As our loyal readers well know, BFT is no stranger to controversy. From our launch in 2011, the mission of barefacedtruth.com has been to inform, educate, and entertain – to be truth-tellers in an industry that seems particularly prone to hype and misinformation. Your very own truth pair o’ docs, DrJohn and DrGeorge, once again find themselves involved in controversy, at least peripherally. While we are not the central characters in this story, we feel compelled to comment, as it (1) touches on our domain of scientific and clinical expertise, (2) attempts to target Cellese (a company we founded) and AnteAGE (a product line we had a hand in developing and testing), and (3) involves a matter that is of ultimate importance to the field of medical aesthetics as a scientific discipline – that being scientific honesty and integrity.
This post and others to follow concern research misconduct, which means fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism in proposing, performing, or reviewing research, or in reporting research results. Integrity in scientific research generally, and in particular the communication of research data for others to rely upon, is critical to all of medicine, as without it we would never know whom or what to trust. In order to overcome pseudoscience and misinterpretation of science, which can introduce bias into every type of research, there are established guidelines and procedures designed to ensure integrity. But, such safeguards require institutional processes which may not always be available or followed.
The Office of Scientific Integrity of the National Institutes of Health defines research misconduct as:
(a) Fabrication – making up data or results and recording or reporting them.
(b) Falsification – manipulating research materials, equipment, or processes, or changing or omitting data or results such that the research is not accurately represented in the research record.
(c) Plagiarism – the appropriation of another person’s ideas, processes, results, or words without giving appropriate credit.
(d) Research misconduct does not include honest error or differences of opinion.
This is a story about research misconduct, one that was glaringly obvious to true experts in the field. It involves research “falsification” in a “review” article published by the owner of a commercial entity posing as an academic. It was published in a “journal” whose own standards may now be called into question. What you will find striking is the degree of inaccuracy, misattribution, and manipulation employed. If you experience outrage when you follow this story to its conclusion, you will not be alone.
In summer 2017, your hosts wrote a post questioning the rationale of using a blend of fibroblast and adipose stem cell derived conditioned media in skincare products, the technology that is found in NeoGenesis products, among others. The post, however, mentioned no companies or brand names. Evidently, that rustled feathers, nonetheless.
You can read the post at: http://barefacedtruth.com/2017/08/23/thinking-makes-sense/.
A subsequent post will explain in detail the nature of the attack on us and the resultant fallout. For now, here’s a teaser: it involves a scientific shell game and an unethical attempt to bamboozle the public, professional and lay audiences alike. This leads to a dramatic denouement to the story where very high impact scientists (full professors at major universities with unassailable credentials and reputation) discover and then carefully analyze a published journal article that blatantly attempts to mislead. The article, filled with documented mistruths, can even be argued to be potentially dangerous in its impact on readers because of the false assertions it contains.
The article is clearly aimed at disparaging and damaging your hosts and the products they have developed, in a most duplicitous and mendacious way. Three BFT readers have informed us that several YouTube videos, featuring the author of the article, repeat much of the same misleading content.
A Not So Subtle Warning
There’s a bit of historical background to set the stage and introduce the characters.
In the exhibit hall at a scientific trade show a couple years ago, DrGeorge (George Taylor, M.D.) was approached by a fellow who proceeded to upbraid him for writing negative posts on barefacedtruth.com about the scientific underpinnings of products that happen to compete in the marketplace with AnteAGE and AnteAGE MD (for which DrGeorge serves as an advisor and medical director.)
As regular readers know, BFT has also written about many products that do not compete with our products. Our mission includes discussing science with which we take issue, not to assail competitors, that is unless deficiencies in their science are so glaring and potentially dangerous to the public, that we feel obligated to do so. Sometimes we just ask questions about ingredients that don’t make sense, at least to us. We consider that part of our mission as advocates for the consuming public. This person who approached DrGeorge did not think such criticisms on BFT were appropriate, appealing for us to “just get along” in the marketplace. Our recollection is his message was essentially a threat. The precise language is difficult to recreate, but the gist was clear:
“You know, our legal and marketing teams tell me they can squash you guys like a bug. Our income and budget are much larger than yours. It would take little to destroy your company, so you better be careful about what you write.”
To the best of his recollection, DrGeorge is quite certain that person was Greg Maguire PhD, the Founder and Chief Scientific Officer of Neogenesis.
This event and others are mere color commentary for what is to follow. The world is full of bullies and blowhards. That is not the issue at hand. This is merely to introduce a main character in the intrigue that follows.
As you may have already guessed, we were not intimidated, not then, not now. We have heard this all before. We are strong believers in “truth in science” and understand our role as physicians includes the dictum “first, do no harm.“ Maguire, by contrast, is not an M.D., never studied medicine, never took the Hippocratic Oath, and has never treated a single patient.
In his clinical career, DrGeorge treated tens of thousands of patients, from two hours to 108 years of age, from two pounds to more than 450 pounds, from healthy as a horse to extraordinarily ill, frail and near to death. He lived his professional career in the operating rooms of the second busiest surgical setting in California. It was a serious sports injury, surgery, and long recovery period two decades ago that forced his transition into another professional focus. In the past decade, he has supervised multiple clinical trials, where again, under strict ethical guidelines, safety is the first concern. It’s an awesome responsibility that is taken very seriously by physicians, whether as clinicians or as clinical research scientists. Proper ethical behavior in these settings is taken as a given. It is assumed from the outset.
This story has to do with information and assertions contained within a journal article written by Maguire that was published a year ago. The scientific misinformation in his article, when juxtaposed with the criticisms raised by a world-renowned stem cell scientist (and his team, at a major university with a stem cell institute) who dissected it thoroughly, speaks for itself. Maguire should not be proud of his blatant effort to smear a competitor. It’s beneath the dignity of his role as a scientific leader in the stem cell field, and not in keeping with the high ethical standards and responsibility of authors who use the world’s published scientific literature to disseminate information. Ax grinding and ox goring have no place here.
As mentioned above, over the past several weeks multiple YouTube videos featuring Dr. Maguire were brought to our attention by BFT readers. These videos can accurately be considered “sister” publications to the article by Dr. Maguire published August 1, 2019 in The Journal of Cosmetic and Aesthetic Dermatology (JCAD). Self-described by him as a “review”, the article can more accurately be described as a commercial “hit piece.” Maguire confirms this within the text of the article when he specifically and negatively references one, and only one, brand of product: “ AnteAGE; Irvine, California”.
Maguire’s intent, in his article and also clearly demonstrated within his videos, is to sully our professional reputations and tarnish our brands, while simultaneously promoting his competing brand in the bio-signal cosmeceutical market.
“Accidental” Scientific Dishonesty?
In a follow-up post, we get into the weeds to show how the Maguire article is a mendacious “review”, fraught with errors, omissions and scientific sleight of hand. Stay tuned and be thankful that his behavior is not the standard. The published literature of medicine and science is how important information is disseminated. It becomes part of the encyclopedia of knowledge upon which new discoveries are made. It is the basis upon which decisions are made in healthcare. It needs to be truthful. Others rely upon that honesty.
Even though published in a “low impact” journal, one with limited readership and influence, it should have undergone peer review, i.e. be read by other experts in the subject matter discussed, with suggested changes or edits provided by the peer reviewers. We are convinced that this step was either not undertaken, or the “experts” who reviewed it may not have had the proper credentials and experience to delve deeply into the article. With 230 cited references that purportedly supported the “facts” and “assertions” within the Maguire article, a very large number for an article of 6000 words, the depth of detail a proper review entails would be beyond what one would expect of the peer-review process. This is detail-oriented, complex, and arduous work. It takes lots of time and lots of effort. It’s understandable that his reviewers may not have taken the time and effort necessary.
Thankfully, the field of medicine and science has folk who are willing to dissect and discern fact from fiction, apples from oranges. True experts did just that and their findings do not flatter Dr. Maguire. In fact, they peel back the façade of what should be dispassionate science, revealing instead his bias, animus, and commercial self-interest.
We will also use this case as an illustration of the dilemma of journals who purport to engage in peer review prior to publishing papers, but fail to detect even the most egregious of error-filled review papers. What is their responsibility in enforcing guidelines for research integrity in the absence of independent institutions of academia? Where does the buck stop?
Stay tuned for parts 2 & 3 of this exploration of scientific misconduct in the murky world of aesthetics science (and commercial diatribes poorly disguised as science).