Weekend reads: PubPeer = vigilantes?; why journals cost what they do; who publishes most

booksThe week at Retraction Watch featured a retraction from Nature, and a discussion of what it means to be an author on a paper with thousands of them. Here’s what was happening elsewhere:

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8 thoughts on “Weekend reads: PubPeer = vigilantes?; why journals cost what they do; who publishes most”

  1. Re preprints. The arXiv site seems to include a large number of negative results — at least in the field I’ve been following over the last few months (planetary science). Perhaps that’s a characteristic of the field, rather than the publishing model. Even so, the preprint system surely makes it easier to communicate negative results.

  2. That’s not research funding, it’s NIH Research Project Grant funding. I suspect Maryland would be far and away the winner if it were total NIH research funding, and probably for total federal research funding as well.

  3. The last item raises some troubling questions, particularly in light of earlier RW posts on research integrity.

    The STAT article doesn’t address the issue of consent, either for the original study, or for the subsequent use of the data by others. The BMJ paper itself states that: “No consent forms were required because the study diets were considered to be acceptable as house diets and the testing was considered to contribute to better patient care.” and “Residents were given the opportunity to decline participation.” However participants were residents of state mental hospitals or nursing homes, and it’s not clear if participants had legal capacity to consent, nor if they were actually or potentially coerced into participating.

    Even more troubling for me was this line in Begley’s story: “Franz lived and breathed science, his sons recall, to the extent that he would have his wife, a nurse, draw his children’s blood so he would have more to study.” I cannot imagine any modern human research ethics committee, or researcher employer, viewing this in a positive light.

  4. A new study in the BMJ, based on decades-old records found in a dusty basement, undermines standard dietary advice, Sharon Begley at STAT reports.

    Like ELF above, I was impressed by the cavalier attitude towards “subject consent” that prevailed in the late 60s. It seemed to be that anyone was fair game if they couldn’t get away.

    The results are certainly timely, with the general pendulum of opinion swinging away from the “animal fats = heart disease” dogma. Four decades later, people are left blinking and wondering how so much dietary policy was made and advice was given… and how much shaky research was published, avoiding close scrutiny because it confirmed what people already believed. In the cause of that study, it seems that the “animal fats = heart disease” crusaders were happy to abandon their own data in a basement if it contradicted their position.

    1. After reading the Ramsden et al.’s BMJ article (http://www.bmj.com/content/353/bmj.i1246) and the ethics statement in Franz’s study (http://atvb.ahajournals.org/content/9/1/129.long), I’d suggest BMJ and NIH have also taken a rather cavalier attitude towards “subject consent”. The ethics statement in the reanalysis merely repeats statements in the original study: “No consent forms were required because the study diets were considered to be acceptable as house diets and the testing was considered to contribute to better patient care.” Yet in the details of the study, it seems residents were given samples of the food and able to decline participation (ie dissent). Those who participated then had bloods drawn (samples were frozen for later analysis) and an electrocardiogram every six months. There’s an additional statement in the text – but not mentioned in the ethics statement – around autopsies: “The reasons for failure to perform autopsies was almost always refusal by relatives or inability to contact relatives”.

      Even if consent was deemed unnecessary for participants in the original study, the re-analysis surely involved the long-term storage of patient’s medical data (separate from their medical records, which may well have been destroyed by now) and a re-use of data for which no consent was ever obtained. There’s no suggestion that either the NIH (who funded the reanalysis) nor BMJ (who published it) even considered ethical or consent issues, or had the protocol reviewed by an ethics committee. If the study’s findings weren’t so novel, there would surely be calls for its retraction. At best, this sends a very confusing message about acceptable practices and research integrity.

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