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Scientific journals also have issues...

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XenaLives Member Level  Friday, 01/18/19 01:05:31 PM
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Scientific journals also have issues...


undreds of thousands of scientists took to streets around the world in April. “We need science because science tells the truth. We are those who can fight the fake news,” a friend who participated in one of the March for Science rallies told me. I really wish this were true. Sadly, much evidence suggests otherwise.

The idea that the same experiment will always produce the same result, no matter who performs it, is one of the cornerstones of science’s claim to truth. However, more than 70% of the researchers (pdf), who took part in a recent study published in Nature have tried and failed to replicate another scientist’s experiment. Another study found that at least 50% of life science research cannot be replicated. The same holds for 51% of economics papers (pdf).

The findings of these studies resonate with the gut feeling of many in contemporary academia – that a lot of published research findings may be false. Just like any other information source, academic journals may contain fake news.

It's time for academics to take back control of research journals
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Some of those who participate in the March For Science movement idealise science. Yet science is in a major crisis. And we need to talk about this instead of claiming that scientists are armed with the truth.



However, we must, of course, acknowledge that high-quality non-English-language health and medical journal publications do exist and make a valuable addition to the health sciences. Our ethical duty is to keep an open mind and resist succumbing to ethnocentric prejudice and racism. It is important to remember that it is not only in industrializing nations that publishers have been noted to engage in dubious practices. Even high-status established and reputable academic publishers in the West have been found to be in breach of expected academic norms. Perhaps one of the best examples was the decision by Elsevier Australia to publish six “academic journals” sponsored by the pharmaceutical company Merck (e.g., Australasian Journal of Cardiology) [9]. As Ben Goldacre of The Guardian notes, “The relationship between big pharma and publishers is perilous” [10], clearly outlining the nature of these publications:

Elsevier Australia went the whole hog, giving Merck an entire publication which resembled an academic journal, although in fact it only contained reprinted articles, or summaries, of other articles. In issue 2, for example, nine of the 29 articles concerned Vioxx, and a dozen of the remainder were about another Merck drug, Fosamax. All of these articles presented positive conclusions. Some were bizarre: such as a review article containing just two references. [10]

Elsevier has condemned this practice [9], but the damage to the credibility of the academic publishing industry remains. Further evidence of sustained assaults by Big Pharma on the world of academic publishing are clearly outlined in Goldacre’s subsequent work, Bad Pharma: How Drug Companies Mislead Doctors and Harm Patients [11].

Predatory publishing undoubtedly represents a clear and present danger to the integrity of academic publishing. To date, little has been done to curb the excesses in this field, although some recent action by the US government has been noted [12]. It is important, however, that concerns over predatory publishing do not spiral or morph into an insular, xenophobic rhetoric that smacks of racism. As noted above, even elite publishers such as Elsevier have shown themselves to be swayed by financial returns.



Actual examples of distortions and inadequacies in peer review!

Some real faculty scientists I have known sought to have ‘friends’ in the peer review boards evaluating their research grant applications. Others worked to have ethnic counterparts supervise the peer review of their output. These successful tactics degrade the objectivity of peer review and make it only a game of strategy. Officials at federal granting agencies do try to keep peer review objective by requiring reviewers from the same institution as the author being evaluated to leave the room when that submission is being discussed; of course, input from any absent reviewer still can be given at other times and in other ways. Journal publishers use analogous rules to try to prevent favoritism by manuscript referees.

How frequently is peer review in science inadequate?

A distinguished former Editor-in-Chief of the very prominent New England Journal of Medicine, Dr. Marcia Angell, stated in 2009 that “It is simply no longer possible to believe much of the clinical research that is published” [2]. Dr. Richard Horton, Editor-in-Chief of the prestigious clinical journal, The Lancet, stated in 2015 that “Much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue” [3]. These dramatic quotes are strong evidence that the process for peer review is defective, the objectivity of scientists as peer reviewers is decayed, and examples are shockingly frequent!

Why are ethical aberrations in peer review tolerated by professional scientists?

Working scientists usually view this problematic situation as being part of the current degeneration in modern science. Few scientists try to change anything; it much easier to just keep quiet. Nevertheless, some exceptional ‘whistleblowers’ like Dr. Peter Wilmshurst have the personal strength to expose ethical wrongdoing in science (see: “Whistleblowers in Science are Necessary to Keep Research and Science-based Industries Honest!”). Wilmshurst describes many examples of outright corruption, including amazing cases where known miscreants and liars continued to publish research reports or head an ethics board for many more years [4,5]. Lawsuits for misconduct in research today are frequently reported in the media (e.g., see: “Whistleblower Sues Duke University for Acquiring Research Grants via Falsified Research Publications!”). Admittedly, dishonesty in academia and industry often is covered up by insincere investigations.


In Peace, In War
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