Thank you Celeste McGovern for allowing us to excerpt and link her article. I took Latin in high school, and am always interested in mottoes. Non Solus as the motto for publisher Elsevier described the symbiotic relationship between publisher and scholar. Alas, scholar has been replaced by pharma.
Elsevier’s “withdrawal” of a small veterinary study breaks all the rules of scientific publishing. The biggest name in scientific literature has produced fake medical journals for Merck’s advertisers before, so yanking a study that doesn’t pass the vaccine industry’s sniff test would be nothing. Celeste McGovern looks at a case study of how Pharma is killing science.
It’s not often that veterinary research is so controversial that it falls into the jaws of censorship zealots. That is exactly what happened recently, however, when editors at a science journal suddenly turned on a small Spanish sheep study which they had already peer-reviewed and published and stamped it: “WITHDRAWN” — the equivalent of a scarlet letter “A” in the science publishing world. This was not about shoddy science or ethical breaches; an editor tried to soothe the outraged veterinary professor at the head of the research. But the focus was “delicate” and “controversial” and someone — some anonymous letter-writer – had wanted the study removed, and the journal acquiesced.
“Dear Dr. Luján,
“I wanted to step in here to say that your manuscript is not being retracted – which implies wrongdoing and could damage your professional reputation,” Anne-Marie Pordon, publisher of Pharmacology and Pharmaceutical Sciences titles for Elsevier journals interjected in a heated e-mail exchange between the lead researcher and various editors. “We are withdrawing the paper, which does not imply misconduct in any way. There will be simply a statement that says “This paper has been withdrawn at the request of the _____” (Authors or Editors in the blank.)” Pick your poison. You remove it, or we remove it.
Elsevier journals are described as “one of the world’s major providers of science, technical and medical information.” They also have a skeleton or two in the closet. A decade ago, they were exposed in a private injury case for being paid by Merck to manufacture and distribute two completely fake journals to market Merck’s drugs. They looked like authentic, peer-reviewed science journals, but they contained only favourable studies about the use of Merck’s deadly Vioxx and another drug with potentially fatal side effects. Nowhere did they disclose that they were paid advertising for Merck. Four more fake Elsevier journals were sponsored by unnamed pharmaceutical companies.
“I’ve seen no shortage of creativity emanating from the marketing departments of drug companies,” consumer advocate Peter Lurie of the non-profit Public Citizen told The Scientist after he reviewed Elsevier’s fake science journals. “But even for someone as jaded as me, this is a new wrinkle.”
An Elsevier press release said the company regretted the “unacceptable practice” of its Australian office. The scandal evoked a flurry of news stories and then it disappeared. Elsevier never revealed the sum they received from Merck or the names of the other pharmaceutical firms that had bought fake science from them. There was no penalty. And there was no authority or oversight agency willing or able to keep Elsevier from doing it, or something similar, again.
Fast forward to 2019. There was no doubt by any party in the email exchange between Elsevier’s editors and Lluís Luján, the professor of veterinary pathology at the University of Zaragoza, Spain, and lead author of the “controversial” sheep study, that this was highly unusual publishing practice.
Luján was obviously livid with a request that he withdraw his own study which had already been peer-reviewed and published online by Elsevier’s journal Pharmacological Research. He flatly refused. It’s hard to imagine a scientist who believes in the integrity of his research doing otherwise. “Withdrawn,” unlike what Pordon tried to claim, is virtually synonymous with “retracted” in the science world and everybody knows it. It is a death sentence for a paper.
Pharmacological Research’s editor-in-chief, Emilio Clementi, a professor of pharmacology at the University of Milan presented Luján with “concerns from the readership” – a list of accusations of flaws with his methodology to respond to. Later in correspondence, “concerns from the readership” morphed into “a signed note of concern from a reader” but the letter writer’s identity was kept secret – a big red flag that something foul was afoot.
Ordinarily, if someone has objections to the methodology in a published science paper, they send a letter to the editors. It is difficult to think of any circumstance that the identity of the letter-writer would be hidden. The only reason someone might want to hide their identity is if they had a conflict of interest – like, they worked promoting a relevant pharmaceutical, for example. In any case, letters to the editors are posted on “Letters to the Editors” pages and rebutted by authors there. Read more at GhostShip Media.com