Ken Gillman: Medical science publishing: A slow-motion train wreck

Hector Warnes’ comment


             I enjoyed reading Ken Gillman's paper - full of truths, half-truths and innuendos. I agree with Gillman that Bernard J. Carroll deserves a place among one of the greatest psychiatrists, particularly for the discovery of the Dexamethasone suppression test (DST) which launched the era of Biological Psychiatry.

            Gillman´s fierce attack on Robert Maxwell is justified. Even his two sons were ashamed of their father and admitted that he was a fraudster - why not an imposter? Pergamon Press was controlled by Maxwell but as far as I know his downfall was due to the misappropriation of  a huge Pension Fund not unlike Bernie Madoff's fraudulent activities in New York (cited by Gillman).  

            I like Gillman's citation (Altman): "we need less research and better research."  I also agree that there are too many journals that have appeared over the years without proper editing, proof-reading,  peer review and consensual validation. Gillman noted that many of them publish "third rate publications." Gillman cites Juvenal, Sed quis custodiet, Ipsos custodes, which means who will guard the guards or who watches the watchmen. He insists that the peer-review process is failing or is a “train wreck” or the like.  

            He writes, felicitously: "Facade triumphs over accuracy and substance" (the front, the outlier, a near false appearance).  How is this possible? Where does so much money come from to publish countless journals? Gillman refers to "a plutocratic politics." I guess it has to do with the unlimited expansion of Big Pharma and its collusion with Government.

            Gillman introduces an area of little research (based on Robert N. Proctor whom he cites); he calls it agnotology (from agnosis: not knowing, the  study of ignorance). I would support his argument that there has  been a proliferation of inaccurate or misleading publications which eventually justify the market thirst for more sales and more profiteering. 

            Further, he underlines the fact that there exists a ghost medicine like there are ghost sicknesses and ghost patients. I would like him to expand further on his observations on ghost medicine.  We should be looking for truth, authenticity and accuracy. In other words, we are unknowingly on the edge of untruthfulness or falseness which only surfaces much later.  There are still great controversies on the use of vastatins and olanzapine which lately have led to new research and increasing doubts. Many drugs after a decade of marketing have been withdrawn from the Market because the harm caused was found to be superior to its therapeutic value (risks versus benefits).

            We are aware that we need a proper definition of what should be called a "scientific paper" or a "scientific journal."

            For more than 100 years the question of plagiarizing has been raised and it is widely practiced today. Some historians of science distinguish between plagiarizing and cryptomnesia. It is possible in a  given Weltgeist that two researchers reached the same conclusions or independently stumbled upon the same discovery. Yet more often, one may have read so much that in writing his paper he is convinced that he writes his own ideas when really he forgot that another researcher wrote it before. There has also been more awareness of the statistical deception of many papers accepted in excellent journals. 

            In my personal experience there is endless repetition by the same authors of the same research conclusion in several journals which inflates the mandate "publish or perish," as Gillman wrote. I also notice widespread misinformation  on compounds that should be closely monitored. A lack of originality pervades the journals and further experimental studies should be limited to the area that was under scrutiny and not cross boundaries with total freedom, thus confounding the precise area of research and its possible branching out. 

            I congratulate Dr. Gillman for drawing our awareness to an increasing problem that following his phrase would need not only a study of who watches the watchmen but who watches the later and so on.


May 16, 2019