Anti-vaccine fraud gets four papers retracted – who is surprised?

Earlier in May 2018, I wrote an article about an anti-vaccine paper published by someone named Lars Andersson, who turned out to be essentially a scam artist. This lying anti-vaccine fraud published a scientifically-challenged online article in the Indian Journal of Medical Ethics.

The article itself was really bad. As Vince Iannelli, MD, at Vaxopedia put it:

…the author came to bogus conclusions, as although there has been an increase in rates of cervical cancer in some of the smaller counties in Sweden, it is thought to be due to differences in regional cancer prevention. To put it more simply, if it was due to getting vaccinated, then since immunization rates aren’t that different in those counties (just like immunization rates vs autism rates in the United States), then why didn’t rates of cervical cancer go up everywhere?

That alone should have gotten the article to be immediately retracted, but the story about the anti-vaccine fraud author gets worse. He used a fake name, fake credentials, and fake institutional association – that’s like three out of three fakes for an anti-vaccine fraud.

Andersson claimed that he was in the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology at the Swedish Karolinska Institute, one of the most prestigious medical universities in the world. An author with that type of background would be impressive, and the research would have been taken somewhat seriously. But what we found out is that Andersson was a con artist – he used a fake name, he did not work at the Karolinska Institute, and he didn’t have any credentials that he claimed.

Laughably, and probably, ironically, Andersson whined that “he used a pseudonym because he believed the use of his real name would have invited personal repercussions from those opposed to any questioning of vaccines.” First, what a coward. Second, the anti-vaccine religion takes great pleasure in attacking scientists and vaccine advocates by sending lying emails and phone calls to employers, families, and friends trying to discredit them publicly. These ad hominem personal attacks usually contain strong elements of racist hate speech, because the anti-vaccine mob lacks any evidence in support of their pseudoscience.

Did I mention that Andersson is a coward? Along with being an imposter?

But my loyal readers are here for the retractions, and that’s what I’ll give you today.

anti-vaccine fraud

Anti-vaccine fraud Andersson retraction – part 1

Andersson was, and I suppose, still is, an anti-vaccine fraud who claims to be a “scientist.” He scammed the world by trying to push dishonest “research” to help the cause of the vaccine deniers. At first, the Indian Journal of Medical Ethics (IJME) allowed the article to stand, even after it was determined that Andersson was a complete impostor:

According to an article Retraction Watch, the journal stated:

The comment “Increased incidence of cervical cancer in Sweden: Possible link with HPV vaccination” was published in the Indian Journal of Medical Ethics online on April 30, 2018. The author gave his name as Lars Andersson, in the department of physiology and pharmacology, Karolinska Institute (KI), Sweden.

On May 8, the KI informed us that its department of physiology and pharmacology did not have any person of this name and requested us to remove the name of the institution. So, on the same day a correction was carried out and the name of KI was removed and duly intimated to KI.

Since then, we have investigated and learned the identity of the author. The author has said that he used a pseudonym because he believed the use of his real name would have invited personal repercussions from those opposed to any questioning of vaccines.

This deception of the journal’s editors is unacceptable. The author could have asked the editors for confidentiality, giving the reasons. Editors may choose to publish articles without revealing the true name of the author, if it is determined that the circumstances justify it.

However, we considered the matter and decided to keep the article on the site as the issues raised by it are important and discussion on it is in the public interest. The author’s true name is withheld at his request.

Maybe the journal was trying to save face. Maybe they really thought the “research” was valid. It doesn’t matter, the article from the anti-vaccine fraud stayed online.

Fortunately, on 26 May 2018, IJME retracted the article. Their statement said, in part:

…that the article used publicly available data with a simple statistical method; made a fair attempt to report a possible association of the increased incidence of carcinoma cervix with HPV vaccination; and suggested more research. We felt that the data and analysis could be scientifically appreciated and critiqued without reference to the author. Therefore, despite the author’s unacceptable deception, the editors decided to retain the article having already made a correction to remove the false affiliation.

No, the research didn’t show us anything. It was a terrible article using, at best, amateurish methodology in an attempt to support an a priori conclusion about the HPV vaccine. For example, and just one example, the anti-vaccine fraud failed to examine confounders that is one of the basic steps in epidemiological research.

Obviously, the editors at IJME are trying so hard to absolve themselves of any responsibility in this matter that they are making claims that are not supported by the evidence. It is frustrating.

Following our decision, we received valuable advice from our editorial board and other well-wishers, emphasising that there should be zero tolerance to the author’s deception, irrespective of the content of the paper. While our assessment of the science of the article may be correct, we have concluded that tolerating the author’s deception and retaining the article was an error of judgment. We express our deep gratitude to them and have accepted their advice.

Thus, this article is hereby retracted. We will provide a detailed account of this issue, with the nuances involved, in an editorial on a later date.

Yes, the article should have been retracted because the author was an anti-vaccine fraud who used fake credentials to get an article published. But again, as I wrote just above, it should have been also retracted because of the substandard, scientific and statistical, methodology and conclusions. It was a terrible article, irrespective of the deception.

As editors, we are wary of the extreme ideological divide that views discussions on vaccines as either “pro” or “anti”.

These IJME editors are delusional, at best. There is no “ideological divide” – there is one side, the pro-vaccine advocates, that utilizes the best scientific evidence in support of the claims of vaccine safety and effectiveness. On the other side, the anti-vaccine religion relies upon hate speech, anecdotes, lies, misinformation, ignorance, pseudoscience, and fake papers to support their unfounded position. That’s not ideological – that’s science vs. ignorance. And that ignorance puts children at risk of dying of vaccine-preventable diseases.

In low and middle-income countries like India, where early HPV infection and incidence of carcinoma cervix are relatively high, scientific discussion and resolution of issues concerning the HPV vaccine is critical, for women receiving it, and for policy making on its introduction in the universal immunisation programme. We hope that the hypothesis of possible harm of vaccinating women previously exposed to HPV is carefully explored in future studies.

And I can’t let these editors off the hook for these comments about the HPV vaccine. They are doing a disservice to the teens and young adults in India. In a number of huge studies of the HPV vaccine, the only evidence we can find is that the vaccine is very safe, possibly the safest vaccine ever made. It is ridiculous that the editors of this journal didn’t spend one nanosecond looking up the powerful, well-designed epidemiological studies that establish the safety of the HPV vaccine. Why would they sow doubt about the vaccine, when they should be pushing it with all of their editorial power to make sure that India is free of HPV-related cancers in the future?

Furthermore, there is a robust systematic review – the pinnacle of the hierarchy of medicine – that provided us with solid evidence that the HPV vaccine, in fact, reduces the risk of pre-cancerous and cancerous lesions in women years after receiving the HPV vaccine. This research eclipses the fraudulent research from an anti-vaccine fraud.

The safety and effectiveness of the HPV vaccine are supported by a huge amount of evidence. It is irresponsible, if not downright unethical, for a medical journal to state otherwise, absent any strong evidence that refutes the scientific consensus about the HPV vaccine. The editors of this journal should be embarrassed by their uninformed opinions that place their citizens in harm’s way.

Some advice to IJME

To be fair, Retraction Watch and many others hold IJME in high regard, and they are willing to forgive IJME for this one transgression. Christian Munthe, a professor of philosophy at the University of Gothenburg (Sweden), blogged about this matter in DailyNous, in an article, “Medical Ethics Journal Infected by Anti-Vaxx Fraud” (please see Note 1) pointed out several issues about the paper.

One of my favorite points that he made was that the “IJME editorial management made these decisions (about not retracting the article once the fraud was uncovered) in spite of the fact that the area of vaccination research for several decades has been under onslaught from an avalanche of fraudulent papers that so-called antivaxx activists, often connected to what has become a flourishing industry of quackery under the guise of ‘complementary’ or ‘alternative’ medicine, try to peddle to all kinds of journals.”

Dr. Munthe does close with some helpful advice to IJME:

There is still time for a shift of position to save the journal’s reputation, albeit the window is rather narrow due to the unprofessional actions of the editorial management so far. I have been informed that many members of the IJME editorial board, several of which are well regarded international researchers in bioethics (many of which are philosophers), have contacted the editor and his team about this issue. Hopefully, we will in the near future see a forceful shift of policy, maybe also some changes of the editorial management, to get the IJME back on its formerly very promising course. I, for one, very much hope that this will occur, as applied ethics very much needs high-standard journals based in more than just the wealthiest parts of the world.

I’m much less willing to give IJME the benefit of the doubt – they made a mess of this whole affair. I hope that the journal takes Dr. Munthe’s pointed advice and makes concrete, science-based, changes to their editorial policies about vaccines. They are putting children at risk, and they need to get on the side of real science and real medicine about vaccines.

Anti-vaccine fraud Andersson retraction – parts 2, 3, 4

OK, enough with the Indian Journal of Medical Ethics and their dangerous HPV vaccine pseudoscience. Let’s move on to more of Andersson’s malfeasance.

The blog Retraction Watch reported on 3 more retractions of a paper and two letters written by the anti-vaccine fraud. The three articles, all published in the relatively high impact factor Journal of Internal Medicine, were:

Andersson also wrote a letter, “Conflicting results in article describing “HPV-vaccination and risk of chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis,” published in the journal Vaccine – we have no word if they are going to retract that letter.

In each of these four articles, the anti-vaccine fraud Lars Andersson claimed he was at the Karolinska Institute, although he used an outlook.com email address as opposed to the Institute’s actual domain, ki.se. That’s generally a clue about fraudulent credentials. Ironically, Ulf de Faire, the editor of the Journal of Internal Medicine, is actually a faculty member at the Karolinska Institute. In addition, the journal was founded over 150 years ago by the Karolinska Institute, and nearly all of the editors during that time were faculty at the Institute. I have no clue how Dr. de Faire and the Institute missed Andersson’s fraud, but someday we might find out more.

At any rate, Dr. de Faire, in an email to Retraction Watch, said that all three articles in his journal would be retracted, although it hasn’t happened as of today. He stated that:

We are currently discussing with our publisher, Wiley about the technical aspects in executing it.

I hope to update this article with formal retractions from both the Journal of Internal Medicine and Vaccine very soon.

I also want to state something else – these articles should not have been published not just because Lars Andersson is a lying anti-vaccine fraud – it’s because he’s pushing pseudoscientific nonsense in each of his letters and one article. How did these journals publish this junk science? Because he was at the Karolinska Institute?

Summary

Professor Ole Petter Otterson, the president of the Karolinska Institute, wrote the following in his blog:

A publishing system that allows papers to be published under false identities and affiliations might easily foment distrust of the medical publishing process and of research in general. Validating the identity and affiliation of the author(s) and safeguarding quality in published reports are issues of utmost importance. Journals have a responsibility in this regard. In this particular case, leading researchers with intimate knowledge of the vaccination field have identified serious flaws in the published report and its conclusion, thus questioning the quality of the review process.

This is how far the anti-vaccine religion has fallen – the only way they can publish their anti-vaccine fraud is to trick journals with fake credentials or use low ranked predatory journals. It’s because there is just no evidence supporting their pseudoscience, so they have to resort to chicanery. It’s all they’ve got.

The anti-vaccine religion is nothing but a fraud. They peddle the quackery in the best way they can – using lies, deception, and shenanigans. Unfortunately, the robust system of scientific journals eventually uncovers this fraud, but it takes time. And by then, the damage is done.

Notes

  1. Can we all have a meeting and agree on our terminology? Is it anti-vax? Anti-vaxxer? Anti-vaccine? Anti-vaccer? Complete anti-vaccine liars? We need to come to a consensus!

Citations

The Original Skeptical Raptor
Chief Executive Officer at SkepticalRaptor
Lifetime lover of science, especially biomedical research. Spent years in academics, business development, research, and traveling the world shilling for Big Pharma. I love sports, mostly college basketball and football, hockey, and baseball. I enjoy great food and intelligent conversation. And a delicious morning coffee!