No Peer Review

Earlier this month, Scientific American reported on a serious case of scientific fraud in the field of pain therapy. Scott Reuben, a fifty-year old Professor in Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, Massachusetts, has fabricated the data in 21 studies. If that has not yet been accomplished, they have to be retracted, so that practitioners who heavily rely on medical information transfer through databases are not further misled. An unidentified number of patients might have been died from adverse effects of certain potentially dangerous COX2 inhibitors such as Merck’s Vioxx (rofecoxib), and Pfizer’s Bextra (valdexocib) and Celebrex (celecoxib), some having been pulled from the market in 2004 since independent research has reported on greater risks than expected.

Another case of scientific misconduct which had been widely discussed in the media only a couple of months ago is that of the Egyptian ‘mathematician’ Mohamed El Naschie, former Editor-in-Chief of Elsevier’s Chaos, Solition and Fractals [1]. The Editor had published in ‘his’ journal more than 300 own papers since 1993 [2] and it was assumed that at least those did not undergo the usual peer review process. In The n-Category Café  physician John Baez made the point that much of this has to be considered complete nonsense [3]. Why did nobody point to that earlier? The ‘Journal’ enjoys a rather high scientific impact factor of 3.025, which is in fact higher than those of other periodicals in Mathematics [4].
The dependence of journals, editors, authors, and academic hopefuls on Thomson Reuter’s Impact Factor [5]

Having been observing this ‘business’ for almost 30 years, in a small clinical discipline though, the evolution from publishing definitive results of exciting, frequently ‘ground breaking’, research toward an obvious trend of publishing whatever had been done in the laboratory is obvious. Whether the, in theory, highly efficient peer review process still works in practice, in particular in the more hidden scientific habitats, might in fact be questioned [6].

The world has seen, during the past half a year or so, the credit crunch in the U.S. developing into a global financial and economic crisis which will keep us concerned and busy for the next couple of years. It might not be too far-fetched when comparing the recent annoying scandals in Science and Medicine with the burst of the bubble in the financial markets. Both, at first sight annoying, incidents may have positive effects on the systems in the long run.

Notes

[1] Publisher’s note in the latest issue: “The Founding Editor for Chaos, Solitons and Fractals Dr El Naschie has retired as Editor-in-Chief. The publisher will work with the editorial board and other advisors to identify a new editor. This is likely to also lead to revision of the aims and scope of the journal, as well as the editorial policies and submission arrangements. Prospective authors can keep informed of the progress on this through the journal’s homepage.”

[2] Whenever editors publish their works in their ‘own’ journal there should be suspicion regarding considerable bias: an orderly peer review process may not have been achieved. As an example, in a prestigious journal in my rather small field within Medicine, 1368 articles had been published (according to PubMed, accessed March 26) since 1990. The founding editor-in-chief, who kept this position for now more than 20 years, is authoring/co-authoring 12.7% of these, an estimate of 25% of all of his publications since 1970.

[3] It might be revealing that the link to the original posting is now broken. Baez’s arguments can still be found here.

[4] Since the impact factor of a journal is the average number of citations in a year given to those papers in a journal that were published during the two preceding years, it is likely that El Naschie has manipulated, i.e., unduly inflated, it as well, simply by citing his own ‘work’.

[5] The Institute of Scientific Information (ISI) had been founded already in 1960 by Eugene Garfield. The offered bibliographic databases enabled calculating measures such as a journal’s Impact Factor. Their publication in the Journal Citation Report in June is eagerly awaited for by most members of the academic community.

[6] Editors and reviewers should be aware of attempts of fraud due to the ever increasing pressure of ‘publish or perish’. The former should encourage that all authors declare their contributions to the paper. Long traditions of adding department chairs automatically to the list of authors should of course be scrutinized. Conflicts of interest are most probably present whenever company sponsoring had been sought for; etc., pp.

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One Response to No Peer Review

  1. It is strange to see that no El Naschie Sockpuppets found this place for now. For anybody interested in loads of additional information, stop by El Naschie Watch, the one-stop shopping blog for El Naschie information. (Click on my name above)
    Cheers,
    Martin Klicken

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