The Paper That Never Was

April 13, 2009 at 8:53 pm (Bad Science, Referenciness) (, , , , , , , , , , )

Several sites cite a paper they claim was published in the Lancet in, variously, 1989, 1990, or 1991. All agree that the paper was written by Ulrich Abel and published in the Lancet.

This page tells us that Dr Ulrich Abel “published his shocking report in 1990 stating quite succinctly that chemotherapy has done nothing for 80% of all cancers; that 80% of chemotherapy administered was absolutely worthless” and goes on to state that the report was published in the Lancet in 1991. Which is odd, because I’d be surprised to see the Lancet publish a paper that had already been published a year earlier.

Here, it is claimed that Ulrich Abel PhD also found in a similar 1989 study that “the personal views of many oncologist seem to be in striking contrast to communications intended for the public.” but this may be a different study to the one referred to by the above site. It’s hard to tell, given that they don’t (either of them) at any stage correctly cite the paper. As the dates are different, perhaps I should assume that this is a different paper. The site does also tell us, though, that Abel published a paper in 1990 – could this be the Lancet paper? No. It is a monograph published in Healing Journal, No. 1-2, Vol.7 of the Gerson Institute. Yes, the Gerson Institute – Gerson Therapy is the one with the coffee enema. The Gerson Institute link to clinics providing the therapy (there’s an online form you can fill in to apply for admission to a Gerson clinic) and they also have an online shop selling books, videos, and audio recordings.

I emailed the first of these two websites to ask them for the full reference so I could take a look at the paper they were citing.

I then went to PubMed, where I was unable to find any papers published by Ulrich Abel in the Lancet. There was a single hit – a response to a paper on “open versus laparoscopy assisted colectomy” published in 2002.

Next, I tried to find Ulrich Abel on the biomedexperts page. His profile is there. There is no mention of a 1989, 1990, or 1991 paper in the Lancet. Link.

Finally, I emailed the Lancet to ask their reprint department if they could find this mysterious paper. If I get a response from either the Lancet or the Minnesota Wellness site I’ll add it to this post. Maybe it will come to be known (by me) as “the paper I couldn’t find” rather than “the paper that never was”, but I think the odds are against this happening.


This isn’t an unusual situation – or, at least, not as unusual as it should be. It is all too common to find people: citing the wrong reference; misrepresenting the findings of a paper; citing a paper and incorrectly claiming it is published in a peer-reviewed journal or a journal indexed on Pubmed; or cherry-picking small or poorly-designed studies that suit their argument while ignoring others.

To pick just one person as an example, Patrick Holford has recently written a blog post that included two links to evidence that he thought backed his argument. In the first link, he cited the wrong paper – and the second paper linked to was an open label study with no control group. Holford Watch discuss this referenciness.

Holford also made an unfortunate error in the citation of a paper on allergy testing. I wrote about it here, and a commenter noted that the journal is called “Nutrition & Food Science”, not “The Journal of Nutrition and Food Science”. The distinction may be important, as Nutrition and Food Science is not peer-reviewed. No peer-review, please – we’re nutritionists. “Emerald has appointed an Editor who is a respected expert in the subject area concerned. The decision whether or not to publish is made by the Editor. Second opinions may be taken. ”

One more thing: I noticed that John Scudamore of has cited this (non-existent?) Lancet paper in a thread on Science-Based Medicine. He also links to several pages on his own site, thus invoking Scopie’s Law. [Link to SBM: here.]

EDIT 21/4/09: Genuine cancer stats are available here at Cancer Research UK –


  1. Warhelmet said,

    I’ve come across similar things too. I’ve seen claims that public opinion is 75% in favour of homeopathy on the NHS. I did an awful lot of digging that suggests that no such opinion poll was ever conducted, although I stand to be corrected.

  2. apgaylard said,

    Interesting post. I suspect that there are many similar stories around. Here’s one I came accross last year.

    At the “Scientific Research in Homeopathy” conference Gayney Goddard presented a slide citing a study claiming impressive results for homeopathic Meningitis prophylaxis. The reference was given as: British Medical Journal, 1987:294‐6.

    As this is a decent journal my interest was piqued. Some digging showed the correct citation to be:

    Castro, D. & Nogueira, G. G. (1975). Use of the nosode Meningococcinum as a preventative against meningitis. Journal of the American Institute of Homeopathy, 1975 Dec 68 (4), 211-219.

    Not as impressive as the citation in the presentation. I did email Goddard. Her PA got back to me and said that she was too busy to deal with this. You have just reminded me to see if she’s still too busy to correct herself. [see here for my blog coverage]

  3. Andy Lewis said,

    What’s the betting that Jayney Goddard’s PA also happens to really be called Jayney Goddard.

  4. apgaylard said,

    Andy, Such cynicism so early in the day! I think that I’ll keep calling her Roberta for now. Actually, looking at her email again she’s the “Admin Mananger”. I wonder if that’s the same thing?

  5. dvnutrix said,

    We can confidently state that a certain nutritionist is aware of many, many exhaustively documented errors in his work but his PA says that he will not consider them unless they are put in a letter and sent to his publishers who will then pass them on to him for consideration as to whether or not there is a valid issue.

    Stephanie Fox (the PA) left a similar comment on Ben Goldacre’s site:

    Regarding specific issues you have with Patrick’s work I’d suggest if you want to make any progress with correcting anything you understand to be wrong in Patrick’s books or on the website then you write to his book publisher (Piatkus) or 100%health documenting this. Patrick and his publishers can then assess any evidence you send them.

  6. Neuroskeptic said,

    Notice the irony here. On the one hand, the whole point about the fictitious paper being published in The Lancet – as opposed to The Crap Journal Noone Has Ever Heard Of – is presumably that the Lancet is a “good” journal so the paper “must be true”.

    But on the other hand the Lancet is constantly publishing papers, and opinion pieces, which support traditional medicine and rarely, if ever, does it publish anything (other than letters, I suppose), which lend any support to CAM.

    On the other hand, if the Lancet did publish a paper finding that 80% of chemo was useless, then this would make the Lancet remarkably open-minded, given that the whole point about this supposed finding is that it “proves conventional medicine wrong”.

    But if the world’s most famous conventional medical journal is so open-minded… what’s wrong with conventional medicine?

    The irony boils down to the old dilemma facing a quack – do you attack doctors and scientists as “biased” or do you pretend to be a highly qualified doctor/scientist? Of course, in fact, as every quack knows, there is no dilemma because you can do both. You can flaunt your “credentials” – or just make them up – while claiming that the credentials of others are meaningless. Your audience won’t care.

  7. Andrew said,

    Could this be the Abel reference you are talking about? Not The Lancet after all. I can’t see the original article, only the abstract, but it looks pretty close to what the content is claimed to be.

    Biomed Pharmacother. 1992;46(10):439-52.
    Chemotherapy of advanced epithelial cancer–a critical review.
    Abel U. Tumorzentrum Heidelburg/ Mannheim, Germany.

    This article is a short version of a report which presents a comprehensive analysis of clinical trials and publications examining the value of cytotoxic chemotherapy in the treatment of advanced epithelial cancer. As a result of the analysis and the comments received from hundreds of oncologists in reply to a request for information, the following facts can be noted. Apart from lung cancer, in particular small-cell lung cancer, there is no direct evidence that chemotherapy prolongs survival in patients with advanced carcinoma. Except for ovarian cancer, available indirect evidence rather supports the absence of a positive effect. In treatment of lung cancer and ovarian cancer, the therapeutical benefit is at best rather small, and a less aggressive treatment seems to be at least as effective as the usual one. It is possible that certain sub-groups of patients benefit from the treatment, yet so far the available results do not allow a sufficiently precise definition of these groups. Many oncologists take it for granted that response to therapy prolongs survival, an opinion which is based on a fallacy and which is not supported by clinical studies. To date, it is unclear whether the treated patients, as a whole, benefit from chemotherapy as to their quality of life. For most cancer sites, urgently required types of studies such as randomized de-escalations of dose or comparisons of immediate versus deferred chemotherapy are still lacking. With few exceptions, there is no good scientific basis for the application of chemotherapy in symptom-free patients with advanced epithelial malignancy.

  8. The Paper That Never Was - A Citation « jdc325’s Weblog said,

    […] original post on this is here. This Bad Science thread is what started me looking for the mysterious “Ulrich Abel Lancet […]

  9. Reader said,

    Try inter-library loan, ISBN# 3-7773-0996-6
    Title: Chemotherapy of Advanced Epithelial Cancer

  10. noetischonderzoek said,

    For those who want to read Dr. Abel’s original article you can head for:

    where you can find the article from Biomedicine and Pharmacotherapy from 1992 in between the picture of Dr. Abel and the picture of the pancreas. Push the link ‘download’ to get to the pdf. I think this article should be spread as widely as possible.

  11. Science-Based Medicine » Chemotherapy doesn’t work? Not so fast… said,

    […] one on common infections in chemotherapy patients and another on Crohn’s disease. Nor was I the only blogger who couldn’t find this ethereal Lancet paper by Dr. Abel. So I started searching other years, and then I found what appears to be the paper to which Moritz […]

  12. Jennifer Clifford said,

    You should have looked a little better because I was able to find the article, although it wasn’t published by the lancet. here is a link to the abstract……

  13. jdc325 said,

    Hi Jennifer and thank you for the link. You appear to have come to the same conclusion as Andrew (comment #7). It’s hard to tell whether this is the paper that is being relied upon by the two sites I link to in my post. And it’s certainly not a paper that was published in the Lancet in 1989, 1990 or 1991.

    As you’ll note, I complain in my blog post about people “citing the wrong reference; misrepresenting the findings of a paper; citing a paper and incorrectly claiming it is published in a peer-reviewed journal or a journal indexed on Pubmed; or cherry-picking small or poorly-designed studies that suit their argument while ignoring others”.

    I was interested to note that, while The Lancet has an impact factor of 33.63, Biomedicine and Pharmacotherapy has an impact factor of 2.208. It is curious that so many people in so many different places have wrongly cited a 1992 paper in a journal with a low impact factor and claimed it was published in The Lancet (seen as a more prestigious journal). I wonder how that might have happened. It’s also interesting that none of the people citing the paper seem to have noticed that they’ve got the citation completely wrong. You’d have thought they’d have noticed when they went to read the paper they were citing that it wasn’t in The Lancet.

  14. jdc325 said,

    Oh, and here’s what David Gorski made of the Ulrich paper:

    It turns out that the Dr. Abel’s article is rather odd. It’s not really a study, and it’s definitely not a meta-analysis. Nor is it really a particularly good systematic review, given that the methodology of selecting papers isn’t exactly transparent, and the larger “review” to which he refers readers appears to be in German and not readily available on the web, as far as I can tell. In the abstract, Dr. Abel states that “as a result of the analysis and the comments received from hundreds of oncologists in reply to a request for information, the following facts can be noted.” More importantly, Dr. Abel was addressing a fairly limited situation that excludes two of the most effective uses of chemotherapy…

  15. David Reichelt said,

    I spent ten minutes looking for Dr. Abel’s article; just because you can’t find something doesn’t mean it “never was.” You either do not know how to research something online or did not want others to know it actually exists.
    It’s in German though, however, I am acquiring an English copy.

  16. David Reichelt said,

    Actually, this article is based on his book which is around 92 pages. That is the English copy I was referring to in my last post.

  17. jdc325 said,

    Hi David,

    You might find the two comments immediately above yours of interest. (#13 and #14)

  18. Of All Things That Are Wrong… | In Sciento Veritas said,

    […] unsupported claims of the homeopaths, bloggers and valiant pseudoscience battlers apgaylard and jdc325 have mentioned the first paper. The second paper apparently follows the first “study”. […]

  19. shuggy said,

    You can rely on papers and studies or you can dismiss them. I prefer to use my judgement of facts from real people, currently there are so many of my friends and friends of friends that are diagnosed with cancer. Their subsequent chemo treatment, either shortens their life or eventually kills them. I have yet to have anyone who has had successful treatment and survived. The sad part of these stories, is many of these cancer sufferers here in the UK are ‘whisked’ into theatre for operations or chemo treatment within a week, by patronising oncologists who make a ‘claim’ on your body. To opt for a 2nd opinion, is somewhat considered “an act of mistrust”

  20. Alana said,

    Well said shuggy, well said. On another note: A 1994 major study of Levamisole (popular chemo) written up in the British Journal of Cancer showed almost double the survival rate using a placebo instead of Levamisole! The utter mystification over why this poison continues to be used as a standard component of chemo cocktails can be cleared up by considering one simple fact: when Levamisole was still a sheep de-wormer, it cost $1 per year. When the same amount was suddenly relabeled as a cancer drug given to humans, it cost $1200 per year. (Los Angeles Times 11 Sep 93.)

  21. Carole Hubbard said,

    In 1991, Dr. Albert Braverman, Professor of Hematology and Oncology at the State University of New York, Brooklyn, published an article in Lancet titled “Medical Oncology in the 1990s”.
    The paper bases its conclusions on the work of biostatistician at the University of Heidelberg, Dr. Ulrich Abel. and can be found in the Lancet by doing a search for “Medical oncology in the 1990s”.

  22. Chris Preston said,

    Braveman published a one and quarter page commentary in Lancet titled “Medical Oncology in the 1990s”. Lancet Vol 337 901-902 (1991). The commentary is essentially a consideration of the lack of increased cancer survival times from chemotherapy treatment of many metatastic cancers, such as metatastic melanoma. No mention in the paper is made of Ulrich Abel or any work done by Abel.

    In the paper Braveman does make a list of conditions for where chemotherapy had been shown to provide effective cures including: Hodgkin’s disease, non-Hodgkin lymphomas metastatic germ cell tumours and choriocarcinoma, and for tumours of children such as Wilms’ and embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma. He also list a series of cancers where long remissions had been obtained including: metastatic breast, ovarian, and small-cell bronchogenic carcinoma, myeloma and myeloblastic leukaemia.

    One of the key complaints by Braveman is, as he perceived it, the lack of rationale for some of compounds and mixtures used in chemotherapy trials and that many trials produced negative results. Braveman considered funds would be better spent on better molecular understanding of cancers, so that chemotherapy agents could be more effectively chosen. This is exactly what happens today.

  23. mythbuster said,

    Bullshite Chris. 2% is the ‘result’ of chemo. Compare this with full Gerson therapy and chemo is ridiculous. A cancer patient is already poisoned, how the hell is more poison going to solve it.

    Cancer charities have spent billions in the last decade and got exactly nowhere with cancer, if it was a boat that sunk company we would dis invest.

  24. Chris Preston said,

    Oh dear the 2% gambit rears its ugly head again. You do realise this figure was based on fallacious cherry picking of the data? Some discussion here:

    Gerson therapy is simply bollocks and potentially dangerous bollocks at that. It does not work for cancer has no evidence to support it and coffee enemas can cause infections, dangerous electrolyte deficiencies and even death

  25. said,

    Sorry Chris, unlike you I know people who have done Gerson quite successfully when orthodox chemo had already delayed getting on with a proper treatment for cancer.

    Whilst the Mary Whitehouse brigade continue to bullshit us we have laws to ‘protect’ the fallacious claims of the chemo peddlers.

    Luckily we can now go to Hungary for Gerson support instead of needing to travel to Mexico.

    The quasi religious Gorski even claims medicine is a science, that is the funniest thing I have read for ages.

    When you have met people who have stage 4 cancer metas to bone who are sent home to die, do Gerson and after two years of ridicule from fuckwits like Gorski get told ‘the diagnosis was wrong’ because they how have no cancer one wonders why you bother to put finger to keyboard.

  26. said,

    Chris the head of the Septic org Stephen Barrett is a felon – one of Gorski’s supporters, they are all full of shit.

    Why on earth do you believe that cytotoxic medication is a solution for cancer! Where is your evidence that this is a sane scientific solution?

    “Braveman considered funds would be better spent on better molecular understanding of cancers, so that chemotherapy agents could be more effectively chosen. This is exactly what happens today.” Fantasy science

    Chris do you just quote any septic identikit site as some kind of truth or are you just an idiot?

    people like you should be chained in the foyer of the Gerson institute and made to watch those coming and going. One day it may come.

  27. Chris said,

    Ah, now we see the source of the troll’s issues, he has been taking his coffee through the wrong orifice. This is why he has everything “ass backwards.”

  28. Chris Preston said,

    You are starting to sound like PatTimmy Bolen now. Now there is someone with only a tangential grip on reality.

    Stephen Barrett is neither the head of any organisation, nor a felon.

    I suspect Chris has this right. You keep spouting the outcome of your coffee enemas here.

  29. mythbuster said,

    So once again Chris diverts from discussing the facts. chemo is 98% bullshit and 100% profit.

    Berty Bassett is a felon and you know it

  30. mythbuster said,

    Why is it every time someone points out how crap medication is and that food may actually be the preventative for almost all disease processes known that Chris vomits into his pants and declares conspiracy.

    Are you sure that you aren’t some kind of former day saint worshiper?

    Next you will be quoting that pharma dinosaur Gorski and it will get really religious.

  31. A. said,

    I think the paper was published and from the hand of Ulrich Abel, but not in the Lancet and not in 1991, and can be found here:
    It is was titled ‘Chemotherapy of advanced epithelial cancer – a critical review’, which was according to the abstract, a shorter version of a report “which presents a comprehensive analysis of clinical trials and publications examining the value of cytotoxic chemotherapy in the treatment of advanced epithelial cancer.” (quoted from the abstract of the article itself). It was published in the Biomedicine and Pharmacotherapy Journal, V46/10 in 1992.
    It is however, as most scientific articles, not available to the public unless you pay for it and thus also difficult to find such an article if you, first of all, search in the wrong journal, and secondly, are not familiar with search sites for scientific articles.

  32. Mike B said,

    Your blog article is nonsense. The Abel’s article was certainly published, albeit not in the Lancet, Here is the link:

    Click to access abel-chemotherapy-of-advanced-epithelial-cancer-critical-review.pdf

    Took me about three minutes to find it.

  33. Mike B said,

    The link is for the full article. Here it is again. And it is free:

    Click to access abel-chemotherapy-of-advanced-epithelial-cancer-critical-review.pdf

  34. jdc325 said,

    Thanks Mike, but I think you’ll find your efforts are wasted. Nobody ever reads the comments.

    You clearly didn’t – if you had, you’d have noticed that you were beaten to pointing out the non-Lancet paper by several years. And by several posters. Presumably none of them had read the comments either…

  35. Michelle Irwin said,

    Although this is an old discussion, I would like to comment. I was cured of APL (leukemia). Some blood cancers are chronic, others are acute. It was science that saved my life. I would like to see the evidence that one of these pseudosciences could have stopped interstitial bleeding, cured a 41 C fever, reduced my WBC from 100, 000 to 10 or less, and replaced my platelets within a week and then reversed a genetic translocation withing a month. The gold standard treatment includes ATRA. Guess what, it is derived from Vitamin A – a natural product. For low risk APL treatment includes arsenic trioxide – another natural product. I don’t appreciate the promotion of the idea that cancers are not treatable or curable. There are many types of cancer, not one. There are multiple causes, not one. I have friends who have terminal cancer so I am not denying that some cancers cannot be cured. However, please show some respect to those of us who have survived cancer or had our lives prolonged by cancer treatment. It is not for you to decide for us if it is worth it.

  36. Michelle Irwin said,

    I really appreciate the reasoned and evidence-based discussion demonstrated here. My previous comments were directed toward those who disagreed within the discussion without providing credible evidence. I did find it interesting that Dr, Ulrich Abel said, “Both laymen and doctors who are not particularly familiar with clinical oncology are likely to regard this question as purely rhetorical and superfluous, for they will take it for granted that if a notoriously toxic and expensive treatment cannot cure, it must at least have a beneficial effect on the patient’s prognosis. In fact, this opinion is supported not only by the incontestable, sometimes dramatic, success of chemotherapy achieved in some non-epithelial
    malignancies such as leukemia, Hodgkin’s disease or highly malignant non-Hodgkin lymphoma, but also by assertions of positive results in epithelial cancer made in scientific publications or oncological
    textbooks as well as in communications intended for the public.” He then returned to his primary topic: advanced epithelial cancer Dr Abel is a legitimate biostatistician ( researching cancer. It is a shame that fear-mongers do not want to discuss his more recent research.

  37. Of All Things That Are Wrong… – In Scientio, Veritas said,

    […] unsupported claims of the homeopaths, bloggers and valiant pseudoscience battlers apgaylard and jdc325 have mentioned the first paper. The second paper apparently follows the first ‘study’. […]

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