Peer Reviewed 'Science' Losing Credibility due to Fraudulent Research

corruption science, false research

Science today, in all fields, is plagued by corruption. Yet, more often than not, attempts to create awareness about scientific fraud — an issue that few journalists have been willing to address — are met with the response, "Well, is it peer-reviewed?" 

Although good science should always be reviewed, using this label as a form of credibility can be dangerous, causing people to dismiss new information and research instantaneously if it doesn't have it, particularly when that information counters long-held beliefs ingrained into human consciousness via mass marketing, education, and more. 

Unfortunately, it's becoming increasingly apparent that we are being lied to about the products and medicines we use on a daily basis. 

If you're one who commonly points to the "peer-reviewed" label, then you should know that there are many researchers and insiders who have been creating awareness about the problem with this label for years.

Well known Stanford University researcher John Ioannidis published a new paper this week criticizing the use and production of systematic reviews and meta-analyses, often considered the highest forms of research evidence. In the paper, "The Mass Production of Redundant, Misleading, and Conflicted Systematic Reviews and Meta-analyses," Ioannidis describes meta-analyses as being taken over by industry sponsors and concludes that an estimated 3% of all of these reviews may be useful. 

In 1978, Hans Eysenck commented on the "mega-silliness" of using poorly designed research studies to study outcomes in psychotherapy. He quoted the well-known maxim from computer science - "garbage in-garbage out" to refer to the uncritical selection of disparate studies to produce reviews."A mass of reports - good, bad and indifferent - are fed into the computer in the hope that people will cease caring about the quality of the material on which the conclusions are based," wrote Eysenck. 

The pitfalls of this practice are the subject of a new investigation by John Ioannidis, a Stanford University researcher well known for his critique of research methodologies summarized in his paper "Why Most Published Research Findings Are False." Focusing on biomedical research he writes, "Most topics addressed by meta- analyses of randomized trials have overlapping, redundant meta-analyses; same topic meta-analyses may exceed 20 sometimes. Some fields produce massive numbers of meta-analyses; for example, 185 meta-analyses of antidepressants for depression were published between 2007 and 2014. These meta-analyses are often produced either by industry employees or by authors with industry ties and results are aligned with sponsor interests.

Systematic reviews and meta-analyses have grown at an exponential rate - from 1991 to 2014 there has been an increase of over 2,500% of these studies in the published literature. While they are a useful way to combine results from a large number of studies and have the potential to provide a breadth of information, many have been conducted uncritically and used to advance industry interests instead of good science. 

Ioannidis reports that most studies cannot be included in systematic reviews because replication studies are avoided by the research community in their quest for innovation. This leads to a glut of similar, but different studies that cannot be combined analytically. Another issue is the sheer number of meta-analyses and reviews, especially when their conclusions differ even when they are summarizing the same evidence. 

". . .it is possible that nowadays there are more systematic reviews of randomized trials being published than new randomized trials," he comments. 

The author provides the example of meta-analyses and systematic reviews for antidepressant medication as an exemplar of the major issues with this literature. The studies that are covered by these reviews contain critical methodological flaws, including the reporting of selective, industry favorable outcomes. This interacts with the fact that most analyses and reviews of this topic tend to be conducted by investigators with major financial conflicts of interest, turning the review into a viable marketing tool. Then "conflicted expert editorials" often appear to further popularize the biased findings. At best such reviews provide the public with misinformation, at worst they can be dangerous. 

Ioannidis speculates that only 3% of all meta-analyses provide us with good quality and clinically useful information. This does not mean that meta-analyses are inherently poor science. Rather, what this study reveals is that the quality of most published information is poor, pointing to the need for better primary data that is synthesized and analyzed as studies are conducted, instead of after the fact. 

Other researchers have begun to propose new ways to conduct systematic reviews, for example by looking at networks of trials for alternative treatments. "Eventually, prospective meta-analyses designed and conducted by non-conflicted investigators may need to become the key type of primary research. Production of primary data, teamwork, replication, and meta-analyses can be integrally connected", concludes Ioannidis. In order for this to happen, more fields, including biomedicine, will need to incentivize this kind of collaborative research. 


Ioannidis, J. A. (2016). The Mass Production of Redundant, Misleading, and Conflicted Systematic Reviews and Meta-analyses. The Milbank Quarterly94(3), 485-514. doi:10.1111/1468-0009.12210 (Abstract)

When children grow up dreaming of becoming scientists they have the purest of aspirations and if they were left to pursue their own studies they would be able to accomplish the unimaginable. Unfortunately, to become a member of the scientific community one has to jump through many bureaucratic hoops until they are eventually inducted into an establishment which is tightly regulated and directed by warmongers and control freak aristocrats. 

People spend half of their lives taking classes, passing tests and filling out applications in hopes that one day they can become a scientist and cure a disease. After years of struggling to make the cut they realize that there is no funding for their charitable projects and if they dare step outside of the established guidelines they will be exiled from the scientific community. 

Additionally, even when legitimate studies are done, they hardly ever reach the public or get taken seriously because most of the publishers that are considered "reputable" are controlled by just a few corporations that heavily censor the information that gets released

A recent study conducted by Professor Vincent Lariviere from the University of Montreal's School of Library and Information Science, and a number of other researchers, found that nearly all major scientific papers are controlled by the same six corporations. 

"Overall, the major publishers control more than half of the market of scientific papers both in the natural and medical sciences and in the social sciences and humanities. Furthermore, these large commercial publishers have huge sales, with profit margins of nearly 40%. While it is true that publishers have historically played a vital role in the dissemination of scientific knowledge in the print era, it is questionable whether they are still necessary in today's digital era," Lariviere said. 

The researchers sifted through tons of studies that were published between the years of 1973 and 2013 and found that the studies were overwhelmingly published by the same six publishers. The publishers named in the study are ACS, Reed Elsevier, Sage, Taylor & Francis, Springer, and Wiley Blackwell. 

Lariviere explained how this can create problems, saying that "As long as publishing in high impact factor journals is a requirement for researchers to obtain positions, research funding, and recognition from peers, the major commercial publishers will maintain their hold on the academic publishing system." 

"One would expect that a major publisher acquiring a journal would have the effect of increasing the latter's visibility. However, our study shows that there is no clear increase in terms of citations after switching from a small to large publisher. Our findings question the real added value of big publishers. Ultimately, the question is whether the services provided to the scientific community by these publishers warrant the growing share of university budgets allocated to them," Lariviere added.


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