Journal corrects, but will not retract, controversial paper on internet porn

Dismissing concerns of the Committee on Publication Ethics and extensive allegations of misconduct, a journal has corrected, but is refusing to retract, a 2016 paper linking online pornography to sexual dysfunction in men.Image result for Journal corrects

The article, “Is internet pornography causing sexual dysfunctions? A review with clinical reports,” appeared last year in Behavioral Sciences, which is published by MDPI.

After publication, critics asked COPE to look at the paper, and in particular whether the authors had obtained adequate informed consent for two patients described in the work. COPE, which has no enforcement authority, said in an email to the publisher that it would have recommended retraction of the article.

But the criticisms didn’t stop there. We learned about the controversy about the article from Nicole Prause, a neuroscientist who frequently butts heads with anti-porn campaigners, including Wilson. Prause has produced a 77-item list of alleged misconduct or otherwise sketchy scientific practice. Prause included us on a group email that started out strange and got progressively stranger.

Among the the claims is that one of the authors, Gary Wilson, failed to adequately disclose his work with The Reward Foundation, a UK group whose mission is to

highlight the benefits of quitting porn based on the latest research and self reports of those who have.

Prause claims that Wilson, an “anti-porn blogger” whose TED Talk on the topic has garnered nearly 10 million views, lodged a complaint against her with the California Board of Psychology — “which I have successfully refuted at great expense.”

The corresponding author, Andrew Doan, is an ophthalmologist at the Naval Medical Center in San Diego who runs an anti-porn ministry — a fact not disclosed in the article. His only scholarly work in the field, however, appears to be this 2015 article in the Yale Journal of Biological Medicine and service as an academic editor for an 2015 paper in Behavioral Sciences.

The journal has now corrected the article to reflect Wilson’s undisclosed conflict of interest, but the notice does not mention Doan’s affiliation with Real Battle Ministries:

The conflict of interest section of the published paper [1] has been updated as follows:

“Gary Wilson is the author of Your Brain on Porn: Internet Pornography and the Emerging Science of Addiction. He holds an unremunerated, honorary position at The Reward Foundation, the Registered Scottish Charity to which his book proceeds are donated. The authors declare no other conflicts of interest. Opinions and points of view expressed are those of the authors’ and do not necessarily reflect the official position or policies of the U.S. NAVY or the Department of Defense.”

In addition, the academic editor’s name has been removed from the manuscript.

That editor, Scott Lane, told us that his involvement with the paper:

was one of the most bizarre and atypical experiences I have encountered in my academic career.  However, other work I have completed for the journal has not been met with these kind of complications or misunderstandings.

Lane, who is on the editorial board of the journal, said

I wish to make clear that I was not in involved in the final decision regarding correction/retraction/authorship.  I only agreed, after reading the second draft of paper (primarily for formatting and article type, not content) that the authors had revised the paper in accord with my original suggestion, which was to focus the manuscript as a case report series rather than a review paper.

Doan told us:

At the time of the submission of the paper in 2015, I was an unpaid volunteer with Real Battle Ministries, a US 501(c)(3) non-profit, which I founded. Real Battle is mainly self-funded by my wife and I. I spoke at schools and community organizations about video game addiction and healthy habits with technology (http://realbattle.org/about/). Because I did not speak at Real Battle events about erectile dysfunction associated with internet pornography and about porn in general (which is a topic not appropriate for general audiences) at the time the paper was submitted for publication, I felt that the topic of the paper on internet pornography and my affiliation with Real Battle Ministries was not a potential conflict of interest. I’ve asked the Editors at Behavioral Sciences, and they agree with me.

Bucking COPE

The nut of COPE’s issue with the article centers on claims by critics of the work that the authors lacked appropriate patient consent from two men who allegedly experienced sexual dysfunction linked to their viewing of online porn. Although the publisher disputes this assertion, in an email to the puhblisher, a COPE representative expressed concern that the men’s identity was not adequately protected, and that:

Should this case have been raised at one of the COPE Forums, we feel that the recommendation would have been to consider the retraction of the article on the basis of the consent requirements not following expectations of research and publication ethics.

With regard to the COPE comments, Shu-Ku Lin, president of MDPI, told us:

We take COPE’s advise very seriously, of course. I can only tell you that we have done thorough investigation about the editorial procedure and we did not find enough reason to retract.

Lin has now stopped responding to our queries, but he continued to carry on a debate with Prause and others by email — a dispute that got weirder and weirder by turns. In one message, he equated publishing with prostitution to make a point, that, well, we’re not sure we understand:

Everyone needs respect. A publisher provides publishing service. A  prostitute provides sexual service legally in some states I suppose. If a guy blame the provider that you are ugly, you are not attractive, you are dirty, you are predatory (only want to collect money from man!), you provided terrible service to other man, I guess the guy might be in trouble and the service provider will refuse to give any service to the guy. This means we can refuse publishing service to your team if you do not stop attacking people. It is a wise decision of the authors to publish with MDPI. You scornfully claim it is a bad idea to publish with us but the paper has been downloaded about 13000 times already and cited many times (see the statistics at the lower part of http://www.mdpi.com/2076-328X/6/3/17), while your guys would prefer to criticized fully and expressed fully your scientific idea only on the social media. The argument is already done. Both sides got large audience. Time to stop and made peace.

Source: retractionwatch.com