Expression of concern coming for paper some used to link COVID-19 vaccines to deaths

The journal BMJ Public Health is placing an expression of concern on a paper it said “gave rise to widespread misreporting and misunderstanding,” namely, “claims that it implies a direct causal link between COVID-19 vaccination and mortality.” 

The article, “Excess mortality across countries in the Western World since the COVID-19 pandemic: ‘Our World in Data’ estimates of January 2020 to December 2022,” appeared online June 3, and quickly attracted attention and criticism. The expression of concern is not yet live. 

In their conclusions, the authors wrote: 

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Lack of permits, ‘selective’ data halt research at Swedish prosthetics research center

In the late afternoon at a conference in Cartagena last year, a team of Swedish researchers presented their work on a technique that uses machine learning to translate the body’s own electric signals used to move a limb. They had tested it on a minor recovering from a stroke. 

Documents from an internal investigation shared by Chalmers University have now revealed, however, that this case study was part of a series of regulatory lapses and suspicious research practices at the Centre for Bionics and Pain Research (CBPR) where the clinical research was conducted. The researchers seem to have conducted the study before Max Ortiz-Catalán, the center’s founder and former manager, had secured regulatory approval from the relevant Swedish agency. 

Chalmers, the Centre’s home, has now suspended it after also suspecting that its data and research participants seemed “systematically selected” so that treatments appeared effective, and excluded data when treatments caused health problems. The investigation also uncovered the center had no person responsible for compliance, which is a requirement under Swedish law, and that personal data had been handled poorly. 

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Do some IQ data need a ‘public health warning?’ A paper based on a controversial psychologist’s data is retracted

Richard Lynn

A journal has retracted a controversial 2010 article on intelligence and infections that was based on data gathered decades ago by a now-deceased researcher who lost his emeritus status in 2018 after students said his work was racist and sexist.

The article, “Parasite prevalence and the worldwide distribution of cognitive ability’, was published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, by a group at the University of New Mexico. Their claim, according to the abstract

The worldwide distribution of cognitive ability is determined in part by variation in the intensity of infectious diseases. From an energetics standpoint, a developing human will have difficulty building a brain and fighting off infectious diseases at the same time, as both are very metabolically costly tasks.

Overlaying average national IQ with parasitic stress, they found “robust worldwide” correlations in five of six regions of the globe: 

Continue reading Do some IQ data need a ‘public health warning?’ A paper based on a controversial psychologist’s data is retracted

Iran COVID-vaccine paper with ‘serious flaws’ retracted

via Wikimedia

Following criticism from scientists around the world, a virology journal has retracted a paper describing the first test in humans of an Iran-made vaccine against COVID-19.

Iran licensed the home-grown Noora vaccine for emergency use in 2022 and has reportedly administered millions of doses to its citizens. The country’s health authorities say the shot is 94% effective

The now-retracted paper, published in 2022 in the Journal of Medical Virology, was the only report on the clinical development of the vaccine to have appeared in an international journal. The article has been cited 10 times, according to Clarivate’s Web of Science.

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Exclusive: Cardiologist in Pakistan continued publishing after journal shown evidence he was running a paper mill

Jahanzeb Malik

A cardiologist in Pakistan has been selling coauthorship of his research papers to scientists, particularly medical students, who were not involved in the work, Retraction Watch has learned. Several of his articles were published after the journal learned of his underhand activities.

Jahanzeb Malik, of the Rawalpindi Institute of Cardiology, publishes in a variety of journals, including Current Problems in Cardiology and Cardiology in Review, with a number of co-authors on each study. 

However, not all of these authors contributed to the work. Malik, who is also a member of the Cardiovascular Analytics Group, an international network of researchers, runs a WhatsApp messaging group titled “Research Associates,” where he posts about articles he is working on and offers authorship “slots” in exchange for money, messages shown to Retraction Watch reveal. He has advertised on the “United States Medical Licensing Examination Pakistan” Group Facebook page, writing that he runs the group to “help students and other doctors in doing medical research and writing research papers.” 

Going by the username “Darklord” on WhatsApp, Malik charges up to $300 for a first-author position. Less prominent positions on the manuscript can be bought for around $150. Malik has since changed his username to “Dr. Jahanzeb Malik” on the app.

Continue reading Exclusive: Cardiologist in Pakistan continued publishing after journal shown evidence he was running a paper mill

Paper claiming ‘extensive’ harms of COVID-19 vaccines to be retracted

A journal is retracting a paper on the purported harms of vaccines against COVID-19 written in part by authors who have had similar work retracted before.

The article, “COVID-19 mRNA Vaccines: Lessons Learned from the Registrational Trials and Global Vaccination Campaign,” appeared late last month in Cureus, which used to be a stand-alone journal but is now owned by Springer Nature. (It has appeared frequently in these pages.)

Graham Parker, Director of Publishing and Customer Success at Cureus, told Retraction Watch:

I can confirm we will be retracting it by the end of the week, as we have provided the authors with a deadline to reply and indicate whether they agree or disagree with the retraction.

The senior author on the work was Peter McCullough, a cardiologist at the Institute of Pure and Applied Knowledge who lost his board certification after the American Board of Internal Medicine found he had “provided false or inaccurate medical information to the public.”

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A closer look at the ‘chocolate with high cocoa content’ hoax

We are pleased to present an excerpt from The Predatory Paradox: Ethics, Politics, and Practices in Contemporary Scholarly Publishing by Amy Koerber, Jesse C. Starkey, Karin Ardon-Dryer, R. Glenn Cummins, Lyombe Eko, and Kerk F. Kee, published by Open Book Publishers, October 2023. 

In 2015, Johannes Bohannon, along with three coauthors, published an article titled ‘Chocolate with High Cocoa Content as a Weight Loss Accelerator’ in the International Archives of Medicine. The article reported results from a study that divided participants into three groups, with a different diet assigned to each group, and concluded that ‘Subjects of the chocolate intervention group experienced the easiest and most successful weight loss’ (p. 1).

In a personal account published later, journalist John Bohannon described the article as an intentional hoax that he and his coauthors had carried out in response to a request from a German film crew who was making a documentary on the ‘junk-science diet industry.’ To implement the hoax, Bohannon and his coauthors created an ‘Institute of Diet and Health’ that existed only as a website, and he assumed the name ‘Johannes Bohannon’ as lead author of the study. As he explained, the research reported in the article was actually conducted, but it was “terrible science,” including major flaws that would have been detected if the article had undergone a legitimate peer-review process.

Bohannon and his colleagues’ ‘Chocolate with High Cocoa Content’ article was retracted shortly after it was published, and the editors of International Archives of Medicine published a retraction notice dated 10 June 2015 (Editorial Office 2015). The editors’ decision to retract this article ostensibly served to correct the scientific record and prevent the erroneous data reported in the published study from being circulated in subsequent literature. This manner of correcting the scientific record is an important purpose of retractions, as defined by the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE):

Continue reading A closer look at the ‘chocolate with high cocoa content’ hoax

Research integrity during the COVID-19 pandemic: A book excerpt

Ferric Fang

We are pleased to present an excerpt from Thinking About Science: Good Science, Bad Science, and How to Make It Better by Ferric C. Fang and Arturo Casadevall, published by ASM Press/Wiley, October 2023.

Amidst the COVID-19 calamity, one can argue that science is one of the few aspects of the human response that has worked relatively well. However, despite the many advances in preventing and treating COVID-19, there have also been missteps as the world has scrambled to respond to a deadly new pathogen. It has been humbling for the U.S. to lead large high-income countries in per capita deaths from COVID-19 even with its wealth and scientific expertise. We are all too aware of the needless illnesses and deaths that have resulted from misguided political leadership, inadequate preparation, delayed responses, fragile supply chains, health disparities, and vaccine hesitancy. But we will not dwell on these issues here. Rather, we would like to review the COVID-19 pandemic through the prism of the 3R’s of research integrity: rigor, reproducibility, and responsibility. These form the fundamental pillars of the foundation of science. It is appropriate that we devote more attention to the foibles than to the successes so that we can learn from the mistakes and missed opportunities. What could have been done better? What needs to improve?

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Publisher looking into COVID vaccine paper with ‘serious flaws’

A controversial paper on the safety and immunogenicity of an Iran-made COVID-19 vaccine is being investigated by the U.S.-based publisher Wiley, Retraction Watch has learned.

Iran reportedly has already administered 3 million doses of the vaccine, dubbed Noora, which the country licensed for emergency use last year.

The paper describes the vaccine’s first test in humans, marking the only time results from the clinical development of the homegrown shot have been reported in international journals.

Safety and immunogenicity of a recombinant receptor-binding domain-based protein subunit vaccine (Noora vaccine™) against COVID-19 in adults: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, Phase 1 trial” was published in 2022 in the Journal of Medical Virology, an achievement highlighted in Iranian news media. One report said the study showed a dose of 80 micrograms of the vaccine was “safe” and provided “adequate immunity in adults.” 

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To guard against fraud, medical research should be a profession:  A book excerpt

Warwick Anderson

We are pleased to present an excerpt from Trust in Medical Research, a freely available new book by Warwick P. Anderson, emeritus professor of physiology and biomedical sciences at Monash University in Victoria, Australia. 

It has always been difficult for me to admit that we have a genuine and substantial problem of fraud and rubbish science in medical research. I suspect this is true for most scientists. We want to think of science as being free from half-truths and fake news. We hope that the high moral purpose of medical research will guard against wrongdoing, that it will weigh on our minds so heavily that we all take care to work and publish honestly and competently.

We know that scientists sometimes make unintentional mistakes due to ignorance, but we also know in our hearts that some people are so ambitious that they push the envelope, stretch the truth and take shortcuts. We know, too, that a few others go further and get carried away by the prospects of scientific and financial rewards and so cheat, commit fraud and lie in publications. This is what some humans do in all walks of life.

We know all this, but it is fair to say that we generally do not want to face up to it. Jennifer Byrne at the University of Sydney put it well when she wrote that we tend to overlook the research fraud issue “because the scientific community has been unwilling to have frank and open discussions about it”:

Continue reading To guard against fraud, medical research should be a profession:  A book excerpt