A series of articles have appeared on the ESJ in response to the 'antibiotic for back pain' study by Albert et al. There are three letters to the Editor, two of which are mine, and one of these points out the clear undeclared conflicts of interest of the authors. There is also an editorial, it's worth reading yourself to reach an opinion of course, but it does appear to be a rather aggressive and blustering defence of the journal's stance and actions. There are some sentences that simply don't make great sense:
"Against this background, it seems that a mass media launch in the United Kingdom, Europe, and North America with the story rapidly being taken up around the world, offering a ‘‘cure’’ for back pain propagated from a private clinic in London, should be considered unwise"
While the way in which the Editorial glosses over the conflict of interest issue is interesting, to say the least:
"One of the authors of the Southern Denmark papers has a commercial link with this organisation and addresses this conflict of interest elsewhere in this edition of the European Spine Journal."
This is factually wrong, actually 2 of the authors are named company directors of MAST Medical firms as I have stated on this blog. The Editorial strangely doesn't mention that one of the Albert/Manniche's business partners in the MAST MEDICAL companies, Peter Hamlyn, was directly involved in creating the media fanfare and mass hysteria:
"This is vast. We are talking about probably half of all spinal surgery for back pain being replaced by taking antibiotics" (Peter Hamlyn of MAST Medical in Guardian)
There is thus a complete failure of the Editorial to even notice that the massive media fanfare was instigated by the author/s and their very well rehearsed PR campaign, involving their business partners such as Peter Hamlyn. The bizarre accusations levelled at bloggers like myself made me crack up:
"This mass media launch has led to a very widespread and negative feedback in the lay and specialist medical media. Obviously, this is an unregulated, opinionated repository for often extreme opinions, but there must be significant reputational risk both to the scientists, the commercial organisation in London and to the spinal community in general from some of these widely read internet resources (see ferret fancier, and the conversation). In addition, there has been a cynical response from the respected medical press although a subsequent article gave a slightly more tempered response ."
"We believe that the surgical and scientific communities should have a tempered and objective response to these publications."
The overall point is simple. Two authors were named company directors of firms that stood to directly profit from the results of research,and this was not declared when the articles were submitted, despite that fact that both authors were named company directors two years before the articles were even submitted! The author/s have a lot of explaining to do and I struggle to see how they can dig their way out of this hole they have created for themselves. The Journal also failed to pick up this undeclared conflict and appears to still be in denial on the issue.
The Journal has not behaved impressively either, this sort of aggressive defensive posturing doesn't do them any favours at all. The Editorial contains basic factual errors and ignores the way in which the media fanfare was MAST Medical driven. The attempt to smear those, including myself, who have attempted to expose the truth is weak. I suggest that the 'reputational risk' to the scientists is 100% self inflicted, the failure to declare serious conflicts of interest is a major professional failing that the Journal should be taking far more seriously. The fact that these conflicting interests were undeclared had a major impact on the way in which the research was reported, and interpreted by doctors and patients alike. This should be acknowledged at the very least.
ps I must also say that it is a remarkable coincidence that the Editorial is written by John O'Dowd and Adrian Casey, the latter of whom happens to work at the same private hospital at which Peter Hamlyn (MAST Medical Academy) also works! Just chance I presume