Dr. Richard Burt letter to Science (AAAS) Magazine published on November 3, 2017.


Blogs cannot separate wheat from chaff

Richard K. Burt1,*, John A. Snowden2, Joachim Burman3, Maria Carolina Oliveira4, Basil Sharrack5
1Division of Immunotherapy, Northwestern University, Chicago, IL 60611, USA.
2Department of Haematology, Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Sheffield, UK.
3Department of Neuroscience, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden.
4Department of Internal Medicine, University of São Paulo, Ribeirão Preto, São Paulo, Brazil.
5Department of Neurology, Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Sheffield, UK.
↵* Corresponding author. Email: rburt@northwestern.edu

Science 03 Nov 2017:
Vol. 358, Issue 6363, pp. 602
DOI: 10.1126/science.aar2575

In the news feature, "The Stem Cell Skeptic", (4 Aug p 441), K Servick discusses Paul Knoepfler's concerns about unregulated stem cell trials, which he enumerates on his blog. Our research was one target of Knoepfler's criticism. Servick summarized Knoepfler's concerns and noted that we (specifically R.K.B.) declined to comment. Knoepfler's accusations that our program includes unregulated clinical trials, overcharges patients, and encourages patients to share personal information is unfounded.

By publishing his opinions on a blog, Knoepfler avoids the accountability inherent in peer-reviewed journal publications. Meanwhile, scientists involved with regulated clinical research must abide by strict rules about what they can say and write. Physicians and clinical researchers, constrained by patient confidentiality and HIPAA rules, recognize the pitfalls and dangers of social media. We must convey to the public, that bloggers, even those with university-affiliated sites, may be unaccredited, unvetted, and unsupervised. Institutions should revisit oversight policies for social media activities bearing their imprimatur, as well as restrictions on researchers' responses to claims made online. Allowing unscientific accusations to proliferate and gagging those qualified to refute them undermines science and could lead to harm to patients.