After demanding parts of an article published in the Journal of Health Psychology be retracted, the PACE investigators requested their response be published without peer review and with no comments allowed.
This episode is part of a continuing saga of the PACE investigators attempts to exert extraordinary control over what is said about their work.
The predicament of the scientific community with respect to the PACE trial fits well with John Ioannidis has termed “scientific inbreeding” where an interconnected group is able, temporarily at least, to dominate a scientific area and control and contain criticism of flaws consistently characterizing their work. We may well be witnessing a break in that control and the beginning of a decline effect, where independent critique and re-analysis of data make those flaws more inescapably obvious.
The emails that will be reproduced below came after the PACE investigators lobbied some members of editorial board and asked them to demand the article be retracted and to threaten resignation if it were not retracted.
As I previously described, when I reviewed their submission , the PACE investigators refused to revise their manuscript. Instead, they threatened to complain to the Committee for Publication Ethics because my public criticism of them should have established that I had a conflict of interest in reviewing the paper.
Before that, the PACE investigators requested partial retraction of a commentary by Keith Geraghty in Journal of Health Psychology. They said he must remove claims and language that offended the PACE investigators. The PACE investigators further demanded that the journal issue a correction to the article that acknowledged that Geraghty had not revealed that he suffered from chronic fatigue syndrome. This, the PACE investigators, constituted an undeclared conflict of interest.
The article to which the PACE investigators were objecting is:
Geraghty KJ. ‘PACE-Gate’: When clinical trial evidence meets open data access. Journal of Health Psychology DOI: HTTPS://DOI.ORG/10.1177/1359105316675213
The email to the Editor of Journal of Health Psychology
Dear Dr Marks,
Thank you for your quick response. We appreciate your offer of a published response, but suggest that a response to a published article would normally be reviewed by an editor, rather than going to blind review. This would also speed up publication, and quick publication of our response is essential. We would also appreciate your reassurance that our response will be electronically linked to the Geraghty article.
You say that Dr Geraghty used moderate language, but we would respectfully disagree. Saying something appears to be so implies that one believes it is so. Dr Geraghty questioned the integrity of the PACE trial team, and did so without any evidence. For example, where is the evidence that we neglected or bypassed “accepted scientific procedures and standards”, when the trial was peer reviewed for funding, ethically approved, independently overseen, and published after peer review in a high impact journal? Whilst we are less concerned by the number of simple errors in this piece – although surprised that they passed peer review – we suggest that the personal and arguably defamatory (how else would one describe “bypassing accepted scientific procedures and standards”?) comments made in this article should have no place in a scientific journal. We therefore again ask you to revise the article to remove all these comments.
Professors White, Chalder and Sharpe
On behalf of the PACE trial team
Then, the Principal Investigator objected that others would be allowed to publish a commentary on their paper. Actually, in communications with the journal can elect for there to be comments. Three times, White and the PACE investigators (at submission, resubmission, and final approval of the proofs), the group had endorsed commentaries, but now White was asserting that they had done so in error.
From: PD White <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 21 December 2016 at 12:04
Subject: RE: Journal of Health Psychology – Decision on Manuscript ID JHP-16-0873.R1
To: David F Marks <email@example.com>
Dear Dr Marks,
I am surprised that you have asked for commentaries on our editorial response to Dr Geraghty’s editorial, and now ask you to reconsider this.
I pressed the “open peer commentary” button in error, thinking our response was a “commentary” on the original editorial. As I wrote yesterday, it should be considered an editorial, consistent with your promise to publish our response alongside Dr Geraghty’s editorial, and linked to it. If you publish commentaries about our editorial, these would be comments on our commentary on a commentary on our original work. When would this iterative process end? If the new commentaries mention new criticisms, we would want a right of reply to those criticisms.
Thank you for reconsidering this.
The PACE investigators were offered a chance to reply to the responses that their article elicited. Despite requesting that option in the email above, they have now indicated that they will not respond. But of course, they may change their mind has they have done have in the past.
There are more posts to follow about how demanding and threatening the PACE investigators have been. They are obviously used to getting their way. We can’t readily determine the true extent to which journals have caved to them or when critics have been silenced, beyond what gets reported in social media.
In discussing inbred scientific groups, John Ioannidis has described an obliged replication, whereby proponents of “a particular approach are so strong in shaping the literature and controlling the publication venues that they can largely select and mold the results, wording, interpretation of studies eventually published.” However, the occasion of Ioannidis’ comments was the publication of both a n.on-replication in a critique of type D personality by my colleagues and myself. Type D personality had been a dominant perspective in psychosomatic medicine. However, we can now see that our two papers marked a distinct beginning to the rapid decline that followed rapidly. Perhaps the publication of the string of commentaries in Journal of Health Psychology will have the same effect on the biopsychosocial model and cognitive behavior therapy and graded exercise therapy for chronic fatigue syndrome.
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