Heavy metal junk science: The decline and fall of peer review

Does peer review at Environmental Health Perspectives amount to little more than spell check?

A new study in Environmental Health Perspectives reports that,

… environmentally relevant levels of metals [i.e., cadmium, lead and mercury] are associated with modest changes in reproductive hormone levels in healthy, premenopausal women.

It’s a scary sounding conclusion that isn’t supported by the data.

First, the researchers only found marginal and/or insignificant correlations between serum levels of the metals and changes/differences in follicle stimulating hormone and progesterone. They then just assumed that the metal exposures caused the hormone levels to change — without adequately exploring myriad factors that could be the actual causes of the observed hormonal changes/differences.

To cap it all off, the researchers reported,

Metals were not significantly associated with anovulation.

Given that anovulation is the health effect of concern, exposure to “environmentally relevant levels of metals” doesn’t seem to be a problem.

So the researchers can’t show that metals caused or are in any way related to the observed hormonal changes and the observed hormonal changes themselves are biologically meaningless. How exactly do these results support an indictment of cadmium, lead and mercury? Does anyone read this stuff before they press “publish”?

6 thoughts on “Heavy metal junk science: The decline and fall of peer review”

  1. I’ve found that there are two great threats to our health.

    1. The second law of thermodynamics.

    2. Junk science “studies”.

  2. The answer to your question ‘Does anyone read thus stuff before they press “publish”?’ is evidently ‘No.’
    My late mother was a proofreader. When she retired the newspaper did not replace her. The quality of their publishing reflects this fact. She always suspected that her profession was being destroyed by apathy.
    She claimed (and I believe correctly) that it is almost impossible to see one’s own errors. I would add that most people don’t want to know about their own errors, and so they will not look for them.
    As far as looking for errors in works others have submitted for publication, the task is underpaid, unappreciated, and unpopular when glaring errors are revealed before publication. The pressure to publish or perish is compounded by the haste induced by the speed of modern publishing.
    All that really seems to count anymore is whether one has a sensationalizable ‘conclusion.’

  3. Do you really think so Snorbert? I haven’t followed it, but it seems that if the research is from academia, the government, or NGOs, you can just about write it off as crap without even reading it. I don’t think private research is immune either, and I include corporate research in there. The only adavantage corporate research has is that a business cannot typically afford to fund garbage research. It has to make a profit. This would be untrue of any rent-seeking corporations such as GE, alternative energy, etc.

    The government corrupts most everything it touches, and I blame it for many of the problems with academic research too.

  4. Dear junk science,

    If you are going to slam the A-holes for not reading the work before they publish you might want to correct your typo in the last sentence of your own work. Don’t give the bastards any ammunition if you don’t have to.

Comments are closed.