The bizarre anti-vaccine paper a Florida professor has been trying to have retracted to no avail

Robert Speth

Fly, meet elephant’s back.

Robert Speth has spent the last 19 months trying to get two of the world’s largest medical publishers to retract an article he considers to be a “travesty” of pseudoscientific claims and overtly anti-vaccination bias. In the process, he has uncovered slipshod management of a journal’s editorial board that angered, among others, a former FDA commissioner. 

The paper that triggered Speth, a professor of pharmaceutical sciences at Nova Southeastern University in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., appeared in 2018 in Clinical and Translational Medicine. Titled (awkwardly)  “Cancer; an induced disease of twentieth century! Induction of tolerance, increased entropy and ‘Dark Energy’: loss of biorhythms (Anabolism v. Catabolism),” it was written by Mahin Khatami, formerly a program director at the National Institutes of Health. 

Although you might not be familiar with Khatami, who was born in Iran but trained in the United States, her bio speaks (loudly) for itself: 

In her junior academic career, Dr. Khatami is considered the most productive scientist in USA as she published 39 scientific articles and over 60 abstracts in conference proceedings in the first decade of her research.

Khatami appears to have had a rocky tenure at NIH. According to documents from a 2012 defamation suit she brought against a colleague, Carolyn Compton, Khatami:

retired from NCI under acrimonious circumstances. During her tenure at NCI, Dr. Khatami filed numerous complaints of discrimination, retaliation, and noncompliance before various administrative boards and agencies, including the EEOC. 

During one meeting, the documents claim: 

Dr. Khatami attended and, during a Q & A session, stormed the microphone and shot into a screed in which she likened [the Cancer Human Biobank] to a scientific Ponzi scheme and accused Dr. Compton of harboring a “five year conspiracy against [her].” Doc. No. 8-3 at 2:7-9, 3:20-23. Dr. Khatami’s screed came to a screeching halt when an audience member approached her and removed her from the microphone.

The 2018 paper is a bizarre mishmash. Among her claims, in no particular order, are that the polio vaccine is linked to human cancers, that cancer is not hundreds or even thousands of diseases but:  

only one disease; the severe disturbances in biorhythms (differential bioenergetics) or loss of balance in Yin and Yang of effective immunity. 

Khatami also alleges that:

Cancer projects that are promoted and funded by decision makers are reductionist approaches, wrong and unethical and resulted in loss of millions of precious lives and financial toxicity to society. Public vaccination with pathogen-specific vaccines (e.g., flu, hepatitis, HPV, meningitis, measles) weakens, not promotes, immunity. 

And, 

It is further hypothesized that induction of tolerance creates ‘dark energy’ and increased entropy and temperature in cancer microenvironment allowing disorderly cancer proliferation and mitosis along with increased glucose metabolism via Crabtree and Pasteur Effects, under mitophagy and ribophagy, conditions that are toxic to host survival.

Khatami concludes with this plea: 

The author urges independent professionals and policy makers to take a closer look at cancer dilemma and stop the ‘scientific/medical ponzi schemes’ of a powerful group that control a drug-dependent sick society before all hopes for promoting public health evaporate. 

Since leaving the NIH in 2009, Khatami, who has not responded to a request for comment from Retraction Watch, has been a critic of vaccines, and has been praised by the anti-vaccine group SaneVax

Her writings hostile to vaccination include a 2016 paper in Clinical and Translational Medicine titled “ Safety concerns and hidden agenda behind HPV vaccines: another generation of drug-dependent society?”; and “Book review on cancer research and therapy: safety concerns for HPV vaccination of young generation, paid by Obamacare and V.P. Biden Moonshot Initiative.”

In the acknowledgements section, Khatami states: 

The author’s experimental studies were established on experimental models of acute and chronic ocular inflammatory diseases, at the University of Pennsylvania, with a support team of scientists headed by John H. Rockey in 1980’s. Analyses of original data that resulted in a series of ‘accidental’ discoveries on the role of inflammation in time-course kinetics of altered immune dynamics toward multistep carcinogenesis and angiogenesis were extended at the National Cancer Institute (NCI)/NIH since 1998 and despite heavy opposition, denial and rejection of submitted proposals by members of cancer establishment.

So Speth and a student of his wrote to the journal in April 2019, asking for an investigation into the paper and noting its author’s anti-vaccine stances. 

They received a series of anodyne responses, referrals to other employees within the publishing house and other brush-offs which Speth says have continued to this day.  

In addition, the journal — which Springer acquired when it purchased BioMed Central — appears to have played loose with its editorial board. At least two prominent scientists listed as members of the board requested their names be removed because they were no longer active with the publication. And a third, Robert Califf, former head of the FDA, blasted a BioMed Central employee for failing to remove his name in a timely fashion because he’d never agreed to join the board. In a December 2019 email to the publisher, Califf wrote: 

I’m shocked at your lassitude on this issue.  In addition I have no record of having agreed to be on your editorial board, nor have I ever been queried to provide any advice.  Please remove my name from your web site immediately.

Meanwhile, Wiley has since taken over the journal and, according to Speth, completely replaced its list of editorial advisors. A Wiley spokesperson said the publisher was looking into the matter but would not be able to comment by our deadline.

For Speth, having the article removed from the literature has become something of a crusade — the student has since moved on, so he’s now by himself. But he is convinced about the righteousness of the mission: 

While this paper will never have the adverse impact that the Wakefield paper had, it is a mockery of science at a time when science is under the most unprecedented attack since the Pope’s inquisition of Galileo for blasphemy.

Like Retraction Watch? You can make a tax-deductible contribution to support our work, follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook, add us to your RSS reader, or subscribe to our daily digest. If you find a retraction that’s not in our database, you can let us know here. For comments or feedback, email us at team@retractionwatch.com.

9 thoughts on “The bizarre anti-vaccine paper a Florida professor has been trying to have retracted to no avail”

  1. “Since leaving the NIH in 2009, Khatami….”

    If that is accurate, then the journal can easily retract the paper solely on the basis of misrepresenting her institutional affiliation on this 2018 paper, which reads:

    “Correspondence: mkgoodness@aol.com
    Inflammation, Aging and Cancer, National Cancer Institute (NCI), National Institutes of Health (NIH), Bethesda, MD, USA”

  2. “Book review on cancer research and therapy: safety concerns for HPV vaccination of young generation, paid by Obamacare and V.P. Biden Moonshot Initiative.”

    You have to delve deep to find any meaningful details within the word-salad, but the book under review there appears to self-published: “Cancer Research and Therapy: Scam of the Century” (Khatami 2016).
    https://www.amazon.com/Cancer-Research-Therapy-Mahin-Khatami/dp/153043100X

    Khatami’s review of her own book includes 12 references, all to papers by Khatami, and appeared in a journal by OAText, well-known low-rent OMICS wannabees. She claims an affiliation to “Inflammation and Cancer Biology,
    National Cancer Institute (Ret)”.

  3. Awkward is an understatement for this title: “Cancer; an induced disease of twentieth century! Induction of tolerance, increased entropy and ‘Dark Energy’: loss of biorhythms (Anabolism v. Catabolism),”
    The punctuation alone is more than awkward.
    The “induced disease of the twentieth century” part is just plain inaccurate. For example, there is the fossil evidence of an advanced osteosarcoma from this science magazine news item: https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/08/doctors-diagnose-advanced-cancer-dinosaur
    … showing that cancer is anything but a twentieth century disease…
    I’ll leave the rest of the title as an exercise for aspiring students of word salads.
    I had to read the post twice to understand the reference to “the student has since moved on” so thanks to Robert C. Speth for providing their name. Please be more specific (name names, unless your word budget is over-spent or the student requests anonymity.)
    PS my mother might have lived past age 50 if the HPV vaccine had been available when she was 13 years old, so there’s that as a plus for vaccines.

  4. Also by Khatami, also in “Clinical & Translational Medicine”:

    “Is cancer a severe delayed hypersensitivity reaction and histamine a blueprint?” (2016). Betteridge’s Law may apply.

    “Analyses of repeated failures in cancer therapy for solid tumors: poor tumor‐selective drug delivery, low therapeutic efficacy and unsustainable costs” (2018).

    Fly, meet elephant’s back

    Speaking of elephants:
    Unresolved inflammation and cancer: loss of natural immune surveillance as the correct ‘target’ for therapy! Seeing the ‘Elephant’ in the light of logic” (Khatami, 2012, Cell Biochem Biophys).

  5. Hmmmm. Sounds like an article Professor Alan Sokal would write, except more dangerous because kooks would believe it.

  6. It’s interesting that this journal is in clear breach of the ‘Principles of Transparency and Best Practice in Scholarly Publishing’ (https://publicationethics.org/resources/guidelines-new/principles-transparency-and-best-practice-scholarly-publishing). Wiley is a member of COPE and senior people like Chris Graf even sit on its board.

    To whit:
    – no indication of journal owner
    – no contact details (despite there being a contact page)
    – other details per this report (e.g. no proper process in place for ethical concerns that are raised)

  7. Hmmm… I see that the article in question is still online.
    But Why?

    Speth’s “crusade”(!) reads way too little like science, and way too much like a Pro-vaxer attacking an Anti-vaxer:
    “Speth […] wrote to the journal […] noting its author’s anti-vaccine stances.”
    “While this paper will never have the ADVERSE IMPACT that the Wakefield paper had […]” (emphasis mine)
    In view of Speth’s crusade against Khatami’s unwelcome stand, his comparison with “the Pope’s inquisition of Galileo for blasphemy” induces the inverse association of what he aims for. And that’s all very regrettable.

    There are some weird phrasings and word salads that should have been corrected during review, but do they suffice as an excuse for the extreme action of paper withdrawal? It would be much more convincing if scientifically valid reasons for withdrawal are presented to the journal such as falsified data or conclusions that are opposite to the findings.

    And note to the comment by Regret: the article already states that “The author has retired from the NCI/NIH”. That could be a reason for a minor edit/correction to the first page.

  8. I was intrigued by the mention of Springer’s role in all of this and came across the following note on their site.

    “As of 21st February 2020, Clinical and Translational Medicine will cease to consider new submissions with Springer Open. The journal is continuing in cooperation with a new publisher, Wiley.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.