PLOS One seems to have done it again! I wrote a few days ago about how the peer review system at PLOS One seemed to give a free pass to acupuncture studies, when it came to seeking rigorous experimental evidence in support of the claims presented in the paper. I had shared the post via Twitter, and in response, someone from PLOS One had replied:
Classical homeopathy is scientifically implausible as a therapy, because there is no substance of any medicinal value left in the functionally-infinitely diluted nostrum. Naturally, there is no hard evidence supporting the therapeutic use of homeopathy, in terms of clinical benefit to the patient. Absent such support, homeopathy-peddlers generally push affordability and low cost as homeopathy’s unique selling point (USP). A large retrospective cost-analysis study, based on nearly 45000 individual German patients, gives lie to that myth.
Serious question: has the peer review system at the PLOS journals been doing a less-than-stellar job when it comes to evaluating complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) research for publication? If the answer is ‘yes’, why? Or if ‘no’, how does a paper like this go through PLOS ONE without some serious revisions? I refer to the systematic review and meta-analysis on effectiveness of acupuncture for essential hypertension, done by a group of researchers from the Tianjin University of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) in China, led by Xiao-Feng Zhao, published on July 24, 2015, on PLOS ONE. The authors conclude that there is acceptable evidence for use of acupuncture as adjunctive therapy along with medication for treating hypertension. My perusal of the paper led to some major reservations about that assumption, as well as indicated some instances of sloppy writing which should have been corrected at the stage of review – but, strangely, wasn’t.
Early last month, I communicated in a blog post a few questions I had about a study in Electro Acupuncture published in PLOS One. It took the authors a while to get to them, but the senior and corresponding author of that study, Professor Kai-Liang Wu, of the Fudan University Shanghai Cancer Center, graciously wrote a detailed reply to my question a week ago. I am going to put his response in this space in blocks. For better comprehension, I shall put my questions in italicized letters followed by his response; the boldface types are for emphasis, mine. My comments are interspersed with the blocks.
In the wake of my recent critique of acupuncture being touted as a remedy for allergic rhinitis, I was pointed (via a Twitter comment) towards a 2013 review in Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, which purported to propose a mechanism for the much-claimed anti-inflammatory effects of acupuncture. There are several putative mechanisms, discussing all of which will make this post gargantuan. Therefore, I shall focus on the explanation involving the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis.
A couple of days ago, Paige Brown Jarreau, my Scilogs co-blogger (“From the Lab Bench“) and our intrepid, supportive, Scilogs-Community Manager, launched her own crowdfunding project on experiment.com to fund her research work on science communication. It is a worthy effort, and her results will be Open Access, which is an awesome plus. Please do visit her blog as well as the project page to support her endeavor if possible.
Every year on March 24, World Tuberculosis (TB) Day is observed to commemorate the discovery of the etiological agent of this disease, the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis by noted German physician and microbiologist and Nobel Laureate, Robert Koch (1843-1910). The infection occurs via inhalation of the air-borne bug; therefore, the disease primarily affects the lungs, but it can spread to other parts of body as well, such as the central nervous system (brain and spinal chord), bone, and internal organs. If adequate treatment is not instituted (and sometimes despite therapy), a person with active TB disease will likely die. In the United States, in 2010 (the latest year for which statistics are currently available), of the nearly nine hundred deaths in which TB was suspected, TB was confirmed in roughly 4 out of 10 cases, and a total of 569 people died from TB. Globally, in 2012, an estimated 8.6 million people contracted TB, of which 1.3 million died.
Yersinia pestis (YP) is a rod-shaped bacterium associated with the pandemic plagues that have devastated human civilization multiple times. According to available genetic evidence, an ancestral bacterium called Yersinia pseudotuberculosis (YPT) gave rise to this bug in China, from where it spread repeatedly westward to the rest of the world causing disease in both animals and humans.
Whether we know it or not, the human skin is a veritable garden of micro-organisms. The outermost layer (‘epidermis’) of the skin, the shafts of hair follicles, as well as the soft surface inside the nose (‘nasal mucosa’), making up for approximately 1.8 square meter of surfaces, is home to about 1000 species of bacteria among other things. Most of these don’t ordinarily cause disease; some are there for the ride, and some even offer benefits by warding off other nasty bugs from latching on.