Publisher says it will investigate allegations despite editor’s refusal

Guido Schmitz

A journal whose editor who has refused to investigate strong claims of misconduct by an anonymous whistleblower appears to be investigating anyway following our coverage of the case. Meanwhile, the editor has found other ways to express his lack of concern for nonsense that may appear in the journal’s pages.

As we reported late last month, Guido Schmitz, the editor in chief of the  International Journal of Materials Research has been rock-ribbed in his refusal to investigate claims of misconduct brought by the data sleuth Artemisia Stricta. The reason: Artemisia refused to divulge their identity  – which, to Schmitz, evidently appears to be a more grievous sin than research misconduct itself. 

Schmitz even went as far in emails to us to state that researchers are free to publish “bullshit and fiction.” 

But after we wrote about his position, a researcher in France contacted Schmitz to urge the editor to open an investigation. In an email dated August 31, François-Xavier Coudert, of Chimie ParisTech, told Schmitz – using his real name, we should note: 

I was very saddened to read that, as editor in chief of a journal in my own field of research, you would not uphold ethical standards of the journals if the reports were submitted by an anonymous or pseudonymous whistleblower. https://retractionwatch.com/2022/08/28/why-editors-should-stop-ignoring-anonymous-whistleblowers-a-decade-later/

I hope that you can reconsider your opinion, otherwise it would only mean that the International Journal of Materials Research is more interested in names than in facts and science.

In any case, I wrote to you to state that, being a named scientist and — although a rather junior colleague — having established my own track record in the field, I entirely agree with the analysis of Artemisia Stricta (https://drive.google.com/file/d/1JxEchNhBb770sQyQur-RsOXdrz9M1iyK/view). In fact, I have several times interacted with this person, on the PubPeer website, to discuss issues with published papers (those and many others). Their methods of analysis are rigorous, and the many issues pointed out are real.

Those papers need to be retracted from the scientific record (https://www.chemistryworld.com/opinion/setting-the-record-straight/8274.article). In our field, there are a small fraction of papers that need to be retracted, in order to “keep our collective house clean” (https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.chemmater.9b00897).

Schmitz responded promptly, but demanded that Coudert produce his bona fides:  

You see, we are coming closer. Please send me two lines of official claim declaring that you are personally inflicted in your scientific interests in materials science and please attach your scientific CV and/ or your most important paper. (This is just the same as I would require from any reviewer to clarify his/her personal activity and experience in science). I assure, I will not expose your personality to the public, exactly as I would keep any reviewer’s identity secret. And immediately, I will start the investigation of this apparently fraudulent paper. So easy.

Nevertheless, allow me a final comment on your last two lines (although we may not know personally enough). I fully disagree with this kind of motivation. Only poor people who cannot offer enough own ideas and exciting research themselves could be inflicted by a “dirty” environment. I feel a bit sorry for you that you think “clean” science would bring mankind forward, how miserable. This thinking is exactly, why I do not support anonymous moral activists. I hope you will convince in future with even more exciting outstanding science.

We found that second paragraph, well, intriguing is one word for it.

What Guido Schmitz believes in this regard, however, is immaterial to his publisher, De Gruyter. On August 30, a representative for the company told Artemisia that it would be looking into the matter despite the editor’s intransigence:

… I believe you have had some previous communication about this with colleagues here at De Gruyter. Apologies for the delay in our response and any resulting confusion, we have had a number of personnel changes over the past year and both Deni Auclair and David Sleeman no longer work for the De Gruyter journals team. Please do be assured that we take issues such as this very seriously. At De Gruyter we adhere to the guidelines of the Committee on Publication Ethics – https://publicationethics.org/. Following these guidelines I will work closely with the journal editors to conduct an assessment of this matter and get back to you as soon as we have further information. Going forward I will be your main point of contact for the journal at De Gruyter so if you have any further questions please do not hesitate to contact me directly.

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13 thoughts on “Publisher says it will investigate allegations despite editor’s refusal”

  1. May I say that I find Guido Schmitz’s positions somewhat… exotic (that’s another word for it – and he might want to lose the condescending, rather rude tone in his correspondence: this is very unbecoming for an editor).
    So, to him *not* cleaning up the scientific record has *zero* impact on research performed according to good practices? My mind spins thinking of all the evidence I could send him to show him the error of his ways, but I’m afraid that would make me such a “moral activist”.

  2. “This thinking is exactly, why I do not support anonymous moral activists.”

    So now asking for truth is a moral issue? This response makes me think the editor is trying to fight the so-called “social justice warrior” critics of scientific research. But this this isn’t an issue of political correctness or ideology, where the critique is of the appropriateness of the topic or the language used. This is simply about truth and falsity. Anyone who thinks this is a moral issue does not understand the purpose of science, and has no business being a gatekeeper of such.

  3. It’s guys like this that make polite responses from journals so nice to receive. Here’s one from yesterday:

    “Dear Pubpeer User,

    Thank you for the issue raised by this review. As Editor in Chief of XYZ I will investigate it immediately.

    Regards”

    See, Guido, it’s not that hard.

  4. “Please send me two lines of official claim declaring that you are personally inflicted in your scientific interests in materials science and please attach your scientific CV and/ or your most important paper.”

    The danger of arguing based on authority is that someone will always be more of an expert.

    1. Dr Schmitz seems not to consider the young PhD student or postdoc unwittingly trying to build their career on the basis of allegedly fraudulent research published by his journal. To me, this is why investigating these types of allegations is important.

  5. Does anyone else find the claim that the editor asks reviewers for “two lines of official claim declaring that you are personally inflicted in your scientific interests in materials science and […] your scientific CV and/ or your most important paper” startling and implausible?

    I am not a materials scientist, admittedly, but in 30 years in science (evolutionary biology, cancer, conservation) I have never been asked to prove my bona fides as a reviewer. Has anyone ever received such a request from this journal, or for that matter, *any* journal?

    (Also I have no idea what “personally inflicted” means. And I think from the wording of the notice that the editor has decided that the named researcher *is* Artemisia stricta; probably wrong and in any case irresponsible.)

  6. “Only poor people who cannot offer enough own ideas and exciting research themselves could be inflicted by a ‘dirty’ environment.”

    Guy sounds like a crypto bro.

  7. I’ ve commented this on a previous article about this topic, but his new comments exacerbate it even more: as long as this guy is involved with the journal, all its contents should be considered unreliable.

    Fighting fraud, papermills, plagiarism etc. is a difficult task for an editor who cares; if the editor explicitly states that he doesn’t care what chance does a journal have?

  8. The journal is subscription-based, isn’t it? Doesn’t it mean that universities are paying for subscriptions to De Gruyter? And that in most cases public money is involved?

    Nobody cares? Ok.

  9. If Schmitz is knowingly publishing fraudulent research and refusing to correct the record, doesn’t that make him an accessory to (or at least complicit with) the fraud? Should the University of Stuttgart, where Schmitz conducts his own research, be notified of this behavior? It seems to me his apparent attitudes about misconduct, truth, and honesty put all of his own research into question.

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