Head-spinning: Publisher to post dozens of notices of concern following investigations into editors in chief

head and neckA strange tale is brewing at a journal that has been shuttered since August of last year, which will lead to some 40 expressions of concern.

There are a number of threads to tie together here, so bear with us for a moment. First, BioMed Central, the publisher of Head & Neck Oncology, posted this statement on the journal’s homepage today:

While conducting an internal audit of publications between January and June 2012, BioMed Central discovered a number of apparent major irregularities in the content and editorial handling of the journal Head & Neck Oncology. In order to maintain the integrity of the BioMed Central portfolio of journals, we decided to cease publication of the journal with effect from 9th August 2012.

University College London (UCL) and University College London Hospital (UCLH) subsequently conducted a joint investigation of our concerns. This focused primarily on the actions of Editor-in-Chief Mr Colin Hopper, because neither of the other active Editors-in-Chief, Waseem Jerjes and Tahwinder Upile, were employees of UCL during the time covered by our audit, so an investigation of their actions would have been beyond the scope of UCL’s investigation.

Following their investigation UCL were satisfied that there was no evidence of research misconduct arising from any employee, honorary researcher or student in relation to the articles they were asked to investigate. They were also satisfied that there was no evidence of editorial or author misconduct on the part of Colin Hopper.

In the absence of definitive conclusions about all the concerns raised by its audit, BioMed Central has provided details of its findings on relevant articles which will be updated if further information becomes available. If you are an author of a published article in this journal and have further questions, please contact info@biomedcentral.com.

The publisher tells us that they will be posting notices on articles of concern covered by the time period of their audit, some 40 articles. They’ve also offered post-publication peer review to all of the affected authors.

Meanwhile, the editors have begun posting studies republished the journal’s contents on another site using the journal’s name, which is perfectly legal given the Creative Commons license that governs copyright — but probably also means there won’t be any expressions of concern on those versions. There is, however, at least one correction on that site, which is published by a company on Jeffrey Beall’s list of possible predatory publishers.

And in another related development, two of the journal’s editors are vice-chairs of a new organization, the Publication Integrity and Ethics, that launched on November 14 and seems to a competitor of the Committee on Publication Ethics. They’ve been trying to recruit scientists, including Jonathan Eisen, with what Eisen called the “strange email of the week.”

We’ve asked one of the editors, Colin Hopper, for comment, and will update with anything we learn. There will probably be other updates, as well.

Update, 8: 30 a.m. Eastern, 11/27/13: Blogger Neuroskeptic dug into Publication Integrity and Ethics (PIE), and his findings are worth a look.

Update, 11 a.m. Eastern, 11/28/13: Corrected third-from-last-paragraph to clarify that the editors don’t seem to have republished old studies on their new site, but have simply started publishing new studies. Also, Hopper responded to our request for comment:

I am afraid I cannot add anything at the present time as the matter is with our solicitors.
I can however confirm that I have been cleared of any misconduct in an investigation by UCL.

24 thoughts on “Head-spinning: Publisher to post dozens of notices of concern following investigations into editors in chief”

  1. That correction is quite interesting and perhaps tells the story: they claimed informed consent and ethical approval, which was not true. The excuse that this was not needed does not change the fact that it was claimed. I think those are the “irregularities” that were found.

    1. I think much greater than the story itself is one of its off-shoots, PIE, or the new “ethics” committee that became established a fortnight ago. The establishment of PIE actually reveals something much wider. The global schism has begun in science and science publishing. Although I have for a long time been critical (with due documentation) of COPE for being biased, untransparent, and nothing more than a business (and not a charity as they claim), I am equally concerned about PIE. Not only are we seeing a fierce response, primarily by scientists in developing nations, towards the dominance of publishers and journals that have until fairly recently (5-10 years ago) dominated the global publishing market (especially run from the US, the UK, Germany, and the Netherlands). We are also witnessing the aggressive demonstration by the scientific community (broadly) to shaky ethics, biased editorial processes and clearly faulty “peer reviewed” processes in these established “Western” journals and publishers. If you were to speak (as I do on a regular basis) to a Thai, Indonesian, Iranian, Pakistani, Indian, Bangladeshi, Nigerian, or Egyptian scientist, or a scientist from a host of other developing countries (grotesquely profiled as such by the IMF), you would soon see that they would prefer to publish in the higher level (incorrectly equated with higher IF) established and traditional journals (which can be primarily summarized as Elsevier, Springer, Wiley, and Taylor and Francis). However, the process often involves so much anguish, bias and usually takes so long to achieve (in some cases, exceeding 6-12 months), that their frustration is being expressed in two ways. Firstly, through the explosive development of “predatory” open access (OA) journals, some or many of which appear on Beall’s blog (www.scholarlyoa.com). Through those journals, they can guarantee unrestricted access to their research (good or bad) by the global community, usually at no cost, as scientists from developing nations are (unfairly, in my opinion) often given a free ticket to publish, with APCs (article publishing charges) usually waivered. In this aggressive push to counter the “West”, to invoke a classical pragmatic battle, so too are new values being imposed, including duplication, data falsification, and fraud (very generally). I personally think that it is not so much because they want to be dishonest, but more because they CAN be dishonest and without any repercussions or consequences, either by journals, publishers or even their research institutes. At most, a slap on the wrist, if anything at all. In Japan, the cultural bias is massive, more of a “hide it” and “sweep-it-under-the-carpet” and “let’s-wait-for-the-storm-to-blow-over” attitude, unless the story gets leaked to the general public, the press, or the ministry of education (MEXT). All of these cultural influences, including poverty, are molding a new wave of publishing elites. RW actually causes more damage to the “traditional Western” publishers that it does to these “predatory” OA publishers simply because the former seek to correct the scholarly record while the latter seek to flood the scholarly platform to achieve primarily one goal only: to obtain an impact factor. So, with this classical “East vs West” or “rich vs poor” ideological battle, so too has a new front emerged in ethics, too. I expect several new PIEs to emerge over time. I think COPE is outdated, elitist, and out of touch with the base. So, in that sense, PIE will succeed. But how PIE implements its new “ethics” should be carefully monitored by all, including COPE, the ICMJE, WAME, etc.
      Disclaimer: I am neither a COPE nor a PIE member.

  2. here’s an example of the noted expressions of concern, several others are similar:
    PUBLISHER’S NOTE: Based on the information available to BioMed Central, this article was apparently handled by Waseem Jerjes, first author of the article and Editor-in-Chief of the journal at that time. The article was reviewed by one recent co-author of the authors and accepted without revision.

    Was as COPE investigation performed? Editing ones own articles, I have to imagine, would be a violation of most journals’ editorial standards…

    If the CC license does not provide a means for withdrawing endorsement, even implicit, of a piece of work that was fraudulently created… it should. (e.g. author’s cheat the review process, they retain copyright and can republish the words/figures/etc but not list this as a publication in X Journal).

    Check out figure 1 D.

    Also, while the content of the article is CC, the H&N Onc logo isn’t… correct… so shouldn’t BMC go after OALondon for using it on their website and in the PDFs that they are posting?

    1. QQQ, what a brilliant question and case analysis. I noticed that Collin Hopper seems to be the driving brain behind PIE, and certainly appears within all of the founding “ethics” guidelines (http://www.integrity-ethics.com/uploads/file/All%202013.pdf). So, to have these cases of what appear to be clear cases of editorial bias and/or unethical publishing practice would clearly invalidate the moral ground based on which PIE was established. A case of a house on a sandy foundation? I encourage you to dig further on this trio and share what you have found with us. Maybe someone could drop a gentle e-mail to Hopper inviting him to adrress his critics here on this blog and to counter what PIE has new to offer in terms of publishing “ethics”.

        1. the PIE guidelines are a whole lot of fluff without many specifics… especially when it comes to conflict of interest… one might think “don’t serve as editor or reviewer of your own paper” might be a reasonable guideline. it’s not there. just a lot of “take responsibility” and “be moral!”.

        2. Pretty much standard practice whenever ethics and oversight stewards begin stepping on the toes of business interests. Jared Diamond highlighted similar practices in the Certified Wood industry. Quote from Wiki:

          “Third-party forest certification was pioneered in the early 1990s by the FSC, a collaboration between environmental NGOs, forest product companies and social interests. Competing systems quickly emerged throughout the world. Some commentators, including Jared Diamond, have suggested that many competing standards were set up by logging companies specifically aiming to confuse consumers with less rigorously enforced but similarly named competing standards.”

          1. Bravo Karl! I have often claimed publically that COPE is unethical because it charges publishers fees for nothing in return. I have given estimates of those profits based on the number of journals in journal fleets of publishers like Elsevier (biggest client), Springer, Taylor and Francis and Wiley. For providing some PDF files? COPE is nothing more than an establishment established by the establishment (the classical revolving door of power that now forms a big circle that includes iThenticate, COPE, the main publishers, CrossLink, DOI, and the latest plague of power, ORCID), but particularly the big publishers. PIE is necessary, if not only to embarass the sham business (not charity) that COPE really is. Scientists are getting tired of these elitist bodies establishing ethics for us. Even my rabbit knows what are ethics. No need to pay exhorbitant fees to feed a psychological war on science. Even though I have disagreements with PIE, I stand firmly behind their effort to embarass COPE and its cigar club. Retractions are only a tiny window of the rot that is infecting science and science publishing. (yes, you can give me a million thumbs down, I stand firm on my claims and beliefs).

    2. Head & Neck Oncology have been publishing independent of BioMed Central for over a year
      Do you think they would do that if they dont own the journal?

      Also why BioMed Central is not going after the new publisher? It has been over a year

      From the EiC statement, it appears that they are going after BioMed Central

      Lets see…

  3. Waseem Jeres has 23 articles (granted some editorial and reviews, but anyway a substantial boost to your CV) in 2012 in Head & Neck Oncology!

    1. Well Mr Junk Science, This is not the question here. I can refer you to many academics who publish in their own journals. We can start with the BMJ…the question if there was any issues with regards to these articles in terms of research integrity and publication ethics. Now the UCL statement on BioMed Central website suggests that all articles were in the clear. If you have a problem with this write to UCL.

      1. I agree that the question is the integrity of the publishing process, not the number of papers per se. Also, publishing 20+ papers in a year is not impossible. However, to do it in one single journal is perhaps a bit fishy. Unless he produces at least another few dozen papers per year in other journals (total, not per journal), it looks extremely skewed and perhaps deserving of an investigation.
        Regarding the statement, it actually goes to quite some length to make clear that the only person under investigation by UCL was Hopper. That also means that the only person they cleared was Hopper. I presume that the UCL investigation was based on BMC investigating all the EiC’s of H&NO rather than focusing on only one of them.

    2. I wonder if Jares had to pay 23X article processing fees (APFs) in 2012, or if he got a handsome discount (like 100%)? This discussion does not exist, no information appears available, but the money trail is an essential aspect worth examining. If I had to pay several hundred dollars for a single paper, whether my “home” journal, or not, or had to choose between a free or paid journal, or one that offered some or generous discounts, that would certainly sway whether I sent 23 papers to one journal, or tried to get them published among 23 journals. Anyone have details on the background finances of these 23 papers? Can scientists request publishers to disclose such documents, or do scientists sign non-disclosure agreements with publishers (about contracts and finances) when they publish?

  4. I think it is worth waiting and see what will happen
    Something really went wrong here between the Editors-in-Chief and BioMed Central
    According to the new journal website, BioMed Central has issued 3 statements and not 1 against the journal and the latest shows that all the accusations are bogus. In fact the last paragraph is written to look confusing and most likely suggests solicitor’s involvement. There is a larger game afoot.
    See these links:
    On the new journal’s website, they are saying “we will tell the story soon” suggesting there is something serious about the whole thing. Let’s wait and see. And for a prestigious university like UCL which cleared all the articles published in the journal that were investigated says that that publisher (BioMed Central) got it all wrong. This is the new journal’s link:

    Also for Matt Cockerill, the Managing Director of BioMed Central, to leave soon and the BioMed Central’s Publishing Director, Deborah Kahn, and Commercial Director, Bev Acreman, to report directly into the corresponding parts of Springer’s global organization only suggests that something really wrong went within the organisation and Springer is now taking over which never happened since Springer acquired BioMed Central in 2008.

    See the BioMed Central Link about this:

    BioMed Central is known of shutting down editors and closing journals. In fact they have closed 44 journals since they have started. Here is the list
    • Australia and New Zealand Health Policy
    • Automated Experimentation
    • Beilstein Journal of Organic Chemistry
    • BioMagnetic Research and Technology
    • Biomedical Digital Libraries
    • BMC Chemical Biology
    • BMC Pharmacology
    • Cases Journal
    • Cell & Chromosome
    • Centrosome Research
    • Clinical Practice and Epidemiology in Mental Health
    • Comparative Hepatology
    • CytoJournal
    • Dynamic Medicine
    • eHealth International
    • Epidemiologic Perspectives & Innovations
    • Filaria Journal
    • Genetic Vaccines and Therapy
    • Head & Neck Oncology
    • Immunome Research
    • Integrative Omics and Molecular Biology
    • International Seminars in Surgical Oncology
    • Journal of Autoimmune Diseases
    • Journal of Biology
    • Journal of Biomedical Discovery and Collaboration
    • Journal of Bioscience and Medicine
    • Journal of Carcinogenesis
    • Journal of Experimental & Clinical Assisted Reproduction
    • Journal of Immune Based Therapies and Vaccines
    • Journal of Interventional Neuroradiology
    • Journal of the International AIDS Society
    • Kinetoplastid Biology and Disease
    • Medical Immunology
    • Neural Systems & Circuits
    • Neuroglia
    • Nonlinear Biomedical Physics
    • Nuclear Receptor
    • Open Network Biology
    • Open Research Computation
    • Osteopathic Medicine and Primary Care
    • PathoGenetics
    • Silence
    • Sports Medicine, Arthroscopy, Rehabilitation, Therapy and Technology
    • Sustainable Healthcare

    Furthermore, I am not sure that you are aware that

    What I am saying, if these academics have decided to stick together and fight this publisher then good for them.

    This is the EiC statements against BioMed which unfortunately everyone failed to refer to:

    Have you ever wondered why the journal’s editorial board is still intact and all (nearly 80 academics) support the Editors-in-Chief? Have you wondered why the Society of the journal with its 400 members (a UCL charity) still supports the Editors-in-Chief? This is nearly 500 scientists and clinicians, most of them from Europe and the US

    Now, till now I don’t understand the Beal’s list. Everyone that is a small publisher is on the list. I agree some are really dodgy. Here is the thing: BioMed Central closed more journals than any publisher in the world, BioMed Central charges $3000-5000 per article processing and may ever receives money from questionable sources. Why is it not on the list?

    Think about it guys

    1. I like this Karl guy! Details, facts, precision. Poke, prod, invoke emotion and a response. We need lots more of this. Keep up the excellent investigative science!

  5. Here is the last part of BioMed Central Statement

    In the absence of definitive conclusions about all the concerns raised by its audit, BioMed Central has provided details of its findings on relevant articles which will be updated if further information becomes available. If you are an author of a published article in this journal and have further questions, please contact info@biomedcentral.com.

    So basically after all this there was no definitive conclusions. UCL investigated and all articles were cleared. What about the life of the UK academics that were destroyed, their families and friends…what about the journal’s reputation. Nobody cares. Well seriously I have a problem with this. I think at this stage the whole world needs to know about this behavior…I think it is time that these academics go to the media and tell their side of the story…I think they need to create a website to tell the story and ask for moral support of all the academics from all around the world…for the first time evil will not prevail…

    1. Thanks, very revealing. Excellent investigative reporting! Gives us context to evaluate other posts in this thread (e.g., by “Karl”, “Wise guy” and “Real science”).

    2. Interesting to see the side-by-side comparisons on your blog. You can see the classic protocol at work here:

      1) Download text to be copied
      2) Make mirror copy
      3) Run both copies through your favorite plaigiarism-detection software of choice
      4) Make alterations to mirror copy until until software indicates that desired degree-of-difference has been achieved.

      Shame that said software doesn’t check the formatting of the text. In this case it removed around 96% of the effectiveness of the above protocol.

      1. Excellent, @neuro_skeptic! However, this leads us with a double-edged sword: an “ethics” society that is basically run by the big publishers and makes profits for doing nothing, i.e., COPE, and PIE, with clear plagiarism issues in its own ethical guidelines (all 10 Mb of it). So, shold scientists have to settle for the better of two (d)evils? I think not. Chuck them both out and start afresh. No money. No corporate influence. No nonsense euphemistic veils as charities. No commercial links by editors as directors of companies. None of this shameful situation. Why can the scientific not see through this entire farse and just say enough is enough?

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