Culture Science

Bad Science; Lack of Expert Peer Review

Spread the love

This isn’t intelligent design, per se, but just something that popped up on the Drudge Report and caught my attention. It’s about a research article that appeared in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry where the researchers conclude that marijuana use causes earlier onset of psychosis.

This is a wonderful demonstration of how crap science that supports something politically correct is used and abused all the time.

The gist of it is that people who become psychotic at some age tend to become psychotic years younger if they are marijuana users and further that increasing amounts of marijuana used causes increasingly earlier onset of psychosis.

Immediately obvious to me is the possibility that voluntary marijuana use is a symptom of an underlying problem that has nothing to do with marijuana use. People often resort to recreational drug use to escape and/or ameliorate some underlying problem. Alcohol abuse is a classic case of being symptomatic of some other problem. These researchers had no control group to rule out the very likely possibility that people who tend toward psychosis are unconsciously or consciously attempting to self-medicate. The medication isn’t the cause, in other words, its a symptom. What you need to discriminate between cause and symptom is take a randomly selected group of people who aren’t marijuana users and administer marijuana to half the group and monitor all of them for onset of clinical psychosis. If marijuana is a cause then the marijuana user group will have a higher percentage of psychotics or if the same rate then earlier onset. If there is no difference in percentage or age of onset then marijuana use is simply symptomatic. If they’d done that they might even find that the non-user group has the worse problem with subsequent psychosis and the self-medication is actually effective to some degree.

But no, the researchers in fact did nothing at all to discriminate between cause and symptom and it’s obvious in seconds to even a casual observer such as myself that the study and its conclusions are flawed. Where was the peer review that should have prevented this junk science from reaching the pages of the Journal of Clinical Psychology without correction of obvious flaws?

The answer here is that when something is politically correct, like blaming marijuana for early onset psychosis or blaming CO2 for global warming or blaming religion for Darwinian skepticism, it gets funded easily and flies past peer review easily. If something isn’t politically correct funding is denied and publication refused.

Is that how science works now? Amazing. Perhaps we shouldn’t be focusing so much energy on the crossroads of religion and science but rather on the crossroads between politics and science, money and science, fads and science, fashion and science, fame and science, and so forth.

29 Replies to “Bad Science; Lack of Expert Peer Review

  1. 1
    Joseph says:

    It’s not the dope, it’s the junk-food ingested to satisfy the munchies.

    And it’s not the “cause” just a catalyst…

    Here’s an experiment- lock someone in a glass room and have him/ her puff a big fatty.

    Outside of the glass room have strategically placed vending machines filled confectionary favorites.

    Observe.

    If nothing happens inject the scent of pizza into the room.

  2. 2
    sheldonr says:

    There’s nothing mysterious about the rigors of peer review. I have read some of the most abominable papers in obscure fields of physics with no connection to political correctness. But no matter how obscure the topic or arcane the field, there will be politics. And where there is politics there is power, and somewhere, somehow, the stench of money.

    I’ve attended a non-PC, non-connected, non-powerful, non-funded conference for the past 4 years, called “Instruments and methods for Astrobiology” at the annual SPIE meeting in San Diego. Most of the players in Astrobiology get their funding through NASA (or its poor sister ESA). And within NASA, the politics have been against finding or looking for life outside of Earth since at least the 1976 Viking mission to Mars. So the true believers, who know that NASA found life but won’t report it, come to this meeting.

    What is most curious is how much fun all the participants have. It is as if they can finally let their hair down. So much of big conferences is “networking” and looking respectable and getting funding, that when a conference comes without (much) politics, it is like that first time you looked through a telescope.

    I wrote a series of papers for the conference, culminating with “Cosmological Evolution: Spatial Relativity and the Speed of Life”, making the claim that Darwin isn’t right, in fact he isn’t even wrong–he’s just irrelevant. I tried to explain the historical background to ID, including the long debate starting with Aristotle vs Democritus (and referencing Dembski too). It’s published with SPIE can can be downloaded from
    http://rbsp.info/rbs/RbS/PDF/spie08.pdf

    And no, it wasn’t rigorously peer reviewed.

  3. 3

    Perhaps we shouldn’t be focusing so much energy on the crossroads of religion and science but rather on the crossroads between politics and science, money and science, fads and science, fashion and science, fame and science, and so forth.

    Bingo.

  4. 4
    nullasalus says:

    sheldonr,

    Fascinating paper, I’m reading over it now. Thank you for the link.

  5. 5
    mike1962 says:

    “marijuana use causes earlier onset of psychosis.”

    Don’t be fooled. A little psychosis can be fun and profitable.

    (disclaimer: I do not use marijuana.)

  6. 6
    DaveScot says:

    sheldonr

    Echoing nullasalus I found the paper fascinating and spent about an hour reading it through to the end.

    I really appeciated the part about phages as a biotic information delivery system which is something I’ve proposed before. In addition to phages I’ve suggested that retroviruses can directly inject information into more complex organisms. I’d never proposed a source for the information – it just seems obvious that viral vectors are the perfect tool for the job. So obvious that we’re using them ourselves in genetic experimentation and medical interventions. The question is, are we the only intelligent agents using these things? When you find a perfect tool to fit your needs already manufactured it seems likely its the product of a toolmaker not just some happy coincidence.

  7. 7
    mad doc says:

    Dave.

    Because marijuana is an illegal drug it cannot be studied properly. Be very careful in saying what you do Dave.

    In my work I have seen enough heavy cannabis users develop psychosis to lead me to the conclusion that cannabis is an independent risk factor for schizophrenia. There are also studies involving servicemen in Scandinavian countries to support this contention.

    What has this got to do with ID anyway?

  8. 8
    Larry Fafarman says:

    Speaking of peer review —

    Hypocritical judges — especially Judge Jones — have made a fetish of peer review in science, but the dirty little secret is that most law journals are not peer-reviewed or even faculty-reviewed but are just student-reviewed! To make matters worse, these “peerless” law journals have been cited thousands of times by court opinions! For details, see this article on my blog.

    Judge Jones’ Dover decision was not appealed, meaning that it was not “peer-reviewed,” so I composed this limerick:

    Judge Jones once said that peer review
    is needed to show that something’s true.
    But that’s OK,
    he didn’t say,
    his Dover ruling was peer-reviewed too.

  9. 9
    Larry Fafarman says:

    mad doc said (#8) —

    Because marijuana is an illegal drug it cannot be studied properly. Be very careful in saying what you do Dave.

    That’s true — and not only is it illegal, but it is known to be harmful physically and maybe also harmful mentally. Dave’s proposal of a controlled experiment of administering marijuana to a randomly selected group of people is not practical. Still, though, the research article has no indication that the researchers recognized or reported that the results of the study could — as Dave pointed out — be biased because marijuana users may be predisposed with an above-average tendency to develop psychosis.

    In my work I have seen enough heavy cannabis users develop psychosis to lead me to the conclusion that cannabis is an independent risk factor for schizophrenia.

    That is just anecdotal evidence, and your observations could be biased because — as noted above — marijuana users may be predisposed with an above-average tendency to develop psychosis.

    There are also studies involving servicemen in Scandinavian countries to support this contention.

    I presume that this is also not a controlled experiment.

    What has this got to do with ID anyway?

    It has a lot to do with ID because critics of ID have made a big issue of ID’s alleged lack of peer-reviewed articles. But Dave presented no positive proof that the marijuana paper was not peer-reviewed – he only assumed that it was not peer-reviewed because it may contain what he called “obvious flaws.” But we don’t even know whether the paper cautioned that the results could be biased because of the reason stated above. Dave may be jumping to conclusions.

    So far as I am concerned, the courts have no right to point a finger at the alleged lack of peer review of ID, considering that court opinions have made thousands of citations of law journal articles that have not been peer-reviewed or even faculty-reviewed but have just been student-reviewed. Physician, heal thyself. The pot’s calling the kettle black. People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. Etc..

  10. 10
    Lutepisc says:

    Like mad doc, I’m aware of plenty of anecdotal evidence suggesting that marijuana use can push individuals predisposed to schizophrenia “over the edge” into their first psychotic episode. I haven’t dived into the literature to see how well supported this suspicion is, though.

    BTW, Dave, the article you referenced was in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry…not Clinical Psychology. [fixed, thanks -ds] Your points about peer review are obviously good ones, though.

  11. 11
    DaveScot says:

    lutepisc

    Schizophrenia is characterized by hallucination and paranoia among other things. Marijuana in high enough doses can produce transient hallucinations and in lower doses transient paranoia. The operative word is transient. Since the transient effects are mimics of diagnostic schizophrenic symptoms it may be just a diagnostic artifact. Again not a cause. In this case I’d want to know if marijuana can be a tool for early diagnosis of schizophrenia.

    For something interesting google marijuana and ADHD. I’ve long suspected that marijuana is far better than Ritalin (a drug I think is over-prescribed and causes more harm than good) at treating ADHD and that many people drawn to chronic marijuana use are unconciously self-medicating for ADHD and it works. A growing number of doctors are coming to the same conclusion.

  12. 12
    Lutepisc says:

    Dave, to meet criteria for schizophrenia the symptoms have to be in place for at least a month. If the symptoms are there for more than a day but less than a month, the diagnosis is “Brief Psychotic Disorder.”

  13. 13
    DaveScot says:

    Lutepisc

    Chronic marijuana use is often daily whereas diagnosis of schizophrenia is 1-month duration of two positive symptoms except for severe hallucination or delusions where just one symptom is required. One of the other symptoms is paranoia. Daily marijuana use would mimic that one symptom in many people.

    For many people marijuana use, even chronic use, simply isn’t problematic. Chronic use has been approved for the treatment of glaucoma in enough places for a long enough time to use them as a control group in these studies. I don’t believe glaucoma has any correlation with psychosis so it’s a perfect case for study. I’ll google around to see if I can find any studies of adverse long term side effects for glacoma sufferers with medical marijuana prescriptions. Fair enough?

    Just as an aside I am biased. I’m libertarian by nature and believe that adults should be allowed to make their own informed mistakes. If it were up to me I’d decriminalize marijuana to take the profit incentive out of illegal distribution and effectively remove it from the inventories of dealers who also traffic in more destructive drugs like cocaine, amphetamines, and heroin. That IMO should eliminate the “stepping stone” problem. Furthermore it then becomes a source of large tax revenues which can be put to good in drug education. As far as I’m concerned alcohol use and abuse is by far the largest cause of recreational-drug related problems. I know a lot of people whose lives have been ruined by alcohol and not a single person whose life was ruined by marijuana use with the exception of being ruined by legal consequences of getting caught which is an artificial problem caused by policy not by the drug itself.

    Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying the study’s conclusion was wrong. I’m saying the conclusion is not supported by the method of study as it blatantly lacked a proper control group. It could very well be that chronic marijuana use simply leads to earlier diagnosis by mimicing a couple of the classic symptoms. Correlation does not equal causation and this simple rule of scientific inquiry is very often set aside when there are political or financial incentives that make one finding preferable to another.

    Other places where this is happening in the health field is with optimal amount of body fat and with moderate alcohol intake. An increasing number of studies have shown that what is considered moderately overweight actually leads to greater longevity. The main reason is that many wasting diseases which disrupt apetite and digestion are more survivable with a moderate amount of body fat to fall back on. This is especially true for cancer where radiation and chemotherapy temporarily stop digestive function. People with more body fat can tolerate the treatment longer and thus have a higher survival rate. Another thing is that cardio-vascular problems associated with higher dietary fat intake are now routinely diagnosed early and effectively treated by things like drugs and relatively non-invasive procedures like stents. Moderate alcohol use is now also widely acknowledged to have beneficial cardio-vascular effects but it’s not widely publicized because it’s politically incorrect. The perception, which may or may not be true, is that encouraging moderate alcohol consumption would lead to an increase in alcoholism and the increase in alcoholism would negate, in the big picture, any beneficial effect. So the truth is hidden. Personally I don’t believe that there’d be any increase in alcohol related problems if truth be told but even if that were true I think truth is more important. I believe in informed consent. So my answer in these matters is almost always to support the government in making sure the population is well and truthfully informed about risks and rewards then let individuals make their own informed choices. This same philosophy applies to ID and “evolution” as well. Educate but don’t dictate.

  14. 14
    Helio says:

    I think some scientists are particularly eager to publish studies showing negative effects of marijuana. Such studies would provide a “goose that laid the golden egg” in terms of government funding, he would never have to worry about grant renewals, and I agree that this particular study is not very solid.

  15. 15
    DaveScot says:

    I’ve just been informed that the complete paper published in The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry acknowledges the lack of proper control to unambiguously support the causation conclusion. The part of the paper acknowledging the flaw is buried in the portion that requires a subscription to The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. This only serves to reinforce my point that science spoon-fed to the public is driven by considerations other than objective presentation of the truth. Even in the abstract, which does not require a subscription, there is no mention that the conclusion is ambiguous.

    So the real story is that the authors and Reuters and New Scientist had a biased message to send to the public and send it they did.

    I’ll retract the claim about lack of peer review. The caveats were indeed mentioned in the entire paper that the peer reviewers would have seen. The peer reviewers, in all fairness, probably had no knowledge how the findings would be spun in the abbreviated public dissemination.

  16. 16
    terry fillups says:

    Davescot writes:

    For many people marijuana use, even chronic use, simply isn’t problematic.

    Huh, huh, huh. You said ‘chronic’.

    /Beavis

  17. 17
    DaveScot says:

    terry

    The second definition of chronic in my dictionary is “of long duration” and the third is “habitual”. The second is the definition I intended. Admittedly a clearer turn of phrase would have been “even long term daily use”.

    I use the Princeton dictionary which is the topmost return in google define:chronic . You can get a very nicely done freeware version of the Princeton dictionary called WordWeb.

    I see that another definition of “chronic” is slang for a high potency variety of marijuana. Sorry. I see now that was the humor in what you wrote. I’ve heard the word used in that context before too. Mibad. HAHAHA!!!!!!!111

  18. 18
    Lutepisc says:

    Dave, I can’t tell whether you’re arguing that chronic marijuana use can produce symptoms which even trained diagnosticians can’t distinguish from those of schizophrenia…or whether you’re arguing that chronic marijuana use is psychiatrically inert, so that glaucoma sufferers don’t need to consider this as a potential side effect/risk factor.

    As for myself, I think you have made a very good point about the peer review process, and I’ll just let it go at that (Sorry! I barely have time to lurk!). I don’t really have strong feelings one way or another about legalizing marijuana.

  19. 19
    DaveScot says:

    Lutepisc

    Diagnosis of schizophrenia is difficult under the best of conditions. I’m not saying that frequent habitual use of marijuana is psychiatrically innert. I’m saying it’s psychiatrically transient i.e. quit using and any mental effects disappear within hours of cessation. The active ingredient, THC (a cannabinoid), is quickly turned into biologically inert fat soluble metabolites which accumulate in fat cells. The metabolites are excreted days or at most several weeks after cessation.

    The human body has cannabinoid receptors in the central nervous system which, when discovered, led to finding that the body produces natural cannibinoids termed “endocannabinoids”. No one knows why these are naturally produced but it stands to reason they serve a beneficial purpose.

    I just perused the Wikipedia entry on THC and was astounded by all the research indicating therapeutic uses. I already knew it has no potential for toxicity and long term use has no adverse effects that stand up to scientific scrutiny:

    A 2008 study by the National Institutes of Health suggested that chronic heavy marijuana use might increase risk of heart attack or stroke, as these users showed elevated levels of apolipoprotein C-III, currently believed to be a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.[27] The marijuana users in the study averaged smoking 78 to 350 marijuana cigarettes per week, i.e. between 2 and 9 ounces of marijauana or between $600 and $2700 a week.

    Holy stoners, Batman! I didn’t know you could smoke that much dope! I don’t know but I’ve been told that when you smoke some good herb before you can finish even one joint you forget you have it in your hand and it goes out. At any rate, if it takes THAT much just to show significant cardio-vascular ill-effects it’s hardly what I’d call dangerous.

    That said, I had no idea that it all these other things are observed:

    THC may also be an effective anti-cancer treatment, with studies showing tumor size reduction in mice conducted in 1975[20] and 2007[21], as well as in a pilot study in humans with glioblastoma multiforme (a type of brain cancer).

    Recent research has shown that many adverse side-effects, generally known as the “stoner” stereotype, fail to hold up to the scientific method. Recent studies with synthetic cannabinoids show that activation of CB1 receptors can facilitate neurogenesis, as well as neuroprotection, and can even help prevent natural neural degradation from neurodegenerative diseases such as MS, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s. This, along with research into the CB2 receptor (throughout the immune system), has given the case for medical marijuana more support.

    A two-year study in which rats and mice were force-fed tetrahydrocannabinol dissolved in corn oil showed reduced body mass, enhanced survival rates, and decreased tumor incidences in several sites, mainly organs under hormonal control.

    In in-vitro experiments, THC at extremely high concentrations, which could not be reached with commonly-consumed doses, caused inhibition of plaque formation, the cause of Alzheimer’s disease, better than currently-approved drugs.

    Recent research has also shown a correlation between cannabis use and increased cognitive function in schizophrenic patients.

    In mice low doses of ?9-THC reduces the progression of atherosclerosis

    Preliminary research on synthetic THC has been conducted on patients with Tourette syndrome, with results suggesting that it may help in reducing nervous tics and urges by a significant degree.

    There are also studies showing adverse side effects in the same paragraph but I question those just as I questioned the study which prompted me to write this article.

    The Wiki entry goes on to say that conducting research is very difficult because of the political climate (read prohibition). Evidently the political climate not only prohibits the drug itself but also somehow squelches all this research so it doesn’t become common knowledge.

    The political establishment is manipulating, with full cooperation it seems, the scientific establishment so that the public is treated like mushrooms – fed bullshit and kept in the dark.

    I rest my case.

  20. 20
    Larry Fafarman says:

    DaveScot said (#16) –

    Even in the abstract, which does not require a subscription, there is no mention that the conclusion is ambiguous. . . .

    I’ll retract the claim about lack of peer review. The caveats were indeed mentioned in the entire paper that the peer reviewers would have seen. The peer reviewers, in all fairness, probably had no knowledge how the findings would be spun in the abbreviated public dissemination.

    Didn’t the paper’s authors write the abstract? And didn’t the peer reviewers review the abstract — or shouldn’t they have reviewed the abstract — prior to publication? Indeed, abstracts are often published at the head of a paper instead of just being published separately. So why are there no caveats in the abstract?

    BTW —

    [fixed, thanks -ds]

    Not quite — you didn’t finish the job:

    Where was the peer review that should have prevented this junk science from reaching the pages of the Journal of Clinical Psychology without correction of obvious flaws? (emphasis added)

    Anyway, IMO we really need to go after those hypocritical judges’ double standard about peer review vis-a-vis the law and science (see comment #9 and the last paragraph in comment #10). We should not let them get away with this so easily.

  21. 21
    RichardOwen says:

    What bizarre subject matter for a website on Intelligent Design.

  22. 22
    mad doc says:

    Dave@20: ” I already knew it has no potential for toxicity and long term use has no adverse effects that stand up to scientific scrutiny:”

    Just in case this going to tempt people to try marijuana I would strongly urge them to not.

    As I said I have seen enough of it to convice me. Virtually every person under 35 I see in my practice, who has schizophrenia has a history of heavy cannabis use preceding the developement of their illness. There is evidence to back this up from multiple other sources available on the internet.

    e.g.http://www.google.com.au/searc.....38;spell=1

    and:http://www.google.com.au/searc.....38;spell=1

  23. 23
  24. 24
    F2XL says:

    I’m glad so much stuff on drug use and prohibition has been showing up recently just as I change views and find out that I just so happen to be a libertarian.

    http://www.quiz2d.com/quiz/Lib.....nomic=97.3

  25. 25
    DaveScot says:

    F2XL

    Thanks for the link to the quiz. I’ve taken it periodically over the years. As time goes by I become less libertarian (pragmatism and cyncism increases with age), less conservative (it’s too authoritarian), and more centrist. I’m not sure but the test may be changing too. This time I was rated a conservative-leaning centrist, more or less happy with the status quo but desiring a bit more economic freedom and a bit less freedom in personal behavior. A lot of the questions though had no answer that fit very well.

    I think this is the first time I took the test where I fell entirely within the centrist bullseye.

    http://www.quiz2d.com/quiz/Con.....nomic=58.9

    Basically my take on tax policy is that the unambitious poor pay no taxes and are given enough handouts so they have little incentive to acquire any serious ambition to move up the ladder. The truly wealthy pay as much taxes as they’re comfortable paying and take advantage of myriad government tax shelters for the rest of it. That leaves the ambitious middle who want to become wealthy stuck with all the bills and when you add up all the sales, property, local, state, and federal income taxes they’re only allowed to keep about 20% of what they earn which keeps them effectively forever locked in the middle. A vast overhaul is needed. The current system largely punishes success and rewards failure. That’s not the best possible policy IMO although it does work so long as there’s a gold ring that enough of the productive middle can actually attain to keep hope alive.

    On personal behavior there’s just too much of “anything goes; if it feels good do it”. Hedonism is destructive. Rome fell due to unrestrained decadence and greed. If Rome fell that way so can we.

  26. 26
    allanius says:

    One thing’s becoming clear–marijuana use certainly doesn’t inhibit posting!

  27. 27
    RichardOwen says:

    What is ID’s explanation for schizophrenia anyway?

    Seriously, though. This has nothing to do with the Intelligent Design controvery.

  28. 28
    F2XL says:

    Yeah I guess you’re right DaveScot, out of all three groups we tend to ignore that middle class stay where they are for life, and instead people simply rant on about rich getting richer and poor getting poorer. It doesn’t always work that way no matter how popular that cliche becomes.

    How does a Flat Tax sound?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qBAr0MzRFU0

    http://www.heritage.org/Research/Taxes/bg1866.cfm

    http://www.cato.org/event.php?eventid=3349

  29. 29
    Larry Fafarman says:

    Dave —

    I told them off over at the Questionable Authority blog, where as you know they are giving you a hard time about your post here —

    http://scienceblogs.com/author.....nt-1104599

    It’s comment #21 under the “Cause, Effect, and Cannabis” article.

Leave a Reply