Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Peer review part 2: Medical Hypotheses

The journal "Medical Hypotheses" was founded with the explicit intention of not having peer review. http://medicalhypotheses.blogspot.com/2011/03/david-horrobins-letter-handing-over.html

"As he instructed me, this type of journal can only in practice be run by the editor choosing papers himself (not by delegating decisions), and by his taking responsibility for these choices." (http://medicalhypotheses.blogspot.com/2009/12/david-horrobins-inaugural-editorial.html). Committees are cancer. (http://medicalhypotheses.blogspot.com/2010/04/cancer-of-bureaucracy.html)

"Horrobin argued that peer review intrinsically tended to exclude radical and revolLinkutionary ideas, and that alternatives were needed. He chose me as his editorial successor because I shared these views.

Both Horrobin and I agreed that the only correct scientific way to deal with dissent was to publish it so that it could be debated, confirmed or refuted in an open and scientific forum. The alternative - suppressing scientific dissent by preventing publication using behind-the-scenes and anonymous procedures - we would both regard as extremely dangerous because it is wide open to serious abuse and manipulation by powerful interest groups.


It is hard to measure exactly the influence of a journal, but some recent papers stand out as having had an impact. A report by Lola Cuddy and Jacalyn Duffin discussed the fascinating implications of an old lady with severe Alzheimer's disease who could still recognise tunes such as Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'. This paper, which was discussed by Oliver Sacks in his book Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, seems to have helped spark a renewed interest in music in relation to brain disease.

The paper "A tale of two cannabinoids" by E. Russo and G.W. Guy suggested that a combination of marijuana products tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) would be valuable painkillers. This idea has since been widely discussed in the scientific literature.

And in 2005, Eric Altschuler published in Medical Hypotheses a letter outlining his idea that survivors of the 1918 flu epidemic might even now retain immunity to the old virus. A few 1918 flu survivors were found who still had antibodies, and cells from those people were cloned to create an antiserum that protected experimental mice against the flu virus. The work was eventually published in Nature and received wide coverage in the US media."

"Genuine conceptual originality is by definition outside the accepted way of looking at things. It often has rough edges that can be easily refuted, thereby making its core seem suspect. And, indeed, most conceptual deviants are justifiably discarded.

Originality at the conceptual level can come from empirical discoveries. However, it can also come from looking at the world in a different way.

It's commonly recognized in the metascientific literature that conceptual originality is inversely related to publishability. As someone who has made some conceptually original contributions, I've noticed the same phenomenon myself.

More specifically, there are indeed occasional gems in Medical Hypotheses that would be difficult to publish elsewhere."


"What prompted Elsevier to set about a rethink of its journal was Charlton’s intention to publish two papers which, so Elsevier claim, undermine the current understanding of AIDS. One of them, by the Stanford virologist Peter Duesberg, certainly tries to do this. He uses the instance of South Africa to argue against the HIV virus as the cause of the disease. One might suggest that Duesberg is a tiresome man and that Charlton’s intention to give him more space in which to argue his already familiar case was ill conceived. But is this sufficient reason to revamp the entire basis of the journal’s editorial selection procedure?

Even odder is the case of the other banned paper. Submitted by a group based in Florence it seems not to deny the viral origin of HIV, but to tease the Italian health authorities for the incompetence of their bureaucracy and procedures by suggesting that those authorities themselves behave as if they are "AIDS deniers." Whoever made the decision at Elsevier either hasn’t read it or didn’t understand it." (http://medicalhypotheses.blogspot.com/2010/02/medical-hypotheses-affair-geoff-watts.html)

Eventually, the journal published a paper which the establishment demanded be retracted. The editor was sacked and the journal became peer-reviewed. Why?

The problem is state involvement in science. People insist that quacks are prevented from being able to claim that they are scientific because they a published. Therefore quacks must not be allowed to publish. Otherwise the public might be mislead that they are true.

Why does it matter whether the public consider quackery science? Because they can vote.

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