Sunday, July 29, 2012

Science Crime Scenes 4: Plagiarism, mysteries, and the usual looting and vandalism

It's time for another installment of stories about crimes against science and culture that I originally reported in Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (Opening of London Olympics edition) on Daily Kos. All of them have official investigations, whether to restore ill-gotten goods, prevent their loss, or simply to find out the truth. Some have the involvement of police, and others should. As with the three previous editions, most of these stories are about archeology, largely because of the amount of looting and vandalism rampant among cultural artifacts. The lead story, however is about academic misconduct at the highest levels of government, and I mean that quite literally.

Nature (UK): Conflicting verdicts on Romanian prime minister's plagiarism
Victor Ponta cleared of misconduct by government ethics board, but charges reaffirmed by university.
Quirin Schiermeier
20 July 2012
Two investigations into the case of alleged plagiarism by Romania’s prime minister, Victor Ponta, have reached opposite conclusions, ramping up the tension in a fierce struggle over political power in Bucharest.

Ponta stands accused of having copied large sections of his 2003 PhD thesis on the International Criminal Court.

On Thursday, Romania’s 11-strong National Ethics Council (NEC) rejected the plagiarism charges against Ponta, first reported by Nature last month (see 'Romanian prime minister accused of plagiarism'). One day later, a 13-member ethics commission set up by the University of Bucharest — which awarded Ponta his PhD — reaffirmed the charges.
As someone who earned a Ph.D., these are serious charges that could result in his degree being revoked. However, the article indicates that isn't likely to happen. Just the same, his degree will be permanently tainted. Good thing for Dr.--for now--Ponta that probably won't prevent him from having a career of some sort, even an academic one, when he retires from politics.

More over the jump.

There was also an official investigation into the following case, which also showed a breach of professional ethics.

Nature (UK): Can bacteria fight brain cancer?
The thinking behind an approach that has caused trouble in California.
Monya Baker
27 July 2012
Last week, the Sacramento Bee reported that two neurosurgeons at the University of California, Davis, had been banned from research on humans after deliberately infecting three terminally ill cancer patients with pathogenic bacteria in an attempt to treat them. All three died, two showing complications from the infection. Nature explores what happened and the science behind it.
The physicians and researchers involved failed to get approval from UC Davis's Institutional Review Board. No wonder they were banned.

Next, the usual looting and vandalism, much of it associated with political conflict.

France 24: Conflict threatens Syria's archaeological heritage
With its ancient fortresses, castles, mosques and markets, Syria bears the imprint of millennia of Middle Eastern history. But the current uprising is threatening some of the world’s most valuable heritage sites.
By Leela JACINTO (text)
On October 21, 2004, Syria's First Lady Asma al-Assad, looking resplendent in a black and red-trimmed graduation gown, received an honorary degree from the prestigious Sapienza University of Rome for her work in the development of archaeological studies in Syria.

In her acceptance speech, the Syrian First Lady expressed the hope that archaeological finds would “foster mutual respect for what human societies have achieved over the millennia across the globe.”

Barely eight years later – a negligible period in archaeological terms – some of the world’s most magnificent heritage sites have fallen victim to the collapse of mutual respect between the opposing sides of the Syrian uprising.
Here is the Agence France Presse video embedded in the article.

The Crac des Chevaliers, Syria's best preserved castle from the Crusades of the Middle Ages, is once again providing shelter for armed forces. The Free Syria Army have been holed up in and around the hilltop the fortress for over a year as they resist the advance of forces loyal the President Assad. An exclusive AFPTV report. Contains graphic images.
Time to continue on to the locations of the usual suspects.

The Express Tribune (Pakistan): Gandhara relics: Stolen or not, police and archaeologists can’t agree on one number
By Our Correspondent
Published: July 22, 2012
KARACHI: The police and archaeology experts seem to be at loggerheads over the actual number of Gandhara relics seized earlier in the month.

Amid press reports that some artefacts have been stolen from the Awami Colony police station, both parties associated with the case are coming up with a different total for the statues.

While National Museum’s director Mohammad Shah Bokhari claims to have photographed and documented around 330 pieces earlier, the newly posted SHO at the police station, Hatim Marwat, says there are only 308 artefacts.
The Independent Online (South Africa): Illegal digs threaten Pakistan’s Buddhist past
July 21 2012 at 02:21pm
Islamabad - When Taliban militants were expelled from Pakistan's north-west Swat region, many people thought it would be good for the area's ancient Buddhist heritage, which was under attack from the rebels.

But new threats have emerged to centuries-old sites from illegal excavations by amateur archaeologists and criminal gangs who compete to unearth relics worth millions of dollars abroad.

“This is our history because we were also Buddhist at that time. This is cultural heritage and the future of a nation is based on cultural legacy,” said Abdul Azeem, deputy director of Pakistan's Archaeological Department in Islamabad.

Remnants of Buddhist art and culture can be found at dozens of sites in north-western Pakistan which, in marked contrast to its tolerant past, is in the clutches of radical Islamic fundamentalism.
LiveScience: Ancient Statues Smuggled from Nigeria to Return Home
Wynne Parry, LiveScience Senior Writer
July 26, 2012
NEW YORK — A handful of roughly 2,000-year-old figurines began a journey back home to Nigeria today (July 26) after being seized at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City.

At a repatriation ceremony held at Homeland Security Investigation offices on the west side of Manhattan, Nigeria's Consul General Habib Baba Habu took legal possession of the terracotta sculptures, which he said had been stolen from the country's national museum.

Habu called today a special day. "It is the day that America has extended a gift of friendship that we will never forget," he said.
The Muslim News: Israel demolishes historic Islamic sites in Jerusalem
By Abdul Adil
Israeli bulldozers demolished historic Islamic sites dating back to the Umayyad, Abbasid and Ottoman eras in occupied Jerusalem on June 26.

The Al-Aqsa Foundation for Waqf and Heritage said that Israel’s Archaeological Authority has been destroying ancient Islamic sites over the last 5 years during excavations in al-Buraq, 100m west of the al-Aqsa Mosque. Some of the demolished sites are a mosque and a school building dating back to the Umayyad era.

The area is part of the Moroccan Quarter that was mostly demolished by Israel on June 11, 1967, after Israel occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
The person who provided me with most of the above links, annetteboardman on Daily Kos, had the following comment about the immediately previous story: "The Israelis have claimed much the same thing about excavations under the temple mount – there are two sides that are wrong here." I agree. I don't like anyone destroying the historical record for political purposes.

Finally, some fun stuff for the "Kids" theme.

The Scotsman (UK): Digging deep: Bid to pinpoint site of Battle of Bannockburn
Published on Thursday 26 July 2012 00:00
TV HISTORIAN Neil Oliver yesterday launched the hunt for the exact site of the Battle of Bannockburn.

The presenter will research the archaeology of the site, along with Dr Tony Pollard, of Glasgow University, to help commemorate the 700th anniversary of the battle.

They first worked together on BBC series Two Men in a Trench, in which they visited British battlefields, and are now focusing on uncovering what is seen as one of Scotland’s biggest historical mysteries.
Sofia News Service (Bulgaria): Bulgarian Archaeologists Rebury Medieval 'Vampire'
Bulgarian archaeologists have conducted a ritual reburial of a man discovered in a medieval grave who was treated against vampirism, the latest among a couple of other similar discoveries in Bulgaria that made global headlines.

The grave in question was one of the 10 medieval graves found during excavations by the team of Prof. Nikolay Ovcharov and Prof. Hitko Vachev in the necropolis of the St. Peter and St. Paul Monastery complex in Veliko Tarnovo, one of Bulgaria's medieval capitals, dating back to the 13th century, the apex of the Second Bulgarian Empire, BGNES reported.
Agence France Presse via Australian Broadcasting Corporation: Skeleton unearthed in hunt for Mona Lisa
Archaeologists in Florence have unearthed a skeleton which they believe may be crucial in the quest to find the remains of the woman who sat for Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa portrait.

Several bodies have been discovered in the hunt to find the mortal remains of Lisa Gherardini, the Florentine noblewoman widely believed to have served as Leonardo's muse.

Silvano Vinceti, who heads up the team of Italian archaeologists, said this latest discovery in an abandoned convent was particularly exciting - though tests would still have to be carried out to ascertain the identity of the remains.
Here's the YouTube version of the video included in the above.

Archaeologists on Tuesday unearthed a skeleton in a rare state of preservation in Florence in what they believe may be a crucial step towards unravelling the mystery of the identity of the woman with the most enigmatic smile in the world.
Time to move from high culture mysteries to pop culture ones.

Captain Morgan Rum via PR Newswire: Underwater Archaeologists Dig Deep For Iconic Privateer Captain Henry Morgan's Lost Fleet In The Caribbean
Team Recovers Sword, Chests and Wooden Barrels from 17th Century Shipwreck off the Coast of Panama Where Morgan Lost Five Ships in 1671
ST. CROIX, US Virgin Islands, July 26, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- For the third year in a row, with the help of the Captain Morgan brand, a team of leading U.S. archaeologists returned to the mouth of the Chagres River in Panama in search of real-life buccaneer Captain Henry Morgan's lost fleet.

"Morgan was one of the most infamous privateers of all time, so for me, this is a chance to use archaeological research to bridge the gap between science and pop culture. Most people associate Captain Morgan with spiced rum, but he was also an iconic historical figure who accomplished incredible feats throughout the Caribbean," said Frederick "Fritz" H. Hanselmann, underwater archaeologist and Research Faculty with the River Systems Institute and the Center for Archaeological Studies at Texas State University who has been leading the team in an effort to locate, excavate and preserve the remains of Morgan's lost ships.
Wired: On the intricacies of Hollywood archaeology
By Joanne McNeil
24 July 12
Cecil B DeMille's 1923 silent film The Ten Commandments was renowned for the massive set constructed in California's Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes -- some pieces stood over 30 metres tall. Worried that rival film studios might use the facsimiles of an ancient palace, massive Pharaoh statues and sphinxes, DeMille ordered the crew to dynamite and bury them all in the sand after filming.
L.A. Times: Amelia Earhart mystery: Expedition comes home with more questions
By Michael Muskal
July 24, 2012, 9:44 a.m.
The fate of famed aviator Amelia Earhart remains a mystery. The latest expedition failed to find the wreckage of the plane she was flying when she went missing 75 years ago.

Earhart, born 115 years ago Tuesday, and her navigator, Fred Noonan, were lost on their July 2, 1937, flight from New Guinea to Howland Island in the central Pacific Ocean. Earhart was trying to become the first woman to fly around the planet.

A $2.2-million expedition, led by The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery, is now working its way back to Hawaii after failing to get the conclusive evidence that it sought about Earhart's disappearance.
It certainly was a busy week. I hope this one has less criminality and more fun investigations of mysteries. Yeah, right. I should be so lucky.

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