Friday, June 15, 2012

Bad Science

"At the Mayo Clinic, a decade of cancer research, partly taxpayer-funded, went down the drain when the prestigious Minnesota institution concluded that intriguing data about harnessing the immune system to fight cancer had been fabricated. Seventeen scholarly papers published in nine research journals had to be retracted"(5) To use a concept in law the seventeen retracted papers were the 'fruit of a poison tree'. The 'tree' in this case was the peer reviewed flawed article on which the retracted articles used as a base.

Mayo Clinic's experience is not uncommon, least we forget one Dr. Andrew Wakefield, who published in the English journal Lancet that he discovered a link between a combination vaccine for measles-mumps-rubella and autism. (5) As a result of this "link" many parents demurred vaccinating their children and their children suffered the consequences. Dr. Wakefield's discovery has been refuted many, many times but unfortunately he still has followers and children still suffer the consequences. Dr. Wakefield lost his license to practice medicine in England. He now lives in Austin, Texas where he continues his research. (6)

The Wall Street Journal in partnership with Thompson Reuters Web of Science found that in 2001 only 22 retractions were reported in a survey of 11,600 peer reviewed journals. By 2010 the number jumped to 339 and in the first seven months of 2011 retraction notices were already at 210. Simon Pickard and Arthur Caplan investigating journal articles retracted at later dates "... found that nearly three quarters of retracted drug studies were retracted because of scientific misconduct like falsified data and plagiarism."(3)

So what's the problem. The old sins of greed, ambition and pride seem to rule. Editors also state advances in software have helped them identify plagiarism more readily. But structural weaknesses within these peer review journals are the most dangerous. Scientific research when published should be open-ended. Scientific investigation is very rarely the final say on research. "That's all there is there ain't no more", is hardly ever in play. Yet some peer reviewed articles are seen as the 'eureka moment'. (2) What's needed is more transparency.

Ivan Oransky, one of the founders of Retraction Watch, tells interviewer Brooke Gladstone that he asked an editor of a journal why a certain article was later retracted. The editor stated; "It's none of your damn business." (2)  Well it is our damn business since many of these studies are funded by taxpayer money. Peer review that DUDE!


1, On The Media; "Scientific Retractions On The Rise", Interviewer Brooke Gladstone, 06-08-2012

2. On The Media: "Retraction Watch", Interviewer Brooke Gladstone, 06-08-2012

3. The TakeAway: "Study of Studies Finds Retractions in Drug Literature Often Indicative of Misconduct", Produced by John Light, 05-31-2012

4. On The Media: "How British Science Journalists Are Secretly Undermining The American Media", Interviewer Brooke Gladstone, 06-08-2012

5. Wall Street Journal: "Mistakes in Scientific Studies Surge", by Gautam Naik, 08-10-2011

6. Los Angeles Times: "Report linking autism to vaccines is retracted by medical journal", by Thomas H. Maugh II, 02-02-2010
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