Postmedia News obtained the documents, using the Access to Information Act, from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council that distributes close to $1 billion a year to academics across Canada.

The council will not name the scientist saying it must “protect” his identity because of the Privacy Act. It is also refuses to identify the university involved, despite NSERC’s recent pledge to be more transparent about academics who misuse taxpayers’ money. Continue reading

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Canadian scientists create virtual “functioning” brain

UNDATED – Chris Eliasmith has spent years contemplating how to build a brain.

He is about to publish a book with instructions, which describes the grey matter’s architecture and how the different components interact.

“Then I thought the only way people are going to believe me is if I demonstrate it,” says the University of Waterloo neuroscientist.

So Eliasmith’s team built Spaun, which was billed Thursday as “the world’s largest simulation of a functioning brain.”

Spaun can recognize numbers, remember lists and write them down. It even passes some basic aspects of an IQ test, the team reports in the journal Science. Continue reading

University of Toronto researcher censured for ‘self-plagiarism’

Published October 23, 2012

By Margaret Munro

Postmedia News

A leading University of Toronto researcher has been censured for self-plagiarism – and “severe abuse of the scientific publishing system” – after a software program revealed his group had been recycling text from previous studies.

Stephen Matthews and two colleagues in the university’s faculty of medicine “self-plagiarized” text from five other reports in a 2005 paper in the journal Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, says a retraction notice published by the journal this month.

“This article represents a severe abuse of the scientific publishing system,” says the notice.

Matthews was not responding to interview requests Tuesday.

“He’s busy,” said Lloyd Rang, executive director of communications at University of Toronto’s faculty of medicine, who depicted the case as a copyright squabble over a paper that was always intended as a “review.”

“Under the strictest definition of copyright it had to be original, but there are only so many ways to describe the research landscape,” Rang said of Matthews’ report that now has “retracted” stamped across it in bold red letters. Continue reading

When federal cuts kill thousands of living things; Across Canada, scientists are aghast at cuts

Ottawa Citizen Mon May 14 2012

By Margaret Munro 

Federal cuts are a life-and-death issue for Lynne Sigler.

As curator of one of Canada’s largest collections of fungi, Sigler has 11,500 strains of living organisms under her care, from the fungi killing North American bats with white nose syndrome to soil microbes that help rare orchids thrive.

The microfungus collection and herbarium at the University of Alberta has been nurturing fungi for more than 50 years. And since 1990 it has been considered a “unique” national resource worthy of federal money.

No more. Funding for the collection, and dozens of other “major” and “unique” science facilities and resources across Canada, has been hit by federal cuts in what is being described as a “disaster” for Canadian science.

“It’s very dismaying,” Sigler says of a moratorium the federal government has slapped on the program that pays for the technician and supplies that help keep the fungus collection alive. Continue reading

Scientists urge Harper to rescind cuts to basic research

Vancouver Sun Jun 6 2012

By Margaret Munro  Postmedia News

Opposition to federal science cuts is getting louder, with top researchers and academics urging the Harper government to rescind curbs on basic research and its plan to close a unique experimental lakes facility.

An open letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the environment and fisheries ministers was released Tues-day, denouncing the decision to stop funding the Experimental Lakes Area, a celebrated federal research facility in northwestern Ontario which was instrumental in banning phosphorus in deter-gents and stopping acid rain.

Meanwhile, Steve Perry, the dean of science at the University of Ottawa, has fired off a letter to Harper and several cabinet ministers decrying recent cuts to discovery-based science programs. Continue reading

Canada losing its Arctic PEARL

The Polar Environmental Atmospheric Research Laboratory at the northern tip of Ellesmere Island as it emerged out of months of winter darkness in early March. The station, one of the world’s premier observatories for tracking the health of Arctic atmosphere, but has run out of money because of cuts to climate science programs. Photo credit Pierre Fogal

Sat Mar 24 2012  Vancouver Sun

By Margaret Munro

Atmospheric scientist Pierre Fogal headed north in February to help check on Earth’s protective ozone layer high in the Arctic stratosphere.

But he spent much of his time on his knees dealing with burst water pipes and frozen sewer lines at Canada’s beleaguered Arctic research station.

Then this week, the electrical system malfunctioned, says Fogal, site manager for PEARL, the Polar Environmental Atmospheric Research Laboratory at the northern tip of Ellesmere Island.

The station, now limping along at half power and a chilly 10 C inside, is one of the world’s premier observatories for tracking the health of the Arctic atmosphere. The station houses millions of dollars worth of scientific equipment used to monitor the ozone layer, greenhouse gases and pollution swirling around the polar vortex. Continue reading