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A smarter way to suppress inconvenient science

By Milind Watve | My Science My Way | August 31, 2022

After a delay of 6 months, the journal PLOS One returned our manuscript saying that they could not find an academic editor and reviewers for our manuscript. PLOS One is a fairly open minded journal and has a team of editors representing wide diversity of fields. That’s why this kind of response is quite surprising. This is only for the second time in my life I received this response. Earlier incident was with the journal Biology Direct. Are the two incidents only a matter of rare chance? Or are there any specific reasons to it?

One thing common about both is that both were about diabetes, highlighting models that are at substantial deviation from the prevalent mainstream thinking in the field. I think there lays the reason.

What was our paper about? It pointed out a large number of anomalies in the prevalent theory of glucose dysregulation in type 2 diabetes. It listed dozens of mismatches between the theory and an array of reproducible experimental or epidemiological findings. It also suggested an alternative model that could account for almost every anomaly in a coherent thread of logic. Classically type 2 diabetes is believed to result from an elusive concept of “insulin resistance” and inadequate compensatory insulin response. We, on the other hand assumed with sufficient evidence in hand that diabetes begins with vasculopathy. Because of deficient vasculature there is inadequate and defective glucose transport to the brain which makes the brain deficient in glucose. Deprived of sufficient glucose, the brain instructs the liver to release more glucose in blood. Vasculopathy is long known to be a characteristic of diabetes but the thinking was that chronic rise in glucose is the cause of vasculopathy. We are saying the reverse, vasculopathy the cause of rise in sugar. There is clear demonstration that transport of glucose from blood to brain is reduced prior to hyperglycemia. Further, ALL the experimental and epidemiological patterns not explained by the insulin resistance theory are explained with complete coherence by the “vasculopathy first” model. Therefore the alternative model looks more promising. There also exists published evidence that early signs of vasculopathy are seen much prior to hyperglycemia.

The catch is, if we accept the alternative model, the entire line of treatment of diabetes will become completely redundant. That would lead to collapse of a trillion dollar business. But that is much ahead in the sequence. Right now we are not over-claiming. We only say in this paper that the alternative model explains almost all the anomalies and therefore needs to be considered seriously and trigger research on a new line.

How do researchers in a field react to a finding, hypothesis, model or synthesis that directly contradicts the prevalent theory? You would expect them to critically view the new finding, may be find flaws in the argument, aggressively criticize, debate and so on. I am ready to believe that a welcome response is highly unlikely. It would be natural to expect heavy criticism. This might happen if the new argument is inherently flawed and it is easy to find the flaws in it. But what if the prevalent theory itself is flawed and the new argument it substantially stronger and sound in terms of logic, mathematics and evidence?

From repeated experience I know what a typical response of scientists is, particularly from the field of biomedicine. They prefer to keep mum. They neither accept nor reject any disruptive thinking or evidence. They pretend that they just haven’t heard of it. Criticism can be replied to. A debate is likely to take a logical path so that ultimately truth will prevail with a good chance, if not every time. But the strategy that always defeats novel thinking is “silence”. When the giants in a community have vested interests in a prevalent theory and someone makes a sound case that it is wrong, they just keep mum, pretend that nobody said anything; they did not hear anyone saying anything. In the days of hierarchical structure of science publishing this strategy can perhaps never be defeated. The giants in the field can block the new thought from getting published in the flagship journals of the field. They don’t care if it gets published anywhere else because they know nobody reads research anyway. Research is propagated only through a handful of journals; that too only through the titles and abstracts. Rarely if ever, research papers are read completely. So often the data in the paper contradicts the statements in the abstract. But everyone reads only the abstract and therefore truth remains masked. If we point out stark difference in the data and the conclusions in a paper, the journal is guaranteed to not respond.

This is not different in principle, from the responses of researchers to a disruptive idea described by Thomas Kuhn, albeit two major differences. One is that of difference in culture of the research fields. Kuhn mostly talked about physics in which ideas are debated. Debate is not in the culture of biomedicine. They have smarter ways to suppress alternative thinking. The second difference is that Kuhn wrote when peer review was not a mandatory norm in science publishing. Now peer review is another weapon by which any upcoming thought can be swiftly killed. And you need not waste any time in reading and commenting as well. Just decline to handle the manuscript and that is enough!! Here is our manuscript in a preprint form (https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2022.01.19.477014v1) and see below the correspondence with the editors.

September 29, 2022 - Posted by | Science and Pseudo-Science, Timeless or most popular |

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