Friday, January 25, 2008

"Cheating" in medical research

I must say that I am not surprised at all. Most of what I see in the field is deeply unserious and irresponsible

Cheating is on the rise in academic circles, as scientists increasingly claim fradulent glory by plagiarising the work of others - and even themselves. In medical research alone, the number of such "duplicate" scientific reports has roughly trebled since 1975, as scientists face increasing pressure to publish or perish and the likelihood of escaping detection is high.

The disturbing claim comes from Mounir Errami and Harold Garner at the University of Texas Southwest Medical Center in Dallas. They developed and used an automated text-matching tool, eTBLAST, to trawl through more than 7 million related scientific abstracts held in the online database Medline, which indexes more than 5000 international journals. "We estimate there are potentially more than 200,000 duplicates in Medline (now)," they reported last night in the journal Nature.

They claimed that not only can eTBLAST detect suspect publications, it could be used to discourage "unscrupulous scientists" from behaving badly. "The fear of having some transgression exposed in a public and embarrassing manner could be a very effective deterrent," they suggested.

Ken Baldwin, head of the umbrella group Federation of Scientific and Technological Societies, agreed that tools such as eTBLAST could be wielded against cheats once checks were built into the system to prevent false identification. "There is the potential for even stronger deterrence of this sort of practice which is already at a very low level (in Australia)," he said.

That's why Dr Errami and Dr Garner will not reveal names and insitutions flagged by eTBLAST until they have manually checked each duplicate and contacted the individuals and journals affected. They have, though, broken their data down by country of origin and posted results in an online database called Deja Vu.

More than 600 duplications originated in Australia. Most duplicates came from countries that submitted the most papers for publication: the US, Japan, Germany, China, Britain, Italy, France and Canada. But the duplication rate for China and Japan was twice that expected.


Marijuana deadlier than cigarettes

HEAVY pot smokers will suffer serious lung disease two decades earlier than their cigarette-smoking counterparts, researchers have found. The deep, slow inhalation and long breath hold is predisposing cannabis smokers to a condition of rapid lung destruction much younger in life, a study by Melbourne scientists has found.

A team from the Department of Allergy, Immunology and Respiratory Medicine at Monash University reviewed the lung condition of middle-aged chronic cannabis smokers. They found high rates of bullous lung disease, a debilitating condition where air trapped in the lungs causes obstruction to breathing and eventual destruction of the organ. It is often caused by exposure to toxic chemicals or long-term exposure to tobacco smoke.

Studies have shown the disease will most likely strike tobacco smokers around the age of 65, but the new review, published in the journal Respirology, shows dope smokers are being hit 20 years earlier, while in their early 40s. Lead author Dr Matthew Naughton said the disease could easily go undetected as patients suffering lung breakdown may show normal chest X-rays and lung functions.

"What is outstanding about this study is the relatively young ages of the lung disease patients, as well as the lack of abnormality on chest X-rays and lung functions in nearly half of the patients we tested," Dr Naughton said.

Marijuana smokers inhale more and hold their breath four times longer than cigarette smokers. Dr Naughton said the breathing style increased the concentration and pulmonary deposition of inhaled particulate matter, causing greater and faster rapid lung destruction. "Marijuana is inhaled as extremely hot fumes to the peak inspiration and held for as long as possible before slow exhalation," he said. "This predisposes to greater damage to the lungs and makes marijuana smokers more prone to bullous disease as compared to cigarette smokers."

The researchers said the effects of marijuana smokers on the lung were rarely reported and poorly understood considering the popularity of the habit. A recent Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report suggested 11 per cent of Australians smoke marijuana. Rates are must higher among teenagers, with almost one in five trying the substance.



Just some problems with the "Obesity" war:

1). It tries to impose behavior change on everybody -- when most of those targeted are not obese and hence have no reason to change their behaviour. It is a form of punishing the innocent and the guilty alike. (It is also typical of Leftist thinking: Scorning the individual and capable of dealing with large groups only).

2). The longevity research all leads to the conclusion that it is people of MIDDLING weight who live longest -- not slim people. So the "epidemic" of obesity is in fact largely an "epidemic" of living longer.

3). It is total calorie intake that makes you fat -- not where you get your calories. Policies that attack only the source of the calories (e.g. "junk food") without addressing total calorie intake are hence pissing into the wind. People involuntarily deprived of their preferred calorie intake from one source are highly likely to seek and find their calories elsewhere.

4). So-called junk food is perfectly nutritious. A big Mac meal comprises meat, bread, salad and potatoes -- which is a mainstream Western diet. If that is bad then we are all in big trouble.

5). Food warriors demonize salt and fat. But we need a daily salt intake to counter salt-loss through perspiration and the research shows that people on salt-restricted diets die SOONER. And Eskimos eat huge amounts of fat with no apparent ill-effects. And the average home-cooked roast dinner has LOTS of fat. Will we ban roast dinners?

6). The foods restricted are often no more calorific than those permitted -- such as milk and fruit-juice drinks.

7). Tendency to weight is mostly genetic and is therefore not readily susceptible to voluntary behaviour change.

8). And when are we going to ban cheese? Cheese is a concentrated calorie bomb and has lots of that wicked animal fat in it too. Wouldn't we all be better off without it? And what about butter and margarine? They are just about pure fat. Surely they should be treated as contraband in kids' lunchboxes! [/sarcasm].

9). And how odd it is that we never hear of the huge American study which showed that women who eat lots of veggies have an INCREASED risk of stomach cancer? So the official recommendation to eat five lots of veggies every day might just be creating lots of cancer for the future! It's as plausible (i.e. not very) as all the other dietary "wisdom" we read about fat etc.

10). And will "this generation of Western children be the first in history to lead shorter lives than their parents did"? This is another anti-fat scare that emanates from a much-cited editorial in a prominent medical journal that said so. Yet this editorial offered no statistical basis for its opinion -- an opinion that flies directly in the face of the available evidence.

Even statistical correlations far stronger than anything found in medical research may disappear if more data is used. A remarkable example from Sociology:
"The modern literature on hate crimes began with a remarkable 1933 book by Arthur Raper titled The Tragedy of Lynching. Raper assembled data on the number of lynchings each year in the South and on the price of an acre's yield of cotton. He calculated the correlation coefficient between the two series at -0.532. In other words, when the economy was doing well, the number of lynchings was lower.... In 2001, Donald Green, Laurence McFalls, and Jennifer Smith published a paper that demolished the alleged connection between economic conditions and lynchings in Raper's data. Raper had the misfortune of stopping his analysis in 1929. After the Great Depression hit, the price of cotton plummeted and economic conditions deteriorated, yet lynchings continued to fall. The correlation disappeared altogether when more years of data were added."
So we must be sure to base our conclusions on ALL the data. But in medical research, data selectivity and the "overlooking" of discordant research findings is epidemic.

"What we should be doing is monitoring children from birth so we can detect any deviations from the norm at an early stage and action can be taken". Who said that? Joe Stalin? Adolf Hitler? Orwell's "Big Brother"? The Spanish Inquisition? Generalissimo Francisco Franco Bahamonde? None of those. It was Dr Colin Waine, chairman of Britain's National Obesity Forum. What a fine fellow!


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