Earlier this year, Food and Nutrition Sciences retracted two papers from an author who criticized highly popular fish oil supplements after an additional round of peer review concluded his papers present a “biased interpretation,” among other issues.
Last year, Brian Peskin lost a paper for an “undeclared competing interest” — namely, that he held patents and directed a company associated with essential fatty acids.
In place of fish oil, Peskin touts plant-based supplements for treating cardiovascular disease. From the abstract of the freshly-retracted “Why Fish Oil Fails to Prevent or Improve CVD: A 21st Century Analysis,” he claims that Parent Essential Oils (PEOs) — such as alpha-linolenic acid, which can be converted into the EPA and DHA found in fish oil — “fulfill fish oil’s failed promise”:
…PEOs increase arterial compliance, making subjects’ arteries “biologically younger” (increased arterial compliance) by more than 11 years compared to subjects taking fish oil fish (P < 0.001).
The other retracted paper goes even further in its attack on the animal-based supplement. It’s titled “Why Fish Oil, DHA and ‘Oily Fish’ Are Inflammatory, Leading to Increases in Prostate Cancer, Epithelial Cancers and CVD.”
These articles — which disclose no conflicts — fell apart after a reader complaint, an additional round of peer review, and the journal’s conclusion that the papers present a “biased interpretation” of his findings.
The two notes — published in March — are nearly identical, and preceded by a checklist (click “download as PDF”) which provides more clues as to what went wrong than the notes themselves.
- The “Retraction Initiative” was thanks to “hints from” a reader.
- Under “Retraction type,” the journal marked “Unreliable findings,” “Biased interpretation.” In one notice, the journal also checked “Self-plagiarism.”
- The “Results of publication” are “invalid.”
Following the checklist is a fairly vague editorial note:
The paper does not meet the standards of “Food and Nutrition Sciences”.
This article has been retracted to straighten the academic record. In making this decision the Editorial Board follows COPE’s Retraction Guidelines. The aim is to promote the circulation of scientific research by offering an ideal research publication platform with due consideration of internationally accepted standards on publication ethics. The Editorial Board would like to extend its sincere apologies for any inconvenience this retraction may have caused.
A spokesperson for Food and Nutrition Sciences laid out the timeline for us:
We published the two papers based on the review comments. The decisions of publications were made based on the new idea of these papers. In 2014, we received the complaint from Steven Carney. He claimed many errors in these papers. Then, we sent the papers to peer review again.
The journal wouldn’t provide any details about Steven Carney, only to say he was a US-based researcher.
Peskin forwarded us the post-publication reviews for one of the articles, “Why Fish Oil Fails to Prevent or Improve CVD,” which the journal confirmed to us were authentic. The two anonymous reviewers each spell out specific criticisms regarding the study design and data — here’s the full PDF — and ultimately conclude that the article is not up to publication standards. The first reviewer says:
This article may be rejected. I think the medical research paper should be conducive to medical progress or improve human health. It was obviously that this paper does not meet this requirement. The evidences are far from enough to support author’s view. The design of this experiment was not reasonable and rigorous.
And the second:
All in all, I have my reservations on how valid are the claims of the author regarding the negative health effects of fish oils.
Though, as the second reviewer points out, fish oil’s supposed healing properties warrant some skepticism:
There is no conclusive data that justify fish oil prescription in daily clinical practice and its effects on CVD outcomes are not yet clarified.
Peskin stands behind his papers with full force. He forwarded us his response to the journal, following the notification that there were problems with his papers:
You have to be kidding me — the quality of the papers stand on their own. The SCIENCE is first-rate. I use SCIENCE as opposed to relying on “studies.”
YOUR magazine is allowing people to profit from selling a substance that is harmful in the amounts recommended. It is truly sad — your publication isn’t relying on science but on those complaining because i detract from the profits.
He told us he was “appalled” to learn the papers would be retracted after already being reviewed:
Essentially because fish oil proponents complained — there is no scientific / medical basis for the retraction. It appears “political correctness” rules today — a true tragedy. I have patents and it was claimed it was a “conflict of interest.” However, that makes no difference and is not grounds — I stated I was a consultant to nutritional companies and it is obvious what I would be consulting on.
It was accepted by peer-review and then another group comes along ….. I was appalled!
On his website Peskin defends his contrarianism in broader terms. The homepage features a quote attributed to Galileo:
In questions of science the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual.
Hat tip: commenter “Marco”
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