Having a reasonably popular blog is a cool thing because at times I can do things like what I’m about to do. I’d like to start the week off with a little bit of crowdsourcing. Earlier this week, a reader wrote to me at my not-so-super-secret other blog with a request that concluded:

In short, I was wondering if…you…would be able to refer me to a scientific or psuedo-scientific article where the abstract completely misrepresents the article or the conclusion doesn’t fit the analysis/data. The reason is that I’m writing is that I’m currently in my third year at [REDACTED], and currently I’m working on my seminar paper so I can graduate. I decided to look at whether there is a reasonable fair use argument in the reproduction of an entire scientific article and at what instances prior precedent would allow it. Inherent in the argument is that a scientific paper can’t be properly excerpted without losing vital information (or that an abstract does not adequately describe the entire paper), so complete reproduction of the article is necessary to properly convey the point.


A Reader

And, guess what? I like the question and want to see if you, my readers, can help this reader out. So…at the risk of being too blatant, I’ll just say that my readers are very informed and scientifically knowledgeable (well, most of them, anyway; there are, I hate to admit, trolls who are anything but well-informed and scientifically knowledgeable). Can you help another reader out and provide references that fit this reader’s request? I can think of one, but I don’t think it’s as blatant as what he has in mind. Please list your references below and briefly explain why you think the paper you mention qualifies. Heck, I might even be able to get a post out of this if there are some interesting papers that fit the description above. Flood the comments below. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a CAM study, a big pharma study, or any other study. All it has to be is a study in the peer-reviewed biomedical literature.

Finally, fear not. There will be some Insolence coming your way later today.


  1. #1 Jeffry John Aufderheide
    March 12, 2012

    Perhaps why vaccines aren’t tested for carcinogenesis would be a great start.

    B.H. Sweet & M.R. Hilleman, The Vacuolating Virus, S.V.40, 105 Proceedings of the Society for Experimental Biology and Medicine 420, 420–27 (1960).

    Association of autism with polyomavirus infection in postmortem brains.

  2. #2 DLC
    March 12, 2012

    I’ll take the obvious case.
    RETRACTED: Ileal-lymphoid-nodular hyperplasia, non-specific colitis, and pervasive developmental disorder in children
    Wakefield, A J. 1998, Lancet.

    excuse me while I laugh evilly.
    Okay, but seriously… Wakefield major league misrepresented his findings in press releases and interviews, and in the findings as listed in the summary at http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736%2897%2911096-0/abstract

    So, there you go.

  3. #3 lilady
    March 12, 2012

    “I’ll just say that my readers are very informed and scientifically knowledgeable (well, most of them, anyway; there are, I hate to admit, trolls who are anything but well-informed and scientifically knowledgeable).”

    As soon as Orac mentions trolls…along comes Aufderheide.

    Did you not understand exactly what Orac is requesting?

  4. #4 lilady
    March 12, 2012

    I posted this on SBM:

    Here’s is an article that appeared in the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons, that claims abortions are implicated in higher risks for breast cancer:


    Here is the analysis of what the Journal’s article is claiming and what the actual contents/conclusion of various cited studies are:


    Other pseudoscience websites are available by “Googling” “Abortions and Breast Cancer”

    ****Here’s the reply I got from the blogger:

    09 Mar 2012 at 6:08 am

    Isn’t picking on the AAPS and JPANDS rather like picking on Age of Autism? The level of scientific literacy is about the same. 🙂

    **** Hey, it’s worth a shot…maybe Orac is not as critical:-)

  5. #5 Sauceress
    March 12, 2012

    From the request from “A Reader”

    I decided to look at whether there is a reasonable fair use argument in the reproduction of an entire scientific article and at what instances prior precedent would allow it. Inherent in the argument is that a scientific paper can’t be properly excerpted without losing vital information (or that an abstract does not adequately describe the entire paper), so complete reproduction of the article is necessary to properly convey the point.

    Well I can’t think of any papers right now offhand , but I’m sure I saw that very same argument posted at AoA recently…around the same time there was some discussion here at RI regarding AoA’s penchant for copyright infringement and it’s hosting a reproduction of a paper in its entirety. The posting was then moved to another site…? Anyone remember which RI thread that was?

    Anyway, I went over to AoA to see if I could jog my memory but all I could find that was relevant was this post from November: “Action Alert: The Protect IP Act, Senate Bill S. 968, and the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), House Resolution H. R. 3261

    Made me wonder if the request might have come from Jake Crosby/AoA.

  6. #6 Sauceress
    March 12, 2012

    Ahh…I found the reference which probably set AoA off and inspired them to move that paper: “The Vanishing Physician Scientist: A Critical Review and Analysis”

    In Orac’s post “Exaggerating conflicts of interest to sow fear, uncertainty, and doubt about vaccines”, Orac said:

    However, the antivaccine crank blog Age of Autism is flogging this particular article, even going so far as to include a link to the PDF of the article, which, once again, makes me wonder how on earth that merry crew of antivacicne propagandists doesn’t bring the wrath of the publishing industry on it.

    Yeah I am a bit slow at the moment, even an overdose of caffeine doesn’t seem to be helping….yawn..

  7. #7 Nematode Sis
    March 12, 2012

    One could not ask for a peer review or even a superior review. How about a subnemitic review?

    This article first appeared in Molecular Testicles, February 1994, Volume 93, Number 2, pp. 254-260.

    Testicular ascent is being held in great suspicion today. The cremasteric reflex is the physical process which lifts the testes either when it is cold (supposedly to maintain the correct temperature) or when there is danger (supposedly to protect the gonads).


    Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Yep, you’d have a tough time damaging or freezing my eggs. I keep them inside me, not far from my heart, not far from my stomach.

    So why leave the male contribution to reproduction out in the cold? Vulnerable? Why risk the endocrine system? It just does.not.make.sense?

    The official explanation? Body temperature is the wrong temperature for producing sperm. Why is this? Why don’t all animals and flowers need a different temperature to produce their gametes? It doesn’t appear to be a prerequisite of evolution, though it seems to go hand in hand with being a mammal.

    Increasing temperature will usually increase the rate at which a chemical reaction or organic process will progress. It will also increase the number of reactions which are permitted to begin.

    The only good reason one can think of for having a body part protrude, is to get a better ‘look’ if it’s a sense (eyes on stalks, microphones on stalks) or to get a better reach if it’s a mechanical function. It is difficult to establish any useful mechanical function for the testicles so we may begin to wonder what kind of ‘sensing’ ability the testicles possess?

    In comes our team of Italian Scientists who claim to have found a way of recording sound onto junk DNA. Or were they Russian Scientists?…

    We hypothesise that the genetic material in newly developed sperm is made ‘writeable’ by raising the temperature and changing the concentration of chemicals in the testes. In the female, this process would more than likely either be ongoing, not-occurring, or running very slowly and would change more due to internal stimulus from the mother than to external stimulus such as those picked up by the testes.

    In a dangerous situation, or a situation where the body is very cold, the testes become writeable then whatever happens to the male, whether it be fending off a sabre tooth tiger or finding a way to warm himself, the events (sounds, feelings, a few thoughts, smells, maybe light) that save his life are written to the junk DNA in the sperm in his testicles. When danger has passed, the testes lower which reduces the temperature and the concentration of chemicals which makes them write-protected. If coitus results in the next two or three days, the survival lessons do not get overwritten by mundane events and can be passed on to progeny who then may gain a millisecond advantage if the same situation comes up again in that lifetime (or if a lady ever needs to speak Japanese, which she’s never ever learnt, on television).

    750 MB of DNA in each gamete. Only a small part encodes the body architecture. What is the rest for? Long range order has been found in junk DNA and it’s purpose is as-yet unknown.

    Ask yourself: Why are testicles where they are? If you were designing your own body, where would you put yours?

  8. #8 me434
    March 12, 2012

    Please write an article about:



  9. #9 Nash
    March 12, 2012

    Try this


    This shows how acupuncturists totally mis-interrupt their own research.

  10. #11 Adam C.
    March 12, 2012

    My favourite is Walach, H. “Magic of signs: a non-local interpretation of homeopathy.” Br Homeopath J. 2000 Jul;89(3):127-40.

    The abstract – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10939768 – gives no damn clue about how crazy the paper is. It actually argues in the paper itself that homeopathy *works by magic*.

  11. #12 Poodle Stomper
    March 12, 2012

    Pretty much anything by Peter Duesberg. His papers (especially related to HIV) are pretty much all junk.

  12. #13 Skeptico
    March 12, 2012

    I’m sure you’ve heard of this one Orac, but I’ll post this anyway. In January I awarded a Golden Woo to Anna Enblom et al for this study on acupuncture. Enblom et al chose to interpret the results in a misleading way, namely by saying that since both real and placebo acupuncture showed a benefit, acupuncture works. As Steven Novella wrote in Another Acupuncture Fail, “In the real world of scientific medicine … when a treatment works no better than the placebo control we conclude that – the treatment does not work.” The press release, was even more misleading.

  13. #14 eNos
    March 12, 2012

    Along the lines of Poodle Stomper’s comment @11; go ahead and pick just about anything from Medical Hypotheses, or anything authored or co-authored by David Rasnick.

  14. #15 Krebiozen
    March 12, 2012

    I vote for the NEJM study on asthma which states in the abstract, “Placebo effects can be clinically meaningful and can rival the effects of active medication in patients with asthma”. This statement is not supported by the findings of the study.

  15. #16 Autismum
    March 12, 2012

    Constant attempts to justify comparing chalk with cheese, cherry picking data and using inappropriate measures:

  16. #17 Cynical Pediatrician
    March 12, 2012

    Not the most egregious example, but this one caught my eye a few months ago:
    “Impact of Early-Life Bisphenol A Exposure on Behavior and Executive Function in Children”
    Abstract: “Gestational BPA exposure affected behavioral and emotional regulation domains at 3 years of age, especially among girls.”
    Authors’ data shows that BPA appears to have (statistically significant) adverse effects ONLY in girls; in fact, boys were significantly LESS hyperactive with increasing exposure. I’m not a fan of exposing kids to BPA, but this data is not as compelling–especially for boys–as the authors imply (aka “spin”)

  17. #18 ConspicuousCarl
    March 12, 2012

    In addition to those already mentioned, I have a vague memory of some psi researcher who claimed significant evidence of psychic powers (I assume the abstract would show that if I could find it), but in fact the data only showed something like a 53% accuracy average for a 50/50 test setup.

    However, that isn’t quite what they are asking for:

    > Inherent in the argument is that a scientific
    > paper can’t be properly excerpted without losing
    > vital information (or that an abstract does not
    > adequately describe the entire paper), so
    > complete reproduction of the article is necessary
    > to properly convey the point.

    In all examples I am aware of, the inadequacy of the abstract is due to either apathy in regards to creating an abstract which provides enough information to know if the full paper will be useful (such as lacking basic details about the study design or results), or deliberate misrepresentation which is usually done with gratuitous interpretation or selective statistical analysis (e.g., reporting “significant” effect sizes without also noting the extremely small base rate).

    I have NEVER seen a paper, in my limited experience, which would be impossible to summarize or quote adequately, within normally-accepted legal guidelines, if someone actually wanted to.

    It is possible that an entire paper would have to be reproduced in specific and extreme situations (such as some flaw or trend which is proposed to have permeated the entire project), but that extreme level of reproduction would have to be justified on an individual basis. It also still might not apply, since extensive citations and quotes integrated into some hypothetical review of the paper would be more helpful anyway.

    The only universally valid reason for providing a complete copy of an original paper is for unspecified reference (such as a future researcher wanting to investigate the possibility of a more specific hypothesis being reflected in the data). But that is the purpose of the original publication. You couldn’t excuse wholesale copyright violation by appealing to a generic need for reference. That would be a duplication of the publisher’s copyright.

    That would also go well beyond the anonymous emailer’s claim to want to support the use of complete duplication “to properly convey the point”.

    I do think that access to a complete paper is necessary to evaluate it, and I hate not always being able to access a paper for free, but it is not necessary for someone with access to the full paper to reproduce all of it for the sake of making a “point”.

  18. #19 Eric Lund
    March 12, 2012

    I side with ConspicuousCarl here: just because the abstract is not an accurate reflection of the paper does not mean that you cannot produce a summary statement which is an accurate reflection of the paper.

    About the only cases I can think of where it would be necessary to reproduce the entire paper would be trivial corrections where the authors provide corrected figures or equations from a previous paper. That’s because such corrections generally consist of nothing but a short explanation to the effect that there was an error and the corrected figure/equation is reproduced below. (There are a few such papers each year in my field; sometimes the authors screwed up, other times the publisher screwed up.) But for a paper of any significant length, including a comment/reply exchange, it should be possible to summarize the main point.

  19. #20 kami333
    March 12, 2012

    If you have time to read go over a whole book: The Sanctity of Human Blood : Vaccination is Not Immunization by Tim O’Shea.

    A family friend recommended it to me saying that it had good research/sources, it does on the surface but if you start reading the papers they cite you realize they were twisted around completely.

  20. #21 David Colquhoun
    March 12, 2012

    This one takes some beating, in my opinion.

  21. #22 David Colquhoun
    March 12, 2012

    Uhuh I see that Nash already suggested this one in comment #9

  22. #23 V. infernalis
    March 12, 2012

    Could probably take almost any paper that is being touted by either the climate or evolution denial crowd – whether legitimate or not.

  23. #24 Paul Agapow
    March 13, 2012

    Most of these examples – entertaining or appalling as they are – seem to miss the point. What was asked for were examples for abstracts that misrepresent the following work, so as to argue that the whole paper is necessary. Duesberg’s papers may be crazy – but the abstracts are a fairly faithful representation of the contents.

  24. #25 madder
    March 13, 2012

    @Paul Agapow:

    Have a look at the one suggested by Krebiozen in comment 15. That particular article has already been discussed by Orac. I agree wholeheartedly with Krebiozen that the abstract utterly misrepresents the contents.

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