Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Surprise! Paper retracted after author tells journal it’s a “pile of dung”

with 13 comments

journal-of-clinical-research-bioethics-logoThis summer, Ottawa Citizen reporter Tom Spears was sitting by a lake on vacation when he opened a spam email from a publisher. Amused to see the sender was a journal focused on bioethics, he got an idea.

I thought, what if I just throw something outrageous at them?

The situation should sound familiar to readers who follow such “sting” operations: Spears submitted a fake paper to the so-called “predatory” journal, it was accepted one month later with no changes, and published.

But after Spears submitted a comment on the paper saying it was “a steaming pile of dung from start to meaningless finish” (which the journal never posted), wrote an article about it (picked up by other outlets, including The Huffington Post Canada) — surprise, surprise! — the paper was retracted.

Most authors don’t celebrate retractions. But Spears told us he felt “sheer triumph:” 

The point of this was to draw attention to what idiots they are. This proves I got their attention.

Here’s the backstory.

The spam email was from the Journal of Clinical Research & Bioethics, published by OMICS International. It inspired Spears to throw together a fake paper that would eventually be titled: “The Voluntary Nature of Ethical-Moral Behaviour in the 21st Century (or in Any Other): A Personal Perspective:”

I was sitting at a summer cottage, looking out at Lake Huron at 6 AM, and I started to type. I stole some Aristotle, changed some words around.

He threw in some “silly Canadian references,” and mentioned Slytherin, one of the houses in the Harry Potter book series.

It wasn’t exactly high-brow work.

After the paper was quickly accepted, the publisher asked him for $949 — he talked them down to $399 (“It was sort of like haggling over used furniture,” he recalled) but ultimately never paid. The article was published anyway.

The project gained more of an urgency once Spears learned OMICS had bought two publishers of Canadian journals, as he reports in the Ottawa Citizen:

OMICS International, based in India, bought Pulsus Group and Andrew John Publishing this year. Both were reputable medical journal publishers, but under OMICS they have been used as fronts for “predatory” publishing. This is the practice of publishing fake or incompetent research for cash, because it makes unqualified authors look legitimate.

Once Spears saw the article was online, he submitted a comment to the journal which read:

I wrote this article and let me assure you it is a steaming pile of dung from start to meaningless finish. Mostly it’s stolen from Aristotle, with words changed to avoid being caught as flagrant plagiarism. Many sentences aren’t even sentences…

Shame on anyone who thinks this is research. And peer review? Ridiculous.

Although the comment was never posted live on the site, the current issue of the journal includes this retraction notice for the paper:

The article entitled “The Voluntary Nature of Ethical-Moral Behavior in the 21st Century (or in Any Other): A Personal Perspective” has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Clinical Research & Bioethics considering the statements provided in the article as personal opinion of the author which was found not having any conflict or biasness towards anything. As the article was a perspective one, information provided by the author was considered as an opinion to be expressed through publication.

Soon after the publication of the paper, we witnessed some serious concerns and many of them argued that the paper is a personal perspective and had not discussed any relevant ethical issue considered under the journal scope. Moreover, the paper is neither innovative nor thought provoking.

Publisher took decision to make the article online solely based on the reviewers suggestion which considered the article not but a personal opinion of the author. However, it is found that the article has some unavoidable mistakes and issues, therefore, being retracted from the journal.

The retraction notice includes the reviewer’s comments on the manuscript:

The author presents his personal perspective on an old problem that is the independence of moral expression of academics in their professional environment. In my opinion, it is an interesting point of view that is worthy to be published. The manuscript is brief and clearly written with a perfect use of the language. A historical review about the problem and a comparative presentation of the author’s perspective could be added, but the author declares that he is presenting just his personal perspective.

Reading the retraction was gratifying, Spears told us:

I’ve never been kicked out of an academic publication before. I’ve been accepted by a lot of these places, but to be singled out as worthy of an actual notice — that’s pretty cool.

One of the journal’s editors-in-chief, Richard Boudreau, told us he hasn’t been involved with retractions at the journal, and didn’t know anything about this one — indeed, he hadn’t even read the paper:

I’ve never read this paper, I’ve never even heard of it…As the current editor of the journal, I have zero idea what this is about.

OMICS International is on Jeffrey Beall’s list of “potential, possible, or probable” predatory publishers. Earlier this year, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission sued the publisher, alleging it has been deceiving readers about reviewing practices, publication fees, and the nature of its editorial boards.

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Written by Alison McCook

November 30th, 2016 at 9:30 am

Comments
  • Dean November 30, 2016 at 10:26 am

    And now that he’s done all that work, he can go back to Lake Huron and try having a vacation without checking his spam folder.

  • Kevin Floate November 30, 2016 at 11:59 am

    I’d be interested in learning more about how the journal’s editorial board deals with retractions. There are 3 “Editors-in-Chief” listed. Presumably, each deals with a different set of submissions. This would explain how a paper could be published and retracted without the knowledge of one of the E-i-C’s. However, retractions are a pretty big deal and directly reflect a journal’s editorial policies. Hence, I would have thought that all three E-i-C’s would be advised of every retraction, if only to ensure that they have a common approach when implementing the retraction process.

    • Keith December 1, 2016 at 10:04 am

      Journals like this, as I understand it, often add people to their editorial boards without even telling them, or offer an “editorial” job as a no-work sinecure for people to put on their CVs. There have been numerous instances (e.g. documented on Jeffrey Beall’s blog) of early-stage researchers receiving spam emails inviting them to be on editorial boards, or of people asking to be removed from an editorial board they didn’t know they were “serving” on. The latter is a factor cited by the US FTC in its lawsuit against OMICS. The “editor-in-chief” here may well never have done any work on the journal at all.

  • Dean November 30, 2016 at 2:53 pm

    Here is Loyola Marymount’s header for Dr. Boudreau (affiliate faculty), the editor-in-chief who didn’t read the paper. No wonder he didn’t have time.

    Richard Boudreau, BS, MA, MBA, DDS, MD, JD, PhD
    Dr. Boudreau is a maxillo-facial surgeon, attorney at law, forensic expert, and bioethicist who attended USC, Harvard, UCI, Univ. of Washington, Univ. of Hamburg, LMU, Pepperdine, and Oxford.

  • Regret November 30, 2016 at 3:02 pm

    Well he may be too busy to read papers closely, at least Boudreau is qualified:

    “Dr. Boudreau holds multiple academic degrees including dentistry, medicine, law, philosophy. He is maxillofacial surgeon and also an attorney on the faculty of Loyola Marymount Univ. Bioethics Institute.” Source: https://www.omicsonline.org/editor-profile/Richard__Boudreau/ and

    “Dr. Richard G. Boudreau is an oral and maxillofacial surgeon, licensed to practice in Oregon, California, and Washington State. He is Board Certified by the American Board of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, American Board of Forensic Medicine, and American Board of Forensic Examiners. He is an Attorney at Law and member of California, Washington DC, and US Supreme Court Bars.” Source: https://www.marinahospital.com/physicians/richard-boudreau

  • Jo Klein November 30, 2016 at 10:12 pm

    The EiC is nowhere to be found on the website of the institution he is supposed to work at…

    • herr doktor bimler December 1, 2016 at 6:09 am

      You owe him an apology! He’s there under Affiliate Faculty.

      • Jo Klein December 1, 2016 at 6:44 am

        Not the same name?!

        • Marco December 1, 2016 at 9:54 am

          You have the click on the tab-page that says “Affiliate Faculty”. There’s a Richard Boudreau there.

  • herr doktor bimler December 1, 2016 at 6:28 am

    The point of this was to draw attention to what idiots they are.

    Part of me thinks that the demonstration is gratuitous, and that the zero-standards venality of OMICS was already established for all to see.
    But Dr Boudreau is unaware of the sub-gutter reputation of the publisher he has taken up with, so evidently this isn’t so. Indeed, his most recent publication was with the OMICS clone MedCrave

  • Tom Spears December 1, 2016 at 1:19 pm

    He’s still pretty well hidden. I was impressed that an ed-in-chief can be unaware of the content of his own journal, with only five articles every two months

  • EG Gordon December 2, 2016 at 3:05 pm

    Richard Boudreau, BS, MA, MBA, DDS, MD, JD, PhD

    I am reminded of the semester I spent interning in the office of Congressman George Brown (D – California) in the 1970s. He was the longest serving member of the House and chairman of the House Agriculture Committee. A prospective committee employee dropped off a resume at the office and I handed it to Brown. He looked and saw listed under the education an MBA and PhD degrees in economics and philosophy. He threw the resume in the trash, commenting that in his experience individuals with such diverse advanced degrees generally are not as effective at tasking as someone with a single degree or specialty and that in his experience they make for bad co-workers. I said, “Even as committee staff?” He said, “Especially as committee staff.” I always think of that when I see overqualified resumes. Just as an aside, how many decades did it take Boudreau to get that education? Like Brown, I’d never hire someone with all those qualifications if presented with them.

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