A brief recapitulation:
Chigwedere et al. (2008) claimed there had been 300,000 unnecessary AIDS deaths in South Africa because, at instigation of Peter Duesberg and others, President Mbeki withheld life-saving antiretroviral drugs. That relied on UNAIDS estimates of AIDS deaths which are 25 times as great as the official South Africa Statistics numbers, as well as making all sorts of assumptions including about the efficacy of the drugs.
JAIDS (Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes), which had published this, refused to allow Duesberg to publish a response, citing a single reviewer’s comments that did not address the central issue of that factor of 25, indulging instead in ad hominem remarks and making the astounding assertion that AZT is a beneficial non-toxic antiretroviral treatment.
Subsequently Duesberg et al. published the response in Medical Hypotheses.
Medical Hypotheses is published by €L$€VI€R, whose Vice-President Glen Campbell withdrew that response after it was already in-press and published-on-line — within 4 days of receiving a protest and without consulting the journal’s editor, its editorial board, or the authors of the article.
At the same time, Campbell withdrew an article by Ruggiero et al. (corresponding author, S. Pacini) which noted that official documents and procedures of the Italian Ministry of Health did not treat HIV as a dangerous, communicalbe disease or as the necessary cause of AIDS.
€L$€VI€R then took months over “investigations” or “reviews” of the withdrawal of those article, all carried out anonymously and in secret, culminating in having the articles reviewed by 5 anonymous individuals, who unanimously agreed that the articles should be rejected — albeit on very different grounds. Whereas the Duesberg article continued to be described as a threat to global public health and perhaps libellous, the Ruggiero article was criticized primarily for its presentation, in reviews that need to be read to appreciate their vacuity and self-contradictions, for example:
— Reviewer 1, “Statistical Reviewer”, actually finds nothing substantively wrong . . . . “There was virtually no statistical reasoning in the paper . . . . no question a Reject from the statistical/methodological perspective”.
— Reviewer 5: “My first and main remark about this paper is that I do not understand it”.
— Several reviewers asserted that the authors, whose native tongue is Italian, had misunderstood the Ministry documents through relying on their own translation into English of the original Italian documents.
Given the lack of any serious or substantive criticism, Ruggiero et al. revised their article, improved its presentation by engaging the services of a native speaker of English who is also a professional writer, and re-submitted it.
The editor, Bruce Charlton, found the revisions acceptable and scheduled the article for publication.
19 April 2010, e-mail, Charlton to Ruggiero:
I have accepted your paper for publication; but instead of being put into production as it should have been — the paper has — according to a note on EES [Elsevier Editing System] — been held for approval by the manager called Tanya Wheatley — email@example.com.
So officially, the paper is accepted for publication.
But over the weekend I discovered that Elsevier have been doing this interception with all my accepted papers over the past few days — but without informing me that this was happening.
However, since I had already, in good faith, informed you that the paper was accepted for publication and you accepted this decision in good faith — your article is officially “in the press” for Medical Hypotheses.
If Elsevier’s managers reverse this decision they would be doing so without my consent.
On 29th April, Wheatley informed Ruggiero and Pacini that “to maintain consistency” with the earlier withdrawals, the revised article was being sent “for external review” (e-mail to Ruggiero, cc. Pacini, from Tanya Wheatley, Publisher, Global Medical Research).
Two months later:
“You are probably aware that we have just announced the appointment of a new Editor-in-Chief of Medical Hypotheses. The new Editor will be reviewing your paper as a priority and I will let you know as soon as he has made a decision.” (E-mail, Wheatley to Ruggiero, 29 June)
The final decision came two weeks later from the new Editor:
“From: ‘Medical Hypotheses’ <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Sent: Wednesday, July 14, 2010 3:20 PM
Subject: Your Submission YMEHY-D-10-00543
Ref.: Ms. No. YMEHY-D-10-00543
ON THE RISK OF IMPERFECT AIDS DEFINITIONS AND POLICIES AT THE MINISTRY OF HEALTH
Dear Doctor Pacini, [the corresponding author on Ruggiero et al.]
Reviewers’ comments on your work have now been received. You will see that they are advising against publication of your work. Therefore I must reject it.
For your guidance, I append the reviewers’ comments below.
Your manuscript is not suitable for publication in Medical Hypotheses. The arguments are more or less direct to “the Italian Ministry of Health” and you conclude that they i.e Italian Ministry of Health “seems to be unaware of the existence of an AIDS skeptics movement that could interpret its policies, guidelines, definitions and data as if they supported the thesis that HIV is not the cause of AIDS”
I would NOT like Medical Hypotheses to be channelled as media to discuss polices of Italian Ministry of Health. You should use other means available to you. I would like to keep clear of such topics. I am sorry to have to reject your paper.
Thank you for giving us the opportunity to consider your work.
Dr. M. Manku PhD
Editor in Chief
The external review to be made for consistency appears to have reverted to editorial review.
The new editor should engage a professional writer who is a native English-speaker to edit his e-mails.
Reviewer 5 should be asked whether he understands this e-mail, in particular which in it are the “reviewers’ comments below” and which are the editor’s own, given that “reviewers’” means more than one and that the second paragraph is in the first person.
MORE SERIOUS COMMENTS:
1. Note that the reason for rejection is quite a new one, one that was not given for the earlier rejection.
2. €L$€VI€R’s new editor for Medical Hypotheses wishes “not to get into controversial subjects” but will “publish radical new ideas”. Is it necessary to point out that this is oxymoronic?
3. The National Library of Medicine, which received the same protestations as had €L$€VI€R, found no reason to uphold the protest. The difference may be that the National Library of Medicine is a not-for-profit organization whereas €L$€VI€R puts profits first, as illustrated by
— deceptively publishing as scientific journals half-a-dozen periodicals that were actually propaganda paid for by pharmaceutical companies.
— The €L$€VI€R peer-reviewed journal Urology was paid by GlaxoSmithKline to publish a “special supplement” whose development — choice of authors and content — had been helped along by GlaxoSmithKline and which featured favorably the GlaxoSmithKline drug, Avodart. It was executives at the drug company, not at €L$€VI€R, who had second thoughts and revealed the deception and apologized for it;
— the €L$€VI€R peer-reviewed journal Clinical Therapeutics offered fast publication to academics at a cost of $500 per printed page, a significant multiple of the more typical page charges (Reviewer 3, http://hivskeptic.files.wordpress.com/2010/08/mehy-reviews-of-duesberg-et-al.pdf).
— €L$€VI€R also offered gifts to those who would write on amazon.com 5-star reviews of €L$€VI€R-published textbooks.
4. The substantive points in the articles withdrawn by €L$€VI€R are now published in the mainstream, peer-reviewed Italian Journal of Anatomy and Embryology which is abstracted by the National Library of Medicine’s PubMed:
Ruggiero, M., M. P. Galletti, S. Pacini, T. Punzi, G. Morucci, and M. Gulisano. 2009b. “On the risk of contracting AIDS at the dissection table.” Italian Journal of Anatomy and Embryology, 114: 97-108; PMID: 20198822 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE].
Galletti, Matteo Prayer, and Henry H. Bauer. 2009. “Safety issues in didactic anatomical dissection in regions of high HIV prevalence.” Italian Journal of Anatomy and Embryology, 114: 179-92; PMID: 20578674 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE].