Reader Beware!

Dr. Weeks’ Comment:  One problem with the way that medicine is practiced today is that doctors are not taught in medical school to think, but rather only to know.  Furthermore, the knowledge required to practice the standard of care is derived not from the doctor’s individual practice and personal experience (which incorporate individual exceptional circumstances) but rather the information gleaned from patient contact is subservient to herd knowledge as disseminated by peer-reviewed scientific journals. This is inherently conservative in that new data gleaned from the precious patient/doctor interaction is relegated to the dust bin in favor of reading carefully crafted conclusions from shiny journals which any researcher worth her or his salt will disparage.  We have warned colleagues of the irreproducibility of peer-reviewed scientific published data before  and below we see more of the corruption being foisted upon non-thinking doctors.  The words of my old mentor Dr. Otto Wolff ring more true today than ever before:

“To succeed in caring effectively for patients in the practice of medicine Brad, you need to know very little;  but you must be able to think.”


Dan Vergano   National Geographic
Published October 3, 2013

A cancer drug discovered in a humble lichen, and ready for testing in patients, might sound too good to be true. That’s because it is. But more than a hundred lower-tier scientific journals accepted a fake, error-ridden cancer study for publication in a spoof organized by Science magazine.


The fake study points to a “Wild West” of pay-to-publish outlets feeding off lower tiers of the scientific enterprise by publishing studies without any appreciable scrutiny, say research ethics experts. (See“Who’s Afraid of Peer Review?”)


Some 8,250 “open-access” scientific journals worldwide are now listed in a directory supported by publishers. Unlike traditional science journals that charge for subscriptions or fees from those wishing to read their contents, open-access journals make research studies free to the public. In return, study authors pay up-front publishing costs if the paper is accepted for publication.

“From humble and idealistic beginnings a decade ago, open-access scientific journals have mushroomed into a global industry, driven by author publication fees,” says journalist John Bohannon, writing in theScience magazine report of his survey-style spoof of review practices at such journals.

 Cover of Science magazine

The cover of Science magazine.

Image courtesy Science/AAAS


“The goal was to create a credible but mundane scientific paper, one with such grave errors that a competent peer reviewer should easily identify it as flawed and unpublishable,” Bohannon says. Of 255 open-access journals that said they would review his study, 157 accepted the fake study for publication. “Acceptance was the norm, not the exception,” he writes.

Science Spoofs Not New


Spoof studies intended to spotlight problems with individual journals and their review practices have made news before. New York University physicist Alan Sokal spoofed the cultural studies journal Social Text in 1996 with a crackpot physics treatise. And last month, Serbian academics spoofed a Romanian journalwith a similarly ludicrous data-processing paper.

But the Bohannon study, which claimed to have discovered a cancer-fighting, lichen-derived drug ready for immediate testing on patients, represents a first systematic test of review practices, or their absence, across many journals at once, says research ethics expert Nicholas Steneck of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

“The public wanted open access to scientific literature, and now they are getting it,” Steneck says. “They now need to get over the idea that they can get all that information for free without someone doing the real hard work of reviewing papers.”

Cancer Study Faked

The spoof study should have swiftly failed acceptance by “peer” reviewers at the science journals. Peer-reviewed science journals are supposed to publish papers only after a panel of two or three anonymous experts judge its acceptability for publication.


To test these reviewers, Bohannon submitted versions of his study to 304 open-access journals over the course of the year. The name of the cancer, lichen, and drug in each version was essentially picked out of a hat, along with an equally random, made-up name and institution for an author situated in an African capital.

Only 255 journals responded.


The journals tested were ones with relevant medical or biological titles for a cancer study, such as theEuropean Journal of Chemistry or the International Journal of Cancer and Tumor (the latter edited by a “Grace Groovy,” according to correspondence with Bohannon). Most appear to be headquartered in India and the United States.


The spoof study had at least three problems:


  • The study drug killed cancer cells with increasing doses, even though its data didn’t show any such effect.

  • The drug killed cancer cells exposed to medical radiation with increasing effect, even though the study showed the cells weren’t exposed to radiation.

  • The study author concluded the paper by promising to start treating people with the drug immediately, without further safety testing.

“If the scientific errors aren’t motivation enough to reject the paper, its apparent advocacy of bypassing clinical trials certainly should be,” Bohannon writes.


Peer Review Missing


But in many cases, it appears the study wasn’t peer-reviewed at all by the journals that responded to the spoof submission. Many of the reviews were just requests to format the study for publication. And of 106 journals that performed any review, 70 percent accepted the study.


“If a bogus paper is able to get through peer review, think about how many legitimate, but deeply flawed, papers must also get through,” says Michael Eisen of the University of California, Berkeley, a founder of the Public Library of Science family of open-access journals.


One of those journals, PLOS One, was the only one of the 255 journals that received the spoof that noted its ethical flaws and “meticulously” reviewed the bogus study before rejecting it.


Although Eisen applauds the reviewers at PLOS One, he says of the spoof, “in all honesty, I think it is kind of a general indictment of peer review.”

Instead he thinks scientists should move to a process of massive peer review after a study is released, a movement now pursued among physicists who widely upload draft versions of their papers to an online archive prior to journal review and publication.


The University of Michigan’s Steneck, however, sees the spoof as exposing an onslaught of shoddy journals and bad studies cluttering the scientific literature. “I don’t think it is an indictment of peer review as an idea, but rather shows how hard it is to get right,” he says.


Cute, Clever Hoax


“These aren’t really science journals pointed out by this very cute and clever hoax; they are more check-cashing operations,” says Stanford University study-design expert John Ioannidis. “I don’t think that open access is the problem either. I think you would see the same problem with the lower tier of traditional peer-review journals as well.”

In fact, the hoax may show that scientists are caught in a double bind when it comes to publishing studies, Ioannidis says. His own research shows that the most prestigious science journals, ones important in hiring decisions for researchers, demand outsize effects from the studies they publish. That may lead to study authors subconsciously biasing their statistics to make a startling discovery worthy of a big-name journal.


Science, which has defended traditional publishing models against open-access efforts, is not without its own blemishes. The journal published a 2004 paper claiming the first cloning of human stem cells that turned out to be faked. And in 2010, it published a study of “arseniclife” microbes that researchers initially believed were using poisonous arsenic in their metabolism.


The paper generated a firestorm of criticism, and was largely refuted in 2012. Later investigation revealed that the paper’s original peer reviewers had loved the 2010 paper and largely missed its flaws.


At the same time, a study that is honestly conducted, but doesn’t offer headline-making revelations, may end up buried in journals with bad reputations due to the same kinds of shoddy peer-review practices pointed out by the hoax. Then the researchers don’t receive grants or jobs offered to others.


The post-publication review advocated by Eisen is no panacea, Ioannidis argues, because researchers aren’t rewarded for such reviews and therefore won’t do them.


“I don’t think there is any one solution,” Ioannidis says. “The scientific community has to come up with solutions that rewards good studies. It’s an ongoing fight.”



Over 100 science journals accept hoax scientific paper for publication, zero quality checks conducted

Sunday, October 13, 2013 by: L.J. Devon, Staff Writer

(NaturalNews) Online academic journals are losing integrity. It has now been proven that many open access journals trade truthful scientific information for a mere profit, as they accept flawed scientific studies just to earn publishing fees. This is generating a lot of poisoned, misleading scientific articles that spread around the internet, causing misinformation.

157 journals exposed in sting

Several journals have recently been exposed, thanks to a recent sting led by journalist John Bohannon, who is a contributor to the Science journal.

Bohannon collaborated with Harvard contributors to write up a fake research article that looked and sounded official. They dumbed the paper down with basic errors in the data, method and conclusion. They even threw in a graph that was in direct contrast with the paper’s data. They sent the paper to 305 online journals for publication review. Shockingly, over sixty percent of the journals accepted Bohannon’s flawed, fake paper, asked for publication fees and published his bogus study in their respective journals.

To be exact, Bohannon received 157 acceptance letters for his flawed paper and only 98 rejections. Many of the acceptance letters came from India.

“I was expecting 10 to 15 percent, or worst case, a quarter accepted,” says Bohannan, but a stunning 61 percent of journals accepted his bogus piece! “Peer review is in a worse state than anyone guessed,” he said.

To view an interactive map of the journals involved in this sting, click here:

Academia flooded with imitators who put profit before quality publication

With the internet spiraling with infinite information and growing conscious awareness, there is also a dark side. Fake gurus, imitators and greedy journals may collect fees from scientists who are just trying to get published. The wide acceptance of Bohannon’s fake paper proves that academia itself has lowered its standards just to bring in revenue.

Those researchers seeking truth may not find the whole truth from online open access academic sources, since many journals have sold out, publishing a bunch of flawed information in the process.
Some online journals may look official, with academic titles and expert gurus, but this may all be a sham. That’s why it’s important for researchers to remain skeptical and question all “scientific” studies jogging around the internet.

Bohannan’s experiment further shows that many online journals can’t even recognize fatal flaws in apaper, revealing that the publishers may even be lazy, treating the information they publish as mere digits that need to be moved to keep money coming in. Solid peer review that is aware and accountable is dying off, as journals publish papers that they neither understand nor care to double check.

Bohanna said that many of these online journals never even noticed flaws that should be spotted by anyone “with more than a high-school knowledge of chemistry.” He states, “[T]his sting operation reveals the contours of an emerging Wild West in academic publishing.”

Bohannan’s experiment also shows that greed is deeply involved. In some of the cases, reviewers pointed out mistakes with Bohannan’s flawed paper, but the journal’s publishers accepted the paper anyway, asking the author for thousands of dollars in publication fees.

Big industry may fuel the misinformation to further their special interests

Online journals have a special responsibility to review scientific data. Under an incentive to publish relevant quantity to please subscribers, online journals may be letting big industry run loose in misinformation scams.

Traditional print journals had to abide by rigid constraints that screened out junk scientific information that may have been fueled by big industry studies that had a special interest slant. Online journals’ lack of review and motivation for profit may be allowing big industries to fuel misinformation to the public.

The misinformation spans across many professional fields. Drug companies can manipulate the medical community by influencing false studies that bolster their claims. Government officials may get behind a fake study to help support their policy. Researchers themselves may be misled altogether as the misinformation piles up. Lawyers rely on scientific citations in briefs and trials. As fake papers are accepted more often then not, the quality of scientific information may become completely contrived and supportive of big industry’s specials interests.

What can be done to hold online journals more accountable?


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