A Tangled Ethical Web: "PIE", Part 3

Neuroskeptic iconNeuroskepticBy NeuroskepticDec 3, 2013 12:50 AM


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In Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, I looked into the new organization Publication Integrity and Ethics (PIE), who offer guidelines on best practice and misconduct for academics and journal editors. Since then, some 30 journals have signed up to PIE - but do they know what they're getting themselves in for? PIE describe themselves as a non-profit organization, but that description can't be said to apply to Halbert Education and Training (HET). This company is prominently featured on the PIE website, and it's directed by a relative of the director of PIE. HET offer online courses on a variety of topics related to medicine and scientific ethics and they cost up to £1000 each. Who are they accredited by? PIE says:

The Publication Integrity & Ethics Sub-Committee of Education has approved this training diploma (approval code UKHA0348) and granted 320 CPD points.

But who's on the Sub-Committee of Education? Until very recently, it was:

How did they go about approving the courses? I asked Casanova (an autism researcher of some standing) about this. He said, in an email to me

  • Manuel F. Casanova MD

  • Attila Sik BSc MSc PhD

  • Zoe Sun MBBS MRCS

I said yes [to an email inviting him to be on the PIE council] as it seemed innocuous, i.e., non-profit organization and nobody would be charged for anything. Again, I emphasize that to my understanding there would be no fees for anything. That exchange of emails was my last correspondence with that organization. I was not aware of any further developments, that subcommittees had been formed, nor that I was included in one of them. The statement that the education subcommittee approves their online training courses can be questioned. I am not aware of any online training courses nor have I been approached to meet or to approve anything.

So, these £1000 courses were 'approved' by a committee, but one of the listed members of it says he didn't know anything about the courses... or even about the committee! It gets better. Now, Casanova (and also Attila Sik) are gone from the Education Subcommittee, replaced by Hiang Boon Tan and Zaed Hamady. Unlike Manuel Casanova, these two probably have heard of HET's courses... because until recently they were listed as contributors to them: on this page.

This text has recently disappeared, but see the cache. So these two have gone from making £1000 courses, to approving them! I do hope they decide that they're satisfied with their work. The Education Subcommittee is not the only part of PIE to have been reshuffled. On Saturday, I sent Casanova's statement (and my other findings) to Tim Reeves, who was at that point listed as Chairman of the PIE Council. I asked him for comment. He didn't reply, but he did disappear from PIE's website. His name has also gone from the list of authors for the various PIE guidelines. He used to be first author. It was also he who signed the original mail-out inviting academics to join PIE. Now he's gone, as if he never existed. Maybe PIE are following Joseph Stalin's guidelines for attributing credit?

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