A matter of degree: M. Theol loses a paper

jreghealthEvidently the editors of the Journal of Religion and Health were a tad distracted when they published a paper earlier this year by Australian theologian Joseph Lee and his “colleague,” M. Theol.

M. Theol, of course, is a degree, not a person — as a correction notice explains:

In the original publication, the author Mr. Joseph Lee’s educational qualification (M. Theol) was inadvertently published as a co-author name. This erratum is published to correct the author group, where Mr. Joseph Lee is the single author of the publication.

The paper, “The Human Dark Side: Evolutionary Psychology and Original Sin,” argues that:

Human nature has a dark side, something important to religions. Evolutionary psychology has been used to illuminate the human shadow side, although as a discipline it has attracted criticism. This article seeks to examine the evolutionary psychology’s understanding of human nature and to propose an unexpected dialog with an enduring account of human evil known as original sin. Two cases are briefly considered: murder and rape. To further the exchange, numerous theoretical and methodological criticisms and replies of evolutionary psychology are explored jointly with original sin. Evolutionary psychology can partner with original sin since they share some theoretical likenesses and together they offer insights into the nature of what it means to be human.

The paper is — as of now, at least — the only one in PubMed by “Dr. Theol.”

Hat tip: Rolf Degen

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13 thoughts on “A matter of degree: M. Theol loses a paper”

  1. This post reminds of a “post” in, I believe the New Yorker, many years ago, that still makes me smile. It was a letter to Sarah Lawrence College that started out “Dear Miss College”.

    1. Is it not possible that the editors actually knew that M. Theol represents the qualification? I do not seem to see any formal response by the editors but this could be important. The existence of a comma, rather than a set of parentheses, may have resulted in this mistake. Think about it, many medical papers add M.D., or MD after the name, also after a comma, and never in parentheses, so it would not be surprising to see this mistake. There may also be two other parties responsible for this mistake, other than the editors. Firstly, the proof department team. When that proof was set, what address was given to M. Theol? Usually a symbol, a letter or a number is assigned to each author, so I would find it hard to believe that a number, a letter and a physical address was actually assigned to M. Theol without the author catching this during the proof stage. Springer typically has its proofs set in Chennai, India, and I have already commented elsewhere that this new proof team is the cause of the introduction of some really serious errors over the past year into proofs of my own manuscripts, at least. The second option is the team at PubMed and other data-bases that inputs information. How is information provided to these data-base services and companies? Who is the middle-man? Could the error have been introduced by, and thus be the responsibility of, PubMed?

      Slightly related, I have a question. If a scientist wants to publish anonymously, for whatever reason, and wishes to use a pseudonym, can they make a declaration of their real identity to the publisher, editor or journal upon submission and explain why they need to use a pseudonym? Would the publisher be legally bound to not revealing the true identity should there be legal challenges to identify them? Although there are not many such cases, possibly, there is a need for this to happen. Any input would be welcomed within a whistle-blowing (or truth-telling) context as such a need would be required in order to publish, as formal papers, post-publication peer review reports. The scientific is at a bottle-neck of frustration in which blogs and anonymous services such as PubPeer or PubMed Commons are simply not enough to formalize the problems in the literature, nor does the community want the negative ethical fall-out associated with actions such as the Bohannon sting, so the only new, real and viable solution is to be able to publish anonymously, i.e., using a pseudonym.

      1. re: m theol and how (s)he became an author…
        the original manuscript lists m theol as an author: Joseph Lee • M. Theol. Perhaps Mr. Lee was confused by the bullet when he recieved the proof at just thought that it was replacing a comma…. weird but not impossible. Because there is only a single affiliation, there are no numbers by the author list and at the bottom, both JL and MT are listed as JL(mail) • MT, affiliation. Therefore, by a preponderance of the evidence, I blame the proof team.

        As a side, pubmed just lists the authors as whomever the person that submits the manuscript says they are. This can be evinced by our friend BJH/Ayden Jacob, who has changed the authors list on several of his “papers” in pub-med simply by submitting new (and in some cases not officially sanctioned) manuscripts with new author lists to pubmed.

        So…. just another retraction/correction that could have easily been avoided if the journal acted responsibly and got author confirmations!

      2. Regarding publishing anonymously: I think COPE advises that authors’ institutions can be anonymised, but not the authors’ names.

        Having said that, Perspectives on Psychological Science published in 2012 an article by Neuroskeptic – which I guess could be, to a degree, called anonymous publication. Importantly though, this was an opinion/soapbox type of piece, so probably not relevant to the issue.

        1. Rafal, thanks for the feedback. I have my own concernts about the ethical basis of COPE, and several of its star members, so I don’t take their advice at face value any longer. Everything with a pinch of salt. That said, I think that ethically there is nothing wrong provided that the journal and editor are informed in advance, something like a duplication. If you tell the editor/journal that you have submitted the same paper to two journals, and you inform both journals that the purpose is to increase viewership, and if both journals agree, then that duplication is not unethical, in fact. Independent of what the public thinks about this. It is the failure to dislose that usually raises the red flags and the ethical concerns. A submission by Neuroskeptic: is it actually anonymous any longer? Does everyone not know who Neuroskeptic is already? The use of pseudonyms is not an alien concept in writing, and many book writers use alias’ and pseudonyms, but always known to the publisher. One of the problems is that the use of anonymity in publishing is always associated with a negative stigma, an abuse of the system, or dishonesty. Or, in the case above, some sloppy processing. But what if the only true purpose is to protect the true identity of the individual? Most likely close to 100% of the editors in the plant sciences, most who live in a very conservative ivory tower, would reject the concept, I am sure. But, I think it’s worth a try. There are dozens of reports that need to be released, open access and to the scientific public, but to use real names would be almost suicidal. One other option is to sacrifice face of one person, say my own, and then build a team of post-publication peer reviewers that are defined anonymously, and also listed anonymously. Surely, in this case they cannot be called ghost authors if they have specifically requested to be anonymous (provided that no financial gains were made by any team member)? I suspect I am treading on very slippery ground, but unlike the M. Theol mess-up, anonimity to protect the victimization of the true author is a valid issue. Time for COPE to use those hundreds of thousands of GB pounds to reflect on real issues in defense of the authors, not just their clients. There are countless problems in journals of publishers that are COPE members, and the double-standards that are being practiced, the lack of attention to details, to complaints that are valid, and substantiated, is now requiring, very urgently, an alternative solution.

  2. Also reminds me of the story of Willard the cat co-authoring a physics paper:

    According to J.H. Hetherington:
    “I had prepared the paper, now called Hetherington and Willard, and was rather proud of the work, considering it suitable for rapid publication in Phys. Rev. Lett. Before I submitted it I asked a colleague to read it over and he said “It’s a fine paper but they will send it right back”. He explained that this is because of the Editor’s rule that the word “we” should not be used in a paper with only a single author. Changing the paper to the impersonal seemed to difficult now that it was all written and typed; therefore, after an evening’s thought I simply asked the secretary to change the title page to include the name of the family cat, a Siamese called Chester, sired one summer by Willard (one of the few unfixed male Siamese cats in Aspen, Colorado). I added the initials F D in front of the name to stand for Felix Domesticus and thus created F D C Willard” (Weber, Robert. Droll Science, p.110)

  3. Sir Andre Geim, FRS, Ig Nobel and Nobel Laureate, published a paper with his hamster, H.A.M.S. ter Tisha, as a co-author; why not simply let Joseph Lee publish with his degree M. Theol as a co-author?

    1. Dayton PK, BJ Mordida and F Bacon. 1994. Polar Marine Communities. American Zoologist, 34(1):90-99

      Look into the two latter authors of that paper…

  4. There are several instances where this occurred in the late 1980s and early 1990s in the fibroblast growth factor field, when someone realised these proteins were probably first identified by Trowell and Willmer,
    in their 1939 paper in J Exp Biol 16, 60-70. There is a link to the paper here: http://ferniglab.wordpress.com/2012/05/17/600/

    However, a number of citations then appeared to the same paper, but now by Trowell et al., with a new author appearing in the middle, one B Chir, who sometimes mutated to MBB Chir. The explanation was quite simple: Trowell was a clinician by training and so he appeared as O.A. Trowell, MB., BChir.

    A possible reason for the first incorrect citation: they had looked it up, copied the citation down and didn’t note the clear distinction through punctuation between names and qualifications.

    No excuse for the subsequent bunch of incorrect citations: they simply copied their bibliography from other papers and didn’t read Trowell’s paper.

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