I first heard about the excellent site RetractionWatch
via a segment
on On the Media
. The RetractionWatch site, put together by Reuters Health executive editor (and doctor) Ivan Oransky and Anesthesiology News managing editor Adam Marcus, does what you'd expect from the name. It covers scientific research that is retracted. Since there have been an increasing numbers of stories of academic research fraud exposed, and the pair felt that the "retractions" often were buried, despite questionable circumstances, they started collecting such information. It's a really useful site.
Yesterday, however, they pointed to something odd happening. They were alerted, via their hosting company Automattic (who runs WordPress.com), that it had received a DMCA takedown notice concerning ten posts they had done about researcher Anil Potti
. They found that odd, considering that the content they write is original. WordPress has removed all ten posts. When RW asked for the details of the DMCA notice, they received the following (with the URLs to be taken down removed to keep it readable):
First Name: Narendra
Last Name: Chatwal
Company Name: News Bullet
Address Line 1: Plot No 15 & 16, Express Trade Tower
Address Line 2: Archana Complex
State/Region/Province: Utter Pradesh
Zip/Postal Code: 201302
Telephone Number: 8953171759
Copyright holder you represent (if other than yourself):
Please describe the copyrighted work so that it may be easily identified: Hello WordPress Team,
Myself Narendra Chatwal Senior editor in NewsBulet.In, a famous news firm in India. All the news we publish are individually researched by our reporters from all over India and then we publish them on our site and our news channel. Recently we found that some one had copied our material from the category Medical Reviews and published them on their site. So we request you to help us in protecting our content and copy right.
Thanks & Regards,
Location (URL) of the unauthorized material on a WordPress.com site (NOT simply the primary URL of the site – example.wordpress.com; you must provide the full and exact permalink of the post, page, or image where the content appears, one per line) :
[list of 10 URLs]
If the infringement described above is represented by a third-party link to a downloadable file (e.g. http://rapidshare.com/files/…), please provide the URL of the file (one per line):
I have a good faith belief that use of the copyrighted materials described above as allegedly infringing is not authorized by the copyright owner, its agent, or the law.: Yes
I swear, under penalty of perjury, that the information in the notification is accurate and that I am the copyright owner or am authorized to act on behalf of the owner of an exclusive right that is allegedly infringed.: Yes
Signed on this date of (today’s date, MM/DD/YYYY): 02/02/2013
Signature (your digital signature is legally binding): Narendra Chatwal
As the folks at RW note, while their content was, in fact, also showing on NewsBulet.in, almost everything else is suspect. The content was clearly originally from RW, and reposted to NewsBulet.in. As they note:
In other words, NewsBulet.In is violating our copyright; we are not violating theirs. That’s driven home by the fact that the site did not exist until October 2012, according to a WhoIs search. All but one of the Retraction Watch posts they cite appeared before they even existed.
While all of the links to the NewsBulet.in site in the original DMCA takedown now lead you to a 403 Forbidden error message, it's pretty clear that the site copied all of RW's content and then filed a DMCA takedown to get the originals down.
John Timmer, over at Ars Technica, dug into the story and provides significant background information
that suggests what is likely to have happened. Timmer's story notes that RW had published a bunch of stories (22 in all) about Potti, and much of it is about his downfall and disgrace:
One of the cases they followed was Anil Potti, a cancer researcher who, at the time, worked at Duke University. Potti first fell under scrutiny for embellishing his resume, but the investigation quickly expanded as broader questions were raised about his research. As the investigation continued, a number of Potti's papers ended up being retracted as accusations of falsified data were raised. Eventually, three clinical trials that were started based on Potti's data were stopped entirely. Although federal investigations of Potti's conduct are still in progress, he eventually resigned from Duke.
However, Timmer also points out that Potti has since been hired at the University of North Dakota and (perhaps more importantly) has hired an "online reputation management" firm
to try to clean up his name. That company has been trying to get "positive" stories to show up higher in searches for Potti's name:
No longer do the majority of top search results for the former Duke cancer researcher detail allegations that he falsified his resume and produced faulty research that has been retracted from renowned medical journals and led to the termination of three clinical trials. Instead, more than a dozen websites and social media accounts created in the months following Dr. Potti’s November resignation contain solely positive information about his research and medical experience.
“During his time at Duke, he had a special interest in taking care of patients with lung cancer and contributed to the development of several programs in cancer,” reads a section of AnilPotti.com, which does not discuss the terminated trials that a top Duke official has since said should never have been conducted.
Of course, a current Google search on Potti's name shows that the Retraction Watch stories are actually very prominent these days, even beating out that anilpotti.com site that the reputation management firm helped create. Here's a screenshot:
Timmer's article further notes that, while the front page of NewsBulet.in appears like a normal news site, the claims from "Chatwal" that it is "original reporting" are not supported, and other stories on the site appear to be copied from third party sources as well.
Of course, what's not clear is who actually posted the content to NewsBulet.in and what the plan is. But, it certainly suggests some very
questionable behavior from someone who wanted the stories about Anil Potti on RetractionWatch to disappear. RW's Oransky is hoping that it's all just some big mistake, rather than an intentional plan to sabotage RW. As he told Timmer: "We can only hope that this isn't an attempt to keep us from reporting on retractions and scientific fraud." Somehow, I get the feeling this story isn't over yet...
In the meantime, however, RetractionWatch has filed a counternotice, and one hopes that as this story gets attention, Automattic will speed up their review process and restore the original stories in a shorter timeframe than the required 10 business days. As of the writing of this post, the originals are still down, which is unfortunate.
Either way, this is exactly the kind of thing that concerns us about making it easy to take down content with copyright claims. It is bound to be used as a censorship tool, because it becomes too easy for many to abuse the process to take down content they just don't like. Considering the ability to hit back at false takedowns is extremely limited, we're just going to see more and more examples like this.