Did I ever tell you that peer-review is not perfect?

It’s not. Read this Twitter thread and get some perspective on the kind of garbage that can trickle through peer review. It’s an analysis of a paper titled “YXQ-EQ Induces Apoptosis and Inhibits Signaling Pathways Important for Metastasis in Non-Small Cell Lung Carcinoma Cells”, which sounds fairly mundane — lots of things inhibit cancer cells in a dish. The curious question, though, is what the heck is YXQ-EQ? I’d never heard of it.

Read further and you discover it’s qigong, the traditional Chinese exercise and meditation system, which the author somehow applied to a petri dish full of cancer cells for 5 minutes. How that was done is not explained.

Further, it’s not just regular qigong, it’s Yan Xin Qigong, hence the acronym.

The first author’s name is Yan Xin.

There are four articles on this mysterious YXQ-EQ, all by the same author, on PubMed. I looked for an explanation of YXQ-EQ elsewhere on the web, and it’s only associated with quacky alternative medicine sites. Meditation is fine; arguing that your meditation cured your cancer is nonsense; but I don’t see how Yan Xin convinced a dish of cells to meditate, or do calisthenics, and somehow not a single reviewer bothered to insist that the methodology be more thorough.

The only way these multiple papers got published is if they had really lazy reviewers, or extremely biased reviewers.


  1. Matt G says

    A family I know was looking for ways to address their younger son’s knee problem. The doctors said surgery, so they started using turmeric. I went to WebMD (among other sites) to check it out. WebMD includes links to literature, and I found turmeric had a couple hundred references. I scanned them and didn’t see a single journal I had heard of (I did medical science research for 15 years). Further, almost all the names of authors were either Indian (~90%) or Chinese, counties which use turmeric in “traditional medicine”. If something like turmeric has real effects, shouldn’t it be in mainstream journals and with authors from all over the planet? The kid had surgery and is now fine.

  2. wzrd1 says

    @1, turmeric is a biggie in the “alternative medicine” world, largely due to claimed effects of curcumin. The latter being of infamy in a couple of cases where curcumin was injected IV, via no known protocol, with lethal effects, due to low purity (apparently, it was actually turmeric being injected).
    Curcumin has shown some potential in vitro, but loads of things show potential in vitro, but in vivo fail.

    What surprises me is the failure of due care and due diligence in peer review in a publishing house that claims to own MacMillan, Scientific American and Nature. This is more up the alley of predatory journals!

  3. jrkrideau says

    @ 2 wzrd1
    I have missed the significance of the reference to Springer.

    I am reading that the paper was published in Cellular Physiology and Biochemistry which was a Karger publication. I don’t see enough to decide if it is a bottom–feeding publisher or a legit one though I am leaning towards bottom–feeder.. Oh, for Beale’s list.

    At the moment, I am assuming the “peer review” consisted of the editor opening an email attachment and appending the article to the journal.

  4. zetopan says

    “The only way these multiple papers got published is if they had really lazy reviewers, or extremely biased reviewers.”

    You seem to have left out the possibility of the “reviewers” being simply and thoroughly incompetent.

  5. says

    You should have googled “External Qi” from the circled paragraph.
    “There are two main categories of techniques, with most sessions utilizing both treatment techniques. The first treatment technique works on a purely energetic level and does not involve any physical contact between you and Ellen. Ellen holds her hands a few inches above the body and assesses the health and balance of qi. Specific therapeutic passes are used to increase energy, disperse stagnation, or reduce pain. The entire session can be done on a purely energetic level. The second treatment technique involves hands-on techniques, similar to massage therapy, to open the energy channels of the head and body. This massage technique utilizes Tai Chi press, and is designed to open any blockages in the client’s qi flow.”
    See, the cells don’t meditate – all the woo is externally applied!