Category Archives: Pseudoscience

‘More junk getting through to the keeper*’

The whole idea of the peer review process prior to publication is to weed out the junk, so it does not get published. One thing that the alternative therapies have in common is that their journals let a lot of junk science through. Too many studies get published in those journals that should never see the light of day, let alone been conducted so badly in the first place. There are ethical issues at stake in this and the editors of those journals would do well to apprise themselves of publication ethics. Institutional ethics committees or review boards also have a responsibility to prevent bad science from even getting off the ground.

What spurred that little rant was this publication today on ‘The effect of reflexology on the quality of life with breast cancer patients‘ published in the journal, Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice. They do not get much worse than this one.

It was a study that supposedly randomized 60 people with breast cancer into two groups; one group the control and one group getting reflexology; the aim being to see how it affected their quality of life and symptoms. Sounds good on the surface, but:

They ended up with exactly 30 in each group and reading what they did, they did not randomise – even though they said they did! They just allocated them to different groups depending on the day of the week. The assumption of the statistical tests used are that proper randomization is used. Epic Fail. How can the reviewers and editor not see that randomisation did not take place? Regardless of the results of the study, stop there as without proper randomisation the results are meaningless and can not be trusted. As the study was approved by the “Ethical Committee of the Health Science Institute of Ataturk University”, then that ethics committee needs to look at its decision-making process, as all the work that went into this study and the voluntary participation of the participants was wasted.

I have already blogged about reflexology studies almost always ending up with the exact same number in each group when they are supposed to be randomised and this study just confirms that problem.

And while we could stop there as the data can not be trusted, they then went on and did 38 within groups t-tests! Seriously? DId the authors, peer reviewers and editor of the journal not see an alarm bell go of with that?

  • it was a within groups analysis rather than a between groups analysis
  • do that many t-tests, just by chance you will get a statistically significant result
  • no hints of a Bonferroni correction because of the multiple tests.

The author’s conclusion of Reflexology was found to reduce the symptoms experienced by breast cancer patients, while at the same time increasing the functional and general health status simply can not be supported by the data from this study … yet it still made it through to the keeper.

Having said that, a damn good foot massage will probably make anyone with a chronic illness feel better; it is that, that is NOT reflexology and that is NOT supported by the results of this study.

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*for those not familiar with the metaphor: “through to the keeper”; it comes from cricket when the batsman does not even attempt to play at the ball and lets it pass through to the wicket keeper unchallenged.

 

Craig Payne

University lecturer, runner, cynic, researcher, skeptic, forum admin, woo basher, clinician, rabble-rouser, blogger, dad. Follow me on Twitter, Facebook and Google+

Schadenfreude


One probably should not laugh at another’s misfortune, but sometimes it can just not be helped. For those unfamiliar with it, schadenfreude is the German word for just that. There is not an equivalent English word. I recently, twice, had a really good schadenfreude. This had nothing to do with podiatry or the foot, but has everything to do with pseudoscience and junk science.

A predatory journal is the lowest of the low when it comes to the quality of the science that they publish. They have no impact factor and they are a business model based on exploiting academics; and they typically have no or low standards when it comes to the pre-publication peer review process. In other words, a lot of crap gets published in the predatory journals. So if you do crap research and it gets rejected from a decent journal with a good impact factor, then you can assume that a predatory journal might publish your crap. Hylton Menz has blogged about some predatory foot and ankle journals and here is the Wikipedia entry on open access predatory journals.

My schadenfreude involves a really really badly done study comparing the health of vaccinated kids to unvaccinated kids that was published in a predatory journal, presumably as no decent journal would publish it. I won’t get into what is wrong with it as Skeptical Raptor did a good job on that here. Needless to say, the anti-vaccination cult were having all sorts of excitement over this one, once again showing their lack of critical thinking skills as to what was wrong with the study. It really was that bad, but do they care? Of course not, as it fits in with their narrative and preconceived biases. The schadenfreude happened when the cult reacted to the bottom dwelling predatory journal actually retracting the study in the way that they did. Predatory journals do not retract studies, but this study was so bad that this predatory Journal actually did it! Orac did a good job of laughing at the reaction of the cult to the retraction.

Of course, the retraction happened because it was simply bad science; but the cult are so convinced that it is a BigPharma conspiracy that was behind it. That is how blinded by their faith that they are. They are too blinded to understand what is good and bad science and their track record is that they do not do science very well at all (which is why they have the beliefs that they do). The hilarity of their reaction to the retraction is where the schadenfreude comes in.

To add to that it was not long before the exact same study turned up in yet another predatory journal! As reported by Retraction Watch, the study was retracted again by this journal as well. How about that: a study so bad that two predatory journals actually retract it after letting it through their pathetic peer review processes! Yet the cult still think it is one big conspiracy against them. Surely it should be bleedin obvious that there is actually something wrong with the study and that is why two predatory journals retracted it!

The really sad part of all this is the shear futility of trying to engage with cult members over research methodology quality and the actual problems with the study. No matter what you say and do, they can not see it and you are just part of the big conspiracy. They then use the usual gambit of logical fallacies. This puts you on the receiving end of their hate and vitriol, which speaks volumes about what sort of human beings they are. Been there, done that. All you have left then is to ridicule their stupidity, enjoy the schadenfreude that this causes them and wonder how they manage to function day-to-day in society.

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Craig Payne

University lecturer, runner, cynic, researcher, skeptic, forum admin, woo basher, clinician, rabble-rouser, blogger, dad. Follow me on Twitter, Facebook and Google+