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When scientific journals spread pseudo science

When scientific journals spread pseudo science

©SEBASTIEN BOZON / AFP

fake news alert

In a pre-publication article, researchers warn the scientific community against the dissemination of pseudo-science which has increased since the start of the health crisis.

In a article in pre-publicationyou warn the scientific community against the dissemination of pseudo-science in certain journals, what is your warning based on?

This is a general statement based on an article published in a log considered serious with a consequent impact. This article is a review of the literature on the potentially harmful effects of anti-Covid vaccination. He claims that anti-Covid vaccination with a messenger RNA vaccine could induce deficits in the immune system leading to increased infectious risks and a decrease in anti-cancer immune vigilance, therefore to an increased risk of cancers.

Such a publication alerted us. Me as an oncologist and fellow scientists from all walks of life.

What did you do once the publication was detected?

In the literature, there is absolutely nothing that can support this fact. We therefore wrote to the editor to underline the fact that this article seemed to us dangerous and that all that was claimed came from interpretations that were considered false, unsubstantiated. The article itself does not provide any data, additional analyses, it is about interpretations which seem to us fallacious.

Above all, this article is symptomatic of misinformation. It has been shared over 40,000 times in a few months.

Did you write this letter in response to these shares?

Once contacted, the editor of the journal (JL Domingo) advised us to write a letter which we wrote and published in pre-print. In this letter we explain the process of the construction of this article and expose the various points which pose problem and why what it was written is false. We explicitly and substantiated the retraction of this article.

The letter was reviewed in three rounds by four different reviewers. The reviewing is anonymous which can pose in this controversial situation a question of credibility and impartiality because only one reviewer out of the 4 accepted the publication of the letter and the three others said that the debate had to remain scientific and refused that we maintain our request for withdrawal. The publisher could however have explained the reasons for the controversy, failing to take responsibility and delete this article. However, we were denied the attribute and the questioning as well as this fear vis-à-vis this paper.

The editor of this paper published in Food and Chemical Toxicology, Domingo, has no safeguards. The journal’s editorial group, Elsevier, which has an ethics department, should go beyond the journal and position itself but remains deaf to our request. Everyone thus returns the ball to avoid retracting the article.

Why is such a publication of pseudo-science dangerous?

As an oncologist, I have to activism to prevent such information from being repeated. Now that the paper is published, it serves as a solid base for anti-vax groups. One of the authors is known to be anti-vax, does not hesitate to convey the fact that vaccination is dangerous by leading to a health catastrophe. My job as an oncologist is to protect my patients and as a doctor who engages the population. When you have cancer, you are more at risk of a severe form of COVID, while vaccination has transformed the prognosis. To falsely believe that vaccination against COVID could be a source of cancer or promote its development is simply criminal. It is a fight against disinformation, but it is a thankless task because it is very time-consuming and which exposes those who tackle it to insults or even threats.

Saying such things leads to public health deaths. Some will listen, discuss and see reruns of such information by fake media such as France Soir.

Are such situations recurrent?

Since the onset of the Covid epidemic, we have reached an apotheosis of this style of publication. For two years, we have been living in unprecedented times. If we look at the publications in Pubmed, we have 280,000 papers on Covid-19 in three years, while for HIV we are at 400,000 papers in 30 years. We are facing an unprecedented editorial challenge!

If a paper is picked up very quickly and depending on the sphere that picks it up, this should alert us. If the paper is taken from a well-known journal such as the Lancet or the New England without there being any scientific warning behind it, it is a guarantee of quality. Conversely, if the paper comes from an average journal and it becomes the most read paper in its entire history, there is a problem. If the vaccine caused a real public health problem, it would be published in a major health journal and not in an average journal…

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