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Dr. Thomas Eissenberg, a researcher studying electronic cigarettes at Virginia Commonwealth University, is accusing the editor of the journal Addiction Dr. Robert West, of exhibiting bias and fast-tracking an e-cig emissions study. Dr. Eissenberg is asking his peers to boycott the journal based on his accusations.
In May 2015, renowned anti-smoking expert Dr. Konstantinos Farsalinos and colleagues published an article in Addiction which reported that e-cigarette emissions only contain alarming aldehydes levels in unrealistic dry puff conditions. Farsalinos and his colleagues have replicated a number of studies to look into the matter, and always derived the same results.
The following September, Dr. Eissenberg and his colleagues wrote a letter to the editor of Addiction in which they accused him of having a “conflict of conscience” that led to an improper peer review of the study and of fast-tracking Farsalinos’s study.
Addiction’s response to Dr. Eissenberg’s letter
In a blog published yesterday, public health expert Dr. Michael Siegel explained, “The authors’ complaint was two-fold: (1) that the review period was only 11 days, which is uniquely brief for this journal; and (2) that the editor–Dr. West–has a significant conflict of interest because he was once quoted in a newspaper article as (according to Eissenberg et al.) stating that: “E-cigarettes are about as safe as you can get… E-cigarettes are probably about as safe as drinking coffee.””
In response to Eissenberg’s complaint, Addiction had published the extremely long letter by Eissenberg et al., along with a response from Dr. West. The editor pointed out that the accusation is false because he didn’t even handle the paper himself, as the review was assigned to a different editor. He added that the paper did infact go through the usual peer review process and that it was indeed fast-tracked because of particular urgency of this topic.
Dr. Siegel explained that this is where “the story stood until yesterday”, when Dr. Eissenberg called for researchers to boycott the journal by not submitting articles to it and not reviewing for it, clearly sticking to his accusations against West, whilst ignoring the editor’s reply.
Siegel pointed out that ironically, it is Dr. Eissenberg’s actions that are raising questions here . “First, Dr. Eissenberg makes a serious accusation against the editor of Addiction without sufficient evidence to justify the claim. He (and his co-authors) provide no substantial evidence that the peer review process was botched, that the Farsalinos et al. article was seriously flawed, or that a severe bias on the part of the editor led to a botched review and acceptance of an article that should not have been published.”
Moreover added the public health expert, “It is perfectly legitimate for journals to fast-track articles of particular interest, and many journals do that all the time. The article was peer reviewed and the authors were required to respond to reviewer comments twice. Thus, there was nothing qualitatively different about this peer review process from the review of any other paper submitted to the journal.”
Conflict of interest?
Ironically, pointed out Siegel, if anyone’s interests should be questioned, it would be those of the study authors themselves. The lead author of the letter to the editor Dr. Shihadeh, is the co-author of several papers that were funded from the International Development Research Centre, which at the time of the studies was chaired by Barbara McDougall, who was on the Board of Directors of the Imperial Tobacco Company. The senior author of the letter, Dr. Eissenberg, has also received funding from the same organization.