Complementary and alternative medicine Quackery Skepticism/critical thinking

An aromatherapist versus science

Things are getting back to normal here at Casa Orac. it’s always a come down after going to TAM and being able to mingle, argue, and party with people who share my skeptical world view. Yesterday was back to reality, though, at least as much as jet lag and sleep deprivation allowed. Fortunately, Monday is a lab day, and I don’t have an scheduled patient care responsibilities, and now I’m pretty much back to normal. Even so, I can’t do epics like yesterday’s post every day even under the best circumstances; so today I’ll take a look at a little wafer thin mint to cleanse the palate.

I’ve mentioned this before (and will probably do so again) that I have a number of Google Alerts set, the better to provide me with fodder for your daily (or at least week-daily) dose of Insolence, both Respectful and not-so-Respectful Sometimes these alerts bring me articles from newspapers and publications I would never encounter any other way. For instance, yesterday, a little nugget came across my Google Alerts that provides what I like to refer to as a “teachable moment.” Unfortunately, the man who wrote the article probably won’t learn, but perhaps I can teach others. The writer is named George Cox, and his article is entitled Alternative therapies seen as ‘prescription.’ Basically, it’s a string of bad arguments, misinformation, and logical fallacies strung together to make ridiculous charges against the FDA and basically wallow in self-pity that Cox and practitioners like him aren’t taken more seriously. Given Cox has written, he doesn’t deserve to be taken more seriously.

You see, Cox apparently owns an aromatherapy business. The vast majority of aromatherapy is, of course, nonsense without a scientific basis. Just to give you an idea, I went to the website of the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy to find out how aromatherapists themselves define aromatherapy:

Aromatherapy can be defined as the art and science of utilizing naturally extracted aromatic essences from plants to balance, harmonize and promote the health of body, mind and spirit. It is an art and science which seeks to explore the physiological, psychological and spiritual realm of the individual’s response to aromatic extracts as well as to observe and enhance the individual’s innate healing process. As a holistic practice, Aromatherapy is both a preventative approach as well as an active method to employ during acute and chronic stages of illness or ‘dis’-ease.

It is a natural, non-invasive modality designed to affect the whole person not just the symptom or disease and to assist the body’s natural ability to balance, regulate, heal and maintain itself by the correct use of essential oils.

In the PowerPoint file for the talk that I gave at the Science-Based Medicine workshop on Thursday, there is a humorous (or at least the audience seemed to think so) slide that addresses what is to my mind perhaps the single most reliable indicator of quackery. (It’s at least in the top two, along with the Quack Miranda Warning.) That is the spelling of the word “disease” as “dis-ease.” In fact, this website goes even beyond that, spelling the word “‘dis’-ease.” And, as far as I’ve been able to ascertain, it’s true, too. If you see someone use the word “dis-ease” that person is almost certainly a quack. Indeed, take a look:

Dis-ease, is a hyphenated variation of the word “disease.” The term dis-ease is used by individuals and healing communities who are aligned with wellness, choosing not to empower health issues by focusing on a particular ailment. The intent is to place emphasis on the natural state of “ease” being imbalanced or disrupted.

In any case, it’s a lot of woo-speak, which, even if there weren’t copious evidence that aromatherapy, which involves the use of “essential oils” that smell to treat and cure all manner of diseases and conditions, is pseudoscience. True, the various oils used are natural products and might have pharmaceutical activity, but aromatherapists have basically the same problem as herbalists. They rarely use evidence other than testimonials and make claims for their natural products that they can’t back up (such as being able to treat depression and falling prey to the naturalistic fallacy to claim that “natural” oils are more efficacious than synthetic oils. Particularly amusing is “subtle aromatherapy.” As we know, any time a woo-meister adds the word “subtle” in front of anything, it ramps up the quackery quotient (QQ) by a power of at least 100:

When applied to the skin, the plant’s life-force is absorbed into the body’s fluid systems which eventually circulates through the organ and glandular systems of the body and eventually through all fluids and tissues of the body. The foot is the most porous of all the body’s skin. Rub a clove of garlic on the bottom of your foot and in 1-3 minutes you will taste it in your mouth and “feel” the sensation in your nose! Essential oils applied to the feet, the most porous part of the body, travel throughout the body and affect the cells, including the hair, in just 10-20 minutes.

New research suggests that because the olfactory nerves are similar to other nerves in the body, they may have the ability to form and transmit intelligent codes of information to all other parts of the body via neurotransmitter chemicals in the body. Recent research suggests that intelligence occurs not only in the brain but inside neurotransmitters.

Ah, yes. Vitalism. It’s at the heart of so many forms of quackery, isn’t it? Basically, subtle aromatherapy is a variant of aromatherapy cooked up by Patricia Davis. It’s basically a form of “vibrational” healing, which itself is of course a science-y-sounding spin on vitalism.

Leaving aromatherapy aside, though, let’s see Cox’s lament:

If my granddaughter ran into my office right now and I saw her nose was running and I said, “Honey, you’re getting a cold. Go ask Grandma to make you some chicken soup. It’ll make you feel better,” I am in violation of the law. I have diagnosed, prescribed (yes, chicken soup has become a pharmaceutical), treated and developed a prognosis. I am thereby practicing medicine without a license.

The FDA is not going to break down the door and arrest Grandma and me. But they could.

Uh, no. Just saying that something will make you feel better is not necessarily a medical claim. If Cox were to say that chicken soup will cure the cold or cure another disease like cancer, that would be another issue. Cox’s statement is akin to vague and meaningless claims favored by supplement sellers, such as “boosts the immune system” or “supports prostate health.” In other words, he could easily market chicken soup as a supplement and be in full compliance with the DSHEA of 1994. In any case, the regulation of food and medicines are different, and chicken soup is clearly, by any reasonable stretch of the imagination, a food, even to the government. In addition, there’s the little matter of commerce. Unless he’s selling or somehow advertising his chicken soup as a cure for the common cold, he’s about as likely to run afoul of the FDA over telling his granddaughter that chicken soup will make her feel better when she has a cold as there is of a single molecule of active substance being left in a 30C homeopathic remedy.

Cox then uses the “science was wrong before” gambit, using the fact that medicine changes its conclusions as new evidence comes in (unlike aromatherapists and other “alternative” practitioners), to imply that his aromatherapy has an evidence base equivalent to that of medicine. He then does what so many alt-med apologists do and confuses natural product pharmacology with his woo:

To the people who say that aromatherapy — my business — is just a bunch of hooey, I would point out that dentists still use clove bud essential oil for dry socket and root canal pain. They have access to all of the narcotics that MDs do, but they still use clove bud oil because it works. It stops the pain.

Actually, what dentists do is to use zinc oxide eugenol (ZOE), which is made by mixing zinc oxide with eugenol from clove bud oil, as a temporary filling when they have to drill close to a nerve. It’s useful because it allows the acute inflammation from the drilling to subside before a permanent filling is placed, decreasing the likelihood of the need for a root canal. In any case, the eugenol is used as used as a plasticizer. The concoction is mixed thusly. That is not like this claim that Cox wants to make:

So if it stops the pain in a tooth, wouldn’t it, shouldn’t it be helpful for arthritis pain? Both are technically bone pain.

But I can’t say clove bud is good for arthritis pain because I would be practicing medicine without a license, even though I know what I know. I can’t say that, or that you can help people sleep, stop muscle cramps, relieve restless legs or address 50 other common problems with essential oils.

Here’s a hint: There’s a big difference between being effective as a plasticizer to hold zinc oxide together in a temporary tooth filling and being effective at treating arthritis pain. If Cox can’t see the difference, I don’t know if he’s teachable, particularly given that, in addition to essential oils, he sells Ion Infrared Detox Units and Far Infrared Belts.

Also, he very much hates having to use the Quack Miranda warning when he sells his products, thinking that he should be able to make health claims because “there are small clinical studies that prove it and we have tons of anecdotal evidence.” Here’s a hint: Small clinical studies “prove” nothing. At best they can be used as preliminary data to support larger, more rigorous clinical studies. Used alone, their limitations are legion, and they can at times be profoundly misleading. Come to think of it, so can anecdotal evidence. Placebo effects, regression to the mean, confirmation bias, and all the cognitive quirks that dominate human thinking lead to a false impression that such treatments work. That’s why we need to rely on larger, better controlled clinical studies whenever possible, not small studies and anecdotal evidence. While it’s true that sometimes in medicine we do have to rely on small studies and anecdotal evidence, but this is usually for uncommon diseases for which large trials are not possible and other conditions for which treatment is urgently needed but the evidence base is not what we would like. Neither of these conditions apply to conditions treated by aromatherapy. More importantly, when anecdotal evidence and small clinical trials prone to bias are all you have as evidence for your entire system of “medicine,” perhaps you should rethink that system. At the very least, you shouldn’t use it until the evidence base is adequate.

Aromatherapy falls into that category. If you want to use it because it smells good and feels good to have oils massaged onto your body, fine. Just don’t expect it to cure anything. And realize that aromatherapy, as practiced by aromatherapists, is not medicine.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

79 replies on “An aromatherapist versus science”

I always find the whacko appeals for being able to use bad evidence (small studies and anecdotes) interesting. I wonder, what would they say if Big Pharma were allowed to do that? Would that be acceptable?

For some reason, I don’t think they would be happy with it.

So I just tell people that if it doesn’t work, you can always go back to the pharmaceutical drug with all of the potential side effects and high cost. It’s a personal choice.

My thought is, try the alternatives first. They are, for the most part, much cheaper and much safer. If they don’t work, then go to the doctor.

Love the “you can always go back to the drug with all the potential side effects and high cost” – the implication being “you can waste your money letting pharmaceuticals make you sicker or you can rub these oils all over your body and be healthy and not spend as much.”

They never see that they’re doing that.

Also love the “try all the alternative (and unproven) stuff first” – that’s a great way to deal with an aggressive cancer, high blood pressure, etc.

Alternative practitioners seem to be completely blind to possible side effects of their treatments or the possible harm in delaying evidence-based medicine.

What’s the harm? If his wife had suffered a stroke while they tried different alternative suggestions, he might have gotten a clue about the possible harm. For that matter, the “avoid the doctor” thing he promotes could have left her (or could lave another patient of his) with high blood pressure for years (often has no symptoms) because there would have been no one checking it.

Those are why the government doesn’t like people practicing medicine without a license. ~shakes head~

Actually, clove oil does more than just reduce inflammation; it’s an anesthetic. I know this because I used it as part of a two-step fish euthanasia. (My poor little platys had a horrible fungal infection that wasn’t responding to treatment. It was a last-ditch attempt to keep the infection from spreading to the rest of the colony, as well as put the poor guy out of his misery. Unfortunately, it was too late; we ended up having to dump the entire tank and start over.) You use clove oil as a general anesthetic, and then vodka to finish the deed. (And since this is added to the fish’s water, obviously you need to first isolate the fish in a separate container.) Now, it may be a more effective anesthetic for fish than humans, but I know it knocked them out surprisingly well.

This was such a fortunate post! I have to use a DEET-free insect spray, and I was getting all of this internet “information” about how certain essential oils in it were contraindicated for pregnancy. A good reminder that those contraindications (except maybe if I were to drink copious amounts of bug spray) aren’t based in science.

Are they still selling those do-it-yourself dentistry kits?

Here’s what Dara O’Briain has to say about about alternative “practitioners”…see the classic line at 3: 57 into the YouTube video:

Dear hubby will be having a partially-impacted wisdom tooth yanked this afternoon. I have concerns about dry socket, because of his regimen of Plavix/ASA prescribed because he is post drug eluting stent placement.

One of the women who toured Alaska with us last year, had episodes of jaw pain which she attributed to a new dental bridge. When she returned home and went to her dentist, it was determined that an adjacent-to-the-bridge tooth extraction had a dry socket. Oral antibiotics were prescribed and then IV antibiotics for 28 days to treat osteomyelitis of the jaw. (She has multiple myeloma and is immune suppressed because of the chemotherapeutic medication that is prescribed).

Recent research suggests that intelligence occurs not only in the brain but inside neurotransmitters.

Like inside individual molecules of serotonin or dopamine? Where “inside?” Within particular bonds or atoms?

Are other biomolecules intelligent too? How many intelligences is my body murdering at this very moment via ATP hydrolysis?


I’m not sure which is worse: that someone might write such drivel as a scam, or that they might actually believe they’re making sense!

– re: Mr Cox’s definition of aromatherapy –

Suddenly I understand what I’ve been doing to myself with perfumes all these years! Balancing and harmonising my mind, body and spirit- PLUS people seem to like it and tell me so!

If you are interested in these arcane esseences that entice mind, body and spirit, go to** and choose a product that you have or like ( or randomly): each entry lists ingredients by note ( top, middle, low- what you smell first, later and much later, respectively).

It appears that I like concoctions that mix fruit, flowers, food products, woods, spices, musks et al. and there are certain types of scent I truly dislike and avoid. Complicated true, but I seem to be able to pick out discrete scents well. One I use often has tea and pink pepper, another almonds and limes, another black currants and cedar ( between 7 and 10 ingredients per product). And oakmoss occasionally is included: a fellow I know once asked me to find a scent for him to complete his well-put-together aura for work ( serious business)- something about him just shouted “Oakmoss!” which he loved and he became a convert. ( I once picked some on a trip and hid it in my carry-on case hoping that it wouldn’t be confiscated by security who might mistake it for another type of mind-altering substance- it currently resides in a drawer with other treasures).

So if aromatherapy is so effacacious, I am thus probably receiving a variety of treatments on a daily basis because of the diverse nature of the products I use/ have used. This is hilarious: I am an inadvertent aromatherapist.

Still, smelling these products makes you feel better. I don’t see any magic beyond that: it’s a harsh world, I’ll take what I can get.

** not an ad; I only buy stuff in shops.

Aroma therapists can indeed cross the line into serious medicine. My mother in law was taken quickly with brain cancer; all the while a neighbor “in the business” kept popping in with very lengthy explanations of why her essential oils just might cure it.

Ism @ 12:16 — You must really like your neighbor for some reason you don’t go into, or else have an infinite tolerance for tactless behavior.

I have a HS classmate that makes organic aromatherapy oils, massage oils, essential oils, candles and whatnot.

They’re wonderful relaxation tools; which is precisely what she markets them as. Ways to help you relax and destress through massage and scent. I’ll confess to having some myself; I love the smell of lavender.

Not all of the aromatherapy folks are scheisters.

Clove oil is indeed a local anaesthetic and I have used it exactly as Orac describes.

Top tip when using it though. Keep it away from plastic. The oil will melt it.

Clove oil is local anesthetic. The type of dried cloves you can get in the supermarket can have a mild local anesthetic effect if they'[re fresh enough. They are sometimes used as an effective folk treatment to temporarily ease dental pain.

Why this guy thinks that local anesthetics have a specific effect on “bone pain”, why he thinks that “arthritis” (a diverse set of symptoms which all of these guys seem to think is a single “disease”) is synonymous with “bone pain”, and why he thinks that local anesthetics would be useful in systemic arthritis, is beyond me.

I notice he’s based in all-American, red-blooded Ohio, not California or New Mexico.

LSM @1216: Aroma therapists can indeed cross the line into serious medicine.

I don’t think “cross the line” means what you think it means. Ditto “serious medicine”.

@Mrs N – I would take some of those contraindications seriously – just because something is “natural” does not mean it is “safe.” Google “clove oil anesthetic” – you will find a lot about fish anesthesia. You’ll also find that they don’t want anesthetized fish to put clove oil into our food supply. Some parts of clove oil are suspected carcinogens and there have been some in vitro tests that demonstrate cell damage when exposed to clove oil.

Just because we are skeptical about natural treatments does not mean they are safe and harmless – it means that the treatment modality remains unproven (i.e., that inhaling peppermint oil cures bronchitis, etc.).

A friend of mine ( now a prominent Irish oncologist) once treated my cold with cloves – in a glass with hot water, sugar, and Irish whiskey. I don’t remember if it helped my cold, but I did feel better for a good few hours.

Mrs. Woo,

I get a catalouge every few months from a hardware/gardening supply outlet. In the new catalogue there is a product sold as a cleaning agent, to remove stickers, grease marks, etc. It’s derived from very concentrated orange oil (the stuff in the rinds, not the juice.)

It’s listed in the description as both “natural” and “organic.” But on the front of the bottle is the skull and crossbones symbol and a big warning POISON!

Natural, organic poison.

Essential oils applied to the feet, the most porous part of the body

They seem to be the most leathery and calloused part of my body, but what do I know? I’m not a licensed aromatherapist…


That’s limonene (or d-limonene if you’re a stickler) in the peels. It’ll give kidney cancer to male rats, but they haven’t seen evidence of carcinogenicity in humans. It’ll cause irritation of the airways and is a known skin sensitizer.

This is off-topic, but thought someone here would know if is down for good? Have not been able to access it for a couple days.


They used to sell a similar product derived from citrus peels(my mistake, not the rinds) called CitraSolv that claimed to be non-toxic. This new product replaces the CitraSolv but is labelled “poison”. Maybe it has to do with the concentration.

Staples (or “Bureau En Gros” as we call it here in French Canada) carries a similar product by the Elmer Glue company derived from lemons but it’s also labelled as poison.

The CitraSolv works great for anything, by the way. Better than Goo-Gone.


It might be the concentration, it might be the additives. “Non-Toxic” is a misnomer, because as we know, the dose makes the poison. It could be the surfactants used – those can really screw up the lungs if inhaled – organic or not.

Yeah, Crayola crayons are labelled non-toxic too but I wouldn’t want to eat a box of 64! Especially the burnt umber…that’s sounds really toxic!

Once I threw some greasy bike parts in an empty yogurt container and rinsed them with one of those orange-peel solvents.

It dissolved the container very nicely. Not sure just what kind of plastic it was, but there are some plastics that citra-solv eats right through.

Those Aromatherapists… They say that lavender essence is soooooooooo “relaxing” — I can’t stand the smell of lavendar !!!


Well, if you ate a bunch of the “Brick Red” crayons, you could always say you **** a brick later.


Did the solvent clean up the floor too, or did the grease get deposited there after the plastic was gone?

We had an undergrad student working in the ecotox lab for part of their bachelor’s project. He didn’t bother to research which solvents he’d be using before he started working with them, and as such pulled on the wrong type of gloves for his solvent. One spill later and he let loose a shriek when his gloves just started to liquefy while he was wearing them.

Good thing the CitraSolv doesn’t dissolve the plastic bottle it’s sold in!

I think HDPE is more solvent-resistant than regular PE, PP or PETE plastic.

I love the Brick Red joke. Do crayons still come with the nifty built-in sharpener?

There was nothing like the aroma of a brand-new box of crayons. Takes me back…

“It is a natural, non-invasive modality” combined with “When applied to the skin, the plant’s life-force is absorbed into the body’s fluid systems which eventually circulates through the organ and glandular systems of the body and eventually through all fluids and tissues of the body.”

My head hurts. No, it’s not invasive, but it eventually permeates into all the tissues of the body. Of course. I shouldn’t expect this stuff to be self-consistent,I know, I know, they’re just pretty much making it up as they go along…but…but…but… ARGH.

I used to buy into all this New Age crap. (Not homeopathy, I was never THAT stupid.) But I was really into herbs, naturopathy, and especially aromatherapy.

My belief didn’t last long, though; I seem to be fairly impervious to placebo effect. I’d sniff the lavender headache remedy. I thought it smelled wonderful – lavender being one of my favorite scents – but it didn’t do a damned thing for headache.

We used to use clove oil for earache in our family, the kind of earache that comes from cold wind blowing into your ear. (I’ve almost never had an ear infection, and somehow I doubt putting oil into an infected ear would be a good idea.) That actually seemed to work, but maybe it was just the warm oil in the aching ear that felt good, along with the mild anesthetic effect. Even clove gum, if you remember that stuff, numbed my mouth up a bit.

Limonene dissolves polystyrene.
I think Sony developed a recycling scheme using that fact for their PS waste in Japan.

The bit about the feet being porous reminded me of a quack product my wife bought years ago that was supposed soak up the “toxins” in you body as wore them overnite on your feet. Looked like shoe inserts that had a little adheasive on one side. Total sham.

Recent research suggests that intelligence occurs not only in the brain but inside neurotransmitters

According to that, I should apply for grant to see the difference between the neurotransmitter of mensa members as compared to (a sample of) the general populace and sell that data to Lord Draconis so he get his minions on a new formula for anti-depressant.


Missouri Mule,

As a kid I used to make models with airplane glue. I liked to let drops of the glue fall on a piece of styrofoam and watch it bubble up and “melt” or dissolve. I guess that was a better secondary use for the cement than sniffing it.


And the inserts turned brown or black by the morning to “prove” they were working, right? I remember that scam.

Kind of like those “detox” footbaths that claim the water turns reddish-brown from the toxins being released. Turns out it’s some sort of electroysis-like reaction and the water turns brown whether your feet are in the footbath or not.

maybe it was just the warm oil in the aching ear that felt good

I remember getting an ear infection as a young girl, and my mother blowing into my ear – somehow, the feel of warm, moist air helped with the pain. She told me her dad blew pipe smoke into her ear when she had an ear infection as a girl – ah, home remedies…

Especially the burnt umber…that’s sounds really toxic!

Are you sure you’re not thinking of Burnt Sienna? They had Raw Umber (and have Raw Sienna), but that was retired in 1990. Anyway, eugenol certainly has a local anesthetic effect; e.g., .

This is off-topic, but thought someone here would know if is down for good? Have not been able to access it for a couple days.

Works fine here.


Of course you’re right. I kept my raw umber in the oven too long and it turned into burnt umber!

Remember “flesh” colour? How racist was that?

@ Candy:

I have mixed feelings about lavender- sometimes I like it, sometimes I don’t. I like complicated scents: right now I’m smelling a blend of black currants, cassis, cranberry, pink peppercorns, rose, lily of the valley, jasmine, peach, raspberry,vanilla, cedar wood and OAKMOSS ( I looked it up- I’m good but not THAT good),

It’s like wine, first you taste one thing, then another- it takes longer though

Then of course there was the aromatherapy practiced by Robert Duvall’s character in “Apocalypse Now”.

Oh, warm oil as an earache remedy! Takes me back to my childhood. My mother used “sweet oil” — olive oil really. She would drip warm oil into the hurting ear, and then a plug of cotton, and lay the child, hurty ear side down, on a heating pad.

Obviously, you don’t instill olive oil if the ear is draining.

Oh, and when my hair was long and tangly (almost down to my belt) I used to put a little rosemary oil on my (wooden) detangling comb. It worked pretty darn well.

To the people who say that aromatherapy — my business — is just a bunch of hooey, I would point out that dentists still use clove bud essential oil for dry socket and root canal pain. They have access to all of the narcotics that MDs do, but they still use clove bud oil because it works. It stops the pain.

Well, I just had 7 teeth extracted today (5 due to facial injuries, 2 due to rejecting a transplant). No sign of cloves, but I did get some decent narcotics. And guess what? Aside from some soreness, I’m doing quite well, thank you. My face hasn’t even swollen, and it took them an hour to remove the the transplant. In fact, they had to drill into the bone in the end. So, yeah, not doing the clove oil thing.

On the plus side, I can pull off a really convincing hillbilly costume for Hallowe’en this year.

I developed dry socket after a tooth extraction last year (IMHO it was a pain worse than giving birth). The dentist packed the socket out with something impregnated with oil of cloves (I’m not sure what it was but it looked like shredded tobacco) it tasted foul, helped a little, but not nearly as much as the tramadol I was prescribed.

Facebook has a “Stop the Burzynski Clinic” page. The latest posting was looking for info on whether the Journal of Cancer Therapy, where B. has a new paper, is a reputable publication. Anybody know?

Marc Stevens: I thought you were in Edmonton? Surely that is not french Canada……

Carolyn, I went and looked on their submission guidelines and the submitting researcher/group recommends three people to review their publication and then the journal passes their paper to the three recommended reviewers. The person/group publishing the paper also must pay the journal for publication.

I haven’t ever submitted work to medical journals, but for other publication I have done, usually you don’t consider anything you have to pay to have published as a “real” publication, and recommending your reviewers sounds like the review process can end up being incredibly biased.

If I’m off on this and this is normal procedure for medical journals, someone please let me know.

Even if you assume that cloves work as a topical application for pain, how the heck are you supposed to use it for arthritis? Does he recommend cutting open your joints or injections?

Didn’t you read Terrie? You rub it on the soles of your feet and it goes all throughout your system with magic properties that make everything all better… 😉


Not so much. This city is falling apart. Structurally, socially, and politically.

And now we have Luka Magnotta to our credit too.

Where are you?

@ sheepmilker:

I just looked at images of the drying out lake. How long has that been going on?

Aren’t you near that amazing beach on the Bay of Quinte? The one that looks like it’s in the Bahamas?

Denice: we had very little snow over the Winter and we haven’t had any real rain for almost a month. The Great Lakes water levels have been going down for some time.

MSII: Sandbanks?

Yep, Sandbanks. I used to drive from Montreal to Toronto twice a month but never took the detour to the beach. Some family members here used to go there for their summer vacations rather than travel to a beach in the US.

I used to stop at the Arby’s right off the highway in Port Hope for a bite to eat on my trips. We don’t have any Arby’s here, and I know it’s far from haute cuisine, but once in a while it’s nice to have something different as a novelty.

I used to know someone who makes wine in PE county. He bought a small vineyard as a hobby for his retirement.

Totally off topic but I thought that I’d mention I was in to see my doctor for wax buildup in my ear.

While there I was aggressively attacked by all types of health-care people and left with updated tetnus and pertussis vaccinations. They also made off with several cc’s of blood.

So far over 48 hours and no sign of autism–well not that I’ve noticed anyway.

Mrs. Woo @1211: I publish in physics journals rather than medical journals, but many features are common between the fields.

The author is generally asked to recommend reviewers for a given paper, but these are normally treated as suggestions for the reason you give. Often one of the reviewers will be from the list, but editors will usually ask people not on the list to review the paper as well. Some journals will allow authors to indicate that certain people should not be reviewers, but the authors usually need to give a reason they think those people would not review the paper objectively.

Some journals, including highly reputable journals, assess page charges for publication. Society journals seem to be more likely than those with corporate publishers (Elsevier et al.) to charge page charges, and of course open access journals have no other revenue source (other than perhaps ads). So page charges do not imply low quality–on the contrary, many such journals in my field are among the most respected.

I have no idea where the particular journal you are asking about falls in the hierarchy of competing journals. If you know the impact factors for that journal and its most direct competitors, that will give you some idea (higher impact factor journals are considered more prestigious within a field, but you cannot compare across fields). Quality varies widely within many publishers’ journal lists (Elsevier in particular; I don’t have much experience with the other major corporate publishers) and from one society to another, so you may not be able to tell quality from who the publisher is.


Even if you assume that cloves work as a topical application for pain, how the heck are you supposed to use it for arthritis? Does he recommend cutting open your joints or injections?

I had an arthrogram with MRI performed this morning, to find out just exactly what it was I did to my foot playing Wii Fit. Having the anesthetic (lidocaine, I think) injected into the joint space was painful, but it made everything else a breeze. In fact, my foot feels better than it has in a couple of months! Not looking forward to that wearing off…..

Society journals seem to be more likely than those with corporate publishers (Elsevier et al.) to charge page charges

Moreover, the pressure on the publisher to keep these down can be severe. (Whether this is alway’s in the society’s best interest I’m not so sure about.) In the journals I’ve worked on, the editor-in-chief also had a discretionary fund to allow waiving of page charges for authors who just couldn’t come up with it, frequently foreign authors from places without robust research and funding traditions.

As for JCT itself, they feel the need to tout the fact that “some papers from Journal of Cancer Therapy (JCT) have been indexed by Pubmed,” which is not exactly a glowing recommendation. (Three, to be precise; the screen shot that they put up here is just bizarre.)

@mrs woo,

That’s standard for biomedical science journals. Some don’t charge for publication, others charge per page with bonus for color others have a flat fee (~$2500 to publish in PLoS journals). Usually they ask for reviewer recommendations, but the editor may or may not actually follow them.

Thank you so much. That is good to know. Still don’t know if it’s a good journal or not. It was on the link Carolyn provided. I admitted I wasn’t sure. Dr. B is publishing – do we take that as him attempting to do the right thing or just doing enough to still be defensible as an underdog?

Still don’t know if it’s a good journal or not.

As a journal, the answer is “not really.” In fact, if one includes “impact factor” in a name search, its only mention outside the world of scattered CVs and identical aggregators seems to have been right here, in passing.

Thank you Narad – so when I’m referred to articles in journals what is a good way to know the better ones from the less credible? Those of us who don’t have regular journal access (I used to have it when I was in marketing for a biotech company years ago and LOVED that ability) often aren’t sure how to weigh one vs. another.

Still don’t know if it’s a good journal or not.

This journal is from the mob that has been spamming me for a year or so about publishing in the American Journal of Plant Sciences.

The one journal they have that is in the area where I would publish has 2 names I recognise on the editorial board and one of those has no real expertise in the area. The papers I have looked at are mostly the sort I would instantly reject, although there is a sprinkling of slightly higher quality material.

This seems to be yet another on-line publishing operation designed to allow Chinese scientists to publish in ‘American” journals without going through too much peer review.

One thing I find really intriguing is the rapid turnaround on all the published papers. I would normally expect papers that required considerable alterations to take a few months from submission to acceptance. All the papers I looked at were done in less than 6 weeks.

Mrs Woo, the best way to know the better papers from the less credible is to look at what others are saying about them. Is the work being cited? You can get this information from Google Scholar (although watch out Google Scholar now includes the grey literature and websites as citing sources). If it is not being cited, it is not having an impact on the field. As for journals, impact factor is an imperfect, but useful first cut.

Thank you ChrisP. I recognize the names of some of the better-known journals, but when you run across ones you’ve never heard of it’s nice to know ways you can kind of weigh that citation as “evidence.” I’ve had a varied and interesting career (what happens when you’re really bright, easily trainable but uneducated) and worked for a while at a university with tenured professors and know there were journals you published in and journals that really didn’t “count” for much in the whole “publish or perish” part of the job. Also in the course of being here, of course, I’ve heard of journals that weren’t worth citing as evidence, so I know just being published doesn’t mean that it is evidence that stands up to greater scrutiny.

the screen shot that they put up here is just bizarre

Waitaminute, JCT put up that screen shot? That shows a grand total of 10 citations to 8 articles (the noname article is the same as one with a named author)? And also shows that they have an extensive history dating all the way back to 2010? (That alone doesn’t mean it’s a bad journal, but I would prefer a few more years of history before concluding that this isn’t the Journal of Nocturnal Aviation.) Marketing FAIL. As is the remark about “some” papers being indexed by PubMed (most people would rather publish in a journal where all papers are indexed in the relevant database).


Que dirais-tu d’une bière la prochaine fois que je descends à Montréal? (j’y était lundi et mardi)


Waitaminute, JCT put up that screen shot? That shows a grand total of 10 citations to 8 articles (the noname article is the same as one with a named author)?

Yup. The publisher has a whole page of this weirdness, which is intended to show that the journals are “tracked for Impact Factor.”

This seems to be yet another on-line publishing operation designed to allow Chinese scientists to publish in ‘American” journals without going through too much peer review.

This should really be separated into two components. The push to publish in Western journals, with the attendant international exposure, is quite real and has been around for years. (Frankly, if I were really concerned about the presentation of my work, I’d rather be in a journal that specializes in translations rather than do that myself and hope that some combination of peer review and the vanishing species of journal manuscript editors is going to be able to patch things together.) Having an outlet to publish stuff that wasn’t accepted elsewhere, particularly if the dominant modality is to journal-hop rather than significantly revise, as well as in fields with increasing rejection rates, is another matter, with a pretty long tradition.

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