Thursday, May 17, 2018

Tobacco Research Is Not Immune to Scientific Scrutiny

Recently, the authors of a research article on e-cigarettes groundlessly attacked my credentials and academic independence after I noted, in a letter to journal editors, a lack of scientific rigor in their reporting. The article falsely claimed that e-cigarette use caused experimental smokers to become regular smokers.  In response to my critical remarks, the authors made these charges in their own letter to the editors: “This recent comment is another in a long series of letters or comments from Dr. Rodu…in which he has criticized research that is inconsistent with the tobacco industry’s interests in promoting e-cigarettes and smokeless tobacco.”

As an academician, I have both authored articles and scrutinized tobacco research for many years, advising journal editors on those occasions when I found factual deficiencies in published articles.  This effort has served the interests of science and the pursuit of truth.

Professional medical journals position themselves as platforms for the publication of honest, transparent, reproducible research.  In an effort to identify inaccuracies and other defects, submissions are subjected to review by editors and multiple external authorities who are experts in relevant fields.

Over the last 24 years, in addition to my authorship of 54 peer-reviewed articles for medical and scientific journals (here), I have had 11 letters of scientific criticism published in leading journals, linked below.               

1.  Rodu B, Cole P.  Excess Mortality in Smokeless Tobacco Users Not Meaningful.  American Journal of Public Health 85:118, 1995.

2. Rodu B, Cole P. Smokeless Tobacco and Periodontal Disease. Letters to the Editor. Journal of Dental Research 84:1086-1088, 2005.

3. Rodu B, Cole P. A deficient study of smokeless tobacco use and cancer (letter).  International Journal of Cancer 118: 1585, 2005.

4. Rodu B. Snus and the risk of cancer of the mouth, lung, and pancreas.  Lancet 370: 1207, 2007.

5. Rodu B.  Smokeless tobacco: Society response debatable (electronic letter).  CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians 2008; 58. 

6. Rodu B, Heavner KK.  Errors and omissions in the study of snuff use and hypertension (letter).  Journal of Internal Medicine 265: 507-8, 2009.

7. Rodu B, Heavner KK, Phillips CV.  Snuff use and stroke (letter).  Epidemiology 20: 468-9, 2009.

8. Rodu B.  Dual use (letter).  Nicotine & Tobacco Research 13: 221, 2011.

9. Rodu B, Plurphanswat N, Phillips CV.  Discrepant results for smoking and cessation among electronic cigarette users (letter).  Cancer 2015 Mar 4. doi: 10.1002/cncr.29307. [Epub ahead of print]

10. Rodu B, Phillips CV.  Regarding “Discontinuation of Smokeless Tobacco and Mortality Risk after Myocardial Infarction” (letter).  Circulation 2015 Apr 28;131(17):e422. doi: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.114.012038.

11. Rodu B.  Re: Smokeless tobacco use and the risk of head and neck cancer: pooled analysis of US studies in the INHANCE consortium.  American Journal of Epidemiology 2017  DOI: 10.1093/aje/kwx211

All scientific research should be subjected to rigorous objective review. On those occasions when pre-publication editorial and peer review fail to identify deficiencies, honest criticism should be encouraged and acknowledged by offending publications.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Pediatrics Editors Claim Compliance with – But Instead Violate Publication Ethics Guidelines

In previous blog posts I described how Pediatrics editors refused to retract a fatally flawed study by University of California San Francisco authors (here and here).  I also described how they allowed publication of unsubstantiated ad hominem attacks, then tried to cover them up by scrubbing the journal website (here). 

Carl Phillips afforded the editors a chance to account for their unprofessional actions in an article at The Daily Vaper (here).  They responded by saying that their actions were consistent with the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) guidelines for journals.  This is demonstrably false.  The editors violated three of the guidelines (available here).

The COPE guidelines say that “Editors are accountable and should take responsibility for everything they publish.” 

However, instead of taking responsibility for publishing an ad hominem attack, they simply erased the attack from the Pediatrics website with no retraction or apology (here).  To make matters worse, they also deleted another comment by Bates and colleagues (here), which violated another COPE principle:

Editors should adopt editorial policies that encourage maximum transparency and complete, honest reporting.”

Carl Phillips described another instance of zero transparency:

“During the dispute over the comments, the editors informed Rodu that they were commissioning an independent ‘expert’ review of the dispute. Clearly there was no genuinely expert review, because that would have concluded that Rodu was right and Chaffee’s comment was nonsense. The editors did not post the review to the comments thread, as they should have, and refused a request by The Daily Vaper to see a copy of it.”

Finally, as Phillips and I have documented in detail, the Pediatrics editors violated a third principle:

Editors should guard the integrity of the published record by issuing corrections and retractions when needed and pursuing suspected or alleged research and publication misconduct.”

The original manuscript from Benjamin W. Chaffee, Shannon Lea Watkins, and Stanton A. Glantz was never retracted after it was clearly demonstrated to be deficient, and the Pediatrics editors – Drs. Lewis First (University of Vermont), Alex Kemper (Nationwide Children’s Hospital, Columbus Ohio) and Mark Neuman (Harvard) – are guilty of publication misconduct.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Pediatrics Journal Ignores Its Stated Editorial Standards

The journal Pediatrics in March published an article by University of California San Francisco’s Benjamin Chaffee, Shannon Lea Watkins and Stanton Glantz claiming that e-cigarettes lead to smoking. The claim was baseless; the authors ignored subjects’ past smoking activity, as I explained in an earlier blog post (here).

On March 15, I submitted a comment to the journal with a re-analysis of Chaffee’s data using the omitted variable and demonstrating the invalidity of Chaffee’s claim.  On the basis of this flaw, I requested retraction of the article. 

Our comment was published on the Pediatrics website March 30, along with a response from Chaffee et al. that further validated a retraction (here).  Their response included an attack on my independence, veracity and transparency.  Clive Bates, David Sweanor, David Abrams and Raymond Niaura endorsed our analysis in an April 11 comment, labeling Chaffee’s response “inadequate, disappointing and surprising.”  They pointed out that it was “disappointing because the authors, apparently with the approval of the journal, have resorted to an ad hominem attack on Rodu and without showing any improper conduct or incomplete disclosure.” 

I had responded to the attack by Chaffee et al. with an email to the Pediatrics editors on April 9:

“Chaffee et al. stated that my ‘financial ties to the tobacco industry are much more extensive than the posted disclosures suggest.’ This is false, defamatory and potentially libelous on two accounts, alleging that I made an inadequate disclosure, and that I have more ‘financial ties.’ My disclosure was accurate and complete. In addition, the website they cited contains no supporting evidence for their allegation, because I have no other financial ties or conflicts of interest. The journal has specific policies prohibiting both defamatory/libelous comments and weblinks. These policies also provide guidance for your immediate attention to this matter.” (here)

On or about April 24, Pediatrics published a revised response from Chaffee et al.  Their fictitious claims about “financial ties” had disappeared, but the revised text carried the same date as the authors’ original comment.  The editors failed to indicate a correction had been made, and that erroneous and disparaging remarks had been removed.  The editors had allowed the libelous statements to remain on the journal site for nearly a month; the offending remarks are still available elsewhere on the Internet (here).

The editors violated the journal’s stated policy: “Once a comment has been posted on the website, you will not have the right to have it removed or edited… Be sure to follow all of the consideration criteria below; you will not be able to modify your comment after submission.” (emphasis in original)

Compounding this journalistic failure, the editors encouraged Clive Bates and colleagues to edit their published comment and delete language countering Chaffee et al.’s defamatory remarks.  When Bates did not immediately comply, the editors deleted the entire Bates comment.  However, it is still available here.

Journal editors Drs. Lewis First (University of Vermont), Alex Kemper (Nationwide Children’s Hospital, Columbus Ohio) and Mark Neuman (Harvard) owe Pediatrics readers full compliance with their journal’s editorial standards, including a detailed correction notice and republication of the full text of the Bates et al. comment.