Frontiers’ Bread Madness

The journal Frontiers in Human Neurosciences now published a paper titled: “Bread and Other Edible Agents of Mental Disease“. It is authored by two psychologists, Paola Bressan and Peter Kramer from the Department of General Psychology at University of Padova in Italy, and claims “in non-technical, plain English” that mental diseases such as schizophrenia and autism are caused by bread (yes, you read right, bread). In their “review article” Bressan and Kramer claim to provide evidence that bread gluten makes “holes in our gut”, thus activating an immune response, and is degraded into opioid substances (“some of them resemble morphine extremely much”). The casein in milk has allegedly exactly the same effect, and cure for “schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, and autism” is possible by adhering to a strict bread- and milk-free diet. In fact, other staple foods might make you mad as well, as authors conclude:

“Bread is the very symbol of food, and learning that it can threaten our mental wellbeing may come as a shock to many. Yet bread is not alone; like it, other foodstuffs, such as milk, rice, and corn, release exorphins during digestion”.

Though the paper appeared on March 29th, it was meant seriously and not as an April 1st joke. Continue reading “Frontiers’ Bread Madness”

Blatt is back: “open debate cornerstone of scientific process”

Blatt is back: “open debate cornerstone of scientific process”

Michael Blatt, Regius Professor of Botany at the University of Glasgow and Editor-in-Chief of the journal Plant Physiology, is back into the arena, fighting against the anonymity in post-publication peer review (PPPR). I have been in regular email exchange with Blatt, as indicated in my earlier blog post about the advantages of signed PPPR.

Now the British scientist has published another editorial in his journal, titled: “When Is Science ‘Ultimately Unreliable’?”, where he addresses the arguments usually brought up in support of anonymity in PPPR. In his earlier editorial in October 2015, named “Vigilante Science”, Blatt has exposed himself to plenty of criticism, including from my side, and it seems most of it happened due to a misunderstanding.

Because for Blatt (and also for myself), it is important to separate between whistleblowing of potential misconduct on the one hand and “scientific critique” on the other hand, when talking about PPPR. Blatt specifically sets aside “the issues of policing for fraud and whistleblowing “, and declares his assent “on the need to protect the whistleblower”. But also here, he distinguishes in his new editorial between identity protection and anonymous evidence:

“Anonymity is not the answer, however, not if due process is to ensure civil society and protect the innocent from denouncement or worse”.

As journalist, I agree. Though I always take care to protect my sources when they do not wish to be named, I certainly prefer knowing who these sources are, for a number of good reasons. Yet I also occasionally take hints from those whose identity or association I do not know at all, it really depends on the nature of information they share. Continue reading “Blatt is back: “open debate cornerstone of scientific process””

Jingmai O’Connor interview: if you have valid criticisms, publish them!

Jingmai O’Connor, a 32-year old professor at the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, has been recently harshly criticised for her opinions on scientific blogging, which were published as a Q&A for Current Biology. Such interviews are generally reserved for outstanding and successful scientists, who are seen as role models and influencers.

O’Connor’s last reply, to a question of academic commenting via blogs and social media, produced a Twitterstorm of indignation. Many on Twitter were debating: did O’Connor really accuse all blogging scientists of being incapable of proper academic publishing? Did she really mean to say, as Lenny Teytelman summarized it, “Good scientists publish. shitty ones blog”? Is doing both mutually exclusive?

Continue reading “Jingmai O’Connor interview: if you have valid criticisms, publish them!”

No laughing matter

A small, highly specialized medical journal makes its first attempt at satire in 21 years. The New Year’s Eve spoof paper in question was a pretend randomized controlled trial (RCT), where toddlers were claimed to have been deliberately exposed to pain in order to study the efficiency of their mothers’ kisses at alleviating it. The author and the journal’s editor-in-chief intended this satire of evidence-based medicine (EBM) exclusively for their dedicated clinician readers, and did not expect a wave of anger, ridicule and confusion over social networks. Much less so, they did not expect being accused of predatory publishing. Now both found themselves in the need of explaining the humoristic nature of their publication and the original target of the satire.

The paper, which appeared on December 29th 2015 in the Wiley-published Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice (JECP) was easily recognizable as satire to anyone who spent at least a minute considering its title or reading its abstract.

It was titled: “Maternal kisses are not effective in alleviating minor childhood injuries (boo-boos): a randomized, controlled and blinded study”. Authored by “The Study of Maternal and Child Kissing (SMACK) Working Group”, it claimed to have exposed almost one thousand children to “experimentally induced minor injuries”, by tricking them into touching a 50°C hot plate or bump their heads under the table. The toddlers’ mothers were then supposed to either kiss or not kiss the injuries, while “‘sham’ kisses were delivered by a trained researcher”. Children’s pain was then measured using “a 15-point, five-domain, non-verbal tool”. Continue reading “No laughing matter”