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The Corruption of Peer Review Is Harming Scientific Credibility

Jul 15, 2014 - 0 comments

The Corruption of Peer Review Is Harming Scientific Credibility
By  HANK CAMPBELLJuly 13, 2014 6:32 p.m. ET
Academic publishing was rocked by the news on July 8 that a company called Sage Publications is retracting 60 papers from its Journal of Vibration and Control, about the science of acoustics. The company said a researcher in Taiwan and others had exploited peer review so that certain papers were sure to get a positive review for placement in the journal. In one case, a paper's author gave glowing reviews to his own work using phony names.
Acoustics is an important field. But in biomedicine faulty research and a dubious peer-review process can have life-or-death consequences. In June, Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health and responsible for $30 billion in annual government-funded research, held a meeting to discuss ways to ensure that more published scientific studies and results are accurate. According to a 2011 report in the monthly journal Nature Reviews Drug Discovery, the results of two-thirds of 67 key studies analyzed by Bayer researchers from 2008-2010 couldn't be reproduced.
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Getty ImagesThat finding was a bombshell. Replication is a fundamental tenet of science, and the hallmark of peer review is that other researchers can look at data and methodology and determine the work's validity. Dr. Collins and co-author Dr. Lawrence Tabak highlighted the problem in a January 2014 article in Nature. "What hope is there that other scientists will be able to build on such work to further biomedical progress," if no one can check and replicate the research, they wrote.
The authors pointed to several reasons for flawed studies, including "poor training of researchers in experimental design," an "emphasis on making provocative statements," and publications that don't "report basic elements of experimental design." They also said that "some scientists reputedly use a 'secret sauce' to make their experiments work—and withhold details from publication or describe them only vaguely to retain a competitive edge."
Papers with such problems or omissions would never see the light of day if sound peer-review practices were in place—and their absence at many journals is the root of the problem. Peer review involves an anonymous panel of objective experts critiquing a paper on its merits. Obviously, a panel should not contain anyone who agrees in advance to give the paper favorable attention and help it get published. Yet a variety of journals have allowed or overlooked such practices.
Absent rigorous peer review, we get the paper published in June in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Titled "Female hurricanes are deadlier than male hurricanes," it concluded that hurricanes with female names cause more deaths than male-named hurricanes—ostensibly because implicit sexism makes people take the storms with a woman's name less seriously. The work was debunked once its methods were examined, but not before it got attention nationwide.
Such a dubious paper made its way into national media outlets because of the imprimatur of the prestigious National Academy of Sciences.
Yet a look at the organization's own submission guidelines makes clear that if you are a National Academy member today, you can edit a research paper that you wrote yourself and only have to answer a few questions before an editorial board; you can even arrange to be the official reviewer for people you know. The result of such laxity isn't just the publication of a dubious finding like the hurricane gender-bias claim. Some errors can have serious consequences if bad science leads to bad policy.
In 2002 and 2010, papers published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences claimed that a pesticide called atrazine was causing sex changes in frogs. As a result the Environmental Protection Agency set up special panels to re-examine the product's safety. Both papers had the same editor, David Wake of the University of California, Berkeley, who is a colleague of the papers' lead author, Tyrone Hayes, also of Berkeley.
In keeping with National Academy of Sciences policy, Prof. Hayes preselected Prof. Wake as his editor. Both studies were published without a review of the data used to reach the finding. No one has been able to reproduce the results of either paper, including the EPA, which did expensive, time-consuming reviews of the pesticide brought about by the published claims. As the agency investigated, it couldn't even use those papers about atrazine's alleged effects because the research they were based on didn't meet the criteria for legitimate scientific work. The authors refused to hand over data that led them to their claimed results—which meant no one could run the same computer program and match their results.
Earlier this month, Nature retracted two studies it had published in January in which researchers from the Riken Center for Development Biology in Japan asserted that they had found a way to turn some cells into embryonic stem cells by a simple stress process. The studies had passed peer review, the magazine said, despite flaws that included misrepresented information.
Fixing peer review won't be easy, although exposing its weaknesses is a good place to start. Michael Eisen, a biologist at UC Berkeley, is a co-founder of the Public Library of Science, one of the world's largest nonprofit science publishers. He told me in an email that, "We need to get away from the notion, proven wrong on a daily basis, that peer review of any kind at any journal means that a work of science is correct. What it means is that a few (1-4) people read it over and didn't see any major problems. That's a very low bar in even the best of circumstances."
But even the most rigorous peer review can be effective only if authors provide the data they used to reach their results, something that many still won't do and that few journals require for publication. Some publishers have begun to mandate open data. In March the Public Library of Science began requiring that study data be publicly available. That means anyone with the ability to check should be able to reproduce, validate and understand the findings in a published paper. This should also ensure that there is much better scrutiny of flawed claims about sexist weather events and hermaphroditic frogs—before they appear on every news station in America.

The Truth About Exercise—The Case for High Intensity Workouts

Jul 12, 2014 - 0 comments

Research shows that a mere few minutes of high intensity exercise per week can deliver many of the health and fitness benefits you get from hours of conventional exercise, including improved insulin sensitivity

When healthy but inactive people exercise intensely, even if the exercise is brief, it produces an immediate change in their DNA

Contraction-induced gene activation promotes genetic reprogramming of muscles for strength and other structural and metabolic benefits associated with exercise

Ideally, you’ll want to do high intensity exercises two or three times a week for a total of four minutes of intense exertion with recovery periods in between

For optimal health, you’d also be wise to incorporate non-exercise intermittent movement, strength training, core exercises, and stretching, for a well-rounded fitness program

Reasons to Give Up Wheat

Jul 10, 2014 - 0 comments

Wheat today is not like the wheat from the ancient plant. The newer, high-yield wheat we've been eating since the 1980s is full of genetic changes that seem to inflame our bodies, cause our guts to leak, and trigger autoimmune diseases.
Many experts now believe anyone giving up not just gluten, but wheat altogether, could enjoy tremendous weight loss and health benefits. Whole wheat, whether in bread or pasta form or hiding out as an ingredient in canned soup or frozen dinners, could be sending you on a path toward type 2 diabetes!
Eating two slices of whole wheat bread could raise your blood sugar level more than if you'd eat two tablespoons of pure sugar! "Aside from some extra fiber, eating two slices of whole wheat bread is really little different, and often worse, than drinking a can of sugar-sweetened soda or eating a sugary candy bar," Dr. Davis writes in Wheat Belly. I also recommend reading Grain Brain by Dr. David Perlmutter.
Spikes in blood sugar and insulin can cause the growth of dangerous visceral fat, an accumulation that leads to fat encasing your liver, kidneys, pancreas, small intestines, and, on the outside, your belly. This unique abdominal fat manufactures excess estrogen in both men and women. That increases the risk of breast cancer in women and could lead to dreaded "man boobs" in men. Use it as a signal that you need to cut wheat. "I'd go as far as saying that overly enthusiastic wheat consumption is the main cause of the obesity and diabetes crisis in the United States," Dr. Davis writes.
I suggest reading the books.

Keep Clear of Pistachios

Jul 09, 2014 - 0 comments

The FDA is asking stores, cafeterias, and restaurants to check with their suppliers and find out if any pistachio products came from Setton Pistachio of Terra Bella, Inc. If so, the nuts should not be sold because of possible contamination with multiple strains of salmonella, a germ that can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections. Young children, sick or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems are particularly vulnerable. The FDA says several illnesses have been reported and could be tied to the pistachio contamination, but they are conducting genetic testing to confirm the links.

Some of the recalled products include:

Frito-Lay salted pistachios
Kraft Foods Back to Nature products containing pistachios
Chukar brand and Norm Thompson brand packaged products containing pistachios
Setton Farms and Corrado pistachio products

WHAT IT MEANS: Recalls are still trickling in from last January’s huge recall of salmonella-tainted peanut butter products; the incident sickened hundreds and is believed to be responsible for the deaths of at least 9 people. Pistachios may not be as widely consumed as peanuts, but they are used in many processed foods and snacks, so the recall could become far-reaching.

Here’s how to protect yourself against tainted-nuts:

Check your stash. If you have pistachio products in the house, check the FDA's updated recall list before you snack on them. According to the FDA website, the list is being updated regularly but does not reflect all products that may contain pistachios from Setton. Avoiding all pistachios, and products containing them, is the only way to be 100 percent sure of avoiding tainted nuts.

Ask before you munch. If you’re hell-bent on a restaurant dish containing pistachios, make sure your server or chef confirms that the nuts came from a safe source, and not the company in question.