A journal retracts a paper called “transparently ridiculous” — and an author says thank you

An Elsevier journal has retracted a 2020 paper on the heritability of temperament that a prominent critic derided as “transparently ridiculous,” after concluding that the peer review process — which it initially defended — was not up to snuff. 

The journal, Meta Gene, says it has changed that way it considers manuscripts to “ensure that this” — read, accept bullshit papers — won’t happen again. And, in a further and rather  endearing admission of culpability, it apologized to the authors for accepting their manuscript despite a complete lack of “scientific data.” 

Meanwhile, one of the authors of the paper tells Retraction Watch that he “would like to thank you and also Elsevier that all these discussions” have helped popularize the work.

The article, “Temperament gene inheritance,” by the husband-wife team of Azer Israfil, of Mikhwa General Hospital, in Saudi Arabia, and Natiga Israfil, of OsmanGazi University, in Turkey, appeared in September. 

As we reported back then, the authors claimed that: 

On the observation of different people personalities over the years we came to the conclusion that temperament is regularly inherited by the son from the mother, and by the daughter from the father. Such a transmission mode is the indicative of the X chromosome-linked inheritance, as well as, a temperament gene location on the X chromosome. Compared with the autosomes, the X chromosome contains an unusually large number of genes involved in nervous system development and function, and when mutated they cause mental impairment.

The paper immediately drew the attention of Carl Bergstrom, a biologist at the University of Washington, who Tweeted his disgust with the work and directed his concerns at Elsevier. 

The company responded on September 8, stating: 

thank you for raising these concerns, which are shared by the journal. While this paper was published based on three independent reviewer reports, we are critically reviewing that process while discussing next steps with the authors.

One follower of the controversy derided the company’s reply to Bergstrom:

According to the retraction notice, which is dated Jan. 21, 2021: 

Upon publication of this article, concerns were raised regarding the validity of the findings. A subsequent internal investigation by the Editor-in-Chief and the Publisher have determined that this article was externally peer reviewed but not with our customary standards of rigor prior to publication.

Therefore, it is the Editor’s judgement that this article should not have been accepted for publication by the journal. Since this article is theoretical and does not rely on any scientific data it is not within the scope of Meta Gene. The journal has re-designed its editorial and review workflow to ensure that this will not happen again in future.

The journal offers sincere apologies to authors who submitted their work to the journal in good faith.

We emailed the editor of Meta Gene for comment but have not heard back.

In response to an email requesting comment, Azer Israfil told us: 

As you may see there is not any argument against our ideas which was not scientifically disproved by our comments in the retraction panel. Again, even now I believe, soon or later,  a retraction of the present article retraction itself should follow and the article should revive in the future.

I sent our article to Gene X journal first; after around more than 4-5months its editorial reply 

advised me to submit our article to Meta Gene which I followed.

I wrote our àrticle together with my wife, Natiga Israfil. She is the one who gave an idea 15 years ago, after our marriage, that temperament gene could be located on X chromosome, due to an absence of father to son transmission. Later we both tried to explore this issue on the observations of people we know and our patients. The results of our observations were almost always proving our suggestion of temperament gene inheritance mode. 

Displaying an understanding of the Streisand effect, Israfil also acknowledged that the controversy over the paper has been good for business: 

Finally, again I would like to thank you and also Elsevier that all these discussions in the retraction panel have given rise to a quick popularization of our ideas in the scientific world within such a short time. Without those hot arguments that process could have taken many years to happen.

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7 thoughts on “A journal retracts a paper called “transparently ridiculous” — and an author says thank you”

  1. It is questionable to start another Retraction Watch panel (more correctly, platform) when we already have the main one:
    http://retractionwatch.com/2020/09/08/transparently-ridiculous-elsevier-says-journal-shares-critics-concerns-about-bizarre-genetics-paper/
    Anyway, it does not matter much. The best initial way to verify the validity of our hypotheses is to examine if the dautgher’s all children have inherited her paternal, but not maternal VAMP7 allele – see my comment on September 19, 2020 at 7:53 am in the main (first) Retraction Watch.
    Be careful while interpreting the results of the examination, because those will be verified further by similar researches in other labs of the world in future.

  2. There is a useful new piece of information in this post, not available in the original one:

    “…its editorial reply advised me to submit our article to Meta Gene”.

    This being Elsevier (which is not at all alone to blame in the game) this means that when the manuscript was, rightly, rejected by the first journal, it was given an opportunity to be automatically transferred to an affiliated one so as to keep any money involved in the house.

    “Meta Gene is a companion title to Gene and a member of the Gene Family. Meta Gene publishes meta-analysis, polymorphism and population study papers that are relevant to both human and non-human species.”

    We see this more and more. I wonder whether these proliferating journal “families” serve more the publisher than the community.

  3. In this discussion platform and also in social media, contrary to the proponents of our hypotheses, the opponents of the article should provide at least some sustaining arguments with logical content. Otherwise, those people look like a part of a smear campaign. Even in the historical Inquisition times, priests had some grounding arguments against new and progressive scientific ideas. As a supporter of progressive science, Elsevier must stand apart from those people and do Retract the Retraction. Each delayed day works against a future of science.

  4. “Known unknowns” and “unknown unknowns” (Donald Rumsfeld)… One year has passed since our article started online on 4 May 2020, which made “knowns” in a field of “unknown unknowns.” During this period our challenging hypotheses have not been disproven by counterarguments. As with any scientific work it is worth mentioning that some of our hypotheses might be corrected or even disproven in future, although they would not diminish much the total value of the article. If some “knowns” of our article are appeared as questionable points, then they would behave as “known unknowns”, thus encouraging and promoting further researches in those fields.
    Thesis, antithesis and synthesis (Hegel, Fichte)… There would not be Antitheses (counterarguments) and Syntheses (new articles in those fields) without the Theses (our hypotheses).
    Dear Elsevier, as the Retraction Watches status shows, the readers – including “the opponents” – are in tune with our hypotheses overall validity and waiting for your expected kind decision of RETRACTION of RETRACTION.

  5. On 1 September 2020 Mr. Carl T. Bergstrom, and afterwards his tweet followers started “the campaign” against our article. After my challenging comments in the Retraction Watch, I expected in vain to get at least one logical counterargument from him about our hypotheses. With all my respect to him, as he has not given any scientific argument after saying “transparently ridiculous”, the net impression is: ‘Mr. Carl T. Bergstrom is transparently unable to argue against our hypotheses in this field.’
    We appreciate much the arguments of (the scientific opponent) “Regret.” Nevertheless, from the main Retraction Watch, the readers can easily notice the triumph of our hypotheses over those scientific arguments.

  6. Replying to the Meta Gene chief editor’s claim, I declared that our article was written on the ground of the scientific data from 91 references. Its First retraction (watch) was based on the “famous” tweets of Carl T. Bergstrom and his tweet followers. Therefore, a more relevant reason was aimed in the Second retraction watch, but that was no more than the proposal of “Cheshire @Thatsregrettab1” (in the start of watch) with the funny meaning that first you retract, and only then (??) search for the retraction reason.
    These cases will not be sincerely accepted by objective scientific communities, unless the next step, namely, generous Retraction of Retraction will be followed.

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