Establishment medical professionals are quick to hold up peer-reviewed studies as the gold standard, argument-ending proof in an attempt to shut down valid discussions around ‘alternative’ health and healing.
Major medical and science journals have long-been considered the sacred cows from which information gets disseminated down through the roots of mainstream medicine with unquestioning adherence mirroring religious dogma. What if this peer-reviewed research was flawed? What if major medical journals acted as gatekeepers long-crafting a health paradigm that favored only limited and dangerous pharmaceutical interventions?
It was recently reported that the journal Tumor Biology is retracting 107 research papers after discovering that the authors faked the peer review process. The same journal pulled 25 research papers the previous year for the same reason. On April 20 Springer, who publishes Tumor Biology, released this statement:
“The current retractions are not a new case of integrity breach but are the result of a deeper manual investigation which became necessary after our previous retractions from Tumor Biology in 2016. The extent of the current retractions was not obvious from the earlier investigations in 2015. We are retracting these published papers because the peer review process required for publication in our journals had been deliberately compromised by fabricated peer reviewer reports.”
Springer added that since the screening and investigations are still ongoing they cannot give further details at this point. Since the journal recently discovered the “deliberately compromised” [research fraud], what is the medical community and public to make of the accuracy of all the journal’s publications before 2015?
Unfortunately, Springer’s Tumor Biology fiasco is yet another black-eye for a medical community that refuses to clean up its own backyard as it constantly throws stones from its glass house.
Widely reported in May of 2015, Richard Smith, who edited the British Medical Journal for more than a decade, said there was no evidence that peer review was a good method of detecting errors and claimed that “most of what is published in journals is just plain wrong or nonsense”. Smith went further to say “If peer review was a drug it would never get on the market because we have lots of evidence of its adverse effects and don’t have evidence of its benefit…It’s time to slaughter the sacred cow.” The public appears to be witnessing a slow motion admittance of continuous criminal research fraud.
Is the research fraud limited to a few bad apples? In 2015 the journal Science published a paper titled ‘Estimating the reproducibility of psychological science’ in which 270 researchers attempted the first-ever large-scale effort to reproduce 100 previously published psychological science findings. The researchers discovered they could replicate less than half of the original findings concluded by Psychological Science, the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, and the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition. These findings harken back to the words of Dr. Russell Barkley, professor of psychiatry and neurology at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, when speaking about the mental health profession as a whole he stated, “A disorder doesn’t have to have a blood test to be valid. If that were the case, all mental disorders would be invalid…There is no lab test for any mental disorder right now in our science.”
In 2015 Richard Horton, the editor-in-chief of The Lancet, attended a London symposium on the reproducibility and reliability of biomedical research. Those in attendance were asked not to take photographs of the slides while those who worked for government agencies pleaded that their comments remain unquoted. Weeks later Horton published a shocking paper in the Lancet titled ‘What is medicine’s 5 sigma?’ Horton writes:
“The case against science is straightforward: much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue….We aid and abet the worst behaviors. Our acquiescence to the impact factor fuels an unhealthy competition to win a place in a select few journals…The apparent endemicity of bad research behavior is alarming. In their quest for telling a compelling story, scientists too often sculpt data to fit their preferred theory of the world.”
Former editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine Marcia Angell published a research article in 2009 titled ‘Drug Companies and Doctors: A Story of Corruption.’ In the piece Angell states, among other damning claims, the following:
“In view of this control and the conflicts of interest that permeate the enterprise, it is not surprising that industry-sponsored trials published in medical journals consistently favor sponsors’ drugs—largely because negative results are not published, positive results are repeatedly published in slightly different forms, and a positive spin is put on even negative results.”
Research having industry ties in which regulatory approval relies on has shown to be no different. The highly publicized 2015 reanalysis [iii of SmithKline Beecham’s 2001 Study 329 illustrates the necessity of making primary trial data and protocols available. Study 329s objective was to compare the efficacy and safety of paroxetine and imipramine with a placebo in the treatment of adolescents with major depression. The reanalysis, under the restoring invisible and abandoned trials (RIAT) initiative, found that neither drug showed efficacy. In addition, both drugs displayed an increase in harm. Far from an isolated incident, Study 329 was corroborated a year later in 2016 by the Journal of Clinical Epidemiology which looked at 185 meta-analyses of antidepressant studies with industry involvement. The researchers found that one-third of the studies were written by pharmaceutical industry employees and concluded:
“There is a massive production of meta-analyses of antidepressants for depression authored by or linked to the industry, and they almost never report any caveats about antidepressants in their abstracts.”
13 months after the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest and six other organizations, 62 scientists and physicians, and five United States Senators asked the National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health to publish the disclosures, PubMed announced in March it will include conflict-of-interest statements with study abstracts. Will these seemingly mild efforts be enough to thwart the temptation of research fraud when careers and billions of industry dollars hang in the balance? How can science be settled if there is, and has been, corruption in the peer review process?
Torgny Stigbrand. Retraction Note to multiple articles in Tumor Biology. Tumor Biol. (2017). doi:10.1007/s13277-017-5487-6
Le Noury, John M Nardo, David Healy, Jon Jureidini, Melissa Raven, Catalin Tufanaru, Elia Abi-Jaoude. Restoring Study 329: efficacy and harms of paroxetine and imipramine in treatment of major depression in adolescence BMJ 2015; 351 doi:10.1136/bmj.h4320
Estimating the reproducibility of psychological science. Science 28 Aug 2015:Vol. 349, Issue 6251, aac4716 DOI: 10.1126/science.aac4716
Peter Doshi, Kay Dickersin, David Healy, S Swaroop Vedula, Tom Jefferson. Restoring invisible and abandoned trials: a call for people to publish the findings BMJ 2013; 346 doi: 10.1136/bmj.f2865
Richard Horton. What is medicine's 5 sigma? the Lancet.Volume 385, No. 9976, p1380, 11 April 2015. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(15)60696-1
Shanil Ebrahim, Sheena Bance, Abha Athale, Cindy Malachowski, John P.A. Ioannidis. Meta-analyses with industry involvement are massively published and report no caveats for antidepressants. Journal of Clinical Epidemiology Feb 16 Volume 70, Pages 155–163 doi:10.1016/j.jclinepi.2015.08.021
Collins M. PubMed Conflicts of Interest Statements Updates March 2017. NLM Tech Bull. 2017 MarApr;(415):e2.