The 12 Most Outrageous Science Scandals Of 2015

…in chronological order.

1. Astronomers Clashed Over a Giant Telescope on a Sacred Hawaiian Mountain

For seven years, people have been protesting against the construction of the $1.4 billion Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea, one of indigenous Hawaiians’ most sacred sites. But the controversy exploded this April, when dozens of protesters were arrested.

The protests caused a painful split in the astronomy community, too. Some argued that the telescope would give back in scientific knowledge as well as jobs for local people, while others questioned whether the telescope was inherently exploitative. The fight is still going on; as of this month, the court invalidated the construction permit until after a lawsuit against the telescope has been heard.

2. Scientist Allegedly Faked Data in Study About Gay People Changing Voters’ Minds

Mathew Sumner / Associated Press / Via apimages.com

Michael LaCour, the young scientist who led a much-publicized study claiming that gay people advocating same-sex marriage can change voters’ minds, allegedly faked the data, according to his co-author, renowned political scientist Donald Green. The problems came to light after three other researchers tried, and failed, to replicate the study. LaCour also seems to have misrepresented his funding: After the scandal broke, the grant agencies credited with supporting the study denied having any involvement.

LaCour apologized for misrepresenting his funding sources and deleting data, but claimed his results are solid. Meanwhile, other political scientists suggested that he also fabricated another study, about media bias.

According to his personal website, LaCour is now a “freelance statistical consultant at Beautiful Data Inc., a company specializing in data visualization and presentation.”

3. Doctor Lost His License for Performing Horrifying Sexual Experiments on His Students

Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences Handout / Via Reuters

“Witnesses testified to a panel of nine doctors that Hagmann gave students dangerous drugs while they were inebriated, and performed unnecessary penile nerve blocks and rectal exams on them. Hagmann also allegedly asked students to perform rectal exams on himself, among other procedures that raised alarm on the panel.”

4. Big Report Found That American Psychological Association Colluded With Pentagon on Torture Policies

Luke Macgregor / Reuters / Via pictures.reuters.com

In July, a report commissioned by the APA found that the group was complicit in the torture polices of the U.S. military. Three of the APA’s top leaders were ousted, while the rest of the organization painfully grappled with its next steps. In August, at the APA meeting in Toronto, the association voted to ban psychologists from human rights abuses — a long-fought victory for the six rebel psychologists who brought the initial accusations against the APA.

5. Thousands of Monkeys Have Been Exposed to Deadly Chemicals and Radiation as Part of the “War on Terror”

BuzzFeed News

According to an unprecedented analysis by BuzzFeed News, the number of primates used in painful experiments (what the U.S. Department of Agriculture dubs “Column E”) has more than doubled since 2002, averaging more than 1,400 per year since 2009.

The lab with the highest number of monkeys subjected to pain and distress in 2014 was Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute, a New Mexico biodefense lab that studies plague, anthrax, and radiation. For years, government inspections have shown that Lovelace has violated animal care regulations. In July, a watchdog group called for an official investigation.

6. Anti-Abortion Activists Condemned Fetal Tissue Research

This summer, anti-abortion activists posted a series of hidden-camera videos showing Planned Parenthood employees discussing (sometimes crudely) the harvesting of cells from aborted fetuses. Although these controversial cells have been crucial to medical research for decades (and even neuroscientist and presidential candidate Ben Carson used the cells in his research), scientists who depend on them were terrified of getting involved in the political maelstrom.

Lawmakers fought about late-term abortions and Planned Parenthood all summer, repeating the same brawl from decades ago. Meanwhile, many states are restricting use of the increasingly common “abortion pill.” And the activists behind the videos are getting tied up in legal battles.

7. GMO Scientists Got Entangled With Monsanto

Ruth Gwily for BuzzFeed News

In September, the New York Times reported on emails showing how the food industry, including Monsanto and Stonyfield Farm, have enlisted academic scientists to their causes. “The use by both sides of third-party scientists, and their supposedly unbiased research, helps explain why the American public is often confused as it processes the conflicting information,” the Times wrote.

The following month, BuzzFeed News told the bizarre story of how one of those scientists, the University of Florida’s Kevin Folta, got involved with Monsanto PR and created a shady podcast alter ego.

8. Pee Scams, Kickbacks, and Overdoses Plague South Florida Rehabs

Ddmitr / Getty Images / Via thinkstockphotos.com

“Nobody systematically tracks the success rates of recovery programs. But addiction experts contacted by BuzzFeed News agree that, no matter what kind of recovery, the relapse rate for opiate addiction is dismal — perhaps as high as 90%.

That means that even in recovery facilities run by educated people with good intentions, addicts bounce in and out, and are often undone by easy access to street drugs.

Sometimes it’s even worse. Stories abound in Delray Beach of halfway house owners charging insurance companies thousands of dollars a month for simple urine tests, collecting illegal referral fees from rehab programs, and even finding ways to get addicts drugs in hopes that they will relapse.”

9. Exxon’s Own Research Confirmed Fossil Fuels’ Role in Global Warming Decades Ago

Saul Loeb / AFP / Getty Images / Via gettyimages.com

From an eight-month investigation by InsideClimate News:

“Toward the end of the 1980s, Exxon curtailed its carbon dioxide research. In the decades that followed, Exxon worked instead at the forefront of climate denial. It put its muscle behind efforts to manufacture doubt about the reality of global warming its own scientists had once confirmed. It lobbied to block federal and international action to control greenhouse gas emissions. It helped to erect a vast edifice of misinformation that stands to this day.”

10. Oh, Martin

Bloomberg / Getty Images

Martin Shkreli, the 32-year-old founder of Turing Pharmaceuticals, became a household name in September by raising the cost of a lifesaving drug from $13.50 to $750. This decision became a talking point for Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders on the campaign trail, and Shkreli wasn’t shy about taunting the candidates on Twitter.

This month, federal agents arrested a hoodie-clad Shkreli for an entirely different issue: running a Ponzi scheme on his investors. Among other things, he allegedly told investors that he had $35 million when he actually had just $700. After his arrest, poor Martin’s Twitter account was hacked.

11. The Feds Investigated a California Biotech Company for Inadequate Care of Thousands of Goats and Rabbits

United States Department of Agriculture / Via Stop Animal Exploitation Now

“A hidden barn. A mystery witness. And two sick goats dying right in front of visiting federal inspectors — one of them shot in the head with a bolt gun.

The company at the center of this scandal is Santa Cruz Biotechnology Inc. in San Luis Obispo, California, a top science lab supplier of antibodies harvested from the blood of thousands of goats and rabbits. In August, after a years-long delay, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) held a hearing to address the complaints against the firm, including hiding a barn full of hundreds of ailing goats from federal health inspectors for years.”

12. Famous Berkeley Astronomer Violated Sexual Harassment Policies Over Many Years

Getty Images / Via gettyimages.com

Geoff Marcy, one of the world’s most famous astronomers, inappropriately massaged, kissed, and groped several students, according to an internal investigation at Berkeley that was made public by BuzzFeed News.

It seems to have been an open secret: Many students and faculty members in his department knew about Marcy’s behavior, and he was accused of sexual harassment in the 1990s at his previous institution, San Francisco State University. After students and fellow faculty called for him to step down, Marcy resigned from his tenured position, sending shockwaves through the astronomy field. Between Oct. 15, the day after he resigned, and Dec. 30, when his ties to Berkeley will be formally severed, the university paid him $42,000 in salary.

Earlier this month, Berkeley released a 120-page report about its Marcy investigation, prompting Marcy to contend that he had retired, not resigned.

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