What happened when a psychology professor used a peer-reviewed paper to praise his own blog – and slam others’

Peter Kinderman via Wikimedia

A psychology professor has lost a paper for failing to disclose a crucial conflict of interest about one of the subjects of the work, which critiqued various blogs.

That’s because one of those blogs was written by none other than the author of the paper, Peter Kinderman, a professor at the University of Liverpool and a former president of the British Psychological Society. 

The paper’s comments about Kinderman’s Blog ‘F’ were generally positive, with phrases such as: 

  • True to the rhetoric of polite and reasonable concession to the other side  
  • For ‘F,’ patients’ personal qualities and emotions are valued in human terms  

In contrast, other bloggers came in for sharp critique. For example: 

  • Indeed, “A” occasionally uses language that reflects more overtly the polemical stance
  • “B” invites any who have suffered distress from the diagnostic label “alone” to “come forward”: it is more a challenge than an invitation.

The paper was published last year in the Journal of Mental Health, but attention to it rose sharply last month after John Read, a clinical psychologist, tweeted approvingly about it on September 12. Within a few days, sleuths had compared the paper’s supposedly anonymous blog passages to passages easily available online, and figured out the blog authors.

By September 14, Kinderman’s authorship of Blog ‘F’ was public information.

The next week, Ahmed Samei Huda, a consulting psychiatrist with the UK’s National Health Service, alerted journal editor Dame Til Wykes of King’s College London to the fact of Kinderman’s blog authorship. Huda’s letter, as he related it to us, also stated that the paper’s introduction had falsely characterized as unprofessional Huda’s tweets about racism within the mental health professions. 

A few weeks later, Anna Parkinson, an employee of the Taylor and Francis, which publishes the Journal of Mental Health, wrote to Huda to say that the paper had been retracted. This email did not explain the reason for the retraction, nor respond to Huda’s point about Kinderman’s characterization of his own tweets. 

The retraction notice for the  paper, “The ‘rhetorical concession’: a linguistic analysis of debates and arguments in mental health,” reads:

We, the editors and publisher of Journal of Mental Health, have retracted the following article: 

Garner, B., Kinderman, P., & Davis, P. (2021). ‘The “rhetorical concession”: a linguistic analysis of debates and arguments in mental health’, DOI: 10.1080/09638237.2021.2022631

Since publication, a conflict of interest has been brought to our attention. Blog ‘F’, which is one of a series of blogs analysed in this paper, has been identified as the blog of Peter Kinderman, co-author of the paper. This conflict of interest was not disclosed upon submission of the article, and we consequently believe that this compromises the reliability of the reviews and the paper’s findings. We are therefore retracting the article.

Our decision has been informed by our policy on publishing ethics and integrity and the COPE guidelines on retractions. 

The retracted article will remain online to maintain the scholarly record, but it will be digitally watermarked on each page as ‘Retracted’.

The paper has not been cited, according to Clarivate’s Web of Science. 

In an email to Retraction Watch, Kinderman acknowledged a “mistake”: 

I think, in retrospect, the retraction is justified, and I regret our actions that led to it. As I told the editors (and as I’ve said on social media), we had not intended to withhold important information from reviews or readers, but had instead removed identification from all the blogs, including mine, to permit blind review. Nevertheless, I can understand why that was a mistake, in that potentially important information was not available to reviewers, and I have no complaints about the retraction. 

Kinderman, who served as President of the British Psychological Society from 2016-2017,  added that he and his co-authors have resubmitted the paper to the Journal of Mental Health, upon the invitation of its editor-in-chief Dame Til Wykes of King’s College London, with all relevant information now disclosed. We asked Kinderman to supply this solicitation from Wykes, but did not receive it. 

In Kinderman’s telling, the correspondence from Wykes following the resubmission implied that the journal  is unlikely to republish the paper, so Kinderman and colleagues are also considering other outlets. Kinderman said they will proactively alert any other journal editors about the paper’s prior retraction. 

Wykes did not reply to a request for comment, which we sent before learning from Kinderman about the suggestion to resubmit the paper.

Kinderman said he felt Wykes’s invitation to resubmit the paper, or to place it elsewhere, shows that redemption of this work is possible. 

Huda saw things differently, telling us: 

This paper is essentially them taking their social media beefs and trying to get one over on people in an academic paper whilst trying to claim that they are the virtuous ones.

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