Prominent Aids researchers contacted Elsevier to object to the article and wrote to the US National Library of Medicine requesting that Medical Hypotheses be removed from the Medline citation database - an act that would exclude it from the mainstream scientific-communication network.Elsevier have now convened an expert panel to decide on the future of Medical Hypotheses, with conclusions due by the end of 2010.
In fact, there is no great mystery as to how these flawed papers came to be published. Medical Hypotheses is not peer reviewed: instead, decisions on publication are taken solely by the journal's editor, Prof Bruce Charlton. Articles are often accepted within days, or even hours, of being submitted, suggesting there is little or no quality control on what gets published. Prof Charlton defends this process on two grounds: firstly, that there ought to be some outlet for speculative and bizarre ideas that will not be published by mainstream journals. Secondly, that Medical Hypotheses is a successful and influential journal. Here's what he has to say on the comments following the THES article:
The basic facts are that Medical Hypotheses - www.elsevier.com/locate/mehy - is explicitly and proudly editorially-reviewed (i.e. by me - not peer reviewed); aims to publish radical and revolutionary scientific ideas; and it is objectively a successful journal. It makes a profit, the Thomson ISI Impact Factor is 1.416 (much better than average, and rising), and I know from internal sources that there are half a million papers downloaded per year - which is equivalent download usage to the prestigious Journal of Theoretical Biology. Clearly, in spite or because of our policy to publish bold and sometimes bizarre ideas, Medical Hypotheses plays a significant role in medical science. Fact; not opinion. The editorial advisory board currently includes such respected figures as Nobelist Arvid Carlsson http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arvid_Carlsson; Sir Roy Calne http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roy_Calne; Antonio Damasio http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antonio_Damasio and V.S. Ramachandran http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vilayanur_S._Ramachandran . Past editorial advisors have included Sir Karl Popper and Nobelist Sir James Black. *** There are only two possible legitimate outcomes to the current process. Either: 1. Medical Hypotheses could continue as an influential, profitable and well-known editorially-reviewed journal with a radical mission. Or else: 2. The journal could be closed-down altogether, and the title abolished. But it would obviously not be ethically acceptable to launch a new ‘imposter’ journal - with utterly different editorial aims, procedures and personnel; yet retaining the 34 year established title of Medical Hypotheses.As I keep saying, the impact factor of a journal tells you nothing about its quality. For example, here are three peer-reviewed pseudojournals that repeatedly publish abject nonsense and pdeudoscience, with their impact factors according to Journal Citation Reports:
- Homeopathy: 1.041
- Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine: 1.954
- Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine: 1.628
But the main point here is about radical and controversial hypotheses. I think most people would agree that these have their place in scientific discourse, and there ought to be somewhere to publish them. However, this isn't really what the argument is about. In this case, two fatally flawed papers were published with little or no scrutiny: these papers have potential global health implications. In the case of the Duesberg paper, reviews posted on the Denying AIDS blog show the major problems with the paper. There's a difference between publishing provocative ideas that might inspire new research, and ones that are just demonstrably wrong. While the likes of Peter Duesberg have the right to say what they like, they don't have the right to say it in a MEDLINE-indexed journal. This is not an argument about free speech, it's an argument about the integrity of the scientific literature. There may be a place for journals such as Medical Hypotheses, but there has to be some level of quality control. Otherwise, why should anyone take them seriously?