Science goes Stalinist

A Prestigious cardiologist (Dr Peter McCullough) : a prestigious journal (Elsevier’s Current Problems in Cardiology): a worrying paper on rates of post-vaccination myocarditis. Peer review: check. Published online: check… then taken down “temporarily” and, a week later, “unpublished,” the only explanation to the lead author being that the publisher has the right to do so in the publishing contract. Full discussion here.

Now, to go into a little detail, it appears that the publication contract states that refusal of articles at a late stage is permissible, and the gloss in the letter is that this in rare cases even includes “after publication.” The first is plausible (and even standard), but the second is not. I would dearly Elsevier to provide even one other example of a paper in their multitude of journals that was published and then not retracted, but “disappeared” after it was published.

It is the equivalent of my own publisher sending my books out to Amazon and then ceasing production, without explanation, and saying they had the right not to publish. I think I would have a legal good case for saying they had breached their contract obligations, but that’s not really the point.

This is a case of censorship by persons unwilling to be known, for reasons the publisher is unwilling to share, and it is rank Stalinism whether the pressure came from government, scientific peers, the vaccine industry or any other unaccountable power. For illicit pressure there certainly was, if after passing peer review and the internal scrutiny of the editor to the point of publication, McCullough’s paper has simply been consigned to oblivion. It’s what happens to Chinese whistleblowers and their blogs.

I’m sure it is still possible to find the paper, and as many people as possible should seek it out it and read it, as Bret Weinstein urges, because censorship without reason is always a tyrannical act. Even the Spanish Inquisition told you how you had offended the Curia – dictators simply make you or your work vanish.

This is an extremely unusual case – and probably unique, especially given the high profile of Peter McCullough over the duration of COVID since he was among the first to advocate high dose steroids. But we have also seen a number of questionable retractions and inexplicable difficulties in getting research published (witness the rocky course of the Danish double-blind mask trial), even in online pre-print journals.

We can safely assume this is only the tip of an iceberg. If world-famous and widely-published scientists are deprived of a platform for their work, we can legitimately conclude that many lesser known or first-time researchers are simply not hearing back from the journals to which they submit, or else they get a simple rejection.

Imagine you’re a hospital consultant with a worryingly large and consistent series of adverse vaccine effects. You’re not a career researcher, but this is important enough to try and get published. In such a case, you would be unsurprised at being rejected, assuming journals had bigger fish to fry. We have discovered over the last two years that indeed they do – they fry big fish like Dr Peter McCullough, to begin with.

Now I have had both articles and books rejected by publishers, and because it is par for the course it is not in itself noteworthy. At worst, getting the same work published subsequently by equally respected outlets demonstrated to me that there is inevitable subjectivity in academia, as there is elsewhere. Like genius, merit in publication is 10% inspiration and 90% dogged perspiration.

But once you know – as the McCullough paper demonstrates beyond reasonable doubt – that censorship of an ideological or mercenary origin is occurring at the highest scientific levels, then science itself is effectively dead, and is now merely a branch of propaganda. Remember that it is the minority of lies buried in partial truths that makes propaganda dangerous: once you know Pravda or the BBC are employing it, your only recourse is to abandon them altogether.

Note that this is a worse problem than corruption in most other spheres: in politics, once corruption is suspected, we can easily judge the human motives of politicians because we understand our own, and react accordingly. In religion, a corrupt priesthood can readily be judged by the permanent authorities of Scripture or tradition. But corrupted science perverts or censors more or less inaccessible data from the physical world: if we cannot fully trust the purveyors of the data, we have no way of examining that truth about the world, and we must simply disbelieve the science.

Once such corruption becomes endemic, then doubt is cast on the science in every socially significant area – “doubt” in the serious sense of being unable to believe anything. The Lancet, for example, was quick to publish a major paper on hydroxychloroquine based on entirely fraudulent data. They were forced to retract it (after the harm had been done to the drug’s reputation), but there have been no apparent adverse consequences either for the authors, or for the organisation that manufactured data to order for them. The Lancet itself lacks any curiosity about the matter, and seems uninterested in any self-examination about its alacrity in publishing fraudulent science. It is unreformed, and so is no a longer reliable source.

Since Elsevier publishes 18% of the world’s science, the shadow of doubt spreads very wide indeed (and with a revenue of £2.64bn in 2019 and, according even to Wikipedia, a number of skeletons in the cupboard, it is very far from a model of dispassionate knowledge for knowledge’s sake). That shadow must also extend to the oligarchy of the other big scientific publishers, since Elsevier does not operate in a vacuum: five corporations publish 50% of the world’s academic output – if one of them is found to be corrupt, what is the likelihood that the others are clean?

Elsevier’s CEO Kumsal Bayazit has been interviewed about her enthusiasm for diversity and inclusion, and Elsevier has committed to achieving net zero emissions by 2040, but that gives little clue nowadays about the real ideology or financial dealings in play, because everybody now is green and woke officially, even as they fight like hyenas to corner the biggest share of the world’s wealth for themselves. But handsome is as handsome does – and in Elsevier’s purported business of publishing science, Josef Stalin seems to be alive and well somewhere in the organisation.

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About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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