Skepticism about science and medicine

In search of disinterested science

Archive for April, 2013

The business of for-profit “science”

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2013/04/26

The popular image of science remains that of times past: Dedicated, monk-like people of high intellect and special talents driven only by the urge to understand all about the natural world, achieving insights and knowledge that benefit all of humanity.
That view is absurdly inaccurate about the contemporary scene (From Dawn to Decadence: The Three Ages of Modern Science). Nowadays it’s all about money, with academic institutions as much as with commercial ones; see for example Philip Mirowski, Science-Mart: Privatizing American Science, Harvard University Press, 2011. When it comes to medicine, profit-seeking has become so salient that nothing said officially about new drugs can be trusted, to the extent that taking a prescription drug approved within the last decade or so can be fatal (see for example The Truth About the Drug Companies: How They Deceive Us and What To Do About It, by Marcia Angell, Random House, 2004; Bad Pharma: How Drug Companies Mislead Doctors and Harm Patients, by Ben Goldacre, Faber & Faber, 2013; and for what’s wrong with contemporary medicine overall, see also my ever-expanding bibliography).

A number of trends, in society as a whole as well as in science and medicine, have led to the present dysfunctional state of affairs. It is not the result of conspiracies or overt evil-doing, indeed some of those trends were set going with the best of intentions. For example, the successes of science that were so crucial during World War II (atom bombs, radar and much else) spurred an enormous injection of resources in the expectation that society would benefit from more science and more scientists; an oft-cited icon of this initiative is Vannevar Bush’s Science: The Endless Frontier.
In hindsight, however, one discerns the damage that has followed. Science isn’t an endless frontier because there aren’t endless resources, and we have more would-be research than available funds, which has brought cutthroat competition and dishonesty (80% unemployment?! The research system is brokenDishonesty and dysfunction in scienceDysfunctional research funding). Here are some of the steps along the way to the present circumstances.

So much federal support was available for scientific research and support of graduate students that a bubble was created: 4-year colleges and teachers’ colleges seized the opportunity to rise to the prestige and status of “research universities” by appointing science faculty who brought in federal funds together with “overhead” that nourished research bureaucracies in their institutions.  There had been 107 doctorate-granting institutions in the U.S. in 1940-44, then 142 by 1950-54, 208 by 1960-64, and 307 by 1970-74. A Directory of Graduate Research  has been published every two years by the American Chemical Society since 1955, when it listed 98 doctoral programs in chemistry in the United States; by 1967 there were 165, and 192 by 1979.
One result, seen as long as three decades ago in physics, has been a surplus of PhDs desperately seeking positions and spending long years in temporary postdoctoral jobs. The ill-advised stuffing of this pipeline under self-serving urging from the National Science Foundation has been documented by Daniel Greenberg (Science, Money and Politics: Political Triumph and Ethical Erosion, University of Chicago Press, 2001).
Another consequence has been the proliferation of mediocre “researchers” producing mediocre “science”; see “Hegemony of mediocrity in contemporary sciences, particularly in immunology, by Jan Klein, Lymphology 18 (1985) 122-131.

Within academe, humanities and social-science faculty grew jealous of the cornucopia of resources available to the sciences. They recognized it as resulting from the prestige of research and associated publishing, and increasingly made “research” and “publication” a sine qua non for faculty appointments and promotion in their own fields. Outside observers, however, could be clear that it made little sense to expect newly minted PhDs to make original discoveries or arrive at original insights worth publishing more or less in competition with the classics in philosophy, history, sociology, etc. Nevertheless, that’s what the current situation is. To obtain tenure in a humanities discipline, faculty are expected to have published a book; in the social sciences, a number of “research” articles and perhaps a monograph.
That presaged the proliferation of journals and books that outran the resources of libraries and caused publishers to look to authors rather than libraries and readers to help with the costs of publication — understandably, because there is little if any readers’ demand for those publications. No one really wants to buy them, so the producers have too pay the costs.
A high degree of unacknowledged hypocrisy accompanied these developments. Self-publication had long been sneered at as demonstrating a lack of scholarly quality, and publishers who abetted it were openly called “vanity presses”. Academe circumvented this by having universities “subsidize” the publication of books by their faculty, supposedly only after quality had been checked by an academic committee. Somehow it was vanity publishing if the author paid, but not if his or her institution did so. For a few comments on this, have a look at “Wow, someone wants to publish me!”  and “Some thoughts on Peter Lang”.

Not only in science, then, has the sometimes vaunted “knowledge explosion” actually been a catastrophe of publication that is worse than useless; much worse, because it swamps the useful stuff. As earlier noted (Decadent Science: Does fake differ from genuine? If so, how?Fake, deceptive, predatory Science Journals and Conferences), spurious conferences and journals are not readily distinguishable from the more traditional ones, not even by abstracting and indexing services. Thereby honest researchers face an impossible task in trying to keep up with genuinely interesting and useful new developments.

A corollary is that spoof articles have passed “peer review” at academic journals; the Sokal affair is described with unusual accuracy in Wikipedia. Informed observers have been unsure whether certain publications in theoretical physics were genuine or spurious (see the Bogdanov affair, pp. 222–3 and 263 by Peter Woit, Not Even Wrong: The Failure of String Theory and the Continuing Challenge  to  Unify  the  Laws  of  Physics, Jonathan Cape (UK), Basic Books (USA), 2006). A program developed by computer scientists  generates fake articles that can be submitted in response to conference invitations in order to diagnose whether the conference is legitimate or parasitic.

The lack of clear lines dividing authentic science from something else is illustrated in a number of directions. In criticizing predatory conferences, for example, one came across those sponsored by BIT Life Sciences, which lists no fewer than 56 conferences for 2013; yet this venture describes itself  as founded by scientists:
”BITeomics, Inc., founded in China in 2003, is a company established by Chinese scientists living abroad. It specializes in the integration of current Chinese social and technological resources with resources from overseas, providing frontier technologies and product services for human health and biological careers.
BIT Life Sciences is a subsidiary company of BITeomics, Inc. It is dedicated to creating a global life science intelligence exchange channel by simultaneously addressing professional needs for information and technology sharing and eliminating culture divergence in bio-industries [emphasis added]”.

I attempted a distinction between authentic and parasitic by saying that the latter “have no background of involvement with actual scientific work or institutions” (Decadent Science: Does fake differ from genuine? If so, how?). But that does not differentiate  from commercial publishers like Elsevier or Springer or quite a few others that publish books and journals on scientific matters. Elsevier, after all, published several fake medical journals  that were paid advertisements for drug companies masquerading as peer-reviewed mainstream journals. Elsevier’s profit margin may not have been as high as Hindawi’s, but at 36%  some (including me) might still regard it as excessive, representing gouging of their captive customers, academic and research libraries. Some academics have felt so strongly that they have even tried to boycott Elsevier. That profits outweigh scientific evaluation of what gets published by Elsevier is demonstrated in considerable detail by the Medical Hypotheses saga (see chapter 3 in Dogmatism  in Science and Medicine).

How then does today’s Elsevier differ from Hindawi or Bentham?

And then there’s Landes Bioscience. It isn’t listed by Beall among “Potential, possible, or probable predatory scholarly open-access publishers”, but it came to my attention because I received a notice from Oncoimmunology announcing their success in being included in Science Citation Index and encouraging me to cite my publication in that journal — even though I’ve never published there.

OncoimmunologyInvite

Landes Bioscience has a mailing address in Austin (TX). Its website lists no Board or individual officers but boasts a list of some 46 journals, founded at a rate of about 2 a year from 2002 to 2009 and about 6 a year since then. Landes Bioscience may have discovered a new market niche. Beall’s list of “Potential, possible, or probable predatory scholarly open-access journals”  is replete with very broad, general titles — International Journal of Agronomy & Plant Production, say, or American Research Journal. By contrast, Landes Bioscience capitalizes on the excruciating over-specialization by which contemporary science seems to justify the old saw that scientists and experts in general “know more and more about less and less until eventually they know everything about nothing”. Their journals include such titles as Adipocyte, Artificial DNA: PNA & XNA, Autophagy,  . . .  Cell Adhesion & Migration, . . . Channels, Chimerism, . . . Disaster Health, Endocrine Disruptors, . . . Gut Microbes, . . . Intrinsically Disordered Proteins (but also Prion, which might seem to cover the same ground), Islets, . . . mAbs, Mobile Genetic Elements, . . . Small GTPases, . . . .
No doubt there is a ready captive market here, researchers with grants who can publish what would, in the good old days, have remained in their lab notebooks for years until it added up to something worth publishing.
Landes Bioscience journals typically charge $100 per page, plus extra for color, movie files, and other such items.

It’s easy to confuse “on-line” publishing with “open access”. The latter applies only to publications available without charge to anyone, whereas many journals published on-line are available via passwords only to paid subscribers or institutions. Authors who wish their articles to be available without charge to anyone can often purchase that by paying an extra fee; in the case of  Landes Bioscience, between $500 and $750.

The commercialism that pervades all aspects of research nowadays would seem to justify describing all publications as vanity publishing (Scientific publications are vanity publications). It is the authors who pay rather than the consumers (though sometimes in addition to the consumers!).

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Decadent Science: Does fake differ from genuine? If so, how?

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2013/04/24

“Fake, deceptive, predatory Science Journals and Conferences”  describes conferences and journals whose organizers and publishers have no background of involvement with actual scientific work or institutions; they are parasitic, in it only for the money. The racket is very successful because many researchers find themselves fooled, unable to distinguish fake from genuine — because the purpose of “genuine” as well as “fake” is status-enhancement and profit-making rather than truth-seeking and intellectual intercourse.

Consider conferences. On several counts, the parasitic ones are not readily distinguishable from traditional mainstream conferences, certainly not at first sight. Receiving an announcement or invitation to attend, one would first look at who is on the organizing committee, and if they or the keynote speakers are prominent senior researchers, one presumes that this is a regular scientific conference. But the predatory conferences could pass muster on those counts. Spend a bit of time checking names at the parasitic conferences organized by Omics Group (“Accelerating Scientific Discovery”), BIT Life Sciences (“Your Think Tank”), or Eureka Science  or Eureka Conference. You find some very well known names among the speakers and committee members, including quite a few Nobel Laureates: Karl Barry Sharpless,   Robert Huber, Jean-Marie Lehn, Hartmut Michel, Ferid Murad, Avram Hershko, Luc Montagnier, Richard J. Roberts, Rulf M. Zinkernagel.

Some of the predatory conferences have registration fees of several hundred dollars ($600-$700 for Academic Journals & Conferences), not out of line with “genuine” conferences like those of the International AIDS Society whose 2013 get-together lists registration fees  of $440 and $680 for middle/low and high-income countries respectively. The for-profit BIT’s conferences are a bit more pricey, for example $1400 for speakers and $1500 for others,  and Eureka Conferences also have rather high fees of $990 for academics and $1690 for speakers from corporations. These higher fees are indeed clues to the nature of these conferences, and what’s really suspicious with Eureka is to see the same fees listed for “Invited Speakers”; I’ve never elsewhere experienced registration fees being charged to invited speakers, typically all their other expenses are also borne by the conference. Nevertheless, just the high registration fees are unlikely to outweigh the validating presence of Nobel Prize winners

Why do senior, distinguished people including Nobel Laureates accept invitations from these for-profit entities? I suppose they ask themselves, “Why not spend a bit of time in an interesting place like Dubai, or an enjoyable city like Boston?” After all, no matter how high the registration fees, it all comes free from one’s grants even if it doesn’t come from the conference organizers.
Then too, if you’ve had a distinguished career, you owe it to the next generations to let them hear you and meet you. On the other hand, if you’re on the way up — which entails having grant funds to pay for conference junkets — then associating with those VIPs can only help.

That academics have become accustomed to perpetual global junketing was noted several decades ago already by David Lodge in Small World: An Academic Romance, a novel first published in 1984 and remaining so pertinent that it was brought back into print in 1995 and remains up-to-date even now.

At any rate, no matter the motives of the participants, there’s ample evidence that many conferences organized by non-scientific for-profit groups have attracted sufficiently large attendances to keep the rackets flourishing. And that speaks volumes for what goes on in science nowadays. Desperate and impassioned pleas for more research support are heard routinely, yet there seems to be no shortage of funds for high-priced global junketing and for publishing useless trivia.

For example, consider the International AIDS Conferences. What purpose do they serve?
“The XIX International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2012)  was held from 22 to 27 July 2012 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington D.C., USA. and convened more than 23,000 participants from 183 countries, including almost 2,000 journalists. The conference was organized by the International AIDS Society in collaboration with its international and local partners.”
One clue to the purpose may be the prominence of drug companies as sponsors and providers of tote bags and other trivia bearing the sponsor’s name. Conference exhibitions also feature the sponsors’ wares.

When commercialism is so rife at conferences organized by academic or professional societies, the presence of commercialism is not a sufficient clue by which to diagnose predatory conferences organized by for-profit entrepreneurs.

Fake publishing thrives because lists of publications have become the sine qua non of an academic career. So for academics at early stages of their career, one of the desirable perks of some of these dubious “conferences” is that the presented papers are then “published” in “journals” put out by the conference organizers. Look into the Curriculi Vitae (CVs, résumés) of some of the less senior Board Members  at Academic Journals & Conferences, for example, and note how prominently their lists of publications include pieces in its proprietary predatory journals.
[I had consulted my Latin dictionary to make sure I knew the plural of “curriculum”, and was rewarded by extra information. The word means literally “race”, “racetrack”, “racing chariot”, and only figuratively “career”. Resoundingly apt nowadays for careers in science.]

As with conferences so too with journals: How to distinguish between “genuine” and “fake” when authors have to pay to get published in both categories?
The obviously predatory Academic Journals & Conferences  charges fees of about $600 per paper. But authors paying to be published has been routine with many traditional and respectable scientific journals for 3 or 4 decades now. Professional societies faced with increasing costs of publishing journals, and obvious limits to how high membership fees could be raised, instituted “page charges” that authors needed to contribute: so many dollars per published page, fairly typically on the order of $100 or more per page. Admittedly, acceptance of an article was stated not to depend on the author’s ability to pay, but this was something like hogwash. If one could not pay the page charges in a journal of the American Chemical Society, the article would appear with a footnote, “Publication costs borne by the American Chemical Society” — an embarrassing comment revealing to all and sundry that the authors had been unable to obtain grant support for their work and were the research equivalent of beggars. In any case, without grants one doesn’t have a career anyway.

Criticism of the proliferating “open access, on-line” predatory journals  notes that they are cheap to produce, being published only on the Internet, so that their “article processing charges” of perhaps $500  to $1000  in Hindawi journals may seem exorbitant; Bentham Open similarly charges  between $450 and $900 depending on the type of article.
Yet pundits continue to praise the open–access journals produced under the imprint of the Public Library of Science, whose charges to authors are even higher: “To provide open access, PLOS journals use a business model in which our expenses — including those of peer review, journal production, and online hosting and archiving — are recovered in part by charging a publication fee to the authors or research sponsors for each article they publish”. In April 2013, those prices are $2900 for PLOS Biology and PLOS Medicine; $2250 for PLOS Computational Biology, PLOS Genetics, PLOS Pathogens, and PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases, and $1350 for PLOS ONE.
Like the American Chemical Society, PLOS has a “fee waiver policy, whereby PLOS offers to waive or further reduce the payment required of authors who cannot pay the full amount charged for publication . . . . Editors and reviewers have no access to whether authors are able to pay; decisions to publish are only based on editorial criteria”.
Nevertheless, what potential authors see equally with PLOS as with predatory journals is that if you want to publish, come up with money. That has been the accepted thing in science for decades now.

Look further into the “genuine, respectable” PLOS and note the profusion of staff: a CEO and a COO plus 15 in Administration/Finance, another dozen in “Advocacy”, “Customer Experience”, and “Human Resources”, 9 in “Marketing”; 25 in “Production”, in addition to the 17 in “Information Technology and Software development” and a few more in “Project Management” and “Publications and Products”. If that seems like a lot, note that there’s another 16 just for PLOS Biology, 16 for PLOS Community Journals, 13 for PLOS Medicine, and 34 for PLOS ONE. Another 7 are listed in “Product Development” and 3 in “Publishing Services”, whether specifically in PLOS ONE or in PLOS as a whole is not clear.
No wonder PLOS has to charge a multiple of what “predatory” journals charge. My recommendation to the Board of PLOS: Ask Hindawi or Bentham to run your journals for you, you’ll save a lot of money. And Hindawi and Bentham and their ilk could also learn from PLOS how to increase profits even more: set up a shop  selling T-shirts, mugs, and other things inextricably associated with any scientific enterprise.
PLOS appears to be just like the proliferating “not-for-profit” hospitals, motorists’ associations, charities, etc., that serve mainly to provide lucrative employment to innumerable people doing things that don’t particularly need to be done.

PLOS is not alone as an “open access” venture stemming initially from the scientific community. Long-established professional associations are also jumping into the rapid-publication, on-line publishing business. In addition to the many invitations I’ve received over the last few years from Hindawi and Bentham and their ilk there have also been solicitations from the Royal Society of Medicine. (£250 @ $380; £350 @ $535; and note that you get a 10% discount for publishing 10 pieces, no doubt to encourage placing quality ahead of quantity.)

Another criterion researchers might try to rely on for distinguishing genuine from parasitic is whether a journal is indexed by the established services. Well, the Bentham Science “journal”, Current HIV Research, seems impeccable in that respect:
“ISSN: 1570-162X (Print)
ISSN: 1873-4251 (Online)
 Indexed in:
Science Citation Index Expanded™ , ISI/Thomson Web of Science, ISI Alerting Services, Journal Citation Reports/Science Edition, BIOSIS, BIOSIS Previews, BIOSIS Reviews Reports and Meetings, Chemical Abstracts, MEDLINE/Index Medicus, Scopus, EMBASE, EMBASE/Excerpta Medica, PubsHub, Genamics JournalSeek, MediaFinder®-Standard Periodical Directory, J-Gate, PubMed.”

Evidently those who manage these important indexing and abstracting services find it no easier than anyone else to distinguish real from spurious.

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Fake, deceptive, predatory Science Journals and Conferences

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2013/04/20

Over the last several years I’ve been mildly amused at receiving invitations to conferences, to submit journal articles, to guest-edit theme issues of journals, to write e-books, and even to become editor of new journals. I’ve been mildly amused because I’ve been retired from my university for a dozen years, which is obvious from my website, where it’s also obvious what my views and writings are: for example, believing that HIV doesn’t cause AIDS.
Without thinking about it, I  just wrote those invitations off as mistakes by incompetent minor staff at the institutions issuing those invitations, who didn’t understand that my articles in Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons, Italian Journal of Anatomy and Embryology and chapters in such books as Opposing Viewpoints: AIDS [1], Against the Tide [2], or You Are STILL Being Lied To — The REMIXED Disinformation Guide to Media Distortion [3] are heretical and that no manuscript or theme issue or journal title suggested by me would withstand review by any informed representative of mainstream beliefs about HIV/AIDS.

But a little while ago I learned about the magnitude and enormity of dishonest publishing after a friend alerted me to this informative summary:
“Because its [sic] become so easy to start a new publication in this new pixel-driven information economy, a new genre of predatory journals is emerging at an alarming rate. The New York Times just published an exposée [sic] of sorts  on the topic. Its [sic] only an exposée [sic] of sorts because the scientific community knows about the problem. There are blogs set up to shame the fake journals into halting publishing.  There are tutorials  online for spotting a fake journal. There’s even a list created and maintained by academic librarian Jeffrey Beall that keeps an eye on all the new fake journals coming out. When Beall started the list in 2010, it had only 20 entries. Now it has over 4,000. The journal Nature even published an entire issue on the problem a couple of weeks ago. So again, scientists know this is a problem. They just don’t know how to stop it”.

This led me to look back into my e-mail files, and I was astonished at how many solicitations I had received in the last few years, one every week or two. I had become so accustomed to it that I hadn’t thought beyond my initial diagnosis of incompetent junior staff who didn’t realize that what I had published about HIV/AIDS is nothing like what would be acceptable to the purported mainstream publications that were soliciting my contributions, for example AIDS Research and Treatment, ISRN AIDS, or Current HIV Research. I had noted, though, that many invitations came from Hindawi Publishing Corporation or one of its subsidiaries, or from a Bentham company (Bentham Open, Bentham Science, etc.). Now, belatedly, I realize that I’ve had just an inkling of the huge deceptive industry that Jeffrey Beall and others have been describing. Fake publishing can evidently be lucrative. Hindawi Publishing Corporation with its more than 520 journals had a profit margin of 52% in 2012, better than that of the long-established Elsevier’s 36%.

Closely akin to fake publishing is the staging of fake academic conferences, exemplified by Academic Journals & Conferences. At the “Editorial Board” page, observe the rapidly flashing counter, evidently intended to impress with the number of hits the website is getting every second. Then look at the details of their conferences: registration fees of $596 and up, which guarantee publication of the presented paper; or if you miss the conferences, pay the same amount as a journal publication fee.

The New York Times article mentioned above described another fake conference, Entomology-2013,  which had fooled a number of invited participants who mistook it for a conference organized by the Entomological Society and titled Entomology 2013 (no hyphen). Why the fake conference would fool any researcher remains rather a mystery to me, given the website’s obvious marketing tone, the lack of a recognizable academic or professional sponsor, and the FAQs which include such items as “dress code”, which I had never before seen in connection with any scientific conference.

My own invitations have included BIT’s 2nd World AIDS Day (HIV-2011) in Beijing, for the session “HIV 202: Biology, Pathology of HIV”; the 4th and 5th International Conferences on Drug Discovery and Therapy (4th ICDDT 2012 and 5th ICDDT 2013) in Dubai; 4th Annual World Summit of Antivirals (WSA-2012) in Guangzhou (China); World Biotechnology Congress 2013  (host: Eureka Conference, and listed in the Events Directory at Nature magazine); 4th Annual World Congress of Virus and Infection (WCVI-2013) in Wuhan (China) — which turns out to be just one of 8 “parallel symposia” at BIT’s 3rd Annual World Congress of Microbes-2013 (WCM -2013).
I observed that Wuhan University had also been connected earlier with instances of fake journals and plagiarized journals (“Two new journals copy the old”, Nature 463 [2010] 148).

Only as I started to write this did I bother to look at the websites of these “conferences”, and to be astonished that anyone could have been taken in by them — as hundreds of people evidently have been, given the group photos and the names and affiliations of speakers listed in the programs. The blatant absurdity of all this may be illustrated if one attempts to locate the website of the 4th Annual World Summit of Antivirals (WSA-2012)  in Guangzhou (China). Google delivered it to me at first under the heading of BIT’s 2nd Annual World Congress of Microbes-2012.  The page marked “Full program” then took me once to the Microbes-2012 program  and on another occasion to Virus and Infections-2010 (WCVI-2010) in Busan (Korea).  When I asked Google only for “Annual World Summit of Antivirals” I was brought an announcement  for a 2009 get-together that looks like a proposal for a conference rather than an active one, albeit with photos and affiliations of 18 “Renowned Speakers”, a  group photo from WSA-2008 and praise for the 2007 event from Harald zur Hausen, 2008 Nobel Prize Laureate in Physiology or Medicine (and responsible for the notion that papilloma viruses cause cervical cancer, which led to the deadly vaccines Gardasil and Cervarix) and Dr. Flossie Wong-Staal, CSO, Executive Vice President Research, iTherX Pharmaceuticals. The group photo for 2009  shows 100-150 people.

The old saw attributed to Groucho Marx certainly applies here: I wouldn’t want to join in any conference that knows so little about me as to invite me to join — though if I had the money, time, and mischievous inclination, perhaps it could be amusing to deliver a critique of HIV/AIDS theory at a conference where David Ho (of anti-HIV cocktail infamy) and Flossie Wong-Staal (co-worker of Robert Gallo, and reputedly more) were also speakers.

Evidently there exists a huge confidence racket of spurious academic publications and conferences. And the responsibility, the blame, lies squarely with mainstream science and academe and the wider society.

Confidence tricksters, their pursuers, observers, and assorted pundits have often pointed out that confidence tricks work so well because those who get tricked somehow want to be tricked: they think wishfully that they can get something for nothing, or at least for less than it’s worth. Pyramid or Ponzi schemes, for example, work over and over again because so many people want to believe that they can become wealthy without effort or insight.

Fake journals and conferences succeed because academics are so desperate for preferment that they neglect no opportunity to pad their résumés; or, having attained prominence, neglect no opportunity to strut their status and prestige by accepting keynote speaking engagements and board memberships at journals and conferences. Jobs, promotions, honorary appointments, status and prestige all follow from abundance of publications, editorships, invitations to conferences, service on editorial boards and conference committees, etc. etc.
Look into the details of some of the fake journals and conferences. Observe that quite a few senior academics have their names on those editorial boards and conference committees and are apparently happy to serve as keynote speakers, all of which in turn gives those journals and conferences the appearance of professional respectability. Observe that quite a few of the less senior academics involved in those journals and conferences adorn their résumés with articles published in those journals and presented at those conferences.

The little story that brought all this to my attention concluded, “scientists know this is a problem. They just don’t know how to stop it”.

Well. The reason no one knows how to stop all this is because it isn’t an aberration, it’s part and parcel of what has happened to scientific activity: decadence and corruption because of too many conflicts of interest (From Dawn to Decadence: The Three Ages of Modern Science). “Science” has become a bubble, in which profits can be made by selling fake goods that are not obviously distinct from the genuine article — think sub-prime science and “derivatives” of actual science analogous to sub-prime mortgages and their bundled derivatives; in both cases, those whose responsibility it is to evaluate quality have not only failed to do so, they have conspired to mislead others by lending their credentials to deceptive practices. Science has become too big for its own and everyone else’s good. It has outgrown its usefulness and become a danger to society, quite akin to the recurrent economic bubbles. (For a wonderfully insightful survey and analysis of economic bubbles, just as applicable decades after it was written, read J. K. Galbraith’s A Short History of Financial Euphoria [Whittle/Penguin, 1990/93/94].)

Among the corollaries of all this is that even informed pundits can find it difficult to distinguish “genuine” science from “fake” science. Try your hand at it with a few examples. Then regale yourself with the list of Senator Proxmire’s Golden Fleece Awards at the website of the Wisconsin Historical Society.
I’m not suggesting that Proxmire was justified in each and every case. There are certainly instances where an absurd-appearing project is substantively justifiable. But what cannot be gainsaid is that there is an enormous amount of academic publishing that is quite useless from the viewpoint of advancing knowledge and understanding because it is not done for that purpose at all, it is done for career advancement by building a record of “publication” for one’s résumé.

At any rate, the need for academics to get published, together with the low cost of “publishing” on-line, has brought a cornucopia of entrepreneurial “publishers” who make money by creating “journals” where authors pay to have their articles published. The payments are not described as costs of self-advertising, of course, but as costs of administrative expenses and the like. Librarian Jeffrey Beall  lists publishers and journals that seem to be blatantly dishonest, for example in claiming to use peer review while not doing so, or by not even publishing actual journals, only citations (e.g. “The suspicious case of Science Record journals”; “The epitome of predatory publishers”). The lack of any serious editorial or peer review means that authors can publish the same thing over and over again, and that plagiarists can re-publish others’ work freely (“Does scholarly open-access publishing increase author misconduct?”).

Academic Journals & Conferences, mentioned above, is perhaps an extreme case in being so obviously fake — except that it apparently is not obviously fake to the 3 dozen members of its Editorial Advisory Board, some of whom are senior academics and not all of whom are from second- or third-rank colleges. They provide the appearance of respectability by lending their names, just as financial analysts at respected institutions rated junk as AAA quality.

Fake conferences and journals are lucrative
because they are so much like “genuine” ones.

Scientific conferences long ago became job markets and venues for self-advertising rather than opportunities for intellectual exchange. Scientific journals published by professional associations have been requiring authors to pay “page charges” for decades now, and scientists see publishing as career-building rather than disseminating worthwhile truths. After all, “Political savvy is intrinsic to a scientific career” (HIV and AIDS: Context and perspective).

More about that in the future.

———————————————
[1] HIV does not cause AIDS, Ch. 1:2 (pp. 30-39) in Opposing Viewpoints: AIDS (ed. Roman Espejo), Gale – Cengage Learning (Greenhaven Press), 2012
[2] Ethics in Science, pp. 169-82 in Against the Tide: A Critical Review by Scientists of how Physics and Astronomy Get Done, ed. Martín López Corredoira & Carlos Castro Perelman (2008); http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/archive/00004046/
[3] Confession of an “AIDS denialist”: How I became a crank because we’re being lied to about HIV/AIDS, pp. 378- 82 in You Are STILL Being Lied To — The REMIXED Disinformation Guide to Media Distortion, Historical Whitewashes and Cultural Myths, ed. Russ Kick (Disinformation Co., NY, 2009)

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Deadly vaccines

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2013/04/17

Much of what’s wrong with current medical practices and purported medical science is encapsulated in the Gardasil (and Cervarix) story.

An entrepreneurial scientist finds that several strains of Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) are “associated” with cervical cancer and with genital warts.

Obviously, therefore, there’s money to be made by producing a vaccine against HPV. Forget that correlation never proves causation. Forget that the incidence of cervical cancer had been declining for a couple of decades. Forget that the number of cases was never large, a few thousand a year in the USA.

Having produced a vaccine, get it approved via the accelerated approval process, which was introduced two decades ago during the hysteria over AIDS, and was specifically to be used only for possible treatments for imminently life-threatening conditions for which no treatment existed.
The costs of this approval process are borne by the drug company, But Congress specifically barred the Food and Drug Administration from using any of those funds for the badly needed monitoring of these hastily approved drugs after they went on the market. In practice, therefore, there is no effective monitoring.

So Gardasil — like so many other inadequately tested drugs or vaccines (Selling sickness and huckstering medications) — was approved, and was marketed with vigor and dishonesty as recommended for all teenage females, and soon afterwards for all teenage males whose only “risk” is for genital warts, inconvenient but hardly a serious threat to health.

As I wrote several years ago, (Gardasil and Cervarix: Vaccination insanity)

It seems that the serious “side” effects of the vaccine
 are about as common
 as what the vaccination is supposed to protect against.

See also “Gardasil and the Sad State of Present-Day Medical Practices”.
And now read “U.S. Court Awards $6 Million in Damages to Gardasil Victims”.

Lest you imagine that such pay-outs deter drug companies from continuing to market and promote unsafe substances, and to break the law by urging off-label uses of drugs, remember that several large drug companies have paid billions of dollars in fines without changing their behavior on the very issues for which the fines were levied (“Glaxo’s asthma problem”, Wall Street Journal, 6 July 2012,  pp. B1,2; “Here we go again: Novartis fined for off -label marketing”).

The occasional expense of a billion dollars or so is peanuts compared to the profits made from the illegal (as well as unethical, dishonest, and life-threatening) behavior.

But why vaccines now?

Because the market for “blockbuster” drugs is just about saturated. Just about everyone who could conceivably be persuaded to do it is already taking statins and blood-pressure-lowering drugs and anti-diabetes (blood-sugar-lowering) drugs. Anyone who feels down now and then is imbibing anti-depressants. Innumerable men are taking aphrodisiac penis-hardeners (which occasionally cause blindness), and women are beginning to be talked into taking them to supposedly make them “hotter”. Anyone who is sometimes short of breath is using inhalers that do not much good but plenty of harm.
So the next big push has to be vaccines, to prevent things that they cannot actually be shown to prevent. Remember that Gardasil and Cervarix have only been shown to have a bit of effect against HPV, which infects huge numbers of people who typically rid themselves of it within a year or two, and of which only a few strains seem to be even “associated” with cervical cancer. That they cause it remains to be demonstrated, a possibility that’s unlikely  to the nth degree in the face of a lack of any known viral cause of any human cancer. Virologists labored for a couple of decades under funding from the “war on cancer” without finding a single human-cancer-causing virus.

Association doesn’t prove causation. Moreover it needs to be remembered also that statistical associations, correlations, are themselves only probabilities and not certainties. Typically in social science and medicine, if there’s a 95% probability that the association is real, then it’s called statistically significant. So if you decide to find something associated with cervical cancer, say, try 100 variables and you’re likely to find 5 that only appear to be associated with it but actually are not. We don’t know how many bits of DNA were looked at when seeking associations of something, anything, with cervical cancer, before deciding that an association with a few but not all strains of HPV means something other than chance coincidence resulting from indiscriminate data mining.

Gardasil and Cervarix have not been shown to be of any significant health benefit. They have been demonstrated to cause serious injuries. It’s scandalous that they were ever approved, and it’s scandalous that they remain on the market.

And they are far from alone on those scores among new prescription medications introduced in the last couple of decades.

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Statins are very bad also for your brain

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2013/04/16

The list of “side” effects of statins is very long. For the daddy of them all, Lipitor (atorvastatin), the manufacturers mention among serious “side” effects, muscle and liver problems; among common ones, diarrhea, upset stomach, muscle and joint pain, and alterations in some laboratory tests; and the “following additional side effects have been reported”: tiredness, tendon problems, memory loss, confusion.

I don’t think it’s nitpicking to point out that this way of revealing the unpleasant things Lipitor is known to do is framed to play down the risks:
— “additional reported” implies that they’re very rare indeed, doesn’t it?
— “alterations in lab tests” is not going to worry anyone, is it? It’s not as though such changes signify anything actually wrong with you . . .
— and note that memory loss and confusion are mentioned only after tiredness and tendon problems, which few people would regard as worrisome.

A careful reader might worry, though, about “Your doctor should do blood tests to check your liver before you start taking LIPITOR and if you have symptoms of liver problems while you take LIPITOR”.

Still, the Food and Drug Administration has approved the drug, and your doctor wouldn’t prescribe it if the risks were appreciable, surely?

My friend J. is talented and knowledgeable to an amazing degree over an amazing range of matters. I first got to know him as a positive genius in diagnosing and fixing and building and updating computers. But he can also rewire your house and fix the plumbing and much else. He is in demand by lawyers as an expert consultant, for instance when law suits involve possible electrical no-no’s. He has out-researched officialdom and developers in disputes over zoning. But his academic studies had been interrupted by a serious heart attack, and he takes statins to bring his cholesterol down.
When I talked with him about that, it turned out that he knows all about CoQ10 (and his wife happens to be a biochemist, which helps). After he had been taking statin for a little while, he realized that he was having episodes of considerable confusion, and by not taking statin for a few weeks, those episodes disappeared.
Still, he’s worried about cholesterol because of his earlier heart attack. So he takes his statin until he senses confusion threatening and then stops taking statin for a while. I don’t know how often he has cycled that way, but if I were he, I’d be off statin for ever. I’m not his doctor, though, and he’s a big boy and smarter than me and makes his own choices.

I did tell him, though, about Dr. Duane Graveline, former flight surgeon, astronaut, and family physician, and his book,  “Lipitor® Thief of Memory”:
“When Dr. Duane Graveline, former astronaut, aerospace medical research scientist, flight surgeon, and family doctor is given Lipitor to lower his cholesterol, he temporarily loses his short-term memory.
A year later after being urged to resume the drug at half dose, he lost both short-term and retrograde memory and was finally diagnosed in a hospital ER as having transient global amnesia (TGA).
This is the account of his search for answers that the medical community didn’t have — the how and why of his traumatic experience, and what needs to be done to prevent the devastating side effects to body and mind from the escalating use of statin drugs.”

Then there’s Henry Lorin, who believes that Alzheimer’s disease may be brought on or exacerbated by lack of cholesterol. He sets out his reasoning in Alzheimer’s Solved: Condensed Edition (BookSurge Publishing, 2006; ISBN-13: 978-1419616846), a book of >300 pages with innumerable citations and good explanations of technical matters. I find it plausible but not completely convincing; yet consumption of statins and incidence of Alzheimer’s have both been increasing, haven’t they?
[I know, elsewhere I point out that correlation doesn’t prove causation. But it doesn’t disprove it, either 🙂 ]

Coconut oil, long condemned for its potential to raise cholesterol levels, has also been suggested as a treatment that ameliorates Alzheimer’s disease: Alzheimer’s Disease: What If There Was a Cure? (Basic Health Publications, 2011; ISBN-13: 978-1591202936). The author, Mary T. Newport, is a physician who found that this treatment helped her husband. The beneficial effect is not ascribed to augmenting cholesterol, though, rather to ketones that serve as food for brain cells that have ceased to be able to use sugar.

Brain cells, like muscle  cells and all other mammalian cells,
need CoQ10 for their energy production.
Statins interfere with the production of CoQ10.
It’s no mystery, why statins can
cause confusion and memory loss:
it’s to be expected.

The brain is rich in nerve cells, but there are also nerves throughout the body carrying signals to and from the brain. Statins damage nerve cells: “If You Take Statins for Two Years or More, Nerve Damage Appears to be the Rule”.

The common muscle pains and muscle weakness
seen with use of statins
may reflect damage to the motor nerves.

Damage to peripheral nerves can bring on peripheral neuropathy, loss of feeling in the feet and sometimes the hands. Statin-caused peripheral neuropathy has been reported for well over a decade, for example “Statins and peripheral neuropathy” (Jeppesen et al., European Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, 54 [1999] 835-8: “Here we report seven additional cases associated with long-term statin therapy, in which other causes of neuropathy were thoroughly excluded” [emphasis added]). By 2011, numerous observations had concluded that statins increase the risk of peripheral neuropathy by a factor of between 4 and 14 (West, “The implications of statin induced peripheral neuropathy”, Journal of Foot and Ankle Research, 4 [2011, supplement 1] P57).

Should you “Ask your doctor”,
as drug company ads and leaflets urge incessantly?
NO!   DO  NOT  ASK  YOUR  DOCTOR!

In all too many cases, for whatever reason, your doctor may not recognize your symptoms as possibly reflecting drug “side” effects. As I mentioned previously,  neither my friend’s family doctor nor his cardiologist had ever mentioned his statin as a possible cause of his muscle weakness, and neither of them ever mentioned CoQ10. Another individual experienced peripheral neuropathy for 13 years before a doctor recognized it as stemming from his use of statin (“Statin neuropathy?”, Journal of Family Practice, 60 [2011] 182-4).

Practicing physicians are at the mercy of the normal channels by which they receive information, namely, agencies like the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, and representatives from drug companies who haunt doctor’s offices. Neither of those channels emphasizes the risks of prescription drugs; the agencies have a vested interest because they approved the drug, and the manufacturers because they profit from selling them. But prescription drugs are now dangerous to your health. The newer they are, the more dangerous they are.

To summarize the last few postings:
——    It has not been shown that reducing cholesterol levels decreases incidence of heart disease or lowers all-cause mortality: “Cholesterol is good for you”.
It is worth noting that in 2001 the Food and Drug Administration told Pfizer to stop advertising Lipitor as a way to lessen the risk of heart disease; it could legitimately be promoted only as a way to lower cholesterol. That seems like an official acknowledgement that lowering cholesterol does not decrease the risk of heart disease, doesn’t it? (The FDA communication is cited as (www) fda.gov/cder/warn/2001/9607.pdf by Joel Kauffman in Malignant Medical Myths [Infinity Publishing, 2006; ISBN 0-7414-2909-8]. That page is no longer available, but it can be recovered using the Wayback Machine, a wonderful resource for recapturing old web pages that is far too little known. Kauffman’s book is a treasure trove of scrupulously researched findings from the published literature of medical science, debunking shibboleths about aspirin, radiation, and other matters as well as blood pressure and cholesterol.)
——   It is known that statins causes muscle problems that sometimes lead to death: “STATINS are VERY BAD for you, especially FOR YOUR MUSCLES”; and it has long been known that this is NOT a “side” effect: “Statins weaken muscles by design”.
——   It is known that statins can bring on memory loss and mental confusion.
In other words,

Demonstrated benefits of statins are very small, if any.
Risks of taking statins are tangible and serious.

Why would anyone choose to take them?

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Statins weaken muscles by design

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2013/04/06

Muscle pain, rhabdomyalgia, is a common effect of statins. What statins can do to muscle caused Baycol (Bayer’s statin, cerivastatin) to be withdrawn from the market after many deaths from rhabdomyolysis, the physical breakdown of muscle. Statins affect muscles inevitably because the mechanism by which statins lower cholesterol production is the same mechanism that fuels energy production.

Statins reduce manufacture of cholesterol by inhibiting an enzyme, HMG-CoA reductase, which produces mevalonate on the way to making cholesterol. However, mevalonate is also a precursor to — among other things — Coenzyme Q10, CoQ10, ubiquinone. The latter is an essential part of the processes by which mitochondria, the energy-producing modules in every animal cell, do their work; the “ubi” in “ubiquinone” reflects that the substance is ubiquitous throughout the body. So lowering of energy, weakness, is a direct effect of statins, just as direct as the effect on cholesterol production. Muscle pain and muscle weakness, including weakness of the heart muscle, is not a “side” effect of statins, it’s a direct effect.

Here’s a pertinent story.
I had met T. a dozen years ago. We discovered many points of similarity in background, though he was a few years younger than me. We both swam regularly on weekday mornings, and became fairly regular partners at bridge. Like so many others, T. was on statins to lower his cholesterol.
He was quite competitive, including at swimming, and for several years he was always significantly faster than me. A few years ago, I began to be able to hold my own; even though my own pace was getting slower as I aged, he was slowing more and faster than I was.
About a year ago, T. slowed drastically, and about 6 months ago he stopped swimming altogether because it had become too strenuous for him. Neither his family physician nor his cardiologist mentioned that the statins he was taking might be a reason for his increasing weakness.
Two or three years ago, T.’s blood sugar had been regarded as being a bit high (which is another known “side” effect of statins). He was prescribed Avandia, but soon stopped taking it in view of unpleasant “side” effects (which are known to include risk of heart failure).
A couple of years ago, at a regular doctor’s visit, T.’s electrocardiogram showed an abnormality that was immediately diagnosed as atrial fibrillation. T. was prescribed coumadin, but when Pradaxa hit the market, T. was switched to that. At the next doctor’s visit, his cardiogram was normal, no sign of fibrillation. He was told that this could happen from this medication, something not to be found in the literature. What is to be found in the literature is that Pradaxa offers a significantly increased risk of heart attack. Anyway, T. was taken off it again when he couldn’t stand its gastric “side” effects.
Users of both Avandia and Pradaxa  can sign up to join class-action lawsuits for damage done by the drugs.
A month ago T. became so weak that he was taken to hospital. A pacemaker was installed. He died a week later.

Such stories, “anecdotes”, are not supposed to be scientific evidence. T.’s death certificate just says congestive heart failure; indeed during his last two weeks of life he did suffer much fluid build-up in his legs, a typical symptom. I can’t help but believe, however, that T. was killed by many years of statin intake, possibly abetted by shorter periods on Avandia and Pradaxa — neither of which might have been prescribed had he not been taking statins with their known effects on blood sugar and heart muscle.

I think one may legitimately speculate about the number of deaths ascribed officially to heart failure without taking into account the medications that had been taken and which are known to carry risk of heart failure. Doctors trust, as they must, the information they receive from official sources, and from drug-company representatives who, after all, can tout only drugs that have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. So when doctors treat someone for heart problems, including “high” cholesterol or “high” blood pressure or “high” blood sugar, and that person gets worse and dies, it is only natural to blame the underlying “heart disease” and not the drugs. I suggest that the death toll from prescription drugs is greatly under-reported for this sort of reason.

On a number of occasions, I talked to T. about CoQ10, but I don’t know whether he ever acted on my advice. I didn’t feel that I could nag him too persistently or try to supersede what he was being told by his doctors. I do know that none of them ever mentioned CoQ10 to him. Yet the fact that statins decrease production of CoQ10, and that the latter is an essential factor in energy production, has been very well known to medical science for a long time. That knowledge is even in the popular domain in such places as those health-testing booths in some stores. At my local Sam’s Club, the booth’s screen touts various supplements including CoQ10 which it describes as “particularly helpful” for people taking statins; a convenient euphemism for saying it’s essential, which might not be lawful since the machines are not licensed to practice medicine.

At any rate, it has long been well known that statins decrease the body’s production of CoQ10 and that supplemental CoQ10 can not only limit the damage done by statins but can also independently improve heart function; see for example the 1999 article, “Overview of the use of CoQ10 in cardiovascular disease” (BioFactors 9: 273-84), the 2003 review “The clinical use of HMG CoA-reductase inhibitors and the associated depletion of coenzyme Q10. A review of animal and human publications” (BioFactors 18: 101-11), and specifically about treating adverse effects of statins: “Treatment of statin adverse effects with supplemental Coenzyme Q10 and statin drug discontinuation”, BioFactors 25 (2005) 147-52. Principal authors on all those are Peter H. and Alena M. Langsjoen, who are associated with several Health Centers in Texas. But their insights and conclusions are shared widely among researchers, including those at drug companies. I’ll illustrate that with another story:

A. is an entrepreneurial scientist whom I have known very well indeed for a very long time. He has had an outstandingly distinguished career including election to more than one national academy. CoQ10 has been one of his special interests, he has supervised clinical trials on its use, and he has sought commercial backing to manufacture it in ways more efficient than current ones. Knowing that CoQ10 is invaluable for limiting damage from statins, he has proposed to drug companies that they partner with him to manufacture CoQ10 and to market it in combination with their statin as an obviously superior (and patentable, of course) product. At one company he was enthusiastically supported by the technical staff. But the deal could not be consummated because that company’s legal department ruled against it. Their grounds: Marketing such a product would show that the company had known that it was essential to take CoQ10 whenever using statin but had failed to include this advice or warning in its leaflets and advertisements. Thereby the company would be liable to lose out in law suits.
One can only wish devoutly that statin marketers will nevertheless lose some big lawsuits at some time in the future.

The pamphlets enclosed with statins, like the 22-page one for Merck’s Zocor, make no mention of CoQ10. The Merck leaflet does have some points of definite interest, though, for example:
“Because clinical studies are conducted under widely varying conditions, adverse reaction rates observed in the clinical studies of a drug cannot be directly compared to rates in the clinical studies of another drug and may not reflect the rates observed in practice”; in other words, as asserted in my earlier posting,  one believes conclusions from clinical trials at one’s peril.
Further:
“Post-Marketing Experience
Because the below reactions are reported voluntarily from a population of uncertain size, it is generally not possible to reliably estimate their frequency or establish a causal relationship to drug exposure. The following additional adverse reactions have been identified during postapproval use of simvastatin: pruritus, alopecia, a variety of skin changes (e.g., nodules, discoloration, dryness of skin/mucous membranes, changes to hair/nails), dizziness, muscle cramps, myalgia, pancreatitis, paresthesia, peripheral neuropathy, vomiting, anemia, erectile dysfunction, interstitial lung disease, rhabdomyolysis, hepatitis/jaundice, fatal and non-fatal hepatic failure, and depression. There have been rare reports of immune-mediated necrotizing myopathy associated with statin use . . . . An apparent hypersensitivity syndrome has been reported rarely which has included some of the following features: anaphylaxis, angioedema, lupus erythematous-like syndrome, polymyalgia rheumatica, dermatomyositis, vasculitis, purpura, thrombocytopenia, leukopenia, hemolytic anemia, positive ANA, ESR increase, eosinophilia, arthritis, arthralgia, urticaria, asthenia, photosensitivity, fever, chills, flushing, malaise, dyspnea, toxic epidermal necrolysis, erythema multiforme, including Stevens- Johnson syndrome. There have been rare postmarketing reports of cognitive impairment (e.g., memory loss, forgetfulness, amnesia, memory impairment, confusion) associated with statin use. These cognitive issues have been reported for all statins. The reports are generally nonserious, and reversible upon statin discontinuation, with variable times to symptom onset (1 day to years) and symptom resolution (median of 3 weeks)” [emphasis added].
That the reports may “generally” be “nonserious” will be of little comfort to those who experience these “side” effects in serious fashion and those whose symptoms do not resolve in the “median” period of 3 weeks — half of all those affected, which is what “median” signifies.
More generally, note how many different unpleasant effects have been reported. That suggests the reports are anything but rare. Recall too that competent analysts have speculated that adverse drug effects are under-reported by something like a factor of 10 (Betty Ann Bowser, “Certain antibiotics spur widening reports of severe side effects”, PBS Report, 16 June 2011).

Once again this posting is long enough, so I leave for another occasion a discussion of the other nasty things statins do besides weakening muscles.

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