This blog post is not intended to be an allegation of misconduct. I am just wondering about unclear affiliations, findings, and ethics approval. Be aware that this post contains links to articles about sexual activities and suicide. These links are intended for mature audiences only and might contain sensitive material that is NSFW.
A Gizmodo article by Jennings Brown, published in March 2019, describes the curious case of The Fake Sex Doctor Who Conned the Media Into Publicizing His Bizarre Research on Suicide, Butt-Fisting, and Bestiality.
The article describes a person who presents himself as a sexologist with a PhD (sometimes also an MD) from Harvard, who is the chief of a health institute in New York. Quite the accomplishment for a 28 year old person, who also claims he has won several awards, started college at age 16, and did thesis research at Columbia University, also in New York.
This MD had been featured many times in media articles with his spectacular research and expertise of unusual sexual activities, serial killers, suicide, necrophiles, and many other taboo topics. However, as Jennings Brown carefully unravels, all of this appears to be fake.
Several sources contacted by Brown confirmed the sexpert never went to graduate or medical school at Harvard, although he worked as a technician in several Harvard-associated labs, each time only staying for a couple of months.
Not hindered by any doctoral degree, the sexpert published several scientific papers between 2017 and 2019, under two different affiliations. One of this is the Medical University of Lublin in Poland (the country he appears to originate from), and the other is the Felnett Health Research Foundation (FHRF). The FHRF does not have a website and only comes up in search results about the sexpert’s papers. He claims to be the chief of sexology there, but the institute’s addresses are a condo in New York and a modest home in a Polish village.
There are several reasons to believe that the FHRF is a fictious institution only existing in the sexpert’s mind, although sometimes his mother is listed as an employee as well. By all means, it is not a large institute with multiple departments.
This is of concern because the scientific papers written by this person claim that the FHRF “ethics board” granted “institutional approval” to interview people who had suicidal thoughts, people who had performed unusual sexual activities, or to go over hospital charts of patients who had been treated by drunk doctors. One can imagine that interviewing such people could make them more depressed and have some serious risks, so an ethics approval would indeed be something good to have. However, if the FHRF is just a 1 person-show, that would mean that the sexpert gave himself permission – no questions asked. That would not be good.
As of today, 6 of the Harvard doctor’s papers have been flagged on Pubpeer. All of these papers have appeared in peer-reviewed, non-predatory journals. In 5 of these, I am asking here some questions that the peer reviewers should have asked.
Drunk doctors and outcomes (2018)
In this Forensic Science International paper the author analyzed 17 cases of Polish physicians who were disciplined for providing medical treatment under the influence of alcohol. Health reports and charts of patients who were analyzed by these drunk doctors were analyzed, information from the prosecutor’s office was obtained, witness reports were analyzed, etc.
My concerns about this paper are mainly related to unclear statements about where the data and institutional approval were obtained. It is impossible to know which patients were treated by the drunk physician without knowing their identity. How did the author obtain prosecutor’s documents, witness reports, and details about the patients who were treated by these doctors? Information about arrested drunk people is not easy to obtain in most countries for privacy reasons. In addition, in most hospitals, it is not easy – or even illegal – to obtain specific medical records by a non-treating physician. How did the author obtain these records? Just some of the many concerns I had about this paper.
Traumatic rectal injuries (2017)
This paper in the Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine describes 4 men who were injured during love interactions with animals. As stated in the paper, these “men appeared in the clinic for court-enforced treatment on counts of battering animals“, and they were interviewed and underwent an anal exam by the author. Apart from the fact that it appears very unlikely that a court would order these men to visit a non-licenced person, there are several other concerns.
The paper was initially published under the affiliation of the University of Lublin Medical School, but in corrigendum talks about a “dispute” and “regrets by the author” and the affiliation was changed to the elusive Felnett Foundation. This change makes it very hard to know where and if this study actually took place. The paper remains vague with a “The institutional review committee approved publication of treatment results of patients undergoing consultation in our university clinics” statement.
In my Pubpeer comments I asked some critical questions about where the study actually took place, if patients gave permission to use their medical data for this paper, and a small farm animal that suddenly becomes a medium animal (a donkey, in case you wondered). Some of the stories here are hard to believe and inconsistent.
A paper about sex and animals (2018)
In this Taylor & Francis paper published in the Journal of Deviant Behavior, the author went online in zoophilia forums, and conducted some interviews with participants.
My concerns again are firstly about the unclear ethics approval. This paper just stated “We have received ethics committee institutional approval to conduct this research“, but it not clear if the author just gave himself permission. In addition, I have questions about how the author gained access to these forums, which I assume are hard to find. Did he have to pretend he was a zoophile himself to get in? Did the people he interviewed give permission to use their quotes and answers in a research paper?
Digital Ethnography of Zoophilia (2018)
This 2018 Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy paper, published by Taylor & Francis, the authors collected data rom 954 participants on online forums for people who love animals very much. He also did a survey among 345 persons. This study is one of the few with more than one author; the second author is listed as a psychiatrist at the Polish Institute of Psychiatry and Neurology which appears to be a private clinic run by his dad.
My concerns center again around unclear affiliations, a vague ethics statement (“This study received institutional approval of the ethics committee“), variable numbers, and overlap with several other papers about animal love.
A contemporary paper about sex and animals (2019)
In this 2019 Elsevier paper in the Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine, the author went again undercover in online zoophilia forums and collected data on their “daily lives” and asked them to answer a 40-question survey. Which forums he investigated remains a mystery. Which questions were included in the survey is also not part of the paper.
As with the previous papers, I have asked the authors to comment on the nebulous ethics approval statement “We received all the necessary institutional approvals from the ethics board of our institution“. I also asked him to explain how people can have sex with lizards and birds, and why a paper called “China’s War on Air Pollution China Research Center” is included in the reference list.
I have posted my concerns about these papers on Pubpeer about 2 months ago. The authors, although I tagged him in my posts, has not responded yet. I will also write to the journals in which these papers were published, to take a closer look at these papers and the peer review process. I will update this post as soon as I hear more.