A homeopathy article has been available for a number of years in PLOS One.
Senior editors are unresponsive to requests to remove it.
Being seen as publishing a homeopathy article further tarnishes the reputation of what was once the premier open access mega journal. It suggests inadequate editorial oversight, to say the least.
But readers have to appreciate the cleverness of the authors before deciding whether the editor and reviewers were asleep at the wheel.
[Another instance of ‘If we could only see the reviews and the editor’s acceptance letter.]
Here is the article. Would you suspect it was about homeopathy?
Would you be tipped off by the abstract?
Some whistleblowers tried to sound an alert at PubPeer. They were ignored.
More recently the whistleblowers contacted me. I encouraged them to deal directly with the senor administrative staff of PLOS One, not one of the 5,000 lowly Academic Editors like me.
They did not get a response and so re-contacted me. I encouraged them to post a comment on the article at the article at the PLOS website. They did, but it was not exactly getting the attention of Martin Luther’s 95 theses nailed to the door of the Catholic Church in Wittenberg. So, I am publicizing their comment and hoping to mobilize those who still want to preserve the reputation of the PLOS One megajournal.
I posted a complaint as a comment on the article. But with the current method of alerting readers to comments, it will probably be ignored. My comment:
As a PLOS One Academic Editor, I am greatly disappointed in the editorial process at PLOS One that essentially allowed into the journal a stealth homeopathy article published by authors with declared conflicts of interest.
I resent the journal being reduced to an outlet for junk science infomercials. The readership deserves better and the reputation of the journal will suffer from this article being available under the PLOS banner.
No competing interests declared.
The whistleblowers were quite clear in their comment, which was a splendid display of forensic probing of a failure of peer review. I encourage readers to consider their full comment. But here is an excerpt. They stated:
Homeopathy in disguise. First, we need to clarify that this is an article about homeopathy, although the word «homeopathy» is never explicitly mentioned.
1. The authors state: “In the last decade, a number of publications devoted to the so called «release-active forms of drugs» have appeared …”. It was observed that during the process of decreasing the initial concentration of a drug substance by multiple consecutive dilution or grinding (trituration) with lactose that the end products of such a process have physicochemical and biological properties which are different from the initial substance properties.”
This is a claim that homeopathy makes.
Also, note that the “number of publications” about the “release active forms of drugs,” are exclusively papers published by those affiliated with OOO “NPF “MATERIA MEDICA HOLDING” – a Russian Company that markets a number of drugs which contain active ingredients diluted beyond Avogadro’s limit.
We also note that independent research groups do not use the terms “release active forms of drugs” or “release active forms of antibodies” (RA forms of Abs).
2. The authors state: “RA forms of Abs to IFN-gamma contain release-active dilutions of antibodies to IFN-gamma consisting of a mixture of C12+C30+C50 final dilutions.”.
Here the object of the study is described using homeopathic terminology. When translated this means the following: a mixture of rabbit polyclonal antibodies to recombinant human interferon gamma diluted to the power of 10-24, 10-60 and 10-100.Or in other words: containing no measurable quantities of antibodies.
Even the 10-24 dilution is indistinguishable from zero. Note that these preparations were eventually diluted even further (at least to ~10-28) during the actual experiments. The claim that dilutions of substances beyond Avogadro’s limit have specific effects is a homeopathic claim.
Inadequately disclosed conflict of interest?
The whistleblowers claim:
The authors, including Oleg Epstein – CEO of the abovementioned Company, are not telling the truth when they state that “There are no patents, products in development or marketed products to declare”.
In fact, “RA forms of Abs to IFN-gamma” are the claimed “active ingredient» of one of the Company’s products called ‘Anaferon for Children.’. The article by Gavrilova et al. is listed on the Company’s website in the section called «Anaferon for Children», subheading “Articles, Preclinical”» . It is also actively self-cited by the Company in contexts such as “Data obtained using ELISA and piezoelectric immunosensors evidences that anaferon is able to modify IFNγ affinity to specific antibodies to IFNγ”  and even in statements that the main mechanism of action for ‘Anaferon’ is to improve ligand to receptor binding affinity.
Would the new Senior Editor kindly add to his to-do list?
The new Senior Editor in Chief, Joerg Heber has not been on the job for very long. Arguably he cannot be held responsible for what his predecessor did or did not do. But, if anyone is, he is the protector of the integrity of PLOS One and its brand.
I would suggest that he might give some attention to this stealth homeopathy paper appearing in PLOS One…of course, after he cleans up the mess of the PACE investigators prominently misrepresenting themselves as compliant with PLOS One’s data sharing policies.
Joerg, while you are up, could you get us the data that were promised to be available? Thanks in advance.
Please don’t ask what he will do. I am just a lowly Academic Editor and the remote senior editorial staff would not even be able to pick me out of a police line up. Yup, it is that bad at PLOS One.
For those who want to know more-
Avogadro’s number, number of units in one mole of any substance (defined as its molecular weight in grams), equal to 6.022140857 × 10 23. The units may be electrons, atoms, ions, or molecules, depending on the nature of the substance and the character of the reaction (if any)
The laws of chemistry state that there is a limit to the dilution that can be made without losing the original substance altogether. This limit, which is related to Avogadro’s number (6.023 x 1023), corresponds to homeopathic potencies of 12C or 24X (1 part in 1024). Modern proponents claim that even when the last molecule is gone, a “memory” of the original substance is retained. A 30X dilution means that the original substance has been diluted 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 times. Assuming that a cubic centimeter contains 15 drops, this number is greater than the number of drops of water that would fill a container more than 50 times the size of the earth and a 30C solution would require a container more than 30 billion times the size of the Earth.
For practical purposes, this means that “30X” and “30C” solutions do not actually exist, because it is not possible to create a solution in which one molecule of an original substance is dissolved in a container of water bigger than the Earth.
Probably not a good place to bring this up, but:
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