Disappearing Act

18 co-signers of BMJ retraction request letter are now MIA

I co-authored this item with U.S. (Atlanta, GA) investigative reporter Peter M. Heimlich, who’s cross-posting it at his world-beating blog, The Sidebar.

On November 5, a letter signed by over 180 credentialed professionals, including a number of prominent faculty members at major universities, was sent to the BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal).

Bonnie Liebman

The letter – organised by Bonnie Liebman MS at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a Washington, DC-based advocacy nonprofit – requested that the journal retract The scientific report guiding the US Dietary Guidelines: is it scientific?, a September 23 article by journalist/author Nina Teicholz that criticised the methodology and findings of the 2015 US Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC).

Never heard of the DGAC? Until recently, neither had we.

Dietary Guidelines

We’ll leave it to experts – including the National Academy of Medicine – to debate the scientific issues and the merits of Teicholz’s article.

We’re interested in these journalism-related questions. 

• Why the pile on? Is her article a danger? If so, to whom?
• Instead of trying disappear her article, why not write a letter to the editor or a rebuttal?
• Has CSPI ever organised retraction letters for other articles?
• Have any of the signatories ever requested retractions of other articles?

Re: that last question, part-time unpaid bloggers that we are, Peter and I don’t have the time to ask everyone who signed. However, we will ask the CSPI and the 14 members of the 2015 Guidelines Advisory Committee, all of whom signed the letter.

At the moment we can report that 18 co-signers of the original letter have been deleted from a subsequent version.

What happened is that after receiving the November 5 retraction request, the BMJ published a November 19 post by Executive Editor Theodora Bloom that included:

In line with our usual practice, this will require all signatories to declare their competing interests, which are not provided in a version of the letter posted on the website of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

On December 17, the BMJ posted an updated version of the CSPI letter, absent the names of 18 scientists and grad students.*

We know why one of the co-signers is MIA. As reported on The Sidebar last month, University of Colorado professor and former American Heart Association president Robert Eckel MD e-mailed Peter that he’d removed his name after Peter filed a related public records request with the University.

The names deleted from the letter:

1. Sharon R. Akabas, PhD
Director, MS in Nutrition
Associate Director for Educational Initiatives
Columbia University
Institute of Human Nutrition
New York, New York, USA

2. Carol J. Boushey, PhD, MPH, RD
Associate Research Professor
Epidemiology Program
University of Hawaii Cancer Center
University of Hawaii at Manoa Honolulu, Hawaii, USA

3. Robert H. Eckel
Professor of Medicine
Division of Endocrinology, Metabolism and Diabetes
Division of Cardiology
Professor of Physiology and Biophysics
Charles A. Boettcher II Chair in Atherosclerosis
University of Colorado Anschultz Medical Campus
Director Lipid Clinic, University Hospital
University of Colorado, Denver
Denver, Colorado, USA

4. Wafaie Fawzi, DrPH
Richard Saltonstall Professor of Population Sciences
Professor of Nutrition, Epidemiology, and Global Health
Chair, Department of Global Health and Population
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
Boston, Massachusetts, USA

5. Enrique Jacoby, MD, MPH
Regional Advisor on Nutrition and Active Living
NMH Pan American Health Organization
World Health Organization
Washington, D.C., USA

6. José Lapetra, MD, PhD
Médico de Familia
Responsable del Grupo de Investigación “Dieta, Nutrición y Prevención de Enfermedades en Atención Primaria”
CIBEROBN, Instituto de Salud Carlos III
Unidad de Investigación del Distrito Sanitario Atención Primaria Sevilla
Sevilla, Spain

7. Graham MacGregor, MA, MB, BChir
Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine
Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine
Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry, Queen Mary
University of London
London, United Kingdom

8. Meena Mahadevan, PhD
Associate Professor Program
Coordinator for Applied Nutrition
Department of Health and Nutrition Sciences
Montclair State University
Montclair, New Jersey, USA

9. Salvatore Panico, MD, MS
Professor of Internal Medicine
Federico II University
Naples, Italy

10. Emma Patterson, PhD
Project Manager for School Food Sweden
Community Nutrition and Physical Activity
Karolinska Institutet
Stockholm, Sweden

11. Mike Rayner, DPhil
Professor of Population Health
Director, British Heart
Foundation Centre on Population Approaches for Non-Communicable Disease Prevention
Nuffield Department of Population Health
University of Oxford
Oxford, United Kingdom

12. Lesley Schmidt Sindberg, MPH
Senior Research Coordinator
Healthy Eating Research
University of Minnesota School of Public Health
St. Paul, Minnesota, USA

13. Francisco J. Tinahones, MD, PhD
Professor of Medicine
Director, Endocrinology and Nutrition Services, Hospital Universitario Virgen de la Victoria
Coordinator, Complications of Obesity, CIBEROBN
University of Málaga
Málaga, Spain

14. Dianne S. Ward, EdD
Professor, Department of Nutrition
Gillings School of Global Public Health
University of North Carolina
Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA

15. Julia Wärnberg, PhD
University of Malaga
Malaga, Spain

Graduate Students

16. Stacy Blondin, MSPH
USDA Doctoral Fellow
Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy
Tufts University
Boston, Massachusetts, USA

17. Larissa Calancie
Doctoral Candidate – Nutrition Interventions and Policy
University of North Carolina Gillings School of Public Health
UNC Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention
Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA

18. Violet Kiesel
Graduate Student
Purdue University
West Lafayette, Indiana, USA

*Not on the original November 5 letter, but she signed onto the December 17 version.

Rosemary Stanton, PhD, OAM
Visiting Fellow
School of Medical Sciences
University of New South Wales
Sydney, Australia


Oops, He Did It Again

More sockpuppetry by prominent Yale prof/author/columnist David L. Katz MD [Updated: Goodreads scrubbed his self-review] 

I co-authored this item with U.S. (Atlanta, GA) investigative reporter Peter M. Heimlich, who’s cross-posting it at his hard-hitting blog, The Sidebar.

Peter first contacted me a couple months ago after I reblogged his September 30 item about Dr. David Katz posting a shill five-star review on Amazon for his novel reVision. Since then, I’ve been keeping my (many) readers informed about further developments in Dr. Katz’s literary career.

I turned up the Goodreads review; Peter sent the inquiry. We’ll update if/when the company responds. (For clarity, Peter’s inquiry is slightly edited.)

Subject: blogger inquiry
To: Goodreads <support@goodreads.com>, <press@goodreads.com>
From: Peter Heimlich <peter.heimlich@gmail.com>
Cc: Dean Sterling Jones <sterlingjones****@aol.com>
Date: Mon, 14 Dec 2015 16:36:25 -0500

Hi Goodreads Team,

1) Here’s a screenshot I just took from a Goodreads review page:

Katz 1

2) Per this screenshot I just took from his Facebook home page, you can see that the above David Katz is David L. Katz MD of Yale’s Griffin Hospital and that he’s hyping the book reVision:

Katz 2

3) Recent articles in the Yale Daily News, Retraction Watch, and IMediaEthics (please click the names to read those stories) reported that the Huffington Post deleted two columns by Dr. Katz in which he lavished praise upon reVision without informing readers that he wrote the novel and that Amazon.com deleted a five-star review for reVision which Dr. Katz posted on his Amazon user account without identifying himself as the author.

Here’s my question.

Is Dr. Katz’s Goodreads review of reVision in compliance with your review guidelines

Update 16/12/15: Just hours after Peter Heimlich and I blogged our items, Goodreads.com scrubbed Dr. Katz’s self-review. 

Here’s a recent screenshot taken of the web page:


Kudos to Peter, who deserves credit for doing most – if not all – of the work.

Free Speech, Fire and Brimstone

Belfast Pastor James McConnell has gone on trial for using an “electronic communications network” – the Internet – to broadcast a “grossly offensive” sermon in May last year.

Arriving at Belfast magistrates’ court this morning, he was met by a small crowd of people who had gathered to lend their support. Placards bearing the messages “civil and religious liberty for all” and “protect our free speech” featured prominently. 

Inside, more than 100 people packed the public gallery. During a playback of the “grossly offensive” sermon, which included a number of gospel songs, supporters swayed in their seats, clapped their hands and tapped their feet.

You might ask: What could be so offensive that prosecutors deem it necessary to haul a non-violent 78-year-old born again Christian before a Judge? The answer lies with the grand old rhetoric and Biblical bombast of the fire and brimstone style of Christian preaching.

McConnell’s exact words: “Islam is satanic” – not exactly polite dinner table conversation, but nothing Salman Rushdie didn’t say with his infamous novel, The Satanic Verses, which in its time was talked over the table at many a dinner party.

If you cast your mind back to 1989, you’ll remember the Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran issued a fatwa ordering Muslims to kill Rushdie, so “grossly offensive” was his novel. In 1998, after nearly a decade living in hiding, Rushdie re-emerged unscathed. His literary compatriots were not so fortunate. 

Hitoshi Igarashi, Rushdie’s Japanese translator, was stabbed to death at a university northeast of Tokyo in 1991. That same year, the Italian translator Ettore Capriolo survived a near-fatal stabbing in his apartment in Milan.

William Nygaard, Rushdie’s publisher in Norway, survived a near-fatal shooting outside his home in a suburb in Oslo in 1993. That same year, the Turkish translator Aziz Nelin was the intended target in the events that led to the Sivas massacre, in which 37 people were killed.

Khomeini used violence and intimidation to silence Rushdie. Prosecutors in Northern Ireland merely fine and imprison those with whom they disagree.

Chief witness for the prosecution is Dr Raied Al-Wazzan, the former Executive Treasurer of the Belfast Islamic Centre who in January became embroiled in controversy when he said that Islamic State, which has carried out mass executions and forced millions of people to flee their homes, had been a positive force in Mosul, his home city in Iraq. 

As he told BBC Radio Ulster’s Talkback programme: 

“Since the Islamic State took over, it has become the most peaceful city in the world. Yes there are other things going wrong there…they are murdering people, I agree, but you can go from east to west of the city without fear. My family is living there at the moment and that’s what they are telling me.”

The person leading the charge against a Christian pastor for speaking ill of the Islamic faith believes ISIS is creating a modern utopia. Offended yet?

Following a complaint filed by Al-Wazzan in June of last year, McConnell voluntarily gave himself over to be questioned by police. On free speech grounds, he declined an “informed warning” that would have avoided a prosecution.

In June, McConnell was informed he would be prosecuted under the 2003 Communications Act. In his response to the decision by the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) to prosecute, he stated that he intended to fight the charges laid against him:

“I’m not taking it lying down. I am not going to be gagged. The police tried to shut me up and tell me what to preach. It’s ridiculous. I believe in freedom of speech. I’m going to keep on preaching the gospel.

“I have nothing against Muslims, I have never hated Muslims, I have never hated anyone. But I am against what Muslims believe. They have the right to say what they believe in and I have a right to say what I believe.”

In defiance of the PPS, McConnell opted to take a principled stand – not always easy to do. He could have accepted the “informed warning” offered to him and returned to the comforts of home, never again to grace the inside of a police station. 

He declined that offer to grovel for forgiveness certain in the knowledge that he would later be prosecuted for doing so. Faced with the inevitable, he has risen to the occasion, with good humour and generosity demonstrating exactly what kind of man he is. 

A devout Christian who is not so blinded by his beliefs that he would deny others the right to express an opposing belief. A strident free speech advocate who for all his religious fervour turns out to be more enlightened in his views than Northern Ireland’s supposedly enlightened liberal left, whose “progressive pieties” –  in the words of Suzanne Breen – don’t extend to defending an evangelical preacher with unfashionable opinions.

You might not agree with his views on Islam, but for standing by his principles McConnell is to be admired.

Update 16/12/15: Judgment has been reserved until January. Via the Belfast Telegraph:

Pastor McConnell Belfast Telegraph

Incidentally, there were few people supporting McConnell outside Laganside Courts today.


Re-Mystifying Code

Students across the UK this week participated in Downing Street’s Hour of Code campaign

Launched in 2013 by non-profit computer science website Code.org, the UK Hour of Code, quote, “aims to help demystify that coding is difficult and enable parents, teachers and students across the nation [to] get a fun introduction to coding.” 

With Downing Street doing all it can to promote the cause of coding amongst young students, what better time for the National Crime Agency (NCA) to issue this rather ominous warning to parents on the various evils of cybercrime, which treats ordinary teenage behaviour as an indicator of criminal conduct?

To the chagrin of women who have worked hard to distinguish themselves in the field of computer science, the campaign focuses solely on boys aged 12-15. Teenage girls obviously don’t have the wherewithal to code at a criminal level.

Gems from the official NCA list of “things to look out for” (some of which have apparently since been deleted):

• Is your child spending all of their time online?
• Are they interested in coding?
• Do they have independent learning material on their computer?
• Do they have irregular sleeping patterns?
• Are they resistant when asked what they do online? 
• Do they use the full data allowance on the home broadband?
• Have they become more socially isolated?

Next up: the NCA parent’s guide to whether your teenage girl’s obsession with her mobile phone points to involvement in the drug trade.

Feeding the Troll

On November 23, students put the online policy of “don’t feed the troll” into offline action, staging a walkout on Britain’s most hated newspaper columnist Katie Hopkins as she gave a speech at Brunel University.

Ali Milani, president of Brunel University’s student union, explains:

In the current social media climate, where everyone is provided an online platform to speak, do we need to have a serious conversation, as a student movement and a society, on how we deal with online trolls?

These are people who make their living by deliberately saying belligerent and offensive statements. Katie Hopkins is the physical manifestation of these trolls and we should not be providing the oxygen to her fire. 

“Don’t feed the troll” means resisting the urge to respond to rabid claws for attention. The ideal response to someone like Hopkins, then, would be no response at all.

By writing a celebratory screed, Milani has turned the straightforward policy of “don’t feed the troll” into a statement. Rather than deprive “oxygen to her fire,” putting words to action has served only to fan the flames, giving Hopkins the attention trolls so desperately crave. In other words, Milani fed the troll.

Hopkins’ uncharacteristically measured response to an “Offended Young Nation” can be read here. Taking her lead is freelance journalist Charlotte Gill, whose comparatively unmeasured response targets the “mollycoddling student culture that hates free speech” she says Hopkins has “fallen victim to.”

Via the Independent:

In their quest to promote a linearity of views, the young are taking our society into dangerous new territory. I understand what the students of Brunel were trying to achieve – they want to create a world where people live free from offence. Free from the bigoted views of Hopkins et al. In some ways, that’s admirable.

But by muting Hopkins with their silence, they become the true bigots, the people who think they can weed out the ill thoughts of our society by quite literally turning a blind eye. Engagement with Hopkins’ arguments is the only way the students could have really killed the dragon. To silence her gives breeding ground to those who share her thoughts – who will feel angrier and more evangelical the longer she is prevented from airing her views in public.

The actions of the Brunel University students were celebrated throughout social media, and by some in the press, held up as an amusing incident and a triumph. But in the context of Greer and Starkey’s problem with universities, and the rise of enthusiasm surrounding ‘no-platform’ policies, we have to be concerned about freedom of speech (or lack thereof). 

Gill is correct in that the refusal of students to listen and debate offensive opinions and ideas is symptomatic of a wider problem currently sweeping university campuses, the censorious practice of No Platforming speakers with opposing views rightfully a cause for concern.

But by no stretch of the imagination can it be said that the students who walked out were denying Hopkins a platform to speak. “Muting Hopkins with their silence” is an oxymoron. If anything, these students were exercising their own right to free speech to make a clever if not totally ineffective statement.

Katie Hopkins isn’t a “victim,” she’s a strong, bullheaded woman with a national platform from which to give her strong, bullheaded opinions. She doesn’t require Charlotte Gill to run to her defence because a few mollycoddled students wouldn’t listen.