Academic Publishing COVID-19

Elsevier pandemic profiteering, again

"a scientific journal is not a social network, not even a newspaper. People reading papers in FCT are expected to be scientists with a good basis to distinguish between trash and science." EiC Jose Luis Domingo on new paper by Peter McCullough

Congratulations all round: the antivaxxer covidiot and ivermectin quack Peter McCullough, US American internist and self-proclaimed professor, published a peer-reviewed paper in an Elsevier journal on how COVID-19 vaccines cause cancer.

I shall not introduce you to Dr McCullough and his theories, because Smut Clyde did it before here:

Now here is the paper, published on 15 April 2022, and its graphical abstract:

Stephanie Seneff, Greg Nigh , Anthony M. Kyriakopoulos , Peter A. McCullough Innate immune suppression by SARS-CoV-2 mRNA vaccinations: The role of G-quadruplexes, exosomes, and MicroRNAs Food and Chemical Toxicology (2022) doi: 10.1016/j.fct.2022.113008

The peer-reviewed study claims that COVID-19 mRNA vaccines “have a causal link to neurodegenerative disease, myocarditis, immune thrombocytopenia, Bell’s palsy, liver disease, impaired adaptive immunity, impaired DNA damage response and tumorigenesis“, all demented lunatic claims which one shouldn’t waste time disassembling and yet someone already did (on PubPeer).

And here a video blogger debunking McCullough’ idiocies:

As for the first author, the MIT scientist Stephanie Seneff, Smut Clyde commented:

Seneff is a computer scientist who started a second career of finding different causes for autism. Vaccines, of course, but also painkillers, and also weedkiller. She doesn’t seem to understand that when you are proposing three different explanations (in the same paper), there’s no reason to believe any of them.

One month before that paper was submitted, the handling editor and journal’s Editor-in-Chief, the Spanish toxicology professor Jose Luis Domingo issued a “Call for Papers on potential toxic effects of COVID-19 vaccines“, where he stressed that for him “Research on long-term toxic effects is undoubtedly an issue of special interest“. So McCullough and his friends swiftly delivered.

Antivaxxers all over the world rejoiced about the McCullough paper. But others did not.

Jacques Robert, emeritus professor for oncology at the University of Bordeaux, wrote on 19 April 2022 a letter to the journal’s Editor-in-Chief:

Dear Dr. Domingo,

I read much surprise that you intend a publish in Food and Chemical Toxicology a manuscript entitled “Innate immune suppression by SARS-CoV-2 mRNA vaccinations: The role of G-quadruplexes, exosomes, and MicroRNAs”, by Seneff et al.

I think that this manuscript cannot be considered as a scientific paper but as a militant, agitational, tract. The last author, P.A. McCullough, is already known for his anti-vaccines presupposition and one of his papers has recently be retracted (Rose J, McCullough PA. WITHDRAWN: A Report on Myocarditis Adverse Events in the U.S. Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS) in Association with COVID-19 Injectable Biological Products. Curr Probl Cardiol. 2021 Sep 30:101011. doi: 10.1016/j.cpcardiol.2021.101011. The publisher indicates no reason for that). The second author, Gregh Nigh, is a member of a so-called “Oncology Association of Naturopathic Physicians” (see Marsden E, Nigh G, Birdsall S, Wright H, Traub M. Oncology Association of Naturopathic Physicians: Principles of Care Guidelines. Curr Oncol. 2019 Feb;26(1):12-18. doi: 10.3747/co.26.4815) and is therefore scientifically disqualified.  We have in France an important anti-vaccination lobbying (as well as a considerable number of charlatans and quacks, indeed!); we consider this as a shame, and there is no doubt that this negation of science and reason is also present in other countries.

Just note that this is not a scientific controversy since, for many reasons, this manuscript does not reach the standards of a scientific paper: several assertions in the Introduction are given without reference (despite the 231 references at the end of the manuscript!), emotional words such as ‘aggressively’ are used to describe the most reasonable attitude of all governments of all countries towards vaccination. The argumentation relies on hypotheses, not facts. The adjective ‘potential’ is used at 27 occurrences, the adverb ‘potentially’ at 9; however, the ‘graphical abstract’ presents a series of pathways leading from vaccines to cancer as if they were experimentally validated.

From a scientific point of view, it would require at least one month full-time to verify every assertion and check whether the references are conform to what they are supposed to indicate (this is a common way used by fraudsters to falsely use references). I’m afraid I will not waste one month of my life to do the job, but I will encourage young scientists around me to do so: this will be an excellent training for their career.  […]

I consider that your responsibility is heavily engaged in this ‘flight from science and reason’. It is especially noticeable that you published kind of a “call for papers” in this area on January 3rd, 2022 (Domingo JL. Call for Papers on potential toxic effects of COVID-19 vaccines. Food Chem Toxicol. 2022 Feb;160:112809. doi: 10.1016/j.fct.2022.112809) and that the Seneff et al. manuscript was received only one month later. One month to write down a manuscript of 60 pages with 231 references! It is clear that the authors and/or yourself had this manuscript almost ready for publication when you launched this “call for papers” and I consider that this is not ethical.

As a former president of the French Cancer Society, I will inform our members that a journal previously well considered is now falling into anti-vaccination propaganda. As a former member of an INSERM board, I will see how it is possible to cancel the subscription to Food and Chemical Toxicology from the global common package of INSERM subscriptions. As a member of the editorial boards of two French oncology journals, Bulletin du Cancer and Innovations & Thérapeutiques en Oncologie, I will ask some colleagues (or I will write by myself) editorials or columns condemning this paper and the way it is published. 

There is no doubt that in the case you publish this manuscript, you will be compelled, sooner or later, to retract it, since it will be denounced as non-scientific by many instances more qualified than I am. I don’t think this would be a good thing for Food and Chemical Toxicology, but publishing it would be a very bad thing for science.

Thing is, Robert didn’t know that Food and Chemical Toxicology is just another antivaxxer trash-bin Elsevier operates to enrich itself. This was why Domingo issued a call for antivax papers in the first place. Also, the journal’s co-editor is the US professor Michael Aschner, who in turn is a buddy of the notorious Greek quack Aristidis Tsatsakis. The two men run another Elsevier journal specialising in fraud and antivaxxery, Toxicology Reports. Aschner and Tsatsakis also published a peer reviewed study titled “Adverse health effects of 5G mobile networking technology under real-life conditions” in yet another Elsevier journal, Toxicology Letters, you can imagine what it was about. These people are a tight-knit family of toxic quacks and Elsevier loves each of them dearly.

And I am not sure it was a coincidence that a decade ago it was this same journal Food and Chemical Toxicology which published in 2012 the infamous paper by Gilles-Eric Seralini, titled “Long term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize“. The fraudulent study claimed that GMO maize caused cancer in rats. It was retracted the next year, despite Seralini suing everyone and getting experts testimony in his favour.

Of course Domingo tried to turn it all into a reasonable scientific debate, where unhinged antivaxxers foaming at their mouths about governmental conspiracies and vaccine mass murder will be treated with the same respect as serious scientists. Because the antivaxxery passed peer review by fellow antivaxxers, it became solid, even if controversial, science, you see. Plus: every letter to editor and reply to it cites the offending paper and increases the journal’s impact factor!

So this is how Domingo replied the same day to Robert:

Cher Docteur Robert, 

Merci pour votre message. 

Your colleague Dr Berriere has contacted me on the same issue. Please read the enclosed chain of messages. I believe that both of you are on the same page. 

As you will see, I have invited Dr Berriere to submit a LTE to our journal stating the concerns of the paper to which you refer. He has accepted. Perhaps can you wish to join him to write the Letter?  “

Robert replied right away:

Dear Dr Domingo,

Thank you for your answer. I know and approve the initiative of Dr. Barriere, but I’m afraid that you did not understand that my objective is not to engage into a soft scientific controversy but to obtain that this manuscript be withdrawn before publication or retracted if published. The manuscript of Seneff et al. is not a scientific paper but a militant tract and should not be published in a scientific journal – as I thought Food and Chemical Toxicology was. […]

Disseminating nonsense medicine in apparently scientific journals is a crime, this is not a matter of opinion. This is why I urge you to stop the publication process of this manuscript.[…]”

In his initial letter, Robert wondered about the peer review, and if the peer reviewers might have been McCullough’s fellow antivaxxers. He reiterated his concerns. So now Domingo replied in the typical passive-aggressive, arrogant, patronising, gaslighting way academic bullies do. Posturing with his authority, the journal’s impact factor, comparing himself to Churchill, while guilt-shaming Robert for attacking a cancer sufferer:

Dear Dr Robert,
Thanks for your new message regarding the recent paper in FCT.

Be sure that I do understand your concerns and certainly it was already fully clear for me in your first e-mail.

The role of Editor-in-Chief of a scientific journal (with high metrics and reputation is not easy at all), but I knew that when I was appointed 7 years ago. During these years, I have been very careful with all the accepted and rejected manuscripts, and fortunately, the journal has not retracted any published paper during that period.

Obviously, the peer review process is not infallible. All of us, authors, reviewers and editors are humans with preset ideas. However, there is not any alternative to the peer-review. I always say the same in relation to the peer-review (“Peer-review is the worst form of accepting/rejecting manuscripts in a scientific journal, except for all the others”) than Winston Churchill said regarding the democracy (“Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others”).

Usually, we make decisions with the comments/recommendations of 2-3 reviewers. This time, the decision was made with the recommendations of 5 independent reviewers. By the way, one of them is a colleague (Professor of Biochemistry) of my University, who is suffering of cancer (leukemia) since various years ago. Therefore, his/her positive opinion regarding the paper should not be biassed at all.

As you know, a scientific journal is not a social network, not even a newspaper. People reading papers in FCT are expected to be scientists with a good basis to distinguish between trash and science.

Anyhow, and with this I close this personal debate, I would like to offer you the same option that I already offered to Dr Barriere: to submit a Letter to the Editor showing your concerns on that Review-article.

Robert declined, stating:

As I already mentioned, this is not a scientific controversy but a fight against frauds and impostures.

Elsevier already embarrassed themselves big time with McCullough’s earlier retracted antivax contribution Rose et al 2021 (mentioned by Robert above), and with Tsatsakis’ peer-reviewed masterpiece Why are we vaccinating children against COVID-19?” in his journal Toxicology Reports. That paper received an expression of concern to assuage the outcry in the scientific community, Tsatsakis himself was removed as journal’s Editor-in-Chief. Presumably, Elsevier plans to sit this out and not bother about retraction. And of course don’t forget all these fraudulent and illegal COVID-19 clinical studies by Didier Raoult published in his own Elsevier journals. There, you can’t even expect a measly expression of concern.

As for McCullough’s new contribution, the publisher’s management will also wait and see if the protests grows, and might issue another expression of concern if needed. A retraction is obviously not possible because the chief editor Domingo prides himself to never retract anything. Maybe they will remove Aschner as editor, he is already off the Toxicology Reports board. But that will be it.

For Elsevier, fraud and quackery just a business, really. A business which earns them magnitudes more than honest quality science. And we all are their paying customers.

I thank Alexander Samuel for help with this article.


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17 comments on “Elsevier pandemic profiteering, again

  1. But of course Tsatsakis contributed special issues to that journal.

    Like

  2. Klaas van Dijk

    Hi Leonid, thanks alot for this excellent posting. See also https://www.isdglobal.org/digital_dispatches/the-problem-with-preprints/

    Like

    • “Widespread pre-prints can distort peer-reviewed science”
      “COVID-sceptic article is widely shared despite not passing peer review”
      “Preprints, although essential in today’s fast moving world, should be treated in a similar way to all unverified information disseminated online – that is – with scepticism. Within the anti-vaccine movement, preprints are used to give the impression that their position is backed up by science, but scratch under the surface of many of these preprints and you’ll find an anti-vaccine activist using jargon and complicated science to push a specific agenda.”

      Ha. What will our expert on preprints Aoife Gallagher say that this very same preprint now passed peer review in an Elsevier journal with impact factor of 6?

      Like

  3. It’s even worse than I thought when I read the paper. Thanks for exposing their (Elsevier) pattern of scientific populism.

    Like

  4. Ah, editor in chief sends a colleague he probably owns by the ball to defend himself in the comments.

    Like

    • I like this “are you paid by Big Pharma” story because these people are so greedy, entitled and corrupt, they don’t understand anyone would do anything unbribed.
      I had my share of rotten surgeons, and here is another one.

      Like

  5. Juan Llopis Roig

    With an h-index of only 9 and 10 papers indexed in Scopus, you have a long tongue. Probably you are a future candidate for the Nobel Prize of loudmouth. Are you paid by Pfizer, Astra-Zeneca…….

    Like

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  7. Do you know where Barriere’s, Robert’s and Domingo’s communications were published? Do you know who the reviews were, or what their remarks were?

    How ‘special’ can this interest be, if only one group answered Domingo’s call?

    Like

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  9. Ana Pedro

    A lot of scientists, publishers, governments, newspapers and pharmaceutical companies, etc have been profiting or had profited with Covid. The trick is invent that martian monkeys came to hearth, get some authorities and governments and media involved and we will have a big money source.

    Like

  10. Five days ago, journal Liberation in CheckNews echoed Jacques Robert’s letter to the editor
    of the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology,
    citing the For Better Science blog – misspelled with spaces
    – as the source from which journalist obtained the quoted paragraphs of the letter.
    No link to this site included in the article.
    Congratulations.

    “Non, un article scientifique ne démontre pas que les vaccins anti-Covid détraquent le système immunitaire” by Florian Gouthière pub at Liberation 2022 May,06
    https://www.liberation.fr/checknews/non-un-article-scientifique-ne-demontre-pas-que-les-vaccins-anti-covid-detraquent-le-systeme-immunitaire-20220506_3ZDMQXHUC5CO5LCQSXMKQYRTEY/

    Like

  11. Pingback: Lex Bouter, King of Research Integrity – For Better Science

  12. LOL

    Like

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