Sunday, 23 February 2014

Sea-Lice Twitter-Gate submitted by Adrian Flynn

On 28th of December 2013 (incidentally, my 23rd wedding anniversary), I received a tweet from Gillian Mills of Inshore Ireland with a sensational Headline: Publisher apologises to Ireland’s Marine Institute for contentious sea-lice article. Having been watching the whole debacle of BIM’s application for a major salmon farm license in Galway bay and having a passionate interest for aquaculture, I followed the link in the tweet to an online copy of the article. After reading the online Article, I replied to Gillian and said “divisive headline Gillian.. they apologised for not giving the MI a right to reply, not for the contents of the article”.

Gery Flynn, the Author of the Article and Editor of Inshore Ireland replied to me on 30th December 2013 with a kind offer: “List & analyse any inaccuracies in my article, Adrian, and I'll publish it in full in our January issue. OK?”

I’m now taking Gery up on his kind offer, as I think there has been a lot of confusion in relation to this whole issue and it is important in a democracy that people are freely able to express their views on matters, and also to be well informed in the media of the facts; it may also help clear up any confusion that is out there.

I fully appreciate that this is something of a contentious issue and that Inshore Ireland have given the opponents of the proposed Galway Bay farm project a chance to air their views, and I appreciate your offer to publish my views on your recent article in full.

In an attempt to keep this brief, the main points of your article that I have issues with:

1. Your assertion that the `article` “has been significantly downgraded”, you state this, as if it is a matter of fact.
2. Donal Maguire’s (BIM, the Promoter of the proposed contentious Salmon farm project in Galway Bay), confirmation that the article (his words not mine) `had to be downgraded` and that this is `highly significant`, which coincidentally is the same opinion as Inshore Ireland.
3. Your assertion that such a reclassification is highly significant in the scientific world.
4. Your headline refers to sea-lice article, your article refers to the Krkoesk et al. submission as an article on several occasions, Donal Maguire refers to the Krkoesk et al. submission as an article, the main point of your inshore Ireland article (you are not a scientific journal) is about the re-classification of a submission from a `short communication` to a `comment`, yet you constantly refer to the submission as an article` which is a different scientific class of document and is in fact inaccurate.
5. The Inshore Ireland article appears to be an attempt to discredit and undermine the Krkosek et al. submission and paint the picture that the Marine Institute’s science is right.

After reading your article, questions came to my mind:

1. Did Inshore Ireland, Donal Maguire or anyone from BIM clarify any of these assumptions with Krkoesk et al. or the Journal or Fish Diseases Publisher, Wiley?
2. Was the Krkoesk et al. submission actually `significantly downgraded`, or is this an assumption by Inshore Ireland, Donal Maguire and BIM?
3. What is the difference of reviewing a `Short Communication` and reviewing a `Comment` and is this significant?
4. Was the apology in question from Wiley in relation to any of the actual content of the Krkosek et al. submission?
To clarify my curiosity, and given your invitation to analyse your article, I thought I should clarify the issues at source and contacted
Krkosek et al. and Wiley Publishing; their response is below:

Krkosek et al. views:
Martin Krkosek ‘s view was, “Our comment was not 'downgraded'. It was always a comment. The journal erred in its initial classification of the paper as a short communication. They simply corrected the classification. It does not reflect any reassessment of the content of our comment.”
Christopher Todd confirmed that, “Nigel Balmforth (Wiley Senior Publisher) has confirmed that their re-categorisation after Early View publication “was not a downgrading of content””

Crawford Revie explained that, “we have found it unproductive to engage in detail on essentially ‘political’ issues - which appear to generate 'sound bites' rather than enhancing scientific understanding... It was for this reason that we chose to respond to the Jackson et al paper in the way we did rather than through any media comment. It is unfortunate that our attempt at a more direct/objective dialogue appears to have become tangled in the politics of the situation...”

Crawford also told me, “The piece was originally published as a Short Communication. However, it is very clear from the title that we used (this was our original title, not one that the journal allocated) that we had always intended this to be a Comment. “Just for completeness; the original title that Krkosek et al. used for their submission was `Comment on Jackson et al. ‘Impact of Lepeophtheirus salmonis infestations on migrating Atlantic salmon, Salmo salar L., smolts at eight locations in Ireland with an analysis of lice-induced marine mortality’`

Crawford is also keen to continue the debate on the science and said, “My co-authors and I are looking forward to reading Jackson et al's response to our Comment and plan to continue the scientific debate once we have seen their defence of the four major methodological criticisms we highlighted in our Comment.”

The Journal of Fish Disease/Publishers views:

I contacted Nigel Balmfoth (Wiley Senior Publisher) :

1. To confirm the comments by Krkosek et al. as I think it might be good practice to make confirmations of such matters at the source; and
2. To put some of the questions I raised earlier in this article to him.

Nigel confirmed, “We have not authorized anyone to speak on our behalf and we have kept our comments below short so that they can be conveyed onwards in their entirety to avoid any misinterpretation. We are not offering any views on reports of comments or interpretation made by others.

The Comment from Krkošek et al. was the first ever received by the Journal of Fish Diseases (JFD), and was mistakenly classified as a Short Communication rather than a Comment, despite its title. This was subsequently corrected.

As clarified in the JFD Author Guidelines, Short Communications and Comments are editorially reviewed in order to facilitate rapid publication; Original Manuscripts and Reviews are fully peer reviewed. An explanation of the difference between Original Manuscripts, Reviews, Comments and Short Communications is published in JFD and attached for information:

Due to a procedural error, Jackson et al were not given the right to respond prior to publication of the Comment in Early View. We have apologised to the authors for this error and recorded our apology in the Publisher’s Note.
We look forward to publishing the Comment and the response from the authors together in a forthcoming issue of JFD in support of the principle of scientific debate.”

Having read the JFD Author Guidelines, I can report that `Short Communications` and `Comments` are both treated in the same way in relation to reviews; “will be editorially reviewed within the Editorial Team and/or Editorial Board in order to facilitate rapid publication.”

Therefore it would appear to me, from all the clarifications that I have received from the direct sources involved in the central issue:

1. Short Communications and Comments are reviewed equally; therefore the reclassification does not represent any sort of downgrade or `significant downgrade`, as suggested by your paper and confirmed as a `highly significant downgrade` by Donal Maguire of BIM.
2. There is no question that Wiley have apologised to The Marine Institute Ireland about any of the actual content of the Krkosek et al. submission.
3. The only apology that the Marine Institute of Ireland received, was an apology for not having a right to reply before publishing of the `Comment`; I note this has been subsequently offered and will appear in the next issue of JFD.
4. The reclassification of the submission did not represent any kind of downgrade of the content of the `comment` by Krkosek et al. it was merely an administrative issue.
5. The issue of the reclassification was not confirmed with Krkoesk et al. by Inshore Ireland or BIM, and it appears it was not clarified with Wiley either.

I have asked Wiley if there has been any pressure from Ireland to reclassify the submission, but no reply was forthcoming on this issue.
Given your recent articles from BIM and Inshore Ireland in relation to misinformation... well, what can I say; I only hope the taxpayer has not been exposed to a deformation suit from the Authors of the `Comment` or Wiley Publishing!

It sounds to me, from all the responses I have received, that the issue of the reclassification of the submission was merely an administrative issue been corrected. The issue of a peer review does not arise as Krkosek et al. were merely commenting on a Review Paper; they were not submitting a review paper themselves. The Krkosek et al. `comment` was based on the same data that Jackson et al. (The Irish Marine Institute) used, but the Krkosek et al. findings (33% mortality of smolts due to sea-lie) were significantly different from the Jackson et al. findings (1% mortality of smolts due to sea lice) a difference of 32%, although the methods and comparisons are complicated.

I would say you will be using a bit more paper on this issue in the months to come, as I think there is a lot more miles left in this story.
In conclusion, I would have thought that it would have been good journalistic practice to have clarified these issues at source, if Inshore Ireland was interested in giving a factual unbiased view of the issue. Instead, Inshore Ireland clarified the issue with the Salmon project promoter (a large source of advertising revenue for Inshore Ireland), although I appreciate you also asked Marine Institute (co-project promoter, and another large source of advertising revenue for Inshore Ireland) and Inland Fisheries Ireland for comments. I would hardly think, the views of the project promoter, could be said to be an unbiased opinion.

I also note, that Donal Maguire, BIM, or Inshore Ireland, have been given no authority whatsoever to clarify anything for Wiley Publishing.

Copyright Adrian Flynn 2014 © All rights reserved. All copyrights waved for full publication, although donations will be accepted @iAdrianFlynn