Ground-breaking!?

My friend Natalia has posted a link to this blog on her Facebook profile. Basically this is the story of a paper published in 1994 in the medical journal Diabetes Care.

As it turns out, this paper “discovered” a method to:

  1. determine total area under a curve with precision;
  2. calculate area with varied shapes that may or may not intercept on one or both X/Y axes;
  3. estimate total area under a curve plotted against varied time intervals (abscissas), whereas other formulas only allow the same time interval; and
  4. compare total areas of metabolic curves produced by different studies.

Now, if you have so much as taken some basic calculus at some point in your life, you should realise that all this is actually done using the “trapezoidal rule”, one of the basic ideas in calculus and integration.

The paper is relatively old (at least it dates back to an era prior to the massive development of the internet), but I think it is still quite bad that it got through peer review without nobody at Diabetes Care bothering to ask somebody outside their pool of expert reviewers (and with some mathematical skills) to check that the method was actually sound and innovative.

I’ve checked on the Web of Science (at the MRC Centenary workshop last month, Robin Henderson joked that people use it to check the number of citation of somebody else’s papers $-$ but they use Google Scholars to check their own): the paper has 187 citations. What’s even worse is that many of these are actually quite recent (as far as earlier this year)!

(I think the story is not new and quite a few people have already commented on it, for example here).

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