Antivaccine nonsense Bad science Medicine

Study laundering: Retracted antivax studies resurrected in fake journals

Antivaxxers don’t like it when one of their crappy studies that they somehow managed to sneak into a decent peer-reviewed journal is deservedly retracted, as happened to Mark Skidmore’s paper that estimated that 278K people might have died from COVID-19 vaccines. Fortunately for Skidmore and others, there exist fake journals that will launder their study by republishing it so that antivaxxers can continue to claim the work has been published in a “peer-reviewed journal.”

When I sat down to write this post, I hadn’t intended on revisiting last week’s topic so soon, but then I saw a post on Popular Rationalism, which is James Lyons-Weiler‘s Substack, entitled Gorski Gaslights His Blog Readership on Skidmore et al.’s Peer-Reviewed Study. My first reaction upon reading the titled was “Who are the ‘et al’?” After all, one of the points I made about Michigan State University economics professor Mark Skidmore‘s awful paper was that he was sole author in the original paper and remains sole author of the “revised” paper, as I wondered why he didn’t recruit any real statisticians, epidemiologists, or even social scientists skilled in the construction of meaningful survey questions. My second reaction was amusement, mainly because most of the “defenses” of Prof. Skidmore’s paper were predictable and unconvincing. My third reaction was a bit of déjà vu combined with the satisfaction of seeing that James Lyons-Weiler had basically confirmed everything that I said about his journal without meaning to do so. In doing so, he reminded me that this is not the first time that we’ve seen a retracted paper resurrected in a dodgy journal; the only difference is that this time the dodgy journal was more obviously dodgy than the usual journal used to launder a retracted antivax study and even more obviously ideological. Given that Lyons-Weiler’s response allows me a chance to discuss his “Institute for Pure and Applied Knowledge” (IPAK) grift, of which the “journal” in which Prof. Skidmore’s paper was republished is but a small part.

Lyons-Weiler's glorious purpose is study laundering
Let’s just say that James Lyons-Weiler’s purpose (study laundering) is not so glorious.

James Lyons-Weiler declares his glorious purpose

What struck me first about Lyons-Weiler’s post defending Mark Skidmore’s paper is that he basically admits to laundering the study in the service of fighting back against what he perceives as “censorship.” First, however, he takes great umbrage at criticism based on his journal:

As Editor-in-Chief of Science, Public Health Policy & the Law, I have established rigorous review practices and policies. To date we have published papers by invitation only. The peer-review process is as unbiased as possible: the authors of a paper do not know who the reviewers are, and we do not allow conflicts of interest between authors and reviewers.

Unlike other journals, we consider submissions that may have been wrongfully retracted. The reviewers are made aware that the paper has been sent to the journal following retraction, and why the journal is reviewing the study or paper anew.

The decision to publish or not publish the paper is entirely dependent on the feedback we receive from the peer reviewers.

So far, this sounds fair enough; that is, unless you look at Science, Public Health Policy & the Law. Lyons-Weiler’s assertions only seem reasonable until you see exactly what sort of “journal” he is running. Also note his glorious purpose: He openly states that he’s rescuing “wrongfully retracted” papers. Does anyone want to bet that Lyons-Weiler invited Prof. Skidmore to submit his retracted manuscript to Science, Public Health Policy & the Law. Lyons-Weiler doesn’t say that he did this, but reading between the lines I strongly suspect that he did.

An antivax “editorial board” for a fake journal

Peer review is meaningless if the editors and peer reviewers have a known bias and/or are conspiracy mongering cranks. It’s already a huge knock against the journal that James Lyons-Weiler created the journal and also serves as its Editor-in-Chief. Any journal worth its salt will try to recruit a prestigious and qualified editorial board. So let’s take a look at the editorial board of Science, Public Health Policy & the Law, starting with Lyons-Weiler himself. I will include links to posts or tags about individual editorial board members and then briefly discuss them. Let’s just say that many of these names will be…familiar. Also, no doubt Lyons-Weiler, should he see this, will cry “ad hominem”! However, I would counter that the background and qualifications of an editorial board matter, and that his board is both highly biased with antivaxxers and unqualified. See if you agree:

  • Editor-in-Chief: James Lyons-Weiler, The Institute for Pure and Applied KnowledgeJames Lyons-Weiler, as I have discussed before, started out as a legitimate scientist but somehow went down the antivax rabbit hole years before COVID-19. He first made a name for himself just as COVID-19 was threatening to become a pandemic in early 2020 by being one of the first cranks to claim that SARS-CoV-2 (as it came to be named), the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, had been the result of a lab leak from a lab working on coronavirus vaccines since the SARS epidemic 20 years ago. He based that claim on his having supposedly found found nucleotide sequences from a commonly used plasmid in the then newly published sequence of SARS-CoV-2. (Hint: He didn’t.) He’s also been claiming that deaths from COVID-19 were misclassified and actually due to deaths from bacterial pneumonia, an old trick that antivaxxers used to use to claim that influenza deaths from superimposed secondary bacterial pneumonia were not actually flu deaths. Before the pandemic, he railed (badly) against studies that found that autism is primarily genetic in nature. More amusingly, in 2018 he got into a pissing match with another antivaxxer, stung by her criticism that he wasn’t sufficiently antivax. Long before the pandemic, he was a frequent presence at antivax conferences and on antivax panels; he even helped another editorial board member (Paul Thomas, below) run a highly dubious “vaxxed vs. unvaxxed” study.
  • Russell L. Blaylock, MD, Theoretical Neuroscience Research, LLC, Ridgeland, MS, USARussell Blaylock? Now that’s a blast from the past! Dr. Blaylock is a retired academic neurosurgeon who was a clinical assistant professor of neurosurgery at the University of Mississippi, who later turned quack and antivaxxer (but I repeat myself) and has since long been a fixture in the “alternative health” movement. Before the pandemic, he was claiming falsely that vaccines cause the fatal neurodegenerative disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease), Parkinson’s disease, and autism, as well as that vaccines such as the H1N1 vaccine are dangerous or ineffective; that dental amalgams and fluoridated water are harmful to our health; and that aluminum cookware, aspartame, and MSG are toxic substances that cause brain damage. Unsurprisingly, with the arrival of COVID-19, Dr. Blaylock embraced all the usual conspiracy theories and pseudoscience about it, including that the COVID-19 vaccine is a “dangerous, essentially untested experimental vaccine.” (This “editorial” by him in a similarly dubious journal is a greatest hits of COVID-19 misinformation, conspiracy theories, and pseudoscience, including a rant about ivermectin.)
  • Dolores J. Cahill, Professor, School of Medicine, Conway Institute, University College Dublin. I must confess to having been unfamiliar with Prof. Cahill, although I had heard the name before. It didn’t take me much Googling to discover that she has been abusing her position as a tenured professor of immunology to make all sorts of false claims about COVID-19, including that COVID-19 can be prevented by taking vitamin C, vitamin D and zinc; the most efficient treatment is hydroxychloroquine; children wearing a mask will be starved of oxygen and see their IQ lowered; and RNA-based vaccines do far more harm than good. She has even been quoted as saying, “If you paid me ten million, I wouldn’t take it. I would go to prison first. If someone vaccinated me [with an RNA vaccine], I would charge them with attempted murder.” A sure sign of just what a crank she is comes from the bravery of students at her university who wrote a 33-page scientific rebuttal of her claims, a document that was signed by 133 students from the university’s School of Medicine and sent to its administrators.
  • Gayle Delong, PhD, Baruch College, City University of New York. First off, as I mentioned in last week’s article, Gayle DeLong unfortunately died of breast cancer nearly two years ago, Even so, before her untimely passing, we had met Gayle DeLong before. She was an associate professor of economics at the Zicklin School of Business, where her areas of expertise were listed as international finance, financial institutions, and regulated industries, who had published an utterly execrable paper that falsely linked HPV vaccines to female infertility, a paper that was ultimately retracted, ironically right as CoVID-19 was making itself known in Wuhan. Before that, she had been publishing awful studies mining the VAERS database, the first of which I wrote about in 2011. Indeed, she “pioneered” (if you will) a number of bad study designs that have proliferated in the antivax “scientific literature” during the pandemic and been used by COVID-19 antivaxxers to blame COVID-19 vaccines for death, infertility, and general destruction.
  • Xavier A. Figueroa, PhD, Institute for Pure and Applied Knowledge, Public Health Policy Initiative. Just being associated with IPAK is big enough red flag for pseudoscience and quackery for me, but maybe others need convincing. So I Googled, which led me to his Substack, where, among other nonsense, he rails against “scientism” as a “psyop”promotes the quackery of spike protein “detoxification”; and misleadingly cites VAERS reports as evidence that COVID-19 vaccines are deadly. That told me all that I needed to know about him, as well as that he is a good fit for James Lyons-Weiler’s quack institute.
  • Ted Fogarty, MD, Past Chairman, University of North Dakota Department of Radiology; Assistant Professor, Heart of America Medical Center. Although I appear never to have written about Dr. Fogarty, I did vaguely recall the name. He is a radiologist (like, for instance, Dr. William Makis, another COVID-19 quack), which always makes me wonder why he thinks he has expertise in infectious disease and vaccines. It didn’t take long to discover that he has long been known in “alternative health” circles for his advocacy of hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) for, well, just about everything (even Alzheimer’s) through his “integrative medicine” medical practice (MoPlatte Hyperbarics) , including—unsurprisingly—as a treatment for advanced COVID-19. Equally unsurprisingly, he is antimask, and has parroted a number of antivax talking points before the North Dakota legislature, including the usual distortions about the Vaccine Court and a truly risible claim that mRNA vaccines are “manipulating genomics at a ribosomal level,” which, if you know anything about molecular biology, you will recognize as a meaningless phrase. So, yes, predictably he’s antivax, too.
  • Brian Hooker, PhD, Professor of Biology Simpson University. Antivax “luminary” Brian Hooker has been featured here many, many times. Suffice to say that he, with Andrew Wakefield, was responsible for the creation of the “CDC whistleblower” conspiracy theory in 2014 and was also a major character in Del Bigtree and Andrew Wakefield’s antivax pseudodocumentary “epic” VAXXED. These days, he’s been palling around with tech bro turned rabid antivaxxer, Steve Kirsch. ‘Nuff said.
  • Mary Holland, President, Children’s Health Defense. Mary Holland is president of Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.’s antivax organization, Children’s Health Defense. If that doesn’t demonstrate that she’s antivax to the core, I don’t know what will, but maybe her misusing her status as a lawyer to promote the “Nuremberg 2.0” narrative of retribution against public health officials and provaccine doctors and scientists or her abuse of research ethics in 2011 in the service of bad science and law claiming that vaccines cause autism will do the trick.
  • Rick Jaffe, Esq. Rick Jaffe was cancer quack Stanislaw Burzynski‘s lawyer for decades; that is, until Burzynski stiffed him for ~$250,000 in legal bills. Before that, he was the one who had hatched Burzynski’s plan to use dubious clinical trials as cover for administering his unproven antineoplaston therapy to cancer patients. These days, Mr. Jaffe is a typical lawyer representing quacks, in particular stem cell quacks, while claiming that COVID-19 vaccines are “gene therapy” and lamenting has been lamenting how the organization that certifies most continuing medical education (CME) is trying to make its standards more rigorous, thus endangering courses in “complementary and alternative medicine” (CAM).
  • Anthony R. Mawson, MA, DrPH, Jackson State University. Dr. Mawson is very appropriate to this medical board, too, as he was an earlier example of how retracted antivax studies don’t die, but come back, zombie-like, in dubious journals, the better to be laundered. More on this later in the post. These days, he too is palling around with Steve Kirsch.
  • James O’Dell, Bioregulatory Medicine Institute, Louisville, KY. I was unfamiliar with James O’Dell, but a quick Google search found his practice’s website, Inner Light Consultants, LLC. There, I learned that he is a “a highly sought-after traditional Chinese practitioner and one of Louisville’s most established naturopathic doctors”; in other words, a total quack offering cupping, acupuncture, naturopathic treatments, and more. His Bioregulatory Medicine Institute appears to have been founded in order to promote quackery like acupuncture meridian therapy, anthroposophic medicine, homeopathy, naturopathy, energy medicine, reflexology, and more—basically almost every form of quackery known to humans.
  • Jacob Puliyel, MD, MRCP, M Phil, Head of Pediatrics,, St. Stephens Hospital, Delhi, India. Similarly, I was not familiar with Dr. Puliyel, but it did not take me long to find that his name appears a lot in articles about “coercive vaccination” and was the plaintiff in a case, Jacob Puliyel v. Union of India, which held that “bodily integrity is protected under Article 21 of the Constitution of India and no individual can be forced to be vaccinated.” One could argue that he’s not “antivaccine” but “anti-mandate.” However, that argument would be undermined by his writing about COVID-19 and vaccines as the “abandonment of the scientific process” while fear mongering about spike protein from the vaccine, as he approvingly cited conspiracy theorists. Also, he defended Andrew Wakefield’s 1998 Lancet case series against Brian Deer’s investigative journalism that demonstrated scientific fraud in that series. As I did more research, I learned that Dr. Puliyel is a longtime antivax activist who has written for the antivax blog Age of Autism back in the day, his favorite topics being to fear monger about the oral polio vaccine, to claim incorrectly that HPV vaccines have “zero effect,” and to argue against universal Hib vaccination in India by casting doubt on a large clinical trial supporting its efficacy. Amusingly, he also took great umbrage in 2010 over being called part of the “antivaccine lobby” in The BMJ.
  • Christopher A. Shaw, PhD, University of British Columbia, Dept of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences Programs in Neuroscience and Experimental Medicine. Before the pandemic, Christopher Shaw featured here a number of times as an example of a scientist doing bad studies in order to “prove” that vaccines cause autism and Gardasil causes premature ovarian insufficiency in young women, all while supporting false claims that HPV vaccines have caused the sudden deaths of young women and using the results of an abusive FOIA request to intimidate a legitimate scientist who, having learned how she had been tricked into accepting an invitation to appear at an antivax “roundtable,” wisely withdrew. His work has also been funded by a wealthy antivaxxers.
  • Paul Thomas, MD, Integrative Pedatrics. What more can I say about Dr. Paul Thomas that I haven’t said already, particularly in my most recent post about him after the state of Oregon had suspended his license to practice medicine? He was a rising star in the antivax movement around 5 years ago and, with James Lyons-Weiler, ran a highly dubious “vaxxed vs. unvaxxed” study that was published in a (sort of, given that it was an MDPI journal) legitimate journal and then ultimately retracted. Since his medical license was suspended, Dr. Thomas has started a “health coaching” business. where he “will not be diagnosing or treating” but rather “providing information as a wellness coach” at $420 a pop for a 45 minute “coaching” session over Zoom. Truly, the grift is strong in this one.

Again, I know that Lyons-Weiler, should he see this, will whine to high heaven that this is an “ad hominem” attack. Again, I will emphasize that in order to judge a journal you really do need to know the expertise of its editorial board, and his editorial board consists entirely of antivaxxers, quacks, and cranks, one of whom has been deceased nearly two years. (Seriously, man, update your editorial board page.) After all, he already has claimed that I have nothing but ad hominem:

The study by Mark Skidmore et al. that was published earlier this month survived peer review. The reviewers gave substantiative feedback, and the authors addressed their critiques. Fair enough. Now the paper is part of the living, published knowledge base, not lying in ashes like so many Nazi-burned books.

After publication of our substack announcing Dr. Skidmore’s exoneration by the MSU IRB, naturally, and predictably, a person named David Gorski had to try to spin the events into a narrative he always spins: that vaccine are always safe, that the IRB got it wrong, that Science, Public Health Policy & the Law is an “antivax” “fake” journal, all the usual vacuous and empirically impoverished ad hominem he could muster.

If your journal was founded by an antivaxxer (you) and its editorial board consists of antivax conspiracy theorists (which I demonstrated rather conclusively that it does), then it is not at all unreasonable to call it an antivax journal. As for the “fake” bit, well,  look at what Lyons-Weiler said about the “peer review” that it underwent. He as much as admitted that he invited Prof. Skidmore to resubmit to his journal, the results of which were always going to be predictable given the makeup of his editorial board. I note that Lyons-Weiler’s “journal” lists him as the “reviewing editor” for Prof. Skidmore’s paper. Given that, you can damned well predict that not only would Lyons-Weiler be sympathetic to the findings of this “study” but that he’d assign it to “peer reviewers” who, as antivaxxers, would also be sympathetic to the “study” and likely to overlook its massive methodological flaws.

Finally, just peruse the table of contents of the most recent issue of Science, Public Health Policy & the Law. There, you will find not one but two articles by Mark Skidmore, the first being this one, the second being an equally awful epidemiological study claiming to have found a correlation between access to hydroxychloroquine and lower mortality from COVID-19 and makes the claim that making hydroxychloroquine more widely available could have saved over a half a million lives. What about other, non-Skidmore, issues? There’s an article promoting an antivax narrative about MMRassociating Gardasil with teen suicidepromoting Dr. David Brownstein‘s quack treatment protocol for COVID-19,

Laundering and answering critiques

At this point, let me briefly scratch my head at this response to my critique by Lyons-Weiler:

The critique erroneously tries to emphasize that the study extrapolates from 39 vaccine-related fatalities to make nationwide estimates. This is a misleading representation. The actual sample size of the study is 2,840 participants, not 39. Thirty-nine is a result, it’s an estimate, not a sample size.

I went back and reread my post, and conclude that he’s trying to obfuscate by making a distinction without a real difference. Basically, he’s admitting that there were only 39 deaths reported among the social circles of the entire sample of 2,840 respondents, which is how I described the results, and I never called it a sample size; indeed I cited this passage from the study:

A total of 2840 participants completed the survey between December 18 and 23, 2021. 51% (1383 of 2840) of the participants were female and the mean age was 47 (95% CI 46.36–47.64) years. Those who knew someone who experienced a health problem from COVID-19 were more likely to be vaccinated (OR: 1.309, 95% CI 1.094–1.566), while those who knew someone who experienced a health problem following vaccination were less likely to be vaccinated (OR: 0.567, 95% CI 0.461–0.698). 34% (959 of 2840) reported that they knew at least one person who had experienced a significant health problem due to the COVID-19 illness. Similarly, 22% (612 of 2840) of respondents indicated that they knew at least one person who had experienced a severe health problem following COVID-19 vaccination.

Later, I cited this passage from one of the Supplemental Data sections:

As shown in Figure 1 in the body of the article, expected fatalities exceed reported fatalities for the 65-74 and 74-85 age groups, but the other categories generate positive vaccine deaths after subtracting expected fatalities.  Setting COVID-19 vaccine fatalities to zero for the 65-74 and over 74 age groups, and tallying net fatalities for the other age groups generates 39 vaccine-related fatalities.

Let’s just put it this way. Extrapolating the results of a survey of 2,840 individuals to a population of ~330 million is problematic enough, but extrapolating from 39 reported deaths among the social circle of this sample of 2,840 is even more problematic. I will once again emphasize that, even if this was all totally valid and accurate, the most that can be said is that there is a perception that the vaccines can kill people that, if extrapolated from this survey, suggests that people’s beliefs suggest that around 278,000 people died after vaccination, which is why I laughed at Lyons-Weiler’s further defense:

Gorski, critique accuses the study of making broad claims based on a small number of fatalities without providing the necessary context. The study employs statistical methods to analyze data from 2,840 participants, and the 39 fatalities are contextualized within this framework. The critique’s failure to provide this context undermines its own argument, casting doubt on its intent and validity.

This sounds like a repeat of the gaslight, but it’s actually a general feature of bona fide critical thinking to consider context, too. Double-bad on Gorski

Nope. These statistical analyses are the science equivalent of putting the proverbial lipstick on a pig.

Critical thinking. “You keep using that term. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Unfortunately, Lyons-Weiler can’t resist digging himself in deeper:

The critique broadly labels the study’s methodology as flawed without engaging with the specifics of how the study conducted its analyses. The study employs logit regression analyses among other statistical methods, which the critique fails to address. This omission is a significant weakness, as it dismisses the study’s findings without adequately challenging the methods that led to those findings.

Seriously, the first thing I learned in biostatistics is that if the assumptions behind your analysis are hopelessly flawed, as they are in Prof. Skidmore’s study, no amount of statistical prestidigitation, no matter how advanced the methods, will make the study produce valid results. Moreover, again, the issue is how Prof. Skidmore took results from a survey that might have been interesting in and of themselves, for example how ideology and vaccine hesitancy will it more likely that one will attribute the death of someone in one’s social circle to vaccines and less likely that one will attribute the death to COVID-19, and misused that result to extrapolate a meaningless “estimate” of the number of deaths caused by COVID-19 vaccines. As for his claim that I said that Prof. Skidmore ignored other causes of death, well, not exactly. I actually said very little about that in the most recent version of the critique (mainly because the post was getting too long), but in an older version, I discussed this, and I also mentioned in the new version how you can’t correct for deaths from other causes that “would have happened anyway” using the methods described, particularly criticizing his apparent assumption that people with chronic diseases who died relatively quickly would probably have “died anyway.”

Also let me scratch my head at this part:

While the study does incorporate data from the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), it does so for comparative purposes and does not solely rely on this database for its conclusions. The critique’s overemphasis on the use of VAERS data misrepresents the study’s multifaceted approach to data analysis.

I hardly mentioned the study’s use of VAERS, although I did point out that it can’t be used to provide a reliable estimate of the prevalence of any adverse event because of the nature of the database, only pointing out that in Prof. Skidmore’s “comparison” of his results to VAERS he “appeared to accept nearly every respondent’s report of a death from the vaccine as having been caused by the vaccine.” Which he clearly did.

Before I move on to how this study was laundered, let me just laugh a bit at this part of Lyons-Weiler’s post:

The study underwent rigorous ethical oversight, receiving approval from the Institutional Review Board (IRB). Furthermore, it survived a peer-review process that included substantive feedback, to which the authors responded adequately. This adds an additional layer of validation to the study’s methodology.

Saying that cow pie must smell great because dogs love its smell does not mean that it does, in fact, smell great. (I’m sure you can guess what is the cow pie and what are the reviewers in this homespun analogy. I just hasten to caution that I love dogs and somewhat regret comparing them to the peer reviewers of this paper, although I also note that my two dogs love to roll in deer poop and I have to watch them very closely when they’re at my parents’ house, where deer frequently use their yard as a way station.)


The methodology employed in the study by Mark Skidmore et al. adheres to scientific rigor and is well-suited to address the research questions posed. While no study is beyond critique, it is crucial that such critiques are grounded in a thorough understanding of the study’s methods, rather than misrepresentations or oversimplifications. The methodological choices made in this study are both defensible and appropriate, contributing to its value in the ongoing discourse on COVID-19 vaccination experiences and decisions.

In light of these points, Gorki’s critique’s approach appears to rely on the readership’s inability to discern its misleading tactics from bona fide critique.

Such tactics compromise the critique’s integrity and do a disservice to scientific discourse. It is imperative for critiques to adhere to the principles of reason, science, and logic to contribute constructively to academic and public discussions.

The only “disservice” done to science is articles like Prof. Skidmore’s and defenses of such dreck by science denialist cranks like James Lyons-Weiler.

Study laundering

I mentioned that Prof. Skidmore’s republication of his retracted study in a journal such as Lyon-Weiler’s is an example of “study laundering,” whereby a study that’s been retracted is published elsewhere in a dodgy journal that superficially appears to be a legitimate scientific journal but, upon closer inspection, is not. This brings me back to another member of the editorial board, namely Anthony Mawson.

Back in the day, long before the pandemic, Mawson was known as one of the first antivax “scientists” to have set up a “vaxxed vs. unvaxxed” study, the goal of which was to demonstrate that vaccinated children had much more autism and were generally more unhealthy than unvaccinated children. He also “pioneered” crowdfunding bad antivax studies all the way back in 2012. Ultimately, his study, which—surprise!—showed that vaccinated children were less healthy in that they had a higher risk of autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders. Like Prof. Skidmore, Mawson used a survey to come to his results. Hilariously, when his study was initially published in Frontiers of Public Health, a not great but not illegitimate journal, it received heated criticism, leading the publisher to describe the study thusly:

Basically, in essence the study ended up being nixed, although I don’t recall the word “retraction” ever having been used. After that, Mawson appears to have divided the study up two minimal publishable units and had them published as two papers in a bottom-feeding predatory open access journal even lower on the food chain that the first, after having promoted its second coming among the antivaccine crowd. Ultimately, the paper landed in the Journal of Translational Science, where it was apparently retracted but then reappeared again. As I joked at the time, “the check must have finally cleared.” Of course, the Journal of Translational Science is a dubious, bottom-feeding journal in my opinion. Even so, one might argue that this journal is marginally better than Lyons-Weiler’s journal in that, unlike Lyons-Weiler’s journal, it doesn’t appear to be pure antivax. Rather, it appears to be about the pay-to-publish model. On second thought, maybe that isn’t better. Either way, the study is still there, published on the journal’s website, thus laundered from its former retraction and appearing to have been a legitimate, peer-reviewed study. It rather makes me wonder if Mawson was one of the peer reviewers for Prof. Skidmore’s manuscript.

I also note that Brian Hooker has also had at least one bad study retracted, his “reanalysis” of a 2004 study showing no correlation between MMR vaccination and autism, which he published in that most ideological of right-wing antivax pseudojournals, the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons, the house journal for the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons. You remember AAPS, right? As I described before nearly 18 years ago, AAPS doctors are so far “outside the herd” that the organization promotes dangerous medical quackery, such as antivaccine pseudoscience blaming vaccines for autism, including a view that is extreme even among antivaccine activists, namely that the “shaken baby syndrome” is a “misdiagnosis” for vaccine injury; its HIV/AIDS denialism; its blaming immigrants for crime and disease; its promotion of the pseudoscience claiming that abortion causes breast cancer using some of the most execrable “science” ever; its rejection of evidence-based guidelines as an unacceptable affront on the godlike autonomy of physicians; or the way the AAPS rejects even the concept of a scientific consensus about anything. Let’s just put it this way. The AAPS has featured publications by antivaccine mercury militia “scientists” Mark and David Geier and, as of two years ago (the last time I checked) still promoting antivaccine pseudoscience.

Of course, these are not the only members of the editorial board who have had their bad studies retracted by journals. Two other editorial board members have done that as well, specifically, James Lyons-Weiler himself and Paul Thomas. Their crappy paper was a report of Dr. Thomas’ “vaxxed/unvaxxed” study that was retracted by MDPI’s International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health in 2021 due to problems in methodology. To my surprise, Lyons-Weiler never republished this study in his own journal. Maybe even he knows his journal is fake, try as he might to deny it. Or maybe he knows that he doesn’t need to launder his retracted papers, given how retracted papers seem to be highly cited and shared on social media far beyond their retracted status would lead you to believe they should be. In this area, Andrew Wakefield was unfortunately the pioneer before social media even existed.

But what about IPAK?

I will concluded by taking a brief look at James Lyons-Weiler’s IPAK, because his dubious “journal” is but a part of his activities spreading misinformation about science. If you look at the IPAK website, you will see that it seems to exist to offer online courses on a variety of topics. Its course listings appear, on first glance anyway, to be benign enough; that is, until you look at some of the instructors and subject matter.

The first thing that irritated me about the course list is that you can’t easily get a good description of all the courses. Clicking on most of the titles takes you not to an information page with a detailed course description but rather to a PayPal page to pay for the course, and you have to scroll all the way down the page to find links to the descriptions of some of the courses. I was amused, however, at the offering of a course called How Not To Be Fooled. Purporting to be a course in critical thinking, which is laughable enough coming from IPAK, it is taught by Mark McDonald, who promoted the discredited idea promoted with Dr. Robert Malone that the pandemic caused an epidemic of “delusion” that qualified as a “psychosis.” Just a brief perusal of McDonald’s Substack should be enough to show you that he is anything but a critical thinker. (He’s also a raging transphobe, too.) Seriously, though, click through yourself if you don’t believe me. Even on the registration page, which has some more, many of the course descriptions are so bare-bones and the instructors generally so laughable that it amazes me that anyone would pay up to $180 for these courses, although I do note that at least they admit that the Wholistic Approaches to Human Health course is taught by antivax quack David Brownstein. Overall, it looks to me as though there is a mixture of unobjectionable science with pure pseudoscience and quackery.

Combine Lyons-Weiler’s republication of bad retracted science (the Skidmore paper) with his “institute,” which appears to exist mainly to sell online courses mixing science with pseudoscience and bad science, and you see the model: Promote antivaccine pseudoscience, cultivate relationships with antivax quacks and fellow travelers like Mark Skidmore, and then portray oneself as hopelessly “persecuted” and “silenced,” using retractions like that of Skidmore’s paper as examples. Of course, as I like to say, retraction is not “censorship” but rather quality control, to which I also like to add that far too few, not too many, papers are retracted. Then, building on that narrative, profit. It’s not as though this hasn’t been a strategy used by quacks since time immemorial. The only difference now is that Substack, social media, and video make the profit margin so much more potentially lucrative.

Snake Oil and Grift
While it’s true that many, if not most, snake oil salesmen believe in their quackery, it’s also always about the grift.

ADDENDUM: James Lyons-Weiler is…not pleased…with me. Looking over his rambling, oh-so-self-righteous and “civil” defense of his journal, I do wonder about his reading comprehension. For example, he claims that I called his journal a “pay-to-publish” journal. I did not. I called the journal in which Anthony Mawson republished his retracted study “pay-to-publish.” Don’t believe me? Reread this post! He also claims that I called his journal a “bottom-feeding predatory open access journal.” Don’t believe me? Again, reread this post! Look, Lyons-Weiler’s journal is a crappy, biased fake journal in my opinion, but I never called it “pay-to-publish” or “predatory open access.” I do consider it to be very much bottom-feeding in addition to being biased. (Just look at the table of contents of the handful of issues published), however, even though I never explicitly described it as such.

Finally, his complaint that I am so very uncivil amuses me. I’m supposed to be civil with longtime antivax activists? I’m supposed to treat them like real scientists and academics? Of course they want that, but they do not rate such treatment. Remember, an exaggerated false appeal to “civility,” “open debate,” and “professionalism” is a longstanding crank tactic designed to try to dismiss criticism simply because the tone is too negative. Sorry, Mr. Lyons-Weiler. I don’t play that game.

As for Lyons-Weiler’s not-so-thinly veiled threats of a libel suit, all I can say is this. Be cautious, sir, and remember one word: “Discovery” (not the Star Trek series).

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]

40 replies on “Study laundering: Retracted antivax studies resurrected in fake journals”

I was amused, however, at the offering of a course called How Not To Be Fooled.

As Richard Feynmann once said, “In science, the first rule is to not fool yourself. And you are the easiest person to fool.”
Looks like JLW forgot that.

JLB: “Why’d you pull me over, officer“?

Cop: “You were speeding.”

JLB: “Why didn’t you pull THAT guy over”?

Cop: “He wasn’t speeding.”

I looked at it again and those were the studies based on Surgisphere, which turned out to be a bogus database.

So some medical researchers screwed up and got caught quickly.

It seems like that shows how the scientific publication process can actually work pretty well at times.

Oh, I see. You think HCQ works for COVID? I’m glad I’m here to help disabuse you. We used to give it out with azithromycin early on because there were some rumors it helped. Didn’t do a damn thing. Also, all my lupus patients who were on it for months before COVID? Yeah. Didn’t do anything for them. Their course was predictable based on the standard risk stratification tools regardless of HCQ. Whether taking it changes cardiac risk doesn’t mean anything concerning its efficacy for COVID.

I said that the head of the CDC through his underling was involved in pushing a fake study that apparently survived peer review for a little while, at a relatively convenient time.
February 21: Initial Release pertaining to NIH-NIAID Remdesivir placebo test trial

April 10: The Gilead Sciences Inc study published in the NEJM on the “Compassionate Use of Remdesivir”

April 29: NIH Release: Study on Remdesivir (Report published on May 22 in NEJM)

May 22, The BWH-Harvard Study on Hydroxychloroquine coordinated by Dr. Mandeep Mehra published in The Lancet

May 22, Remdesivir for the Treatment of Covid-19 — Preliminary Report National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health, New England Journal of Medicine, (NEJM)

June 5: The (fake) Lancet Report (May 22) on HCQ is Retracted.

June 29, Fauci announcement. The $1.6 Billion Remdevisir HHS Agreement with Gilead Sciences Inc

It’s enough to be skeptical of the institution if its head would push a fake study.

None of the studies I’ve seen in HCQ are persuasive because at least of the one’s I’ve seen, none used the recommended protocol by Dr. Raoult.

Orac exposed the problems with that study over two years ago. Seems like you’re too attached to the medical orthodoxy JLBie; you should open your mind to the possibilities

It is rather old case (june 2020) You cannot find anyhing newer ?
How is Fauci involved ?

Orac writes,

“Rather, it appears to be about the pay-to-publish model.”

MJD says,

Thank goodness for the pay-to-publish model. Today, MJD asked the artificial intelligence “Alexa” if vaccines can be harmful. In response, Alex described only allergic reactions as a possible danger during vaccinations. The medical literature overwhelmingly supports the notion that allergies are a chronic disease. In an effort to show that the allergy cascade may be used as cancer immunotherapy, the pay-to-publish model is not a rate limiting step for placing pioneering thoughts into the public domain.

LOL. You should offer your Vogon poetry to Lyons-Weiler to publish in his fake journal. It would save you from having to pay scammers to get it published.

@ MJD:

I will be serious for once, not sarcastic –
take the money you spend on publishing and either burn it or donate it to a good cause: school supplies for poor children, scholarship funds at a local college, supporting pet shelters, buying supplies for food pantries or clothes for homeless people, buying movies and video for senior recreation groups.
Any of those options will accomplish meaningful change for people or animals in need.
You are wasting money on pipe dreams and enabling grifters who know people want to become published authors and WILL PAY.

Denice Walter writes,

“I will be serious for once, not sarcastic”

MJD says,

Thanks for….just being you! I’m going to take your advice and donate a few of my published books ( e.g., Cambridge Scholars Publishing, Nova Science Publishing) to a Goodwill near me. BTW, several years ago MJD was grateful to be a part time job coach for disabled individuals at the Goodwill store in Iowa City.

@ Orac,

The pay-to-publish model is financially painful for the “common man.” It’s all we’ve got.

Or you cannot publish, because you do not make any sense. Have you thought it ?

@ Aarno Syvänen,

I’ve thought about limiting my teachings here at RI, although, this is a “punch in the gut” kind of place to receive a full spectrum of criticism. Thanks for your input!

@ Orac,

Aarno Syvänen is right about making sense. As a suggestion, MJD would make more sense if allowed to speak freely and not be endlessly burdened/silenced by auto-moderation. Kindly release MJD from auto-moderation…

@ Orac’s minions,

Respectful Insolence the blog runs on a pay-to-publish model. It’s time for Orac to move to Subtack – A new economic engine for culture. Please “like” this comment if any of it makes sense.

What did Goodwill ever do to you to be subjected to a donation of your books?

Composting might be an earth-friendly alternative.

“Peer review is meaningless if the editors and peer reviewers have a known bias…”

Indeed. I suppose the titular “fake journals” are not to be confused with the ones that are captured by big pharma? Still waiting for the diatribe calling those out.

Another guy who can’t read, I see. If you actually read the blog instead of making comments with your eyes closed, you’d see that Orac talks about problems with real journals quite often.

You think if somebody publish things you do not like, it is pharma capture? you may just be wrong, you know.

—I actually know anti-vax luminaries that Orac doesn’t? Amazing!

Puliyel: his name was often at AoA as providing care for autism but I forget what he did. I found today that he sued India again and lost
indianlegalsolutions April 2023.

Cahill: her lilting Irish voice was often broadcast at when the chief woo-meister played her seemingly endless speeches against PH measures for Covid. IIRC, much was made of her former EU position.

—JLW critiques Gorki– wasn’t he a poet? In Russia, spelt differently?

— I have contemplated IPAK’s course offerings: from what I can surmise, he probably offers reasonable intro bio courses from some prepackaged sources and wings the “more advanced” material.

—Do crappy journals publishing dodgy woo earn the owners real money?
Here may be a new one:
Journal of Clinical Research and Reports
In September they published Gary Null et al’s study about ‘de-aging’ 70+ year olds at his Texas estate ( see to read )

Does anyone want to bet that Lyons-Weiler invited Prof. Skidmore to submit his retracted manuscript to Science, Public Health Policy & the Law. Lyons-Weiler doesn’t say that he did this, but reading between the lines I strongly suspect that he did.

Well, he does say explicitly that the journal has published by invitation only. Seems pretty explicit to me;-)

To date we have published papers by invitation only.

Not a biased sample at all there, no siree.

Having been an editor and reviewer for a humanities journal in a previous life, I have a perhaps wider take on journal practice legitimacy. For example, I wouldn’t say “peer review is meaningless if the editors and peer reviewers have a known bias”. There are all kinds of biases, and while some are inappropriate, others may be key to a journal’s identity. What’s not OK is HIDDEN biases, pretending to do one thing when you’re actually doing something else. Now, I realize Orac is trying to show some fair judgement before scorching JLW’s rag for re-animating the Skidmore paper, but even with my non-science-rooted standards, I couldn’t agree that JLW’s statement of editorial principles and policy “sounds fair enough”. That is my honest first reaction as i read it was ‘Ding, Ding, Ding’ warning bells.

First, I have no problem with inviting authors to submit papers. Our little journal was quite obscure when I started working on it, so we got very few submissions over the transom, quality or otherwise. Our practice then was to scan conference programs to find out who was working on topics we were interested in, and then send the authors a letter noting that generic interest and inviting them to consider submitting some work to us. But, the idea of ‘we publish papers by invitation only’ seems quite odd, so that’s red flag number one of a possible hidden agenda.

Tell #2: If you’re going to claim your “peer-review process is as unbiased as possible” you should go beyond “the authors of a paper do not know who the reviewers are” (which isn’t particularly relevant) to “the reviewers do not know who the authors are”. yes?

Finally, (pretty obviously) the phrase “wrongfully retracted” is over-loaded with begging the question, in a way that’s just incompatible with the idea of judicious review. There are so many ways the policy statement could indicate Public Health Policy & the Law is open to considering papers that may have been retracted, withdrawn etc. elsewhere without going to the conspiratorial implications of “wrongful”, which points to overt intentional malpractice by other journals in the field.

Of course, much of the language from JLW Orac quotes in the body is much woo-ier, so my observation is a minor point at best. I just thought y’all might find it mildly interesting that that passage sounded sketchy even to someone from territory where acadmeic publishing is way more subjective….

I noticed today that RFK, Jr has promised to have the AG’s Department pressure editors to publish retracted papers. Perhaps he was thinking of Lyons-Weiler’s fake journal.

Personally, I think you are being overly polite about Lyons-Weiler’s fake journal. It is quite clearly a web-based vanity publishing activity for Lyons-Weiler and his mates. If a mainstream publisher were offering this journal, they would likely sack the editorial board for ethical failures.

But the goals of these fake journals is to grift from gullible parents and boost the pseudoscience arm of the anti-vax movement, which in turn bolsters the other gears in their machine. The parents they are scamming are not scientists and much of America is scientifically illiterate so even a not-fit-to-be-toilet paper “journal” is more than enough for their needs/wants.

JLW’s off the deep end, posting yesterday on “X” a what he calls “The Weiler Conjecture”:

“The Weiler conjecture states that physics is incompatible with time because Maxwell’s equations, and thus Einstein’s and everyone else’s assumed that time past, present and future are identical in nature (share all the same fundamental properties (dimension analysis), against empirical experience, leading to canceling time out at places where it should not have been. Time is not incompatible with physics, it’s the other way around.
@stephen_wolfram @EricRWeinstein”

It’s not even coherent English, and as physics goes, utter rubbish.

…time past, present and future are identical in nature (share all the same fundamental properties (dimension analysis), against empirical experience…

Against empirical experience?

Insert time cube reference here?

…something, something educated stupid brains cannot understand the 4square Day…

Yeah Timecube. I think that site should be preserved for eternity as an example of how not to design a website and the most ununderstandable gibberish someone has ever ever produced.

Forgive my ignorance, but what is/was Timecube? I’ve seen it mentioned before, but I don’t know what it’s about.

Wow, so L-W is now a Distinguished Physicist? 🙂

The Bacon Conjecture: IPAK actually stands for I Publish Asinine Kooks.

Someone has been reading Stross’ Laundry and New Management tales where magic waxes and wanes depending on whether the “stars are right”.

Regarding JLW accusing other of being uncivil, well that is ironic. Last year I pointed out to him multiple glaring errors in his “paper” he and Blaylock “published” in IJVTPR claiming to show the vaxxed vs unvaxxed paper he (JLW) and Paul Thomas published in IJERPH was wrongfully retracted (it wasn’t, there are holes a mile wide in it)

Eventually JLW literally told me to “go home” because I “was drunk” in response to my criticisms. That was all he had.

He as much as admitted that he invited Prof. Skidmore to resubmit to his journal, the results of which were always going to be predictable given the makeup of his editorial board.

Tooth Fairy Science at its best!

RIP Dr Hall

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