White Coat Underground

Fake journals, false dichotomies

The news broke this weekend about the unholy alliance of Elsevier and Merck to publish a fake medical journal. You can read the details from the links at the bottom of this page. We all agree that creating deceptive, fake medical information is a “bad thing”. What worries me, however, is what the “other side” will make of this.

What we have in science-based medicine is a method that works. It is, by far, the best way we have to approach the study and treatment of human health and diseases. But like all systems, there are and will always be problems. The strength of the system, though, is we don’t rely on one data point. A single study, a single journal, a single person’s opinion is never enough to create consensus. It is the sum of data that determine our practice. At least as important is the system’s willingness to abandon ideas that don’t pan out.

This doesn’t mean all doctors and medical researchers always get things right. In fact, the strength of the system rests on its assumption that if we were to use common sense, we would be wrong at least as often as right. A knowledge of science, data, statistics, all work toward the best approximation of the truth.

And sometimes, we screw up big time. If someone works with a financial or ideologic agenda, for example, they will produce data that will take a long time to sort out.

But sort it out we will. Even a fake journal will eventually be averaged into the greater pool of evidence, diluting its importance.

So while incidents such as this one are an offense to all we stand for, they are, in the end, a lesson, a type of data all their own.

In science-based medicine, we have discovered a fake medical journal (albeit a completely un-influential one); outside of science-based medicine we have entire fake medical systems. While a fake journal will be a data blip in the big picture, there is no cure for fake systems. No amount of data will cause a reiki practitioner to give up their beliefs, no amount of time will dilute a homeopath’s imaginary data.

And that makes all the difference.


Read more about the fake journal at:

Respectful Insolence

Adventures in Ethics and Science

Dr. Isis

Stranger Fruit


  1. #1 DuWayne
    May 4, 2009

    Yeah, I got rather pissed about it too. I spend more time than I would like (though probably far less than you) debunking magical thinking in the guise of medicine amongst people I interact with offline. It really pisses me off that Merck, some folks who call themselves doctors and even fucking Elsevier, would provide these people with ammunition that strengthens the logical fallacy that this sort of behavior justifies their bullshit.

  2. #2 Blake Stacey
    May 8, 2009

    It’s possible that it’s worse than you think.

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