Trial By Error: BMJ Responds to Appeals About Norway’s CBT-Music Therapy Study

By David Tuller, DrPH

Earlier this week, I sent a nudge to Professor Imti Choonara, editor-in-chief of BMJ Paediatrics Open, and Fiona Godlee, editorial director of BMJ, about a problematic “feasibility study” published a few months ago. That followed a letter two weeks ago, to which I had not received a response. Previous posts on this issue are here and here.

This morning, I received a message from BMJ’s “research integrity coordinator.” Hm. That seems like an important position at BMJ, given what appears to be a major lack of research integrity in some of the papers I have examined.

Anyway, the research integrity coordinator promises to have an answer in two weeks! That would be nice. Before I get too excited, however, I need to remind myself that it took BMJ a year to figure out what to say about the Lightning Process study–including how to correct/clarify it without having to retract it. So I’ll withhold judgment until we see what happens.

Below is the letter I received, followed by my response. I cc’d my co-signatories on the original letter, along with Professor Choonara and Dr Fiona Godlee.

**********

Dear David Tuller, 

We are writing to confirm receipt of your below complaint. We are looking into your concerns with the appropriate contacts and we will get back to you within the next two weeks with a formal response. If the discussion is still ongoing at this point, so that a formal response is not yet possible, we will be in touch to confirm that this is the case. 

Kind regards, 
Simone Ragavooloo
Research Integrity Coordinator

**********

Dear Ms Ragavooloo–

I appreciate your response to the concerns my colleagues and I have raised about the (so-called) “feasibility study” by Wyller et al. I look forward to hearing within two weeks how BMJ has resolved this matter. Given that the facts are straightforward, deciding what to do in a way that conforms to BMJ’s research integrity guidelines should be easy. 

In recent years, many have vented about the problems arising from outcome-switching–one of the serious issues I have documented in Wyller et al. But this BMJ Paediatrics Open paper is the first I’ve read that engages in what I guess one could call “trial-status-downgrading”–that is, presenting a fully powered trial that failed to meet expectations as if it were a feasibility study designed to provide data to support a fully powered trial.
 
I have not seen discussion of this phenomenon alongside the discussion of outcome-switching. Perhaps that’s because it never occurred to anyone–at BMJ or elsewhere–that serious investigators would engage in such behavior.

This is also the first time I have read a peer review in which the reviewer frankly admitted they had not read the paper they were asked to review. In this case, BMJ Paediatrics Open has not only published a study that appears to have violated core scientific principles, it published the study in violation of its own obligation to submit research to rigorous peer review. 

Given BMJ’s obligation to safeguard the health of children with serious illness–a very vulnerable population–I look forward to a quick decision on this unfortunate matter. I have cc’d my colleagues on this response, as well as Professor Choonara and Dr Godlee.

Best–David

David Tuller, DrPH
Senior Fellow in Public Health and Journalism
Center for Global Public Health
School of Public Health
University of California, Berkeley 

{ 12 comments… add one }
  • Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt, PhD 18 June 2020, 11:46 am

    They left themselves a huge loophole: ‘If the discussion is still ongoing at this point, so that a formal response is not yet possible’ as you know, and answered in your reply.

    They are hoping you will forget, or go away, or find something shinier within the next two weeks.

    Don’t.

  • Dom Salisbury 18 June 2020, 12:07 pm

    I’m glad you brought up the reviewer-who-did-not-get-passed-the-abstract, David. That is absolutely scandalous.

    Keep up the good work!

  • CT 18 June 2020, 8:30 pm

    I hope this means that the BMJ are taking the matter seriously now.

  • jimells 19 June 2020, 9:57 am

    Does the “research integrity coordinator” have a corner office or share space in the basement with the brooms and mops? I’ll bet dollars to donuts that it is the latter.

    Like every other important social institution, the scientific knowledge industry has been hollowed out by the Wall Street (and Bay Street and City of London) financial parasites. Until academics are willing to face this fact and organize a movement to take control of their institutions, scientific publishing will continue to be all about marketing instead of the search for knowledge.

  • Jeremy Nicoll 22 June 2020, 8:05 am

    The “Research Integrity Coordinator” does seem to be a formal post (so might not work amongst brooms and mops), working with a doctor who has similar responsibilities. There’s information about them both at: https://www.bmj.com/company/researchintegrity/meet-the-team/

  • Danielle Perry 24 June 2020, 12:48 pm

    I was cured of herpes simplex virus 1 & 2 and Hepatitis-b by a great herbal doctor called Robinson Buckler with the use of different combination of Africa herbs. it is still like a dream to me. There is no word suitable enough to qualify your significant in my life dear doctor. You can contact him via Robinsonbucler@ ( gmail. ) com, My little way to appreciate you doctor is to advertise your great work and that is what i am doing now ……. https://www.robinbuckler. com

  • Margie Peden 24 June 2020, 12:49 pm

    I was cured of herpes simplex virus 1 & 2 and Hepatitis-b by a great herbal doctor called Robinson Buckler with the use of different combination of Africa herbs. it is still like a dream to me. There is no word suitable enough to qualify your significant in my life dear doctor. You can contact him via Robinsonbucler@ ( gmail. ) com, My little way to appreciate you doctor is to advertise your great work and that is what i am doing now …….

  • Sally Collins 24 June 2020, 1:25 pm

    Contact Robinson buckler to get complete herbal cure for herpes virus and other deadly disease. I use to be positive with herpes virus but am completely negative now with the help of Robinson buckler Herbs. I got to know about Robinson buckler and he sent me a herbal medicine that i took for 17 days and now i am completely Negative of herpes virus without any side effect or complain. Contact Robinson buckler for cure to all disease and i am sure you will find complete solution with him. Email: Robinsonbuckler @yahoo. com for more information about him.
    He can also cure the following diseases/virus,
    1) HIV/AIDs Virus
    2) Hepatitis B and C
    3) Herpes
    4) Cancer
    5) ZIKA VIRUS
    6) COPD
    7) STROKE.
    8) Erectile Dysfunction
    9) Trichomoniasis
    10) Chlaydia
    11) Gonorrhea
    12) HPV
    13) Syphilis

  • Charles 26 June 2020, 3:05 pm

    I read this article and it made me think about what you’ve been exposing here on Virology. It seems like it’s not just in ME/CFS research these problems are present, but I can’t imagine it’s this bad in other areas of medicine. At least I hope not, for the sake of the patients.

    https://www.wired.com/story/peer-reviewed-scientific-journals-dont-really-do-their-job/

  • lucie webb 27 June 2020, 8:07 am

    Yet again an Australian shows us the way and gives credence to David’s highlighting eminence-based medicine. Quote from the American, Heckenlively, “The question remains whether science is willing to look at its own past practices and exhume those that people like Coffin have tried to bury.”

  • Lene Christiansen 28 June 2020, 3:40 pm

    BMJ’s reviewer had not read the paper. How embarrasing that must be. Or not…?

Leave a Comment