Radical journal's fate at risk

A panel has recommended that life science publishing giant Elsevier tame its most radical journal by making it choose papers via peer review -- not editor's choice -- and limiting the topics it covers. Image: flicker/linkurl:meviola;http://www.flickr.com/photos/69659670@N00/ linkurl:Medical Hypotheses;http://www.elsevier.com/wps/find/journaldescription.cws_home/623059/description is currently Elsevier's only non-peer-reviewed journal. linkurl:Its mandate;http://www.elsevier.com/wps/find/journa

By | January 27, 2010

A panel has recommended that life science publishing giant Elsevier tame its most radical journal by making it choose papers via peer review -- not editor's choice -- and limiting the topics it covers.
Image: flicker/linkurl:meviola;http://www.flickr.com/photos/69659670@N00/
linkurl:Medical Hypotheses;http://www.elsevier.com/wps/find/journaldescription.cws_home/623059/description is currently Elsevier's only non-peer-reviewed journal. linkurl:Its mandate;http://www.elsevier.com/wps/find/journaldescription.cws_home/623059/authorinstructions is to publish interesting theoretical papers, including radical, speculative and non-mainstream scientific ideas. But a hubbub surrounding the publication of two AIDS denialist papers last July has the publisher considering adopting a peer review system for the journal -- a change that the journal's editor-in-chief sees as a travesty that will destroy its value. "It seems clear that Elsevier currently plan[s] to kill this 34-year-old journal, but to disguise the murder by continuing it as a kind of 'Zombie' Medical Hypotheses," linkurl:Bruce Charlton,;http://www.buckingham.ac.uk/publicity/dofe/charlton.html a professor of theoretical medicine at the University of Buckingham and editor-in-chief of the journal, wrote in an email to The Scientist. For Elsevier to institute such changes while continuing to enjoy the profits generated by the 34-year reputation of a radical and editorially-reviewed journal would be "unethical," added Charlton. The paper that sparked the kerfuffle was authored by well-known AIDS denialist linkurl:Peter Duesberg;http://mcb.berkeley.edu/index.php?option=com_mcbfaculty&name=duesbergp of the University of California, Berkeley, and colleagues. It claimed there is no proof that HIV causes AIDS and stirred quite a controversy in the scientific community, prompting AIDS researchers to complain to Elsevier that its publication could have negative implications for global healthcare, the linkurl:Times Higher Education reported.;http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?sectioncode=26&storycode=409997&c=2 The publisher responded by retracting Duesberg's paper, as well as another AIDS denialism paper that ran in Medical Hypotheses that same month. Charlton stands by his decision to publish these papers in the journal, and argues that Elsevier's decision to retract them was its "primary mistake." This action "created, then amplified a problem where none would have existed," he said. While the journal's aims clearly state that "papers chosen may contain radical ideas, but may be judged acceptable so long as they are coherent and clearly expressed," an external panel of experts assembled by Elsevier following the retractions proposed that traditional peer review of papers be instituted, that controversial articles be carefully reviewed, and even that certain topics -- such as"'scientific' hypotheses that could be interpreted as supporting racism" -- be banned. Elsevier outlined these and the panel's other suggestions to the board in a letter last week. Those changes, though, would effectively create "the antithesis" of what the journal was meant to be, Charlton maintains; he believes the journal should be "allowed to continue without change to personnel, mission or methods." Tom Reller, Director of Corporate Relations at Elsevier, said that Elsevier has invited Charlton to discuss the potential changes, and that they hope to resolve these issues by the end of the year. Reller admits, however, that "there's never really any specific time table for these sorts of things. It's going to be as long as it takes for us to reach a consensus with Bruce."
**__Related stories:__***linkurl:Elsevier published 6 fake journals;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/55679/
[7th May 2009]*linkurl:Journal plays with peer review;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/55394/
[3rd February 2009]*linkurl:Tackling peer review bias;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/54893/
[28th July 2008]


Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 107

January 27, 2010

I can't believe that the publisher retracted the article. What does it mean to retract an opinion piece, anyway? I also can't believe that they are considering creating a list of banned topics. That's so medieval. The editor may not be without fault here. Seems to me the appropriate course of action would have been to offer someone a chance to write a rebuttal to the Duesberg piece, and publish them together.\n\nThis whole controversy has dredged up an old memory. Years ago I attended a seminar by Cary Mullis, with the title "HIV Does Not Cause AIDS". Hands down, it was the shortest, and most fascinating, seminar I ever attended. The auditorium was absolutely packed. Mullis, in his inimitable laid back style, got up and apologized for the provocative title of his talk and admitted that it really should have been titled "There is no evidence that HIV causes AIDS." He proceded to relate a personal experience of sitting down to write a grant proposal and starting out with the statement "HIV causes AIDS", and then looking around for a literature refence that summarized the evidence for this assertion. He said he hadn't been able to find one, and no one that he consulted had been able to supply him with one. People told him (he claimed) things like "Oh, you don't have to reference that, everybody knows that." So (he said) he had decided to go around the country asking people, in effect, "Show me the literature." Even with Mullis' formidable raconteurial chops, this whole story scarcely took 10 minutes in the telling. He concluded by smiling seraphically and saying he hoped someone in the audience would be able to give him the literature references he was looking for, or at least point him in the right direction. The fascinating part was what followed. For 45 minutes, person after person in the audience stood up to denounce Mullis personally, often in the most vitriolic terms. Mullis, who was clearly having the time of his life, had the same response to everyone: show me the literature. Nobody did, or even tried.\n\nIt seems to me that scientists ought to respond to error with evidence and reason, not with indignation and censorship.\n
Avatar of: Christopher Lee

Christopher Lee

Posts: 50

January 28, 2010

Is there published incontrovertible evidence that, for example, all the infectious diseases we got during our childhood are caused by their respective infectious agents?\n\nI'm very much in favour of political incorrectness when expressing opinions, but this subject really does matter.\n\nMany parents are refusing to have their children vaccinated. You could argue that they don't understand the role vaccination has played in the history of public health. You could even consider that some ordinary people are helpless suckers for the scandalously distorted opinions of charlatans (example: the UK MMR vaccine affair).\n\nOn the other hand, there is a terrible lack of comprehensive and reliable (that is, reviewed) information, suitably collated and presented at the different levels appropriate for specialists, interested scientists and the general public.
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 7

January 28, 2010

It was right for Duesberg's paper to be pulled. He's a notorious homophobe who dismisses the past 20 years of research on AIDS because it doesn't support his point of view. I've had personal arguments with him via email. He's oblivious of scientific evidence. Also, though, the editor of Med Hypoth has had other issues, it's not just the AIDS articles, they were simply the straw that broke the camel's back. Peer review of opinion may be difficult, and there will have to be guidelines to allow controversial points of view through, but they need to be based in reality regardless. \n\nDismissing decades of research simply to offer a different perspective is the way to destroy medicine, not advance it.

February 2, 2010

I'm not familiar with the journal, but I think it's important that scientists have a place to share new and unusual perspectives and ideas that may not fit current paradigms. To make it just another mainstream, peer-reviewed journal because the editor made a poor choice seems draconian. An alternative might be to have a small (2-3 person) editorial board select articles for publication or at least vet the editor's choices. There is a difference between censorship of legitimate ideas and refusal to provide a forum for potentially harmful and demonstrably false viewpoints. (The correlation between HIV infection and AIDS obeys Koch's postulates; even long-term non-progressors eventually develop AIDS.)
Avatar of: John Dos Santos

John Dos Santos

Posts: 9

February 17, 2010

Let's say that the earlier comments are correct: there is no literature that states that HIV causes AIDS. I have many problems with this unique lack of evidence as a reason to doubt the connection.\n\n1) If the current "hypothesis" is that HIV causes AIDS, it would be UNETHICAL to infect people with HIV to prove/disprove the connection. There is no possibility to find a connection this way.\n\n2) All people with AIDS have HIV - blood tests that measure HIV viral load are often used to assess the severity of the infection. Another important factor is the immune system - CD4 levels indicate the severity of AIDS (Acquired ImmunoDeficiency Syndrome). As [HIV] decreases, [CD4] increases - i.e. as the level of infection decreases, the immune system improves.\n\n3) It may be true that not all people with HIV have AIDS. But not everyone who is exposed to influenza will develop severe complications, or even any symptoms. Everyone is different and has different susceptibilities to infectious agents, some people may even be immune.\n\n4) This next statement could be considered the "smoking gun" to prove the connection between HIV and AIDS - people who take antiretrovirals TARGETED at HIV show improvement in their AIDS symptoms. Something that is targeting the virus, and not the immune system, is causing an improvement in the presentation of the disease. If HIV did not cause AIDS, then how could antiretrovirals possibly improve AIDS symptoms. Sure, the drugs don't cure the disease, but most antivirals don't destroy the virus anyways (I'm referring to shingles and Herpes simplex infections) - this is because viruses live within the animal cell, and not independantly as is the case with bacterial or parasitic infections, therefore the "rules" are different for viruses.\n\nAs scientists and clinicians, we must look at the bigger picture that all the evidence draws for us before we come to any conclusion.\n\nAnyone who doesn't look at ALL of the evidence before reaching a conclusion is guilty of manipulating the data to support their own agenda, also known as PROPAGANDA.\n\nJohn Dos Santos, RPh
Avatar of: robinp clarke

robinp clarke

Posts: 4

February 19, 2010

So why did the HIV>AIDS people not simply publish a rebuttal of Duesberg? The answer is that they have no answer to the truth shown by Duesberg, no answer other than to suppress that truth. Rest assured that Elsevier received some very nasty messages about what would happen to their families. Along with some, ahem, kind, offers of hospitality. \n\nThe publisher of scientific truth is now no longer "peer reviewed" journals but instead is youtube:\nhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jzx6wMFlBZQ (or search for aids hoax).\n\nAnd as for the notion that being peer reviewed is some big deal, that is rubbish too. The "peer" reviewers are just yet more prejudiced partisans, notorious for the low quality of their work, and just about all journals leave the final decision to the editors anyway. And even Med Hyp's Bruce Charlton is capable of consulting his board of advisors. So at the end of the day it's a mere pretentious empty slogan. Peer review has been heavily criticised with good reason over the years, but so what? why change a good censorship system if it ain't broke? ..Robin P Clarke www.autismcauses.info
Avatar of: Dana Vaughan

Dana Vaughan

Posts: 6

March 2, 2010

From this journal's own home page, at http://www.medical-hypotheses.com/aims, I quote a quote the Editor has used to illustrate the journal's aims: "Even probably untrue papers may be judged worth publishing..." \nSo anything goes, as long as it is "coherent and clearly expressed".\n\nRelatively few readers probably know that this is a "special" kind of journal, meaning that most readers cannot spot the problem when a credulous young student or mendacious pseudoscientist cites this journal's articles as "evidence" in favor of an hypothesis... which I've seen all too often. Peer-review, as imperfect as it is, is still the most common kind of journal, and non-experts justifiably generalize that process to all journals. Therefore, I'd be in favor of a "warning" label at the start of every abstract (since not everyone accesses the full-length article) along the lines of "this supplement is not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure any disease or disorder".
Avatar of: Iwona Grad

Iwona Grad

Posts: 13

May 10, 2010

The earlier comments on the lack of the literature are correct. If Mulis is not convincing I don't know who could be...\n\n1) Duesberg proposed an experiment - he wanted to infect himself and was not allowed to do this. Well that reminds me the story of Ilya Mechnikov, a nineteenth-century Russian scientist, noblist and discoverer of white blood cells who believed in Claude Bernard theory of "internal terrain", and to prove it he consumed cultures containing milions of cholera bacteria. Despite that Pasteur's germ theory still prevails.\n\n2) not all people with AIDS have HIV, it is just that since it was decided that HIV causes AIDS everything else that looks like AIDS, smells like AIDS and feels like AIDS but does not contain HIV is called something else\n\n4) well... perhaps those people that show improvement would show it anyway without the antiretrovirals HIV targeted? we will never know\n\nAs scientists and clinicians, we must look at the bigger picture that all the evidence draws for us before we come to any conclusion. I CANNOT AGREE MORE therefore why don't we let Duesberg present his arguments along with a convincing rebuttal to it?\n\nIwona Grad, PhD\n

Popular Now

  1. Opinion: Why I Published in a Predatory Journal
    News & Opinion Opinion: Why I Published in a Predatory Journal

    My “colleagues” and I at the fictitious Arthur Vandelay Urological Research Institute were surprised to find our bogus “uromycitisis” case report swiftly accepted, with only minor revisions requested.

  2. Consilience, Episode 3: Cancer, Obscured
  3. Genetic Analysis Reveals the Evolutionary History of Dogs
  4. March for Science: Dispatches from Washington, DC