Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Weekend reads: A psychology researcher’s confession, a state senator’s plagiarism

with 13 comments

booksYet another busy week at Retraction Watch, with one of us taking part in a symposium on the future of science journalism for a few days. (See if you can find Ivan in this picture.) Here’s what was happening elsewhere on the web in science publishing and related issues:

  • Admirable: “Let me share the lessons learned from 5 research publications that don’t sit well with me,” psychology researcher Todd Kashdan writes of his own work. “This is my confession.”
  • A New York State senator plagiarized a high school student’s blog post in a bill designed to safeguard killer whales. Senator Greg Ball’s responses to the coverage of the incident are worth a look.
  • “Peer review is also only as good and effective as the people managing the process, and the large variation in standards that exists is one of the reasons some of the research and related communities have become critical of and disillusioned with the traditional model of peer review.” Publishing consultant Irene Hames, who has been active in the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), takes a look at peer review in the 21st century.
  • Neuroskeptic wonders what Open Access Publishing London and Publication Integrity and Ethics — which figured in a November post — really think about duplicate publication, given that at least a few OAPL papers appear to be duplicates.
  • The Washington Post will stop publishing health and science press releases, following criticism by the Knight Science Journalism Tracker’s Paul Raeburn. As Andrew Gelman writes, “it’s the job of a serious journalist to read the press release and use it in a story, not just to reprint it!”
  • Petard Watch? After numerous press releases about exoplanet research, a new press release is headlined “Rife with hype, exoplanet study needs patience and refinement.”
  • “Working to improve the self-correction process is not equivalent to ‘reducing the opportunity for scientific mistakes that turn into big ideas,'” writes Gelman in a different post, taking issue with another essay. “Rather, it’s about getting to those big ideas more effectively.”
  • “We all bring bias to what we do,” writes Emily Willingham in a piece expressing concern about undisclosed conflicts of interest in a paper about environmental toxicants and autism. “Avoiding this bias in science requires vigilance.”
  • A pair of medical education researchers worry that “more rigorous screening of data reported by reviewers…implies a return to the post-positivist stance that long dominated and hampered the acceptance of qualitative research in health sciences education.”
  • Australia’s ABC News picks up on the halted brain cell trial we covered in January. (Quotes Adam.)
  • Japanese authorities have raided Novartis’s Tokyo offices, part of a continuing investigation that has already led to two retractions.

Written by Ivan Oransky

February 22nd, 2014 at 10:33 am

  • Conn Suits February 23, 2014 at 5:08 pm

    Ahem, when you guys have a link to an article behind a paywall could you say next to the link. The item you mention on qualitative research requires money or membership in some society to read. And it’s a letter. Thanks.

  • JATdS February 23, 2014 at 12:51 pm

    I once again turn my attention to COPE because of its extremely central role in much of what is related to ethics, publishing, and now retractions.

    Using the words of Emily Willingham, “We all bring bias to what we do … Avoiding this bias in science requires vigilance.” We should also apply this rationale to COPE. We should call on COPE to hold itself and all its members accountable for the same standard of ethics. Says Hame, “Peer review is also only as good and effective as the people managing the process, and the large variation in standards that exists is one of the reasons some of the research and related communities have become critical of and disillusioned with the traditional model of peer review.” The same can be said of COPE. For example, why are DIFFERENT, but not all, Taylor and Francis journals listed as paying COPE members? For example, the “A” list at only includes SELECT Taylor and Francis journals. Why are all Taylor and Francis journals not COPE members? Is this because those T&F journals that are COPE members are more ethical, or have better funding to pay COPE membership fees? Should different Taylor and Francis journals have different ethical standards?

    One of the ways to understand the reasons why retractions take place is by understanding the system in which publications operate and by understanding the intricate network of the publishers that control science.

    It is important to assess COPE in more detail because it encompasses so many publishers that are issuing retractions, many of which are not well substantiated retraction notices. So, why has COPE not intervened and requested its members to make retraction notices more transparent or informative? Emily Willingham correctly states “We all bring bias to what we do.” Seconding these ideas, I call on more unbiased, open, transparent and critical (but peaceful) vigilantism of COPE and of editors and editors-in-chief that serve on the board of journals of COPE members. Nothing can, or should, be taken at face value any longer.

    I thus make a public call to scrutinize the history of COPE, the COPE membership, the COPE guidelines, their origin and influences (current and past), and the “panel of experts” on their “council members” page (, starting with what ties any of them have had or continue to have, actual or potential, with industry, especially as “consultants”. For example, what benefits, if any, does Liz Wager (, intricately linked to COPE, have in her own private business, SideView (, especially considering how COPE money is being used for company-linked projects: Why has this page just disappeared?

    Questions COPE needs to answer:
    1) Why are not all journals by COPE “member” publishers listed on the “Members list”?
    2) Please explain exactly how all finances received as membership fees have been used, exactly for what, in pounds and pennies. How have individual members benefitted from “charity money”, and how much exactly, and for what? This should be in compliance with the UK Charities Commission:
    3) If it is a charity, then why aren’t its services free for all in the scientific community, especially scientists?
    4) Why do different COPE members have different (and even contradictory) definitions of ethics and authorship?
    5) One example. Why is Journal of Pharmaceutical and Biomedical Sciences a COPE member ( when it has been listed as a journal of suspect academic quality (, at least as qualified by Jeffrey Beall?
    6) Why do scientists receive this e-mail message when they want to make a complaint to COPE about a COPE member: “Unfortunately, we are unable to advise you further on this matter as COPE does not undertake investigations of or comment on individual cases.”
    7) Why can individual scientists not become full members?

  • Neuroskeptic (@Neuro_Skeptic) February 23, 2014 at 1:18 pm

    I don’t think any serious observer would say that COPE is high on the list of problems which demand our attention in publishing.

  • JATdS February 23, 2014 at 1:29 pm
    Elsevier’s Scientia Horticulturae web-site: “Authorship should be limited to those who have made a significant contribution to the conception, design, execution, and interpretation of the reported study.”
    Elsevier central ethics and authorship web-site: “Authorship should be limited to those who have made a significant contribution to the conception, design, execution, or interpretation of the reported study.”

    Elsevier is a member of COPE and, by journal volume, most likely the one with the highest membership fees ( This means, based on 2014 prices, and the fact that Elsevier has, according to, >2500 journals, that Elsevier will be paying 53,352 pounds sterling to COPE for 2014 membership.

    How can Elsevier have different and radically contrasting definitions for authorship (please compare the conjunction “and” vs “or”) and still be a COPE member? Why has this issue not been resolved even though both Elsevier and COPE have been made aware of this constant contradiction in authorship definition ever since at least 2011? Let us remember that Elsevier issues retractions based on issues related to authorship, considering this to be a central ethical theme.

    Is it ethical for the world’s No. 1 science publisher, by volume, to advertise different standards related to authorship, and thus publishing ethics? And is it ethical for COPE to stand by idly and do nothing for 3 years while Elsevier, its number one revenue creator, imposes non-sensical double standards on the scientific community? Why should a copyright transfer form to Elsevier be considered a valid legal document when the “ethics” of authorship is absolutely contradictory? Why should Elsevier ethics be respected, and by association, those of COPE, if they are contradictory? What makes an author bound to an Elsevier contract that forces authors to conform to contradictory “guidelines” that contradict what individual journals say?

    How can the world’s No. 1 publisher exercise double ethics in authorship and then claim to be a COPE member?

    How exactly is the money paid by Elsevier to COPE, a charity, for membership, being used?

  • Marco February 23, 2014 at 2:31 pm

    JATdS, a charity has absolutely no legal requirement to provide services for free. Why ask that question (question 3)? I would be surprised if you’d ask the same question about the Red Cross! Or do you expect them to provide you with services for free, too?

  • JATdS February 23, 2014 at 3:49 pm

    Marco, do you agree with Elsevier paying 52 thousand British Pounds for annual membership? Do you like Elsevier’s contradictory ethical rules and that it is OK for this publisher to pay 50,000+ pounds to have an “ethics” body giving it some “integrity”? I know the Red Cross does some great work in terms of blood banks and blood donations. Those actions save lives. Can you explain to me, using your analogous comparison with COPE, how COPE saves lives for 52 K a year from a single publisher?

  • Marco February 24, 2014 at 2:18 am

    Jaime, to pay is Elsevier’s choice. Whether they do so to “[give] it some “integrity” ” is an unsubstantiated claim. It is well possible that Elsevier considers it of importance to have a cross-publishing forum to discuss ethics.

    I am also not so sure as you are that the ethical rules are contradictory. For starters because those are not rules, but guidelines, and that it should thus be open to journals to make their own.

    COPE does not need to save lives and I am rather irritated (but unsurprised) that you take my comparison in that direction. The comparison was about your apparent expectation that COPE provides services for free to all scientists. The Red Cross doesn’t just provide its services free to all. You need blood from a bloodbank? You (or rather, your insurance) pay(s) for that!

  • Neuroskeptic (@Neuro_Skeptic) February 24, 2014 at 3:18 am

    So to be clear, you have a vendetta against COPE, because an Elsevier journal has the word “and” instead of “or”, in text that probably no-one bothers to read?

  • JATdS February 24, 2014 at 6:18 am

    One of the serious problems (and please take this as an unveiled criticism) about some scientists who come to RW to comment and to rip apart papers and the ethics of their papers is that they are quite quick to criticize a scientist that has rotated a gel band 180 degrees and call it unethical. Yet, when the world’s no. 1 science publisher abuses definitions to twist ethics its own way, and then pays a massive sum of money to buy its ethical platform in publishing, in order to impose this ethical will upon the scientific base, supported by the LexisNexus legal team, then this somehow seems to be OK? I am sorry to say this, but scientists who understand the depth of gels and some other aspects of science, but fail to see and appreciate the intricacies of the publishing games, are in fact part of the problem. Ignorance, myopia, and a brain-washed and a dumbed-down scientific base are what characterize part of the problem. When peers and colleagues fail to ask questions, when legitimate associations are shot down, when there is a blind defense of the elite and the establishment, then we can easily begin to appreciate why the number of retractions will increase. In fact, yes, a single conjunction is a world of difference. Only people who don’t speak English very well are unable to appreciate the subtleties. All I am saying, with perfect validity, is that the conversation must be balanced and that the same amount of scrutiny must be given to Elsevier and COPE as is given to authors and scientists. If the conversation is not allowed to be critical, and balanced, then why are we here? When the conversation loses its ability to be logical, deep, critical and with the desire to seek truth, then it is time to abandon RW and move on. It is precisely because my fact-driven comments can be posted here that I will also continue to scrutinize the establishment, the editors, the publishers, as well as peers and myself. Analysis must be rounded, and complete.

  • Marco February 24, 2014 at 8:34 am

    JATdS, what is logical and factual about your large claims about Elsevier, which you, so far, have not substantiated?
    Some examples from your last comment:
    Please provide evidence that Elsevier
    a) abuses definitions to twist ethics
    b) buys its ethical platform in publishing
    c) does so to impose this ethical will upon the scientific base
    d) that this is supported by the “LexisNexus” legal team (I guess you meant LexisNexis, but that still does not make sense, since LexisNexis is merely an electronic database provider, not a law office, and thus does not provide a legal team)
    You are free to scrutinise COPE and Elsevier, but please do not use the term “fact-driven” for your unsupported claims, until you actually provide evidence for those claims and prove those are the facts, rather than your personal beliefs.
    There’s much wrong in the scientific publishing world, including with Elsevier, but this does not mean we should just accept people making things up.

  • JATdS February 25, 2014 at 12:31 pm

    I believe that all aspects need to be scrutinized, that’s all. Hypotheses are fine, and need to be discovered, and proved, or disproved. Just like science. A fact only becomes a fact after a hypothesis has been proved, or disproved, following disclosure.

    Now while I am in favor of greater and deeper and wider examination of COPE, it’s members and any contradictions, small or large, to its policies or ethical stances, I am also strongly against the verbatim use of COPE text to validate what could be potentially a highly “suspect” academic operation (restraining myself to use non-euphemistic language). In cases like this, I find it deplorable that such interest groups, pseudo-publishers, or journals, “hijack” COPE’s text to feign legitimacy and publishing ethics:

    Incidentally, I should add that the former editor-in-chief, of this journal, now holding a PhD, was only a PhD student up until 2012: Mirza Hasanuzzaman ( Following a stern rebuke about how an “academic” journal could be led by someone without a PhD, and having personally met with this individual to indicate my great displeasure of his avid support of many “predatory” open access publishers, as listed by Jeffrey Beall (, I was pleased to see that he had the good sense to resign from this position although his page continues to hide the truth about his former editorial positions,, emphasizing that formal associations with such publishers can damage one’s professional reputation.

    I have recently discovered a text published in this journal with duplicate data in another “predatory” open access journal, and have already reported this finding to an anonymous group for further analysis and verification. That complaint will be made formally soon to the publishers and then we will see how the “abuse” of COPE’s principles by this “publisher”/journal will be put to the test.

  • Marco February 25, 2014 at 1:19 pm

    JATdS, am I to take your first paragraph as a tacit admission you did not provide us with any facts, but rather with some type of “hypothesis” phrased as facts?

    No need to answer, I’m not interested in further evasions.

  • Neuroskeptic (@Neuro_Skeptic) February 26, 2014 at 5:56 am

    Good! Now that’s the kind of thing we need more of. Good old-fashioned flim-flam busting.

    Not COPE-busting.

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