Elsevier journal temporarily removes article by prolific psychologist – with a typo at “frist”

An Elsevier psychology journal took down an article in early December with a notice that appeared to be an internal memo, including a typo. 

The article, a letter titled “First COVID-19 suicide case in Bangladesh due to fear of COVID-19 and xenophobia: Possible suicide prevention strategies,” was published in June of 2020 in the Asian Journal of Psychiatry by Mark D. Griffiths of Nottingham Trent University in the UK and Mohammed A. Mamun of Jahangirnagar University and the Undergraduate Research Organization in Dhaka, Bangladesh. It has been cited more than 300 times, according to Clarivate’s Web of Science. 

Griffiths’ high publishing rate – according to his university’s index he published nearly 200 journal articles in 2022 – came under scrutiny from Oxford University psychologist Dorothy Bishop in 2020, including his many collaborations with Mamun. Griffiths told the Times Higher Education that he “made an intellectual contribution to every refereed paper I’ve published.” 

In September of 2022, an anonymous user on PubPeer commented on the June 2020 article from the Asian Journal of Psychiatry, sharing a letter to the editor published in Perspectives in Psychiatric Care expressing “a number of concerns” about a similar article by Griffiths and Mamun with other coauthors. 

Bishop commented in October, pointing out that the article used the name of the person who had died by suicide and did not conform to other guidelines for media reporting on suicide. She wrote: 

It is not clear what scientific value there is in such a report, which has potential to cause harm.

In November, another anonymous user posted a long comment detailing questions about the evidence the authors had for multiple statements in the article, based on the news report that they cited. 

The journal acted in early December, taking down the article and replacing it with this notice: 

Frist [sic] and the foremost, the paper mentions the name of a person who committed suicide (in the third paragraph). Besides, there are comments in pubpeer doubts [sic] the scientific value and scientific rigor of the paper. The editor in chief and I are looking into this. In the meantime, in order to protect the person’s privacy, we ask you to help us take it down temporarily.

We emailed Rajiv Tandon, a professor emeritus of psychiatry at Western Michigan University and the journal’s editor in chief, asking about the notice. An Elsevier spokesperson replied: 

We can confirm there was a glitch with our content platform, which led to the publishing of the internal message instead of the removal notice. 

Our team is working to resolve this issue and to post the corrected notice – which will explain that the paper has been temporarily removed and will either be replaced or reinstated as soon as we reasonably can. The publisher has confirmed that the removal is due to a violation of our ethical policies, which state that we do not mention names of suicide victims.

Later in December, the publisher replaced the first notice (archived here), with this one

The publisher regrets that this article has been temporarily removed. A replacement will appear as soon as possible in which the reason for the removal of the article will be specified, or the article will be reinstated.

We also reached out to Mamun and Griffiths for comment on the paper’s removal and the PubPeer comments. Mamun told us: 

I have checked the PubPeer comments and found nothing special to respond to. 

First, they claimed the victim’s privacy was disclosed. This is not the first disclosure of the victim in our paper. The suicide was reported in many newspapers, on TV, and shared on social media. We used publicly available information, and it is not the first paper published by the AJP; you can check here is another paper (you may get other papers too), for example, disclosed the name of suicide victims: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1876201820304950  

Another claim in the PubPeer was we used only a reference where they did not find the information in the cited newspaper. This is apparently right for people living outside Bangladesh and probably never tried to reach us about other sources or any clarification before commenting in the PubPeer. Being the first suicide related to COVID-19, it was the talk of the country, and there were several reports, and posts on social media about it. In addition, I communicated with people known to the victim before writing the correspondence. 

We are waiting for hearing from the editor, as well as, will address all the comments formally, but not in the PubPeer.

Griffiths shared with us the formal response to the journal, which we’ve made available here. It includes point-by-point responses to the PubPeer comments, and additional news articles that the authors said could not be included as references due to the journal’s limitations. 

Mamun later told us: 

I would like to let you know that the publisher will reinstate the article as we had nothing wrong regarding all the claims made in PubPeer. 

In September of 2018, Nottingham Trent University sent a letter to Julian Derry, who had criticized Griffiths and another university professor on his blog, stating that “the content of your blog raises concerns of defamation for this University and its employees” and requesting that he remove it.

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8 thoughts on “Elsevier journal temporarily removes article by prolific psychologist – with a typo at “frist””

  1. On PubPeer, Dr. Griffiths has responded to concerns posted about his papers:

    “I will not be responding to any of the other identical comments on the other papers that you have made the same comment.

    I will also not be responding because you continue to hide behind a pseudonym and given the sheer number of comments you are now making on my papers, I consider this to be a case of cyberstalking (i.e., the use of the Internet or other electronic means to stalk or harass an individual).”

    On another paper, he responded;

    “I am just writing to say that now that I am being systematically trolled and cyberstalked by “Actinopolyspora biskrensis” relating to the dozens of emails I am now receiving daily via PubPeer I have now activated the ‘auto-delete’ option on my emails so will no longer be receiving any emails via PubPeer.”

    From that point forward, when commenting on papers on which he is a coauthor, I have refrained from including his email address when posting concerns about his papers on PubPeer.

    Of course, not all (or any) of the concerns I’ve posted are necessarily valid, and most are merely requests for clarification, but without further input from the authors, it is difficult to tell whether the concerns are valid or not. I have made no accusations of wrongdoing.

    In this case, it seems that the journal agreed with the concerns that I and others had about this paper, and I am happy that the authors seem able to address these.

  2. Responding to Dr. Griffiths’ draft reply:

    It seems that the lack of citations is partly driven by the type of article published by the authors. By choosing to publish a Letter to the Editor, they were limited to 10 citations.

    1) Full-length papers 2000-3000 words (excluding tables, figures and references)
    2) Short communications 1000-1500 words (excluding tables, figures and references)
    3) Letters to the Editor 600-800 words, 10 references, 1 figure or table

    I do not know why a Letter to the Editor would be accepted by a journal if it included unsupported claims, nor do I understand why the authors would not have chosen to publish a Short communication which seemingly would have allowed them to include citations to support their statements.

    In any case, it seems that they may have support for the statements in the letter and I look forward to reading the paper when it appears again.

  3. For some odd reason, Elsevier’s announcement always has typos. Typos aside, if the paper passed peer review, it should stay there for good, otherwise, it is just a ticking bomb.

    Who wants to publish papers anymore since many of them will be worthless and flaws will be uncovered in a few years?

    We should accept that there are flaws in all papers, and that’s how research works. Removing history does not make people smarter. Just leave all the good and bad things there, and let people decide.

    I think the publisher will mask the name and republish it.

    1. Who wants to publish papers anymore since many of them will be worthless and flaws will be uncovered in a few years?

      Empirically, LOTS OF PEOPLE.

  4. For a fuller record why I’m mentioned in this article, please see the following links,

    Mark Griffiths’ Citations 16-06-2018

    Concordat to Support Research Integrity 17-09-2018

    Derry, J. F. 2022. “The Role of Expertise in Discovery. Comment on Sutton and Griffiths (2018). Using Date Specific Searches on Google Books to Disconfirm Prior Origination Knowledge Claims for Particular Terms, Words, and Names. Social Sciences 7: 66” Social Sciences

  5. I only just noticed this footnote on the PDF copy of the paper:

    “The new version of the paper was published in April 2023 to comply with the journal policies concerning the privacy of personal information. The remainder of the paper and its conclusions/implications are unchanged.”

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