Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Why do these corrupt academic journals keep forcing me to publish with them?

A recent retraction notice gave away little information, other than "editor's request". The ex-paper had been in disfavour - with critics arguing that the small samples of sheep robbed the results of rigour and left them indistinguisable from chance - but papers flawed in far worse ways continue to stink up the scientific literature.

Unretouched Graphic Abstract

The important issue addressed by Asín et al. (2018) was that of autism in sheep, and whether this is caused by the neurotoxic ingredients of vaccines. It is certainly not the only "vaccine neurotoxin / autism" paper to find its way into print. Perhaps the Devil-Sheep were the problem.

I have already written about that burgeoning antivax genre, but in the context of the Frontiers stable of journals. This post could be summed up as a compilation of outtakes, involving other journals... most notably, the Journal of Inorganic Biochemistry, with a special mention for the Journal of Trace Elements in Medicine and Biology. From another perspective, this post is a sequel to a J.Inorg.Biochem.-related saga of shenanigans and retractions involving Gene Expression in Vaccinated Mice. Either way, there will be Satanic Sheep. Mice with indestructible crystalline diamond brains who can shoot laser beams from their third-eye pineal glands. Also, diet secrets of the Israeli Defense Forces, and ASIA - not just a 1980s Arena- / Prog-rock band with Roger Dean album covers, but also 'Autoimmunity Syndrome Induced by Adjuvants".

There is much to be said for this new concept of defining syndromes not by their pathognomonic symptoms but by the purported cause. It means that anyone unconvinced by your claim will accept the crucial part by the act of repeating the name, placing it above critique. If only White, Sharpe and Chalder had written about "Unconscious Malingering Syndrome" in their reports on the PACE trail, rather than "ME / Chronic Fatigue Syndrome", they would have forestalled all the bickering about their shifting of goalposts to ensure successful outcomes. But I digress.

Meet the Aluminions

Those of us adept in the dark forgotten arts of 'memory' will recall a widely-entertained theory from the late 1980s, whereby the root cause of Alzheimer's Disease was aluminium (perhaps on account of alliteration). Anxious people traded in their aluminium cookware for cast-iron skillets. After no end of epidemiology and laboratory work the theory succumbed to hostile evidence and fell by the wayside, but no crap idea in psychology is ever abandoned completely, which is why we have a loose network of researchers who are convinced that the neurotoxicity of aluminium is vastly under-rated (or suppressed by the agents of the Industry) - in particular, the aluminium compounds used as an adjuvant in some vaccines (to reduce the amount of actual antigen required in the vaccine, by rousing the immune system from Amber to Red Alert). A sense of persecution, minority status, and Cassandra-like Voices-in-the-Wilderness neglect sometimes inspires these 'Aluminati' to a level of rhetoric more usually expected from manic street preachers.

I write "loose network of researchers" because this is more charitable than "more intellectually inbred than the Hapsburgs and the 18th-Dynasty pharaohs".

Biopersistence and brain translocation of aluminum adjuvants of vaccines”, Gherardi et al.
Edited by: Lucija Tomljenovic
Reviewed by: Lucija Tomljenovic
Clinical features in patients with long-lasting macrophagic myofasciitis”, Gherardi et al.
Edited by: Christopher Ariel Shaw
Reviewed by: Lucija Tomljenovic
The mobilization of aluminum into the biosphere”, Pogue & Lukiw
Edited by: Christopher Ariel Shaw
Reviewed by: Lucija Tomljenovic
"Elevated brain aluminium and early onset Alzheimer’s disease in an individual occupationally exposed to aluminium: a case report”, Exley & Vickers
Reviewed by: Romain Gherardi
Reviewed by: Christopher Shaw
Slow CCL2-dependent translocation of biopersistent particles from muscle to brain”, Khan,... Exley,... Gherardi & Cadusseau
Reviewed by: Carlo Perricone [Shoenfeld / Tomljenovic collaborator]
Reviewed by: Christopher Shaw

The Venice Biennales of this network are the Keele Aluminium Meetings, held under the auspices of the Birchall Centre of Keele University, most recently at a Mexican resort. An arrangement exists with J.Inorg.Biochem. [perhaps the Birchall prestige has beglamored the editors] to publish each meeting's Proceedings in a special issue of the journal, with rigorous peer-review and a guest-editorial role for Prof. Chris Exley. Though the peer-review Homers sometimes nod and the legendary Shaw-Tomljenovic fake-data mouse study slipped past, doomed though it was to subsequent retraction.


Only one component of context remains. In 2010, a group of veterinary scientists (González, ...& De las Heras) reported an outbreak of a mystery neurological disease [which is always the BEST KIND of neurological disease!] in several Spanish sheep-flocks manifesting sometimes in a chronic wasting form of kidney failure and sometimes as acute ovine excitation. They could not establish the etiology (as you may have guessed from the word "mystery") but speculated about a link with a Europe-wide vaccination program against BTV or "Blue-Tongue", a virus which has crossed the species boundary from Chow dogs and Australian lizards.

A second team of Spanish veterinary researchers discovered the same condition in a 2013 paper, and made their bones in the Aluminati by ascribing it to the AlOH adjuvant in the BTV virus (on the basis that no other explanation occurred to them). Team leader Lluis Luján was also the last author of the Asín paper where we began. I do not know if they had ruled out the possibility of "meteorites impacting the affected farms and bringing ultrasidereal phenomena, unidentifiable in colour and inimical to terrestrial life".

Whatever caused the outbreak, it has gone away, while BTV vaccination continues. This has not deterred Luján et al. from conducting a series of studies in which red satanic devil sheep on one's left shoulder whisper the counsels of temptation, while green angelic virtue-sheep on one's right shoulder urge the pathway of righteousness until one collapses under the weight of two sheep.

Strange physical stigmata
NO WAIT I tell a lie. Studies in which the vaccinated sheep invariably exhibit strange physical stigmata while losing language, theory-of-mind and social skills, becoming autistic. Two were published in journals edited by a Professor Shoenfeld, of whom more below: one in Immunologic Research (co-authored by Shoenfeld), the other in Autoimmunity Reviews (co-authored with Gherardi, of whom more below). A third paper was co-authored with Chris Exley, so regular appearances and collaboration at the Keele Meetings were not far away. The common themes throughout were (1) woefully inadequate numbers, and (2) a studious erasure of González et al (2010) from history.

Also there is a movie on the way. I eagerly await a remake of 'Black Sheep'.

When Dr Luján became one of the editors of "Controversies in Vaccine Safety", along with Chris Shaw, Claire Dwoskin and Lucija Tomljenovic, it was a supergroup of Antivax All-Stars! Co-editor Dwoskin's relevant qualification here is "Outraged Mother"... she believes that "Vaccines are a holocaust of poison on our children’s brains and immune systems", and that there are no neuroatypical or challenged children, only cases of "vaccine damage"; so there are no "controversies" either, only proven accusations.

Her other qualification is "One half of a family fortune", which places her and the antivaccine lobby-group Dwoskin Family Foundation in the centre of the Aluminati, funding sympathetic research through the Children's Medical Safety Research Institute (CMSRI). Here "Medical Safety" is code for "banning vaccines". Members of the Aluminati are prominent on the Institute's Scientific Advisory Board, enjoy its hospitality at Caribbean get-togethers. They benefit from its financial generosity, e.g. research grants and sponsorship for Keele Aluminium Meetings.

As for "Controversies in Vaccine Safety", it is only available through those slightly dubious booksellers who can also source copies of the Necronomicon, "The King in Yellow", Whiffle's "On the Care of the Pig" and Volume 5 of Knuth's "Art of Computer Programming". The list of contributors was a Who's Who of Aluminaries [where "who's who" is an unsuccessful anagram for "clown-car-crash"], but the publisher got cold feet, authors pulled out, and nothing of value was lost.

As noted upstream, the editor of Pharmacological Research was coy on the reasons for retracting the Devil-Sheep / Angel-Sheep paper. But the staff writer for CMSRI is a Celeste McGovern, who likes to play dress-up games as Independent Journalist (a lofty pulpit from which she can accuse pro-vaccine authors of being on the payroll of Big Pharma), and she has DARK SUSPICIONS of a CONSPIRACY AT WORK. She also has access to the confidential correspondence between Luján and the journal editors, from which to cherry-pick selective quotes.

Suffice to say that any given Elsevier journal is an epitome of scientific objectivity and the voice of consensus when it accepts a CMSRI paper, but a contemptible cats-paw for Pharma-industry manipulation if it retracts one. To publish with them is now a betrayal of one's antivax purity. We can only marvel at the power of the vaccine lobby, and how it can compel Chris Exley to publish the Keele Proceedings through J.Inorg.Biochem despite his call for a boycott... to sit until until three days ago on the Editorial Board of J.Trace.Elem.Med.Biol., a soft touch for Antivax Science (including his own papers)... not to forget stovepipes like Toxicology.

McGovern paints Luján as a saintly figure - both man of science and humble son-of-the-soil willing to listen to farmers - while his predecessors González et al (2010) disappear from the account completely. We also learn that David Hawkes (a critic of junk science) is both a "small-fry virologist" and a malevolent master-mind: a veritable Fantômas singlehandedly responsible for all the reversals and humiliations inflicted upon antivax scientists, probably including this one.


The scene now shifts to a French school of Aluminati led by Roman Gherardi.

Any survey of their work should begin with the most intemperate Letter to the Editor to be published in an academic journal (Toxicology, 2017b) since Galileo and Kepler and Brahe established disputatious defamation as a literary genre. The tone is one of injured amour-propre, and a magisterial dignity, not to be endangered by stooping to the level of commoners:
We do not consider that we should now spend our time pointing out why the criticisms are either scientifically inept or simply ill-informed opinions.
This was a response to an earlier (2017) Letter from David Hawkes [the same one] and Joanne Benhamu, questioning the ethics approval, and Conflicts of Interest, and the interpretation of results, in "Non-linear dose-response of aluminium hydroxide adjuvant particles: Selective low dose neurotoxicity" (Crépeaux et al. 2017a). In the eyes of Crépeaux et al. (2017b), to ask questions was an act of lese-majeste (while the journal Editors were equally culpable for publishing Hawkes & Benhamu without first asking their permission). They accused Hawkes & Benhamu of fabricating their qualifications and affiliations (the same accusations were published concurrently by Celeste McGovern of CMSRI, raising the prospect of a coordinated attack), and handed down an ex-cathedra declaration that their Letter could never have passed peer-review.

The outrage arose because Letters should meet the same standards and leap the same hurdles as a conventional Paper. The corollary follows that the retraction of a Letter to the Editor is as damaging to the authors' reputations as that of a paper. This being the fate suffered by Crépeaux et al. (2017b) when the journal editors belatedly checked its defamatory tone with their hot-'n'-juicy lawyers. Resplendent in messy details, the saga made its way to RetractionWatch. Then the Retraction was retracted, and replaced with an updated version, while Crépeaux et al. was also replaced with a less actionable response... evasive of Hawkes' questions rather than dismissive of them.

But the real claim to fame for Gherardi and his cohorts is perhaps their discovery of MMF, Macrophagal Myofasciitis (MMM in French), a condition designed to use up all the 'i's left surplus when 'aluminium' is telescoped into the barbarous form 'aluminum'. Originally MMF was characterised by an inflamed, persistent lump (lesion) at the site of a vaccination, combined with a lingering pervasive malaise (starting from two days to 23 years after the injection), and it was unknown outside the borders of France, for only Gherardi's colleagues have the necessary training and sensory acuity to diagnose it. In subsequent papers, the diagnostic criteria were relaxed, so that a persistent post-vaccination lump became optional - in effect turning 'MMF' into an alternative label or causative theory for ME/CFS.

Effort went to co-opt existing lobby / support groups for ME/CFS and enlist them to Gherardi's antivaccine crusade. A new group was founded, 'E3M' [which is French for 'astroturf'], purporting to speak for Chronic Fatigue / MMF victims. Through the vaccine-safety agency ANSM, it successfully lobbied the French gubblement to invest €150,000 in Gherardi's research, with the active assistance of other members of the Aluminati (Exley, Shaw and Shoenfeld all vouched for his academic eminence and probity at a 2012 press conference). Specifically, to pay for FLUORESCENT NANO-DIAMONDS.

Sadly, the gubblement ignored the policy implications of Gherardi's research (i.e. "stop vaccinating!"), leaving Gherardi miffed and disgruntled and complaining to the press of CENSORSHIP. More to the point they declined to cough up a further €550,000 for his research to continue.

Laboratory mice did not become crystalline and indestructible and empowered with pineal-gland laser beams... I lied about that part. The goal was for the nanodiamonds, mixed with a dose of vaccine adjuvant, to bind with colloidal particles of aluminium hydroxide (alum), thereby serving as a tracer of where the adjuvant particles ended up in a murine carcass. €150,000 paid for two studies: one varying the dosage of ND/adjuvant potion, the other to trace the progression of the NDs through a rodent's body by varying the time between administration and sacrifice / autopsy of the subjects. Neither provided the desired results.

In the authors' conceptual framework, colloidal particles migrate to the brain, where they wreak neuroinflammatory havoc. They are borne there by phagocytic immune cells - which have evolved to operate as an limb-to-CNS lymphatic shuttle service for aluminium - then crossing the Blood-Brain-Barrier and transferring to the brain's own immune-system microglia cells. Mice, where a few centimetres separate the site of an injection from the brain, were the obvious choice to model the human situation, where the distance to travel is an order of magnitude greater.

Post-mortems of the research program occupy many threads at Pubpeer, which delve into more detail than one could ever require. Suffice to say that to accommodate the results within this framework required post-hoc rationalisations, Ptolemaic epicycles, and the benign neglect of inconvenient data points. Nanodiamonds could not be found in brains when they should be. Behaviours shifted their diagnostic value between 'normal' and 'autistic', depending on which experimental group displayed them. With five dosage groups to choose between, the authors had the luxury of presenting one selection of four groups in a preliminary presentation and another selection in the final paper (dropping the 133-µg group and adding the 400-µg group), but they still could not produce a coherent narrative of the dose / migration relationship.

That is to say, concerns go further than those raised by Hawkes and Benhamu in their Letter that sparked the unseemly brouhaha. Hypotheses were more migratory than colloidal alum particles. As for the time-course aspect, it seems that the brainwards migration of alum / ND tracers all occurred before the first cohort of mice were slain and dissected, or else hadn't yet happened in the final cohort when they made their sacrifice to Science; or both.


We return now to 'ASIA', that clinical / litigation concept introduced by Prof. Y. Shoenfeld and dubbed "Shoenfeld's Syndrome" by his more ardent admirers. The final 'A' in the acronym, 'Adjuvants', is interpreted liberally, stretching to accommodate silicone breast implants and allowing Shoenfeld to subsume siliconosis under the ASIA umbrella. MMF has also been annexed as one of the manifestations of this Protean entity, and by extension, ME/CFS.

Shoenfeld does not limit his practice to aluminium-compound adjuvants, which would mean restricting his focus to HPV and Hep-B vaccines as the prime causes of autoimmune conditions. Squalene is on the list, so as to annex 'Gulf War Syndrome' as another manifestation [vaccines administered to participants in the Gulf War did not contain squalene]. Concerned for their autoimmune potential of adjuvants in the oral Polio vaccine and MMR vaccine, Shoenfeld has called for research (he may not have thought through the implications of "oral", or the absence of adjvants in MMR). Indeed, he first appeared on the scene as a beneficiary of Wakefield's MMR fraud, as part of the Expert Witness fee bonanza from the UK Legal Services Commission.

We have encountered Dr Shoenberg already several times in the co-authorship lists of papers by Gherardi, Luján, Exley, etc. He is a prolific author, although sometimes his writing comes to the attention of the Regrettable Metaphors police.
Unraveling the soul of autoimmune diseases: pathogenesis, diagnosis and treatment adding dowels to the puzzle
Immunologic Research (2013)
S. Colafrancesco, N. Agmon-Levin, C. Perricone, Y. Shoenfeld

This Guest Editorial finishes:
All these papers light the idea that unraveling the soul of autoimmune diseases is like playing chess, and with every discovery, we are adding new moves to the game. The pathogenesis, disease and treatment are the rook, bishop and knight pointing at checkmating ADs.
So autoimmune diseases have a soul, which is evidently knitted, so it unravels. Which is like playing chess... where the disease is the bishop, allied with its pathogenesis (the rook), pitted against the treatment (the knight). This is not any form of chess I am familiar with, so it is just as well that "we are adding new moves to the game".
At the same time it is a puzzle. To which new dowels are being added. That is where the metaphor lost me.
Bonus bad metaphor:

Anyway, the occasional retracted depublished papers are only a small fraction of his total output. They may reappear in journals closer to Shoenfeld's editorial control. Just saying, it is not a good look to argue that a retracted paper was only criticised because of its key role in your paid testimony as an Expert Witness in litigation, and that this conflict of interest demonstrates its validity.
Indeed it is [very] strange; after one year of being in the journal and after extensive peer reviews of the paper suddenly we received a letter from the editors that SOMEBODY criticized the paper extensively??, it looks very strange and unprecedented. yet indeed at this time we have used this paper in Court for vaccine compensation to show that autoantibodies penetrate cells. Is it coincidental ????????
The first English-language entry in Shoenfeld's CV is a 1982 manual on diet and exercise, promoting the fitness regimen of the IDF for a wider readership. I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP. The book was not reviewed raptly at the time, and inspired an intriguing exegesis, but the Amazon reviews are positive.

When not writing papers on his expansive vision for autoimmune disease ("Everything is Autoimmune Until Proven Otherwise"), or founding journals to spread that vision, Dr Shoenfeld is an impresario of conferences.

Just look at the 4th International Symposium on Vaccines! (April 6, 2016, in Leipzig.

  • What role do vaccines play in inducing autoimmunity?
  • Are there safe vaccines for genetically prone subjects?
  • Can we vaccinate against autoimmune diseases?
  • What is the role of adjuvants and/or molecular mimicry in vaccines inducing autoimmune diseases?
  • Is it safe to vaccinate patients with autoimmune diseases?

Everything you wanted to know about vaccines and autoimmunity in one symposium.

With Chris Exley and Claire Dwoskin as co-chairs, you might expect a standard gathering of Aluminati. However, the liturgical displays of performative paranoia were enlivened on this occasion by the presence of Mark Geier, struck-off medical malpractitioner, who has evidently traded in his old scam of "curing mercury-toxicity autism through chelation and chemical-castration drugs" for new expertise as an autoimmunologist.

Fleeing a rising sense of disgust, let us look instead at the 5th International Symposium on Vaccines (May 6th, 2018, in Lisbon) - sponsored by CMSRI. Chaired this time by Christopher Exley and Romain Gherardi, and subtitled "Aluminium Adjuvants And Autoimmunity" for the benefit of anyone unsure of the overall message. No-one especially egregious features in the program and most of the presentations were rehearsals for the 2019 Keele Meeting.

"But," you ask, "What have these events - regrettable though they may be - what have they to do with Dr Shoenfeld? Shoenfeld was not even a speaker!"

The answer is that these were satellite meetings - no, that is too weak a word, they were core events - of the 10th and 11th International Congresses on Autoimmunity, and these are very much Shoenfeld-related activities. They were front-page components, promoted to Congress attendees as "Everything you wanted to know about vaccines and autoimmunity in one symposium".

I don't which is more revealing: the endorsement from Claire Dwoskin, thanking Shoenfeld and the Congress for their contributions to the anti-vaccine cause; or the decision to include that endorsement in Congress advertising, as supportive of its brand.

The ICAs appear to be tailored for naive newcomers, vaguely aware that there exists a new medical specialty of "autoimmunity", and wanting to up-skill quickly and get in on the ground floor. Is it just me, or does this whole "join the family" aspect of the Congresses sound ominously cult-like? Then the indoctrination begins, and the initiation rituals, and there is NO TURNING BACK.

Fortunately, the Autoimmunity Network - the "family" you are invited to join - turns out to be an innocuous compendium of advertisements for Shoenfeld's books, for his Elsevier journal Autoimmunity Review, and for future ICAs, with a side-link to Shoenfeld's biography and CV (a useful resource for preparing this). Imagine my relief.

Outside of antivax circles, and the recipients of an education through ICA, few accept that the concept of ASIA is valid, or even meaningful.


Welcome to the big time, Dr Lujan!
I set out to write a brief overview of the intellectual context to the Asín-Luján paper but things spiralled quickly out of control. There is no space left for the parts played by Chris Shaw and Lucija Tomljenovic, so I content myself with referring you to all the coverage elsewhere.

In one interview, Shaw's enthusiasm was on the wane for "dabbling" in vaccine research. He has also distanced himself from several retracted papers, explaining that his involvement in them went no further than signing his name as co-author. Nevertheless, he and Tomljenovic prepared a presentation for this year's 13th Keele Meeting. Like their contributions to the 12th, 11th and previous Meetings, it was an under-powered pilot study, and the Abstract is a gallimaufry of cherry-picked equivocal results allowing no overall conclusion other than Further Research is Necessary.
The observed neurodevelopmental alterations did not have a linear relationship with vaccine doses and seem to be transient in age.
These results suggest that follow up studies are required...
Meanwhile Tomljenovic has renounced Darwin and found religion, of an eccentric Charismatic Creationist / Judaic form where God speaks to her directly, but evidently He failed to pass on useful advice like "Use enough mice in your studies for rigorous and meaningful results".

Enquiring minds are wondering whether the Meeting organisers will continue with the promise to publish the Proceedings in an issue of J.Inorg.Biochem.; or break the arrangement and find an alternative outlet, in accordance with Chris Exley's new policy of boycotting Elsevier.

They are also wondering whether the egregious Del Bigtree's invited presentation to the Meeting will feature in those peer-reviewed Proceedings.

I hope Keele University are proud of all this.

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