If that sounds too weird to be true…well, it might be. The journal editors have retracted the paper for not having enough evidence to back up its claims, despite the authors’ objections.
Here’s the retraction notice for “Prediction of Mortality Based on Facial Characteristics,” published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience:
The journal retracts the 17 May 2016 article cited above. Following publication, concerns were raised regarding the scientific validity of the article. The Chief Editors subsequently concluded that aspects of the paper’s findings and assertions were not sufficiently matched by the level of verifiable evidence presented. The retraction of the article was approved by the Chief Editors of Human Neuroscience and the Editor-in-Chief of Frontiers. The authors do not agree to the retraction.
Here’s how the study worked: Researchers recruited twelve people who claimed to be able to judge whether a person is alive or dead based on their photographs. The participants looked at over 400 pictures, some of people who were still alive and some who had passed since the picture was taken, and had eight seconds to determine the current status of the photo subject. The participants were successful just over half the time (53.8%), slightly better than chance. The authors write in the abstract:
Our results support claims of individuals who report that some as-yet unknown features of the face predict mortality. The results are also compatible with claims about clairvoyance warrants further investigation.
First author Arnaud Delorme, a researcher with affiliations at the University of California San Diego and the Institute of Noetic Sciences, told us that the journal initially promoted the paper on Facebook and Twitter; a blogger for the journal even interviewed Delorme for an article. Then the journal decided not to run the blogger’s piece. And then on August 8, another blogger posted a criticism of the study — noting, for example, that the study contained no control group, and the mediums guessed incorrectly 46.2% of the time.
Next, Delorme told us:
On August 11, 2016, Dr. Gearóid Ó Faoleán, the Ethics and Integrity
Manager of FHN, sent us an email stating that the article was going to be retracted (see attached letter). We replied immediately, stating that we could not agree to the retraction without being informed of the specific nature of their concerns. Dr. Faoleán did not respond to our request for more information.
Delorme says never got a specific reason for the retraction. In the attached letter he mentions above, Ó Faoleán told Delorme and his co-authors:
We have become aware of serious issues concerning the scientific soundness and methodology of your published article. Following an internal investigation by the journal Chief Editors and senior Frontiers editorial staff, it was determined that the paper does not meet the scientific standards of the journal and will shortly be retracted.
We contacted Ó Faoleán, who told us:
Concerns were raised about this article post-publication. While a subsequent investigation by the Chief Editors determined that the article should be retracted, the retraction statement serves as our public statement thereof.
We’ve got many questions about this paper and its retraction — namely, if the journal deemed the results to be so problematic, how did it pass peer review and get published in the first place? We’ve contacted the two reviewers listed on the paper, and will update if they respond.
Not surprisingly, the paper had some alternative sources of funding: the Bial Foundation, which aims to”foster the scientific study of the human being from both the physical and spiritual perspectives,” and one of Delorme’s affiliations, the Institute for Noetic Sciences, which focuses on
topics ranging from intuition, distant and ‘energy’ healing, to mind-matter interaction, transformative experiences, and the interactions between beliefs, behavior and worldviews.
This isn’t the first time Frontiers has pulled a paper after readers took a double-take: As we reported in March, Frontiers in Computational Neuroscience pulled a paper after several commenters on PubPeer raised questions about its contents, suggesting it was “gibberish” that may have been computer-generated. A large portion of the article was just statements and citations:
Global temperatures highest in 4000 years (Marcott, 2013).
Every time our bodies record an experience… the essence of who you are is stored as synaptic interactions in and between the various systems of your brain… activity induces growth (LeDoux, 2003).
Between 3 and 300 milliseconds is the range of time [that] is involved in many aspects of cognition… [For example] the response time while driving a car is around 300 milliseconds (Nolte, 2001).
Frontiers is on University of Colorado librarian Jeffrey Beall’s list of “potential, possible, or probable” predatory publishers.
Hat tip: Rolf Degen
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