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Dr. Cannell on PubMed Commons and censorship

Posted on: November 9, 2013   by  John Cannell, MD


PubMed, the search engine for the National Library of Medicine (NLM), recently announced a new program called PubMed Commons. It is all about freedom of thought and the unfettered exchange of ideas.

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19 Responses to Dr. Cannell on PubMed Commons and censorship

  1. Rita and Misty

    Dr. Cannell,

    Please continue to write and to speak on vitamin D deficiency,

    Yes, it is true that this is indeed (still) a very controversial subject.

    But you’ve been given the gift of foresight, and with this gift comes responsibility.

    Your courage has already improved the healthy of many folks (my health included).

    I hope you will consider to continue “fighting the good fight” until mainstream medicine finally catches a clue.

    Best regards,

    P.S. ~~ I have been called “inappropriate” and “blocked” many times during my cyberspace journey.. It isn’t personal 😉 We both know that.

  2. Ian

    I am deeply concerned by this action.

    I have emailed Kathleen Cravedi as below:

    Dear Madame,

    I, like many other members of the Vitamin D Council, of which John Cannell is the director are very concerned at Dr. Cannell’s suspension from the NLM:Pubmed Commons.
    No clear reasons have been given. The reason seems to be couched in briefly stated administrative terms which are inadequate for such a suspension.

    Such explanation makes this suspension look defensive therefore possibly anti-scientific and leads to conspiracy ideas. This is very unhelpful.
    Dr. John Cannell is a significant contributor to the science of vitamin D and the public health knowledge arising from that science.

    I urge you to ask for a complete explanation of the suspension or ask for the suspension to be lifted immediately.

    Thank you for your consideration

    Ian Hodgson PhD.

  3. Rita and Misty

    Ian~~what a great letter…and what a great idea.

    As I understand the concept of PubMed Central, it is a digital database of scientific literature in biomedical and life sciences and is designed to make all research funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) freely accessible to anyone.

    Therefore, we all have a right to know why Dr. Cannell has been suspended from being able to comment on Pubmed Commons; and perhaps, we should all contemplate writing a letter to Kathleen Cravedi, asking for a full explanation.

    Vitamin D deficiency is at a pandemic level, and it is time the medical community stop treating this deficiency as the elephant in the room.

    Best regards,

  4. Mark Richards

    The NIH and its offsprings are not answerable to the (very) general public. They march to the tune of other drummers. It is unfortunate that public money is in essence laundered into quasi-government organizations that have no public accountability.

    That they opened their web site for comments is extraordinary, even if from a rather select (and therefore controllable) group.

    It is good to let them know they’re being watched, and given recent revelations turn about is more than fair play.

  5. Rita and Misty

    Mark Richards:

    Very well stated.

    May I say in return:

    Then those researchers, academics and physicians who have been given the privilege of commenting on PMC, and who understand the vitamin D deficiency pandemic, have responsibility to write to Kathleen Cravedi regarding Dr. John Cannell’s suspension.

    It isn’t only Dr. John Cannell that will be suspended…it might just be anyone who expresses a thought outside of the box.

    And, Dr. Cannell, I hope you will circle around and hit ’em again.


  6. [email protected]

    If the PubMed Commons (PMB) was truly ” a forum for open and constructive criticism and discussion of scientific issues”, then it should have welcome and valued the observations of Dr. J. Cannell who has dedicated many years to the analysis of hundreds of studies. The decision of the PMB to suspend Dr. Cannell from expressing publicly his views, is in contradiction of the philosophy of the PMB itself, and makes us, the general public, wonder about the credibility of this institution.

  7. Rita and Misty

    @Joe Carraro and Mark Richards:

    Regarding Pubmed Commons, here is what I discovered:

    “Can I provide feedback on the system, whether or not I am a participant?

    You can contact us using the ‘Write to the help desk’ link at the bottom of PubMed on the right.”


    I am a big (huge) believer in freedom of thought… I don’t believe “blocking” or “deleting” is necessary, unless the commenter utilizes obscene language, or writes violent messages, etc.

    Rest assured I will be voicing my opinion.

    Be well,

  8. Rita and Misty

    **Freedom of thought, and Freedom of Speech…

  9. IAW

    Today I sent the below email to the two people that Dr. Cannell requested above.

    To whom this may concern,
    I am a member of the Vitamin D Council and have grave concern over the “suspension” of Dr. John Cannell’s comments on Pub Med Common.
    It is my understanding that this is a “new” program with the aim of “having freedom of thought and the unfettered exchange of ideas”. It is my understanding that Dr. Cannell was “invited” to participate.
    With start-ups of any “new programs” come “glitches” to the system. I would like to think that possibly Dr. Cannell just “over whelmed the system a little” with 53 comments and that something needs to be “fixed” on the Pub Med Common. Hence the statement from Mr. Brodsky “would enable a re-consideration of this suspension within weeks”. I would then assume he would be reinstated in good faith! I would not like to think that he is being censored.
    Perhaps a better or more detailed description to Dr. Cannell, of why the suspension happened, would have been more appropriate and better to understand.
    Ivy A. Walsh
    Vitamin D Council member

  10. IAW

    As for Dr. Cannell’s question of “See if I violated any of the rules.?” I could not find any violations. The only thing I wondered about was were they all signed as below:
    John J Cannell, MD

    Vitamin D Council”

    Maybe they did not like the “Vitamin D Council” part and only wanted the “John J Cannell MD” part. (Just a thought!)

  11. Karsten

    Dr Cannell,

    Good idea to engage other researchers whereever you can. We definitely need more debate, even if it may at times be controversial (controversy is publicity, and publicity is good if your arguments are strong). My only concern here is that they might accuse you of spamming their forum. Obviously the comment is well written and of high quality, but it doesn’t specifically address the content of each paper where it was posted. I think you have a higher chance of starting productive discourse if the authors don’t feel like the same comment would have to be addressed in each of 53 comment sections.

    I’m not saying that you are wrong that all of those papers are vulnerable to substantially the same criticism; just that to encourage those authors to engage productively, it would be better to tie that criticism to the details of each paper more explicitly. Also, I understand that it would be a lot of work to write 53 separate critiques, in which case it’s probably a good idea to start with 5 or 10. Many of those 53 papers probably have overlapping authors, so those are more likely to feel “spammed” when they see the same comment on several of their papers. And some of those papers/authors are undoubtedly worse and more influential than others, so focus on those first.

    Whatever happens, it doesn’t look to me like you did violate the rules, and so it’s absurd to suspend your privileges especially without any warning, but I don’t see any harm in agreeing not to post multiple copies of the same comment in the future (assuming that’s the problem), and then hopefully get the commenting privileges back. I think it will be more fruitful anyways.

  12. Karsten

    I just noticed that there is a mechanism for cross-posting comments in Pubmed:

    “Can I connect multiple articles through a comment?

    Yes. If you include a formatted PubMed ID in your comment, a citation link will be created automatically, that will click through to that article. That article will also show a link back to any comment in which it is mentioned.”

    You could use that to post a comment to a few different closely related articles. (I.e. maybe you could reach 50 articles with 10 different comments).

  13. Rita and Misty


    I have yet to write to Pubmed Central to express my disappointment in Dr. Cannell’s censorship. But, I do plan to do so, and I hope everyone who belongs to the VDC will also submit correspondence expressing dismay at Pubmed Central’s current policy.

    What you say regarding spamming certainly may be used by Pubmed folks to explain its suspension policy–it’s an easy way out for them regarding why they would suspend commenting privileges to a colleague.

    But, vitamin D is still a controversial topic in mainstream medicine. This is true.

    So, I wonder what would have happened if Dr. Cannell has posted only a handful of comments, and linked those as you suggested.

    Regardless, from reading what Dr. Cannell did submit, we all know that there isn’t anything in his comment that warrants permanent suspension.

    And Pubmed Central at least owes Dr. Cannell, who is a distinguished member of the medical community, an explanation–if not an apology.

    If Pubmed Central were to claim spamming as a reason for suspension, those folks need to reconsider the definition of spamming to include content. Again, I am against censorship unless language is hurtful on some level. Dr. John Cannell’s comments only serve to better our collective health.

    Redundant–or not–Dr. John Cannell’s comments should have been allowed posting…imo….

  14. Karsten


    “it’s an easy way out for them regarding why they would suspend commenting privileges to a colleague”

    Honestly, I think it’s pathetic. It’s obviously a well-informed, well-written criticism, and if an author disagrees with it they are welcome to trash it in the same comment section. Running to the moderator and demanding the writer gets banned is incredibly whiny.

    Given, however, that some people *are* whiny and insecure, it’s best not to give them the excuse that said comment was just an elaborate ad. Like I said, I don’t think this way of commenting is likely to achieve much anyways in terms of encouraging those researchers to engage.

    ” I wonder what would have happened if Dr. Cannell has posted only a handful of comments, and linked those as you suggested.”

    Well, it would have been good to find out. I really doubt any actions would have been taken without plausible cover. Hopefully we will get another chance to find out soon.

    “And Pubmed Central at least owes Dr. Cannell, who is a distinguished member of the medical community, an explanation”

    I think they owe him a full reinstatement of his privileges. He didn’t break any rules, he obviously has no intention of breaking any rules, and I assume he will agree to whatever new rules Pubmed decides to implement on their forum. Unless he insisted on continuing to post in the same manner (assuming, still, that this is the proximate reason for the suspension), I can’t understand why they suspended him in the first place.

  15. Rita and Misty

    @Karsten 🙂

    If you read all my above posts you’ll see that I also do not understand why Pubmed Central suspended Dr. John Cannell.

    John Cannell is due an explanation, an apology and (yes) a reinstatement.

    There is no braver man–imo–(regarding vitamin D)….


    Dr. John Cannell’s comments only serve to better our collective health.

    Redundant…or not….

    (you and I Karsten are on the same team)

  16. Rita and Misty

    Dear Dr. Collins:

    As a member of the Vitamin D Council, I was disappointed to learn that Dr. John Cannell’s account with Pubmed Commons has been suspended for his posting of comments on various journal articles.

    I understand that this decision was based upon his submission of 53 posts within a system that is still under development.

    Although perhaps the number of comments were more than staff might have anticipated from one contributor, Dr. Cannell’s comments were well rewritten and thought provoking. I would think Pubmed Commons would desire such contributors, as isn’t the purpose of Pubmed Commons to encourage open dialogue, creative thinking and freedom of speech?

    Additionally, I was concerned by the response provided to Dr. Cannell by David Brodsky regarding Dr. Cannell’s suspension. Mr. Brodsky’s explanation to Dr. Cannell is at best vague, and at worst, smacking of censorship.

    I do hope that Pubmed Commons will re-instate Dr. Cannell’s privileges immediately, as he is a distinguished researcher and physician–a leader in the field of vitamin D. Furthermore, Dr. Cannell is owed both an explanation and an apology from Pubmed Commons, as he did not violate any of the PubMed Common rules.


    Rita Celone Umile, MS

  17. Michael

    Hello all,

    I just had my first HMO experience this week. Kaiser Permanente. In the fewest word: sheepdip.

    If you prefer, in the fewest words: sheep dip.

    I am perceptive. That being said, the people who cared for me at Kaiser Permanente acted as though a Big Brother camera was not only watching but also timing their various interludes with me.

    Let me cut to the chase. I casually pinpointed out to the doctor that I take 5,000 UIs of Vitamin D daily. After almost a minute of wanting to ask me why, he did. To which I replied, “Because I am smarter than the Medical Community.” He chuckled as though he knew I was right. But yet I regretted that I had let a member of the Medical Establishment know I was suspicious, or knowledgeable, of their modus operandi. (I then had visions of Julia Louis-Dreyfus playing Elaine Benes on Seinfeld trying to get a peak into her medical records file. After she fled with it and reached the Lobby, the elevator doors opened but there was her doctor with white-coated back-up to take back the file.)

    Pandemic Vitamin D deficiency has put billions upon billions of dollars into the pharmo-medical sector — or has it already, in just 40 short years, become trillions and trillions of dollars. Asbestosis, black lung, and tobacco can’t hold a candle to the human health damage done by lack-o-sunshine.

    The Vitamin D Council’s valiant strides to make change is like the skinny little pauper chasing after the royal coach pleading, “Grant me to be a Prince, Sire.”

    Unfortunately there is no way to make oodles of money off of free sunshine, so America, with its free market place and rule by billionaires, is doomed, yes doomed.

    But don’t despair. We are already way past the mid-point in the peasant-ification process rigorously carried out by our education institutions; and who needs healthy peasants anyway!


  18. IAW

    So this was the reply I got back from my email!

    Dear Ms. Walsh,

    Dr. Collins has asked me to reply to your message of November 14, 2013.

    PubMed Commons is a project of the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) at the National Library of Medicine that is still in a pilot stage. Its operation, technical capabilities, and policies are in a development phase. Processes, policies and technical capacities are in development. Feedback from the community will help shape these developments, so we thank you for your correspondence and sharing your concern.

    Enhancing the value of PubMed Commons to PubMed users generally is critical to the success of this commenting system. This will require taking a variety of views into consideration about the appropriate use of the forum.

    Comments made by PubMed Commons’ participants are not moderated before release. However, moderators may act on reports of inappropriate comments and the NCBI reserves the right to remove comments. As with other aspects of the system, the guidelines pertaining to use of the commenting system will also develop over time (see http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedcommons/help/guidelines/).

    While it is not appropriate for us to enter into discussion about individual PubMed Commons participants with third parties, I can assure you that any suspension or cancellation of a PubMed Commons account is very carefully considered, and final decisions are communicated directly to the participant.


    David J. Lipman, M.D.
    Director, National Center for Biotechnology Information

    This was my response to them on 12/4/2013:
    “This will require taking a variety of views into consideration about the appropriate use of the forum.” I believe Dr. Cannell followed the rules for the forum, so this all sounds more like censorship to me!
    Ivy A. Walsh

  19. Rita and Misty

    Greetings Ivy:

    From reading what was sent to you, I can see that this has been NCBI’s standard response. I received the same letter.

    It is in my nature to think that perhaps NCBI might be swayed to a different response if every single VDC member addressed their concerns via email.


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