PLOS ONE pulls highly cited mindfulness paper

PLOS ONE pulls highly cited mindfulness paper over undeclared ties, other concerns – by Adam Marcus – Apr 2019

Mindfulness “peaked” a few years ago and has received much less attention lately, perhaps because it has always been a more hyped than proven do-it-yourself “treatment”.

It appeared to help pain patients, but after the first excitement, enthusiasm, and hope for betterment through this DIY treatment fades, the pain is still there for most of us. I find mindfulness to be appropriate in my daily life, to center myself after having been angered or frightened by what I read, but I’ve never experienced any pain relief from it.

PLoS ONE has retracted a meta-analysis on mindfulness after determining that the authors used dubious methodology and failed to adequately report their financial interest in the psychological treatment the article found effective.

The article, “Standardised mindfulness-based interventions in healthcare: An overview of systematic reviews and meta-analyses of RCTs,” appeared in April 2015 and has been cited 130 times, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science, earning it a “highly cited paper” designation.  

The decision comes after a long effort by James Coyne, an emeritus professor of psychology in psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania, to expose the undisclosed conflicts and other serious problems in the work and other studies with ties to Benson-Henry.

Coyne first contacted PLoS ONE with concerns in October 2015 after the journal published a paper titled “Relaxation response and resiliency training and its effect on healthcare resource utilization,” by Benson and several other researchers.

As Coyne noted, the group neglected to disclose any financial conflicts, despite the fact that Benson and six of his co-authors worked at Benson-Henry, which generates revenue by selling products rooted in its mindfulness approach.  

There seems to be little in our society that isn’t motivated by the pursuit of money. In our current hyper-capitalistic system this isn’t even a source of embarrassment but has become almost a necessary survival strategy.

The journal, to its credit, quickly followed up on Coyne’s tweet and launched an investigation. And in 2017 it issued corrections for the relaxation article and four other papers by Benson’s group for misleading disclosures, as Coyne wrote on his blog. The statements now read:

“The following authors hold or have held positions at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, which is paid by patients and their insurers for running the SMART-3RP and related relaxation/mindfulness clinical programs, markets related products such as books, DVDs, CDs and the like, and holds a patent pending (PCT/US2012/049539 filed August 3, 2012) entitled “Quantitative Genomics of the Relaxation Response.”

An ‘experimercial?’

Meanwhile, Coyne had turned his attention to the meta-analysis, which the journal had not corrected even though it had a similarly uninformative disclosure.

In March 2017 he wrote about what he considered its manifold flaws. Among these, he said, were another misleading disclosure statement, Benson-Henry’s use of the paper as an “experimercial” to promote the institute’s wares (more on that in a bit), and that it

“sidesteps substantial confirmation bias and untrustworthiness in the mindfulness literature.”

He also pointed out that the academic editor on the paper, Aristidis Veves, works at Harvard Medical School — yet another potential conflict of interest.

After two years, the journal decided to agree officially.

concerns were raised about pooling of meta-analytic results in the meta-analysis, i.e. the authors considered each meta-analysis as an individual study in the analysis, rather than pooling results of individual RCTs as per community standards for this type of study.

Since some randomized clinical trials (RCTs) were included in more than one meta-analysis, this pooling resulted in double counting, incorrect effect estimates in Fig 1A, 1B and 1E, and incorrect confidence intervals.”

This sound eerily similar to how the CDC deliberately overcounted the overdose numbers to panic the nation about opioids.

Overdoses almost always involve multiple drugs, so by counting a death for every drug found in the body, this resulted in grossly inflated numbers. (see CDC Over-Counting Rx Opioid Overdose Deaths)

“The study’s pooled estimates and confidence intervals for the outcomes stress and quality of life did not include any double counted results. However, this issue impacted the other results reported in the article.”

“a full re-analysis would be needed, in which individual RCTs rather than meta-analyses are pooled, in order to correctly address the study’s aims.”

“In light of the methodological issue and concerns about the validity of the study’s results, the PLOS ONE Editors retract this article.

The journal added that none of the authors agreed with the retraction.

It seems that conflict of interest (corruption) is becoming so common even in supposedly impartial scientific research that these people truly cannot understand why their work is being questioned.

Exploitation by commercial interests?

his beef is grounded in his belief that unscrupulous researchers are using — or misusing — the journal for commercial purposes:  

“I am very concerned about the open access and loose editorial control of PLOS ONE as a megajournal being exploited by commercial interests seeking a peer-reviewed article to advertise their products.”

5 thoughts on “PLOS ONE pulls highly cited mindfulness paper

  1. leejcaroll

    just saw neuropsychologist. medicare for some unknown reason requires their certifying pt is okay for deep brain stimulator implant (not sure about the other types). he suggested mindfulness. I replied I have read articles where they conclude it is not helpful and he became adament oh yes it is I can send you the research. I essentially declined. (I said if you want to send it to me oka” and he replied if I want to send it to you? for some reason got his goat on that. Not sure why they are gungho on mindfulness after the research came out it doesnot have the benefits that had been touted

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Kathy C

    At least this is a start. Of course once this misleading garbage gets out, and then gets amplified by marketers and mass media, it is hard to put the genie back in the bottle. Science has been undermined, by these pay to play publishers, and academia has failed to respond, since it is dependent on corporate money. I doubt the many journalists/content marketers will acknowledge their mistake.

    Plenty of people monetized this lie.


    1. Zyp Czyk Post author

      Oh, you are so right, this is our problem with all these non opioid supposedly effective pain treatments – “it is hard to put the genie back in the bottle.”



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