“This is quite possibly the worst paper I’ve read all year”

This is quite possibly the worst paper I’ve read all year,” writes Lior Pachter in his blog, Bits of DNA, proceeding to perform a detailed, methodical autopsy. He’s talking about this paper, which has been the subject of many scare-inducing news reports (with scare-inducing headlines like this one: “Even Casual Marijuana Use Causes Brain Abnormalities“):

J.M. Gilman et al.Cannabis Use Is Quantitatively Associated with Nucleus Accumbens and Amygdala Abnormalities in Young Adult Recreational Users, Neurobiology of Disease, 34 (2014), 5529–5538.

Professor Pachter, after dissecting the study, ends his essay with a tidy thought:

…I believe that scientists should be sanctioned for making public statements that directly contradict the content of their papers, as appears to be the case here. There is precedent for this.

(Thanks to investigator Ivan Oransky for bringing this to our attention.)

Here are:

  • The official press release about the study.
  • breiterThe study’s authors, and the institutions with which they are affiliated (as listed in the study):  Jodi M. Gilman1,4,5, John K. Kuster1,2,*, Sang Lee1,6,*, Myung Joo Lee1,6,*, Byoung Woo Kim1,6, Nikos Makris3,5, Andre van der Kouwe4,5, Anne J. Blood1,2,4,5,†, and Hans C. Breiter [pictured here]1,2,4,6,†
  • Those institutions  (as listed in the study): 1 Laboratory of Neuroimaging and Genetics, Department of Psychiatry, 2 Mood and Motor Control Laboratory, 3 Center for Morphometric Analysis, Department of Psychiatry, and 4 Athinoula A. Martinos Center in Biomedical Imaging, Department of Radiology, Massachusetts General Hospital, Charlestown, Massachusetts 02129, 5 Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts 02115, and 6 Warren Wright Adolescent Center, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, Illinois 06011

Here, also as listed in the study, are the “author contributions” to the study:

  • J.M.G., M.J.L., B.K., N.M., A.J.v.d.K., A.B., and H.C.B. designed research; J.M.G., J.K.K., S.L., and A.J.v.d.K. performed research; M.J.L., B.K., A.B., and H.C.B. contributed unpublished reagents/analytic tools; J.M.G., J.K.K., S.L., M.J.L., N.M., A.B., and H.C.B. analyzed data; J.M.G., A.B., and H.C.B. wrote the paper.
  •  *J.K.K., S.L., and M.J.L. contributed equally to this work.
  •  †A.J.B. and H.C.B. contributed equally to this work.

BONUS: Description of a talk by Dr. Breiter1,2,4,6,† (the anchor editor of the cannabis study), with a modestly extensive biography of Dr. Breiter, highlighting a few of Dr. Breiter’s many accomplishments.

BONUS (Apri. 22, 2014): “How a Marijuana Study Can Poke Holes in Your Brain“, by Jason Koebler, in Motehrboard.