Although of course I would never sanction such behavior, it appears that a farcical medical research article has gone virally awry. The article, Maternal kisses are not effective in alleviating minor childhood injuries (boo-boos): a randomized, controlled and blinded study, was published in late December. “Early View” access paired with social media dissemination led many to believe that the article was either real or a ruse exposing inadequate editorial oversight.
As it turns out, it was neither. What’s particularly funny about this case was that the medical journal in question — Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice — published the satirical article for editorial purposes. The ridiculousness of the study was meant as a cautionary tale for actual researchers, who often overstate the practical import of studies, engage in questionable research practices, violate ethical guidelines, and accept money from funders with vested interest in the outcome of the study. The thematic issue was on evidence-based medicine, and the boo-boo paper served as a cautionary tale for the very real researchers reading these articles. I find this clever and refreshing, as it appears that humor was being used to make an important point to the readers of this highly-specialized journal; unfortunately, on today’s communication landscape, nothing that’s potentially of interest to the everyday person — whether or not it is true — is beyond discovery, dissemination, and misrepresentation.
Leonid Schneider does a great job chronicling the episode in a post entitled “No laughing matter” on his For Better Science blog.A Minor Post, Articles, Belief, Ethics, Methods, Scientific Fraud