Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Oogie & oogier: How the editor of a peer-reviewed journal and a top publishing house buried a retraction request for a discredited research study


About five weeks ago, I reported GAME OVER: After decades of putting swimmers at risk, Houston-area lifeguard company drops "Heimlich for drowning" protocol about how the National Aquatic Safety Company (NASCO) had finally stopped training waterpark lifeguards to perform the Heimlich maneuver to resuscitate drowning victims. (Click here for a compilation of media reports about NASCO's failed, benighted campaign to promote the treatment.)

But there's at least one unfinished chapter to the mess -- the recent attempt by a peer-reviewed journal (based in Bowling Green, OH) and its publisher (Human Kinetics of Champaign, IL) to bury a request to retract a discredited drowning study that was authored by NASCO's founder/president, John Hunsuker PhD, and one of his employees.

Ed Castillo (source)

As I reported last September 22:
I was copied on a retraction request sent yesterday to Stephen J. Langendorfer PhD, editor of the peer-reviewed International Journal of Aquatics Research and Education (IJARE) which in May 2010 published a controversial research study by John Hunsucker PhD and Scott Davison of the Houston-area lifeguard training company, the National Aquatic Safety Company (NASCO).

The request was sent to Dr. Langendorfer, a professor and department head at Ohio's Bowling Green State University by Ed Castillo, President/Chief of Operations of Golden State Lifeguards in Woodland Hills, California.
...Per Castillo's letter, in response to the NASCO study, IJARE published a scathing analysis and rebuttal these prominent medical and water safety experts: Peter Wernicki MD, Peter Chambers DO, Roy Fielding, Terri Lees, David Markenson MD, Francesco Pia PhD, and Linda Quan MD.
Via the rebuttal, here's a summary of the blistering analysis/rebuttal; for a complete copy, e-mail me:
The authors’ two-part goal was to describe a protocol they named “in-water intervention” (IWI) that uses abdominal thrusts (ATs) and to report on its effectiveness at assisting drowning victims in waterparks. We identify serious shortcomings in the paper’s methodology, interpretation and use of the literature, and ethical principles.


Subsequently I sent inquiries to Dr. Langendorfer asking what IJARE's policy was for processing retraction requests and asked how Mr. Castillo's request would be handled.

Dr. Langendorfer failed to respond to multiple e-mails and voice messages so I brought my questions to Human Kinetics (HK), the prominent publisher of IJARE and other journals.

Here's what came back -- click here to follow the link provided to the guidelines of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE):

That's when it started to get oogie.

 Here's the guy in charge at Human Kinetics:


These are e-mails I received in response to a public records request I filed with Ohio's Bowling Green State University, where Dr. Langendorfer is Director of  the School of Human Movement, Sport, & Leisure Studies:


Then it got even oogier.

In a February 1st e-mail to Natalie Ridgeway, Executive Officer at the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), I wrote:
Via a public records request, I obtained a recent e-mail exchange in which IJARE editor Stephen Langendorfer PhD informed HK Journal Director Skip Meier that he (Dr. Langendorfer) has no intention of answering Mr. Castillo's letter. Further, there's no indication in the exchange that HK intends to take any action. (Last week Mr. Castillo informed me that he has never received a response from IJARE or HK.)

Here's my question. Does COPE provide an oversight channel to review whether or not publishers comply with your organization's standards and guidelines?
Her reply took me by surprise:

In other words, HK claims to adhere to COPE standards without having to adhere to COPE standards.

Hoping to make sense of this puzzlement, a month ago I sent multiple e-mails to Ms. Johnson at HK and copied Mr. Meier in which I reviewed the situation and then posed this question:
Here's what I'm trying to figure out. Does your company have an internal and/or external review process that adheres to COPE standards? If so, would you please explain that process? If not, what's the basis of the claim in your November 11 e-mail and the e-mail from Mr. Maier? 
I received confirmations of receipt from both, but no further communications.

Today I'm e-mailing this item to Dr. Langendorfer, Skip Maier, and Ed Castillo with an invitation to respond.

This item has been slightly revised for clarity.