Some weeks ago, following the publication of an article by Andrea Cipriani in their journal, Jim Gottstein and I wrote to the Frontiers in Psychiatry Bigwigs asking for the Cipriani article to be removed – Meta-Analytic SuperSpreader.
They have since replied Vicariously through Elena Vicario.
From: Editorial Office <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Tue, 3 Nov 2020 at 04:34
Subject: Re: Letter re Retraction
To: David Healy <email@example.com>
Dear Dr. Healy,
I am writing with an update on our investigation into the concerns raised about article “Antidepressants in Children and Adolescents: Meta-Review of Efficacy, Tolerability and Suicidality in Acute Treatment”.
Following the assessment of the journal Chief Editor, the methodology and systematic protocol used in the article is in line with PRISMA guidelines and the articles included in the systematic review are clearly outlined and available for consultation by the readers. In addition, we note that the conclusions drawn by the authors from the meta-analysis are cautious and broad.
We recognize the importance of the subject matter and thank you again for bringing this to our attention.
Elena Vicario, PhD
Senior Manager, Research Integrity: Elena Vicario, PhD
Frontiers | London Office
Most people reviewing the issue of the journal, likely Elena too, figure matters are pretty balanced overall with all other articles skeptical about the use of antidepressants for children and teenagers and a hard hitting editorial from Michael Hengartner to make matters absolutely clear.
This not however how the system works. Decades back, at academic meetings, in what seem like more innocent times, pharmaceutical companies were good at having someone talk about CBT, or another therapy, for depression on a program mostly dedicated to selling some antidepressant.
It looked like there was a degree of balance you might expect from a scientific meeting but the idea of having a therapist in practice came closer to the vaudeville model of having a comedian come on stage in between striptease acts. The customers needed a chance to draw breath and relax and perhaps an excuse to tell people where they had been – they weren’t there for the comedian.
Its the same in this case, even though there are eight or nine comedians and only one stripper. The internet and open access makes it possible for industry to distribute the Cipriani article far and wide and for free and even to be able to point to its publication in a virtuous setting – almost nothing but comedians – while doing so. The eight or nine other pieces will go nowhere fast.
There is probably an appropriate riff on the old line about lies getting half way around the world before the truth gets its boots on.
There is another unsettling angle. The editors are essentially blaming Michael H. They’ve deferred to his judgment call as to whether there is an issue here.
It’s what Jose-Mario Bergoglio, Donald Trump, Joe Biden, Emanuel Macron and any other ‘leader’ you care to mention would do. When asked about ghost-writing combined with a lack of access to trial data, something that is not acceptable in any conceivable scientific universe, the fall-back line is ‘we’re not scientists, we will check with EMA or FDA or MHRA or whoever’ and ‘we’re sure you will understand we have no option but to do as they advise us’. See The Perfect Killing Machine.
To be absolutely clear, my problem if I were one of the comedians in this show is not that there is a paper offering another point of view, its that there is a paper masquerading as science, which is just not science. A cuckoo in the scientific nest.
Its a bit like if in the old Vaudevillian days a Drag Queen had done a striptease. The audience would likely have seen this as a comic act. These days apparently Drag Queens do striptease’s in front of children – for equality’s sake. And, besides what their advisers say, for equality’s sake Jose and Joe and Emanuel likely feel they cannot prevent a Cipriani article (of this type) being passed off as science.
In this case Michael Hengartner has no option but to take the blame. Once the requirements of the algorithm are satisfied, two positive reviews, there is no option but to publish.
There was a notable fuss last week about a Danish Mask Trial, which failed to show a convincing benefit for Masks in the current pandemic – perhaps because it didn’t ask the right questions. It was nevertheless a trial – the only trial of Masks in a time of Covid. When several doctors linked to it on Facebook pages, they found their link was blocked on the basis that they were posting misinformation.
A lot of mostly male docs were offended – how dare Facebook do this. But there is no-one doing this to anyone. The algorithm is doing it.
It hasn’t fully drawn all power to itself – there is still a missing ring, a precious, that needs retrieving. Soon now…