Consumer Health Digest #17-24
Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
June 18, 2017
Consumer Health Digest is a free weekly e-mail newsletter edited by Stephen Barrett, M.D., with help from William M. London, Ed.D., M.P.H. It summarizes scientific reports; legislative developments; enforcement actions; news reports; Web site evaluations; recommended and nonrecommended books; and other information relevant to consumer protection and consumer decision-making. Its primary focus is on health, but occasionally it includes non-health scams and practical tips.
NAS report addresses concerns about research integrity. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine has published a report that expresses concern about research integrity and proposed measures that would protect it. The report states:
- A growing body of evidence indicates that substantial percentages of published results in some fields are not reproducible.
- While a certain level of irreproducibility due to unknown variables or errors is a normal part of research, data falsification and detrimental research practices, such as inappropriate use of statistics or after-the-fact fitting of hypotheses to previously collected data, also play a role.
- New forms of detrimental research practices are appearing, such as predatory journals that do little or no editorial review or quality control of papers while charging authors substantial fees.
- The number of retractions of journal articles has increased, with a significant percentage due to research misconduct.
- Practices that have until now been categorized as "questionable"—for example, misleading use of statistics that falls short of falsification, and failure to retain research data—should be recognized as "detrimental" practices.
- Detrimental practices should be understood to include not only actions of individual researchers but also irresponsible or abusive actions by research institutions and journals.
- Research institutions and federal agencies should ensure that good faith whistleblowers—those who raise concerns about the integrity of research – are protected and that their concerns are addressed in a fair, thorough, and timely manner.
- Research sponsors, publishers, and federal funding agencies should ensure that the information needed for knowledgeable persons to reproduce the reported results is made available at the time of publication or as soon as possible after that.
- Researchers should routinely disclose all statistical tests carried out, including negative findings. Available evidence indicates that scientific publications are biased against presenting negative results and that the publication of negative results is on the decline. But routine reporting of negative findings will help avoid unproductive duplication of research and make research spending more productive.
- Scientific societies and journals should develop clear disciplinary authorship standards based on the principle that those who have made a significant intellectual contribution are authors. Universal condemnation by all disciplines of gift or honorary authorship, coercive authorship, and ghost authorship would also contribute to changing the culture of research environments where these practices are still accepted.
To bring a unified focus to addressing challenges in fostering research integrity across all disciplines and sectors, the report urges the establishment of a nonprofit, independent Research Integrity Advisory Board. The RIAB could facilitate the exchange of information on approaches to assessing and creating environments of the highest integrity and to handling allegations of misconduct and investigations. The report—Fostering Research Integrity—can be accessed online free of charge or ordered from the Academies Web site, which also has a video of the briefing that announced the report.
"Predatory journal" critic speaks out again. Jeffrey Beall, who was the first person to study what he called "predatory journals," has emerged from a 5-month silence. Predatory publishers use an author-pay open-access model and aim to generate as much revenue as possible, often foregoing proper peer review. In 2012, Beall launched a blog titled Scholarly Open Access that listed predatory publishers and journals and offered critical commentary on scholarly open-access publishing. In January 2017, facing intense pressure from his employer (University of Colorado Denver) and fearing for his job, he removed the content from his Web site. [Beall J. What I learned from predatory publishers. Biochemia Medica 27:273-279, 2017] His recent article traces the history of open access publication, the rise of predatory journals, and the opposition he received from authors, publishers, and—to his surprise—academic librarians. It also warns:
I think predatory publishers pose the biggest threat to science since the Inquisition. They threaten research by failing to demarcate authentic science from methodologically unsound science, by allowing for counterfeit science, such as complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) to parade as if it were authentic science, and by enabling the publication of activist science. . . .
CAM is really taking off, and it's being largely fueled by pay-to-publish journals, though a few subscription journals have gotten in on the action as well. Predatory journals and even journals from legitimate publishers are legitimatizing this unscientific medical research in the public's eye. Acupuncture and homeopathy are thriving, and numerous "studies" are being published each year to back up their effectiveness claims. In medicine, demarcation is failing, and there's no longer a clear line where legitimate medical research ends and unsound medical research begins. More questionable medical research is being published now than ever before in history, including bogus research promoting fake medicines and nutraceuticals. There's no longer a clear separation between the authentic and counterfeit medical research, even though medical research is the most important research for humankind today. Indeed, of all human endeavors, what surpasses medical research in importance, value, and universal benefit?
Although the Scholarly Open Access Web site no longer contains Beall's lists, the Internet Archive has preserved them.
Color therapy warning issued. Skeptical Inquirer has published a critique of chromotherapy (color therapy), a pseudoscientific treatment in which colored light is applied to the skin or eyes. [Point S. The danger of chromotherapy. Skeptical Inquirer 41(4):50-53, 2017] For more than 100 years, the source of light has been incandescent bulbs, which pose no physical danger. The author notes, however, that some recent devices use LED bulbs that are powerful enough to cause retinal damage if placed close to the eyes.
This page was posted on June 18, 2017.