Saturday, April 28, 2012

New York Times Opinion Page or Medical Hypotheses?

Medical Hypotheses is an Elsevier journal that publishes highly speculative oddball ideas. The previous editor, Bruce G. Charlton, published pretty much anything he wanted without sending it out for peer review. This got him into a great deal of trouble with legitimate scientists (and ultimately, the publisher) when the dangerous HIV denialism of Peter Duesberg was accepted for publication (only to be later WITHDRAWN). Although savvy researchers know Medical Hypotheses is an outlet for cranks, its articles do appear in PubMed, lending it an air of legitimacy in the eyes of the unsuspecting public.

The journal is now edited by Mehar Manku and its mandate is: give novel, radical new ideas and speculations in medicine open-minded consideration, opening the field to radical hypotheses which would be rejected by most conventional journals. Papers in Medical Hypotheses take a standard scientific form in terms of style, structure and referencing. The journal therefore constitutes a bridge between cutting-edge theory and the mainstream of medical and scientific communication, which ideas must eventually enter if they are to be critiqued and tested against observations.
Submitted manuscripts are now reviewed by both the Editor and external reviewers. But why publish your highly speculative scientific [or pseudoscientific] ideas in a relatively esoteric forum, when you can reach millions and millions of readers with NO PEER REVIEW whatsoever? What sort of journal is this, you ask?

It's not a scientific journal at all, it's..... the Opinion Pages of the venerable New York Times!!

NYT Opinion Page or Medical Hypotheses? The Game!

The rules of NYTOPORMHTG are simple: guess which of the two outlets published the propositions and recommendations listed below.

(1) Meat is brain food

(2) Take magnesium if you're depressed

(3) Masturbate if you're congested

(4) Masturbate if you have restless legs syndrome

(5) Micron strokes cause Alzheimer's disease

(6) Joblessness causes suicide in U.S. military veterans

(7) Chronic traumatic encephalopathy causes suicide in veterans

(8) A noxious factor released into the third ventricle causes depression

(9) Enhanced activity in the anterior insula proves we love our iPhones

(10) Enhanced activity in the anterior insula proves disgust with John Edwards

(11) If you're about to have a panic attack, watch a scary movie

(12) Yoga is good for everything

(13) Stimulants cause PTSD

(14) PTSD causes chronic traumatic encephalopathy

(15) High heels cause schizophrenia


NYT - 1, 6, 7, 9, 10, 12, 13, 14

MH - 2, 3, 5, 8, 11, 12, 15

Sleep Medicine (trick question!) - 4

Of the recent opinion pieces in the NYT, I found item #14 by Nicholas Kristof to be particularly egregious, inaccurate, and irresponsible. He cites one terrible (albeit published) case study claiming that chronic traumatic encephalopathy can be caused by post-traumatic stress disorder and considers no alternate explanations. I will address the issues he raised in a future post.

Item #13 by Dr. Richard A. Friedman was speculative and bothersome but ultimately less objectionable. He suggested there's a causal relationship between higher rates of stimulant prescriptions in the US military and rising rates of PTSD. I was very skeptical (because there's no evidence for that) and critical because the article leads the lay reader to believe that Ritalin and other stimulants cause PTSD. Ultimately, he put a "correlation does not equal causation" caveat at the very end, but by then the rhetorical damage was already done.


(1) Meat Is Brain Food - NYT

(2) Magnesium for treatment-resistant depression: A review and hypothesis - MH

(3) Ejaculation as a potential treatment of nasal congestion in mature males - MH

(4) Sexual intercourse and masturbation: Potential relief factors for restless legs syndrome? - SM

[also see Orgasm for Relief of Restless Legs Syndrome: A Case Study]

(5) The Micron Stroke Hypothesis of Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia - MH

(6) The Best Medicine Just Might Be a Job - NYT

(7) Veterans and Brain Disease - NYT

(8) Depression as an evolutionary adaptation: Anatomical organisation around the third ventricle - MH

(9) You Love Your iPhone. Literally. - NYT

[see also NYT Editorial + fMRI = complete crap and the New York Times blows it big time on brain imaging and Neuromarketing means never having to say you're peer reviewed (but here's your NYT op-ed space)]

(10) This Is Your Brain on Politics - NYT -- prompted a letter to the editor from 17 neuroscientists, Politics and the Brain

[also see This Is Your Brain on Bad fMRI Studies and This Is Your Brain on Additional Critiques]

(11) Aborting panic attacks using false misattribution: a new treatment option - MH

(12) Effects of yoga on the autonomic nervous system, gamma-aminobutyric-acid, and allostasis in epilepsy, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder - MH and Why Are We Discussing This? - NYT

(13) Why Are We Drugging Our Soldiers? - NYT

(14) Veterans and Brain Disease - NYT

(15) Is there an association between the use of heeled footwear and schizophrenia? - MH

Appendix: The Neurocritic on Medical Hypotheses

The pseudonymous ‘quant bloggers’- Figureheads, ghost-writers and pseudonymous quant bloggers: The recent evolution of authorship in science publishing.

Noxious mystery substance released into the third ventricle is the cause of depression! - Depression as an evolutionary adaptation: Anatomical organisation around the third ventricle.

JFK Neurotoxin Conspiracy Theory Published in Medical Hypotheses - President Kennedy's death: a poison arrow-assisted homicide.

Mirror Neuron Dance Party for Autism Spectrum Disorders - Synchronized dance therapy to stimulate mirror neurons in autism.

The Journal of Truly, Truly Outrageous Medical Hypotheses - Two for one! The classic, Is there an association between the use of heeled footwear and schizophrenia? and Two manic-depressives, two tyrants, two world wars.

More Truly, Truly Outrageous Medical Hypotheses - Ejaculation as a potential treatment of nasal congestion in mature males.

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At April 28, 2012 4:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've spoken to someone who was involved with Medical Hypotheses early on who thinks that blogging has sort of fulfilled the vision that was had for MH from the beginning--a quick way of testing out ideas in a public forum, well before they can be tested.

At April 28, 2012 5:18 PM, Blogger The Neurocritic said...

Hmm, should I take that as an insult?

At April 28, 2012 6:29 PM, Anonymous Mike Licht said...

#4 -- I believe this treatment is only effective with "Restless Third Leg Syndrome"

At April 29, 2012 8:20 AM, Blogger lisa said...

Oh brotha,lots of Obsurd on some numbers above, imho....

At April 29, 2012 3:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well done. I await the next part of the piece . . .

At May 04, 2012 6:21 AM, Blogger Neuroskeptic said...


I agree with Anonymous #1. I could see the benefit of a journal like MH if the alternative was that unconventional ideas just could never be published anywhere, but now we have the internet, there is no need for it anymore.

At May 04, 2012 8:08 PM, Anonymous Candida Abrahamson said...

This is a truly, truly excellent, incisive, insightful piece--and I'm finding more of your posts like this as I go through them. Your access to the original journals articles--not the same PR posts that so may are privy to--and your intellectual thoughtful analyses of them, makes your blog a pleasure to read and digest.

At May 04, 2012 10:26 PM, Blogger The Neurocritic said...

Thank you!

At May 05, 2012 11:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Drew Ramsey is a jackass, probably with direct or indirect ties with certain segments of the food industry. I did not read the others...

At May 05, 2012 12:28 PM, Blogger The Neurocritic said...

Anonymous of May 05, 2012 11:52 -- I couldn't find a single peer-reviewed article by Drew Ramsey. So it's hard to tell whether he gets money from upscale organic burger joints. His co-author, Tyler Graham, "reports on health and fitness for Details magazine and has held editorial positions at O, The Oprah Magazine, Prevention, and Best Life."

Many of the other stories are more amusing, so perhaps you can go back and peruse them...


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