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Peer Review and Health Care Issues

Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP, Reporter

https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/12/1/2014/Peer-Review-and-Health-Care-Issues

(Medscape – Dec 1, 2014)

Peer-reviewed journals retracted 110 papers over the last 2 years. Nature reports the grim details in “Publishing: the peer review scam”.

When a handful of authors were caught reviewing their own

papers, it exposed weaknesses in modern publishing systems.

Editors are trying to plug the holes.

 

The Hill reports that the FDA may lift its ban on blood donations from gay men. The American Red Cross has voiced its support for lifting of the ban.

Advisers for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will meet this week to decide whether gay men should be allowed to donate blood, the agency’s biggest step yet toward changing the 30-year-old policy.

If the FDA accepts the recommendation, it would roll back a policy that has been under strong pressure from LGBT advocates and some members of Congress for more than four years.

“We’ve got the ball rolling. I feel like this is a tide-turning vote,” said Ryan James Yezak, an LGBT activist who founded the National Gay Blood Drive and will speak at the meeting. “There’s been a lot of feet dragging and I think they’re realizing it now.”

Groups such as the American Red Cross and America’s Blood Centers also voiced support of the policy change this month, calling the ban “medically and scientifically unwarranted.”

The FDA will use the group’s recommendation to decide whether to change the policy.

“Following deliberations taking into consideration the available evidence, the FDA will issue revised guidance, if appropriate,” FDA spokeswoman Jennifer Rodriguez wrote in a statement.

This reporter has more than 20 years of Blood Bank experience.  The factor in favor of the recommendation is that the HIV 1/2 and other testing is accurate enough to leave the question of donor lifestyle irrelevant.  However, it remains to be seen whether the testing turnaround time is sufficient to prevent the release of units that may be contaminated prior to transfusion, which is problematic for platelets, that have short expirations. In all cases of donor infection, regardless of whether units are released, a finding leads to not releasing the product or to recall.

 

Democrats made a strategic mistake by passing the Affordable Care Act, Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.), the third-ranking member of the Senate Democratic leadership, said Tuesday.

Schumer says Democrats “blew the opportunity the American people gave them” in the 2008 elections, a Democratic landslide, by focusing on healthcare reform instead of legislation to boost the middle class.

“After passing the stimulus, Democrats should have continued to propose middle class-oriented programs and built on the partial success of the stimulus,” he said in a speech at the National Press Club.

He said the plight of uninsured Americans caused by “unfair insurance company practices” needed to be addressed, but it wasn’t the change that people wanted when they elected Barack Obama as president.

“Americans were crying out for an end to the recession, for better wages and more jobs; not for changes in their healthcare,” he said.

This reader finds the observation by Senator Schumer very perceptive, regardless of whether the observation in hindsight might have had a different political outcome.  It has been noted that President Obama had a lot on his plate.  Moreover, we have not seen such a poor record of legislation in my lifetime.  There are underlying issues of worldview of elected officials that also contribute to the events.

 

THE PEER-REVIEW SCAM

BY CAT FERGUSON, ADAM MARCUS AND IVAN ORANSKY

N AT U R E |  2 7 N O V  2 0 1 4; VO L 5 1 5 : 480-82.

Most journal editors know how much effort it takes to persuade busy researchers to review a paper. That is why the editor of The Journal of Enzyme Inhibition and Medicinal Chemistry was puzzled by the reviews for manuscripts by one author — Hyung-In Moon, a medicinal-plant researcher then at Dongguk University in Gyeongju, South Korea.

The reviews themselves were not remarkable: mostly favourable, with some suggestions about how to improve the papers. What was unusual was how quickly they were completed — often within 24 hours. The turnaround was a little too fast, and Claudiu Supuran, the journal’s editor-in-chief, started to become suspicious.

In 2012, he confronted Moon, who readily admitted that the reviews had come in so quickly because he had written many of them himself. The deception had not been hard to set up. Supuran’s journal and several others published by Informa Healthcare in London
invite authors to suggest potential reviewers for their papers. So Moon provided names, sometimes of real scientists and sometimes pseudonyms, often with bogus e-mail addresses that would go directly to him or his colleagues. His confession led to the retraction of 28 papers by several Informa journals, and the resignation of an editor.

Moon’s was not an isolated case. In the past 2 years, journals have been forced to retract more than 110 papers in at least 6 instances of peer-review.

PEER-REVIEW RING
Moon’s case is by no means the most spectacular instance of peer-review rigging in recent years. That honour goes to a case that came to light in May 2013, when Ali Nayfeh, then editor-in-chief of the Journal of Vibration and Control, received some troubling news. An author who had submitted a paper to the journal told Nayfeh that he had received e-mails about it from two people claiming to be reviewers. Reviewers do not normally have direct contact with authors, and — strangely — the e-mails came from generic-looking Gmail accounts rather than from the professional institutional accounts that many academics use (see ‘Red flags in review’).
Nayfeh alerted SAGE, the company in Thousand Oaks, California, that publishes the journal. The editors there e-mailed both the Gmail addresses provided by the tipster, and the institutional addresses of the authors whose names had been used, asking for proof of identity and a list of their publications.ew rigging. What all these cases had in common was that researchers exploited vulnerabilities in the publishers’ computerized systems to dupe editors into accepting manuscripts, often by doing their own reviews. The cases involved publishing behemoths Elsevier, Springer, Taylor & Francis, SAGE and Wiley, as well as Informa, at least one of the systems — could make researchers vulnerable to even more serious identity theft. “For a piece of software that’s used by hundreds of thousands of academics worldwide, it really is appalling,” says Mark Dingemanse, a linguist at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, who has used some of these programs to publish and review papers.

A 14-month investigation that came to involve about 20 people from SAGE’s editorial, legal and production departments. It showed that the Gmail addresses were each linked to accounts with Thomson Reuters’ ScholarOne, a publication-management system used by SAGE and several other publishers, including Informa. Editors were able to track every paper that the person or people behind these accounts had allegedly written or reviewed, says SAGE spokesperson Camille Gamboa. They also checked the wording of reviews, the details of author-nominated reviewers, reference lists and the turnaround time for reviews (in some cases, only a few minutes). This helped the investigators to ferret out further suspicious-looking accounts; they eventually found 130.

SAGE investigators came to realize that authors were both reviewing and citing each other at an anomalous rate. Eventually, 60 articles were found to have evidence of peer-review tampering, involvement in the citation ring or both. “Due to the serious nature of the findings, we wanted to ensure we had researched all avenues as carefully as possible before contacting any of the authors and reviewers,” says Gamboa. When the dust had settled, it turned out that there was one author in the centre of the ring: Peter Chen, an engineer then at the National Pingtung University of Education (NPUE) in Taiwan, who was a co-author on practically all of the papers in question.

PASSWORD LOOPHOLE
Moon and Chen both exploited a feature of ScholarOne’s automated processes. When a reviewer is invited to read a paper, he or she is sent an e-mail with login information. If that communication goes to a fake e-mail account, the recipient can sign into the system under whatever name was initially submitted, with no additional identity verification. Jasper Simons, vice-president of product and market strategy for Thomson Reuters in Charlottesville, Virginia, says that ScholarOne is a respected peer-review system and that it is the responsibility of journals and their editorial teams to invite properly qualified reviewers for their papers.

ScholarOne is not the only publishing system with vulnerabilities. Editorial Manager, built by Aries Systems in North Andover, Massachusetts, is used by many societies and publishers, including Springer and PLOS. The American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington DC uses a system developed in-house for its journals Science, Science Translational Medicine and Science Signaling, but its open-access offering, Science Advances, uses Editorial Manager. Elsevier, based in Amsterdam, uses a branded version of the same product, called the Elsevier Editorial System.

Usually, editors in the United States and Europe know the scientific community in those regions well enough to catch potential conflicts of interest between authors and reviewers. But Lindsay says that Western editors can find this harder with authors from Asia — “where often none of us knows the suggested reviewers”. In these cases, the journal insists on at least one independent reviewer, identified and invited by the editors.

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