Editorial Note: This post from Leemon McHenry celebrates Marion Lilley and the International Journal of Risk and Safety in Medicine. It has a direct link to the issues in the last two posts on suicide in children and how and why we hide problems – The Spectre of Dissent.
Most people trust that medical and scientific journals are reliable sources of knowledge. In the age of fake news and junk science nothing could be further from the truth. Most medical and scientific journals are owned by large publishing corporations and there is growing evidence that those corporations serve the private interests of their client corporations rather than the medical and scientific community. In other words, the corruption of science and the corruption of the journals are parts of the same phenomena. Science counts for very little when there is big money at stake.
Good News, Bad News
The journals, with a few exceptions, are part of the problem rather than the solution. Instead of demanding rigorous peer review of a submissions and an independent analysis of the data, editors submit to pressures to publish favorable articles of industry-sponsored trials and rarely publish critical deconstructions of ghostwritten clinical trials. This is due to the simple fact that medical journals and their owners have become dependent upon pharmaceutical revenue and have failed to adhere to the standards of science. Good news, i.e., the drug is safe and effective in journal submissions and press releases, means more pharmaceutical advertising and more orders of reprints which are disseminated by the sales force. The pharmaceutical industry and the medical journals make millions of dollars, especially from the publication of an allegedly positive trial of a blockbuster drug. Bad news, i.e., that the drug is unsafe and ineffective does not result in increased revenue for the manufacturer, the journal or the publisher. Published reports of unfavorable outcomes or serious adverse events have been directly linked to sharp fluctuations in stock prices.
A Case in Point
A recent incident with the journal, Accountability in Research, and their owner, Taylor & Francis demonstrates the point. My paper, “The Monsanto Papers: Poisoning the Scientific Well,” reports on an egregious case of scientific misconduct in which Monsanto employees and its so-called independent experts appear to have placed ghostwritten decoy research concerning the safety of the herbicide, glyphosate, in the toxicology journals after the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) published its findings that glyphosate is a Group 2A agent―probably carcinogenic in humans. After rigorous peer review at Accountability in Research, I received a notice, in writing, that my paper was accepted for publication. Shortly after receiving the written notice of its acceptance, however, I was informed by the Accountability in Research’s editor that Taylor & Francis had held up publication for “best practices review.” After considerable delay and no communication from the publisher, I withdrew my paper and submitted it to the International Journal of Risk & Safety in Medicine where it was accepted once again.
Then, when re-working the references to conform to the new journal’s stylistic guidelines, I made a disturbing discovery― that three of the Monsanto-sponsored ghostwritten articles on which I was reporting were published in the journal, Critical Reviews in Toxicology, a journal that is also owned by Taylor & Francis. Ghostwriting is a serious problem because it is dishonest attribution of the origin of the manuscript, it disguises marketing and public relations objectives of for-profit companies as science, conceals conflicts of interest of named “authors” on manuscripts, but most importantly, misrepresents the results of scientific testing. Since Critical Reviews in Toxicology had already been accused of being a “broker of junk science” by the Center for Public Integrity, this raises the question of good news, bad news, for Taylor & Francis; industry pieces misrepresenting authorship and conflicts of interest had been published while a critical evaluation that exposes scientific misconduct encounters the delay tactic of “best practices review.” Taylor and Francis has defeated the purpose of Accountability in Research, a research ethics journal, by blocking publication of my paper in this journal post peer review, but they have failed to block publication of my paper beyond Accountability in Research since it has now appeared in the International Journal of Risk & Safety in Medicine, a journal that does not receive industry funding and does not bend to the interests of those who wish to conceal scientific and ethical misconduct.
International Journal of Risk & Safety in Medicine, “concerned with rendering the practice of medicine as safe as it can be,” was founded by Graham Dukes and is published by IOS Press in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Standing in defiance of the status quo in the medical literature, the editors, C. J. Van Boxtel and Marion Lilley, have published critical deconstructions of corrupted clinical trials, such as GlaxoSmith Kline’s infamous study 329 and lesser known trials such as Forest Laboratories’ study CIT-MD-18, both highly influential on prescribers of SSRI antidepressants in children and adolescents. These and RxISK posts on PSSD and related problems have been made available by IJRSM – see HERE.
A more recent issue also includes Healy, LeNoury and Jureidini’s “Paediatric antidepressants: Benefits and risks” on over medication of antidepressants to children featured in the BBC documentary series “The Doctor Who Gave Up Drugs”.
Correcting the Scientific Record
Critical thinking is required to sort out the genuine from the sham. From the start, any article that is reporting on the scientific testing of an industry product or is sponsored by industry should be suspect, but even here the task at hand is difficult given that the pharmaceutical, agrochemical and tobacco industries have been so successful in producing junk science disguised as genuine science. There are no easy answers, but I have come to believe that a medical journal that publishes company-sponsored good news along side of drug advertisements is a trade magazine rather than a scientific journal.
Leemon B. McHenry and Jon N. Jureidini are currently writing The Illusion of Evidence-Based Medicine.