New depths in pseudoscience

Creationists have been playing a game for about 60 years. Their claims can’t get published in legitimate scientific journals, so they have created their very own boutique journals that mimic the real things: Answers in Genesis has the Answers Research Journal, which, surprisingly, always comes up with the same answer. The Discovery Institute has Bio-Complexity. The oldest of the bunch is Creation Research Society Quarterly, which proudly announces that it is Peer-reviewed by degreed scientists…with the caveat that in order to be involved in the journal at all, you must be a Christian who subscribes to their statement of belief.

It doesn’t need to be pointed out that real scientists don’t publish in any of those ‘journals’, only kooks who are in the business of rationalizing their superstitions.

But there’s one thing that they haven’t done, as far as I know, and that is creating their own Institutional Review Board to legitimize experiments. One good reason is that they don’t do experiments, especially not experiments on animals or people, so they don’t have to bother. You know who does have to pretend to do experiments? Anti-vaxxers.

They’ve gone and done it. They already have their own fake journals, but now they’ve gone and created a fake IRB so they can rubber-stamp horrible experiments with ridiculous reagents on living people. Orac has the low-down.

Recently, a longtime reader made me aware of a recent podcast episode in which an antivaxxer about whom I’ve written a number of posts over the years, James Lyons-Weiler, revealed a “surprise” announcement a little over halfway through the podcast that his antivax “research” organization, the Institute for Pure and Applied Knowledge (IPAK), is planning on forming his own institutional review board (IRB).

Lyons-Weiler has a fake organization and a fake journal, so why not go all the way and create a fake IRB to approve fake experiments?

IRBs are important for maintaining ethical standards and getting expert review of experimental protocols — setting up a fake IRB is a declaration that you want to work around those requirements. Orac has a specific idea of what Lyons-Weiler wants to do — not actual research of his own, but an opportunity to data mine other studies.

In the interview, Lyons-Weiler inadvertently reveals what is likely to be the true impetus and purpose for his IRB when he points out that states are refusing to release public health data, particularly record-level data, to researchers because they don’t have an IRB-approved protocol. My first thought was: How much do you want to bet that the “researchers” to which Lyons-Weiler refers are antivax “researchers” who want to data mine state public health databases in order to seek “findings” that attribute horrific harms to vaccines, particularly COVID-19 vaccines? In other words, how much do you want to bet that Lyons-Weiler’s IRB will exist to rubber-stamp antivax human subjects research protocols, so that antivax researchers can get their hands on that sweet, sweet state record-level public health data on vaccines?

I should confess that for many years I avoided having to get IRB approval, despite working on vertebrate animals, because there was a loophole that allowed experimentation on anamniote embryos — when you’ve got an animal that spews out hundreds of eggs per day, most of which will be cannibalized if they aren’t harvested, it’s hard to justify detailed animal care protocols for embryos (for adult animals, that’s a different story…but I didn’t do experiments on adult animals.) Now, of course, I’m working with spiders and flies, and no one cares what horrible crimes against God and nature I commit on them. I wouldn’t worry if the IRB decided that spiders need protection, because I’m doing entirely ethical work on them…I would just hate all the additional paperwork.

But it’s frightening to think this guy believes he can get approval to do whatever he wants to humans by recruiting a compliant board. Or that he can somehow escape data privacy requirements.


  1. raven says

    It is cargo cult science.

    They are pretending to do science while not actually…doing any science.

    I wouldn’t worry too much about any data mining by the antivaxxers.
    That takes effort and they don’t bother with doing actual work.

    Mostly what they do is lie a lot. And then lie some more.None of the studies that showed that hydroxychloroquinine and Ivermectin had antiviral activities against the Covid-19 virus were replicatable by reputable researchers. I’m sure some or all of their data was just made up.

    It is also very likely that any data they get from any where will show what we find over and over again. Vaccines are generally safe and effective and save lives by the millions.
    It is estimated that the Covid-19 virus vaccines saved the lives of 3.2 million Americans.

  2. birgerjohansson says

    Raven @ 1
    They may be incompetent but if they can put up enough money they can recruit people competent at doing mayhem on their behalf.

  3. Matt G says

    Maybe they can give themselves permission to give the muskrat brain implants. I’d actually be okay with that.

  4. birgerjohansson says

    I don’t really get what they get out of it.

    I understand the Sacklers and the tobacco industry get filthy rich by killing people. I understand serial killers get some gratifikation from doing their stuff.
    What the hell do the religious kooks get out of their work? Is it a feeling of power, like when the neo-nazis meet up and vandalise Jewish cemeteries?
    Do they think of themselves as avatars of El/Jahweh?

  5. John Harshman says

    I corresponded briefly with Lyons-Weiler around 25 years ago, when he was just finishing up his PhD and was to all intents and purposes a legitimate scientist, working on phylogenetic methods. When and why did he get crazy?

  6. anxionnat says

    Back in the mid-80s, when I was an undergrad, I volunteered for a study on acupressure being done by a grad student at an academic public health dept as part of her grad requirements. It supposedly compared results of using acupressure for relief of menstrual cramps to a control group using no relief. (Except for aspirin or other OTC pain relievers–rather thin on the ground at the time.) The grad student didn’t even get that there are multiple reasons for menstrual cramps, and didn’t bother checking or screening subjects. I mean, I was only a lowly undergrad and I could see the holes in her ridiculous experimental design, so I have no idea why her advisor let this nonsense go forward. At the end, all 50 or so of us were brought together and it was excitedly announced that the 30 or so women who had tried the acupressure experienced great relief. Then all the rest of us (I was in the control group) were “trained” in this amazing technique. This was completely ineffective for me and for several other women I spoke to. As far as I know, nothing was published. At about the same time, that university was being publicly raked over the coals about their failure to even maintain basic acceptable living conditions for experimental animals. Like the non-human primates, we “failures” were just collateral damage, I guess. It was only afterwards that the university took any meaningful steps to review such experiments, including forcing IRB review.

  7. raven says

    Well, I got that right.

    I’d never heard of James Lyons-Weilers before. For good reasons.
    He is a nobody except among the far lunatic fringes.

    He just lies a lot.
    He claimed the Moderna Covid-19 virus vaccine had 21% adverse reactions.
    The actual number is 0.5%, 40 times lower.


    Stated on December 6, 2020 in a video shared on Facebook:
    “21% of people are having serious adverse events from (the Moderna) vaccine.”

    By Jon Greenberg
    December 18, 2020
    Video shared on Facebook inflates risk of Moderna vaccine 40-fold
    Moderna’s data shows that 0.5% of people had a serious adverse reaction.

    See the sources for this fact-check
    Social media posts are spreading an inaccurate claim about the safety of the Moderna coronavirus vaccine.

    With the headline, “Do not take the vaccine,” a video post published Dec. 6 features James Lyons-Weiler giving this dire assessment of the Moderna vaccine trial data.

    “21% of people are having serious adverse events from this vaccine,” Lyons-Weiler says in the video. The clip is originally from Oct. 20, when Lyons-Weiler, head of the private group Institute for Pure and Applied Knowledge, spoke at a PA Medical Freedom press conference.

    Lyons-Weiler’s number is more than 40 times too high.

    The video has been shared widely on Facebook in the last two weeks and was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

    The data Moderna submitted to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration reports that out of 15,184 who received the vaccine, 82 (0.5%) had a serious adverse event (see page 32). That is a tiny percentage.

  8. JM says

    @4 birgerjohansson: There isn’t a single answer to that question but here are two big ones.
    Having a definitive answer. Blind faith provides all of the deep questions and uncertainties of life with a single answer. A lot of people take comfort in not having to answer those questions with “I don’t know.” or “It’s up to each person.”
    Giving them grounds to judge people. Religions that condemn a lot of things as sins give people a lot of reasons to look down on other people. Judgemental people feel better if they can come up with a reason why everybody else doesn’t measure up.

  9. Alan G. Humphrey says

    birgerjohansson @4
    I think they are looking for validation of their beliefs. When others parrot them, they get a boost to their ego, and of course they want more of that. So it goes.

    If the record-level data contain personal identifiers, then there should be no release of them. Bad actors acting in bad faith will lead to bad outcomes.

  10. raven says

    I’ve seen enough.
    These are lunatic fringers who lie a lot.

    James Lyons-Weiler whines about his “vaxxed/unvaxxed” …

    Respectful Insolence › 2021/07/26 › j…

    Jul 26, 2021 — James Lyons-Weiler published a “vaxxed/unvaxxed” study with antivax pediatrician Paul Thomas . It’s been retracted, and his whine is epic.

    I don’t think Dr. Paul Thomas is very happy either.
    He lost his medical license.

    Oregon Medical Board Suspends Dr. Paul Thomas for …

    Oregon State Legislature (.gov) › Downloads PDF

    Mar 20, 2021 — Jennifer Margulis, of the book The Vaccine-. Friendly Plan, which provides guidance to parents who want to protect their children from …
    In 2022, Thomas surrendered his Oregon license after the Oregon Medical Board found that Thomas engaged in the loathsome conduct described in a 2021 Amended Complaint, including:

    unprofessional or dishonorable conduct;
    making false or misleading statements regarding the efficacy of treatments;
    repeated negligence and gross negligence in the practice of medicine;
    willfully violating the law by knowingly making a false statement or representation on a matter;
    failing to comply with a Board request; and
    failing to report an adverse action.

  11. raven says

    If the record-level data contain personal identifiers, then there should be no release of them.

    That would most likely also be against the law.

    What is HIPAA and what is its purpose?

    Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 …
    The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) is a federal law that required the creation of national standards to protect sensitive patient health information from being disclosed without the patient’s consent or knowledge.

  12. whywhywhy says

    #11 It may or may not be a violation of HIPAA. Depends on whether the research subjects signed away their HIPAA rights when joining the study. Even without that, an IRB can release a limited data set that could include treatment dates and other Protected Health Information (generally excludes, names, addresses, etc.).

    Also, the monitoring of humans is completely separate committee/process from the monitoring of animals. IRB (Institutional Review Board) handle only human studies. IACUC (Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee) handles animals. The regulations and requirements are also different. For the same experiment, the paperwork for IACUC is much greater (and often the expense as well) than for the IRB. This has a lot to do with consent, since animals can’t consent. (When the setup is that humans can’t consent, then that usually stops or greatly inhibits the research effort: e.g. artificial blood research: generally if you need a transfusion, something unexpected and acute has happened).

    Where are these folks getting the money to setup an IRB, it is not cheap.

  13. Wade Scholine says

    Oh please let them do this and get all the way up to where they are abusing PII and PHI in a way that gets them hit with a million-pound shithammer of a HIPAA violation.

  14. EvoMonkey says

    I think that Lyons-Weiler is setting up his own IRB not do any cargo cult science or experiments at all. I think this is about marketing some quack anti-vax immune boosting supplements or something similar. If he can get access to state record-level public health data on vaccines and breakdown by county or zip code, then he knows precisely where to set up a shop selling overpriced colloidal silver or whatever nonsense supplement du jour he and his cronies want to peddle.

  15. raven says

    #11 It may or may not be a violation of HIPAA. Depends on whether the research subjects signed away their HIPAA rights when joining the study.

    He isn’t looking for research level studies.

    Since he has no particular medical qualifications, no reputable scientists would give him access to their data anyway.
    James Lyons-Weiler’s background is in ecology, conservation biology. and lately medical quackery.

    From ORAC in the OP:
    …purpose for his IRB when he points out that states are refusing to release public health data, particularly record-level data, to researchers because they don’t have an IRB-approved protocol.

    A Fake IRB for Fake Protocols.

  16. raven says

    I think this is about marketing some quack anti-vax immune boosting supplements or something similar.

    Good point.

    There is huge money in medical quack supplements.
    Alex Jones pushed them on his show and made somewhere in the estimated $200 million range.

    Posts Push Unproven ‘Spike Protein Detoxification’ Regimen › 2023/09 › scicheck-posts-pu…

    Claim: “Our Spike Support product is the bedrock of the recently-published ‘Base Spike Detoxification Protocol,’ the first and only regimen to help people recover…
    Claimed by: Peter A. McCullough

    There is no lie so unbelievable that the antivaxxers won’t make it.

    There are many protocols and supplements e.g. nattokinase to (supposedly) reverse the effect of Covid-19 virus vaccines, after they have been injected. And have been metabolized and are long gone.

  17. says

    IRB or not, he’d need to get a data use agreement with the health department, and that’s not gonna happen. So I wouldn’t worry about it. (Getting a DUA even for legitimate research is usually a major PITA.)

  18. says

    I’d suggest that this type of article belongs in the J. Irreproducible Results except that AiG, Disco, etc. articles do not meet the minimum standards of coherence and plausibility of that fine publication.

  19. muttpupdad says

    This must of been the IRB that allowed what ever had been done to that poor rat in the next article. I am pretty sure that anything that caused that would of been shut down immediately if it was attempted in course of normal experimentation.

  20. ajwade says

    I once ran across “peer reviewed” paper from a “Journal of 9/11 Studies” or somesuch. It was arguing that the WTC towers were strong enough to withstand the top of the towers dropping one story onto them. The funny thing is that the page or so of energy calculations was mostly correct (there were a couple of sign errors) but for a dynamics that went beyond unrealistic and into the incoherent.

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