NY Times: For Science Gatekeepers, a Credibility Gap?

The NY Times science writer Lawrence Altman reports that studies in our medical journals (and drugs they recommend, and the belief systems they support or impart) are not necessarily sound – and that peer review often fails to ensure ethics and accuracy.

From the piece:

“Recent disclosures of fraudulent or flawed studies in medical and scientific journals have called into question as never before the merits of their peer-review system….Many factors can allow error, even fraud, to slip through.”

“By promoting the sanctity of peer review and using it to justify a number of their actions in recent years, journals have added to their enormous power….Except when gaffes are publicized, there is little scrutiny of the quality of what journals publish.”

“The journals rely on revenues from industry advertisements. But because journals also profit handsomely by selling drug companies reprints of articles reporting findings from large clinical trials involving their products, editors may “face a frighteningly stark conflict of interest” in deciding whether to publish such a study…”
Well, yeah. I’ve been pointing that out for awhile, even to some of my loyal opposition, who like to drop academic abstracts like Poseidon’s tridents, and blow their trumpets hard.

What the Times says, goes, in the sciences; so I’m pleased to let you know that you are now allowed to consider that what scientists say, even in their big, fat peer-reviewed journals, ain’t necessarily so.

It’s worth noting that the author, Larry Altman, graduate and longtime companion of the CDC, invented, that is, gave the world the name: “AIDS virus,” (based on very little peer-review, to be sure)

As in, “The AIDS virus, the virus that causes AIDS all the time in negro women and homosexuals (but not the gringo americanos who don’t have that kind of sex1.)

Yes, that’s right. I’m saying that something stinks in science, and it ain’t just the unshowered grad students, (or their pet monkeys).

I’ll have more analysis of current science functions and fictions soon. I hope you’ll come back for it but please read the Times’ piece in the meanwhile.

The Times’ article is long, so I’ve linked it here: For Science’s Gatekeepers, a Credibility Gap

It’s quite a piece. Here are a few quotes:

Virtually every major scientific and medical journal has been humbled recently by publishing findings that are later discredited. The flurry of episodes has led many people to ask why authors, editors and independent expert reviewers all failed to detect the problems before publication.”

Even the system’s most ardent supporters acknowledge that peer review does not eliminate mediocre and inferior papers and has never passed the very test for which it is used. Studies have found that journals publish findings based on sloppy statistics.”

If peer review were a drug, it would never be marketed, say critics, including journal editors.”

But Larry, it is marketed! It is!

While editors and reviewers may ask authors for more information, journals and their invited experts examine raw data only under the most unusual circumstances.”

In that respect, journal editors are like newspaper editors, who check the content of reporters’ copy for facts and internal inconsistencies but generally not their notes.”

Still, journal editors have refused to call peer review what many others say it is – a form of vetting or technical editing.”

In defending themselves, journal editors often shift blame to the authors and excuse themselves and their peer reviewers.”

Hey, don’t worry. It’s only a movie…


1 The Sex Debate at Aetiology.com. Part one | Part two



  1. Liam,

    We should have a Nuremburg type trial for these incompetent scientific wusses — I nominate hapless Larry Altman as the first defendant:)

    Hank B

  2. You dog! Cheeky monkey. They’re just doing they’re darndest, HB! Why you have to give ‘em such trouble?

    I wrote about Altman and the Times in 2004, saying that if they ever got to the Incarnation Children’s Center story , they’d reframe it as “Noble Doctors Try New Drugs on AIDS Orphans.”

    Never mind that the kids in question were children of drug abusers, with no leg up in the world; the drugs being used were recycled garbage like azt and its analogues, and they were force-feeding it to the kids by mouth and through nose and stomach tubes….

    “Noble Doctors” was how I said the Times would dress it up. Now, I have no idea who or how many people read that particular story – but it’s exactly what happened. The Times defended the drugging of the orphans, and excluded – with a brazen gusto rarely witnessed in word or deed – any contradictory evidence to their assertion that AZT is a miracle drug that saved the orphans…!!

    I got one thing wrong about the Times coverage though. I didn’t know that they would single me out in the process for having broken the story, according to them, as a wild-eyed internet renegade, with deep ties to the indymedia/seattle w.t.o. protests….

    Was any of their spin true? Well, I did live in Seattle for less than a year – in 2005. As to the rest…not probable.

    So, here’s the (probably) mostly-unread pre-cursor to the NY Times piece:


    original pdf: http://www.cruxmag.com/asset/crux_hivnegative.pdf

    Impressed? Send your thoughts (on the back of a 50 dollar bill), to…

    Cartalk plaza! Kidding. Send it to me!

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