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Independent inquiry demanded into Ecstasy affairBlakemore demands independent inquiry from Science, second paper also retracted | By Robert Walgate
An editor of the European Journal of Pharmacology, F.P. Nijkamp of Utrecht University, confirmed today that a paper published by George Ricaurte and colleagues last year in the journal would be retracted.
"Dr Ricaurte has recently asked us to retract his paper Europ. J. of Pharmacol. 453, 239-244, 2002, which will be done," said Nijkamp in an e-mail to The Scientist.
Ricaurte and colleagues last week retracted a paper published in Science September 2002, which purported to show that the recreational drug Ecstasy (methylenedioxymethamphetamine, or MDMA) had a destructive effect on the dopaminergic neurons of primates' brains, and could therefore predispose takers to Parkinson's disease. The European Journal of Pharmacology paper concerned research in rats, and looked at serotonin receptor densities.
In a separate development, Colin Blakemore, who is to become Chief Executive of the UK's Medical Research Council, wrote yesterday (September 17) to the editor-in-chief of Science, Donald Kennedy, to renew his demand for publication of the referees' reports for Ricaurte's retracted paper, published there last September.
Blakemore also made a new request: that there be an independent inquiry into the whole affair.
The two retractions came about after Ricaurte and his group from Johns Hopkins University discovered that two vials of reagents, one containing MDMA and the other methamphetamine ("speed"), had been mislabelled.
But Blakemore, explicitly supported by the Oxford pharmacologist Les Iversen, takes the issue well beyond this apparently simple misfortune, as The Scientist reported on September 16.
In his latest letter to Kennedy, Blakemore asked some hard questions:
"Since the study was so obviously flawed that even I (not a pharmacologist) picked up the problems as soon as I saw the paper, why were they not detected by the expert peer review that Science employs?
"If the reviewers did express any such concern, why was it overridden by Science? I should mention that Les Iversen, who is, of course, expert in the field, even suggested last September that the results looked more characteristic of amphetamine than of MDMA: the flaw was that obvious to an expert.
"Were mechanisms put in place to check the veracity of press releases associate with papers in Science, after your admission that the release for this paper had been altered in a way that mispresented the findings? If not, will Science now state what mechanisms it will institute to protect the media and the public from mischievous use of media releases in the future?
"Did the fact that 'anti-rave' legislation was being debated in Congress at the time play any part in the editorial decision to publish this paper?
"Will Science itself issue a statement regretting the contribution that this flawed and hyped study must have played in that debate?
"What efforts are being made to discover the true reasons for the use of the wrong drug, and whether any other studies from the Ricaurte lab used the apparently mislabelled drug? When can we expect a public statement from Science on how the group came to use the wrong drug?
"Will Science agree to an independent inquiry into this affair, and make available to that inquiry all the correspondence and other evidence concerning this paper?"
Blakemore goes on to ask Kennedy to publish the referees' reports, and points out a precedent?the so called Puztai affair. "May I mention that the Lancet published all the referees' reports alongside the controversial paper by Arpad Puztai on the claimed toxicity of genetically modified potatoes? That is surely an appropriate precedent for the disclosure of reviews in cases of serious controversy."
Iversen also wrote yesterday in support of Blakemore's stance. "I believe that some further action by Science is needed to disassociate your journal more emphatically from this poor science," he wrote. "Even in the retraction statement published recently the authors continue to maintain that they will in future show that they were right after all, and ecstasy does cause Parkinson's disease!"
B.P Boot et al., "MDMA- and p-chlorophenylalanine-induced reduction in 5-HT concentrations: effects on serotonin transporter densities," Europ. J. Pharmacol. 453:239-244, 2002. http://www.biomedcentral.com/pubmed/12398910
G.A. Ricaurte et al., "Severe dopaminergic neurotoxicity in primates after a common recreational dose regimen of MDMA ("ecstasy")," Science, 297:2260-2263, September 27, 2002. http://www.biomedcentral.com/pubmed/12398910
The sad thing is that this retraction will never get nearly the press coverage of the original article. So the general public is still just going to go around claiming that ecstasy causes parkinsons. The original report will never get lived down and now we have to deal with this rumor just like the ones about how acid has strychnine and rat poison in it.
-------------------- Just another animal embeded in a technological coral reef extruded psychic objects...