Extraordinary claims…

… require extraordinary evidence. That is the heading of a “Message from the Editor” in Annals of Neurology published online in April 2011. It comments on a paper demonstrating the absence of retroviral particles in CSF of patients with chronic fatigue syndrome while criticizes the role of publishers (and researchers)  paying (too much) attention to breakthrough discoveries while they don’t care much about those same discoveries when they fail to be replicated. It also points out the role of mainstream media and the internet in amplifying these “extraordinary claims” and highlight the need of humble statements and careful replication before attracting mainstream media focus on those claims. They, as we did, compare the case with that of the CCSVI (the other way, though) and remember us the necessary slowness of science: ” […] as journal editors we have a responsibility to do everything possible to insure that data appearing in our pages will stand the test of time.”

The only thing i don’t like in that necessary message is that it will remain within the limits of Annals of Neurology readers. That is the battle clinicians and researchers need to win. The one outside the official means. If we fail to convey this message out of our limits we will lose the battle against bad, harmful, attractive science. So the scientific community has to grow public but grow around our own environments, both our clinics and, more importantly, our communities.

2 Comments

  1. “…as journal editors we have a responsibility to do everything possible to insure that data appearing in our pages will stand the test of time.”

    In their time, the scientific ideas of Galileo, Ignaz Semmelweis, Nicolaus Copernicus, Charles Darwin, and Louis Pasteur were either ignored, rejected, or vigorously attacked by the scientific community and then later accepted. Untold other scientific papers and ideas hit the dustbin and rightly so. XMRV may well be one of them.

    But, the point is science is a contentious process, but never a fully informed process. More than one mistake has opened up new avenues of thought providing minds remained open. Confirmation bias often masquerades as “we have a responsibility to insure that data …”

  2. Ah, don’t worry “KAL”, the next time someone comes along with an outlandish claim they will all jump on it, because they live from the publicity.

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