Editorial board members resign from obstetrics journal to protest handling of allegations

A group of 10 members of the editorial board of BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth have resigned to protest the journal’s failure to respond to allegations of data fabrication.

Last week, in an email obtained by Retraction Watch, the editors wrote to Tovah Aronin, the managing editor of the journal, regarding “concerns about the publication of fraudulent research in BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth and BMC Women’s Health in 2023.”

The allegations about two papers had been sent to the journal on Jan. 29, 2024, by Ben Mol, an obstetrician-gynecologist who has earned a reputation as a sleuth for his efforts to clean up the literature in the field:

Mol told the editors he was puzzled by, among other things, the mean ages of the women in both studies, which contrasted sharply with data in other papers from the same period in the same medical center. Jim Thornton, an obstetrician-gynecologist at the University of Nottingham in the UK, left a similar comment about one of the papers on PubPeer.

Mohamed Abdelmonem Kamel of Fayoum University in Egypt, the corresponding author of both papers, has not responded to a request for comment from Retraction Watch.

The editors said Mol’s evidence:

strongly suggests this research is fabricated. While some issues are concerning, such as a zero loss to follow up, which is almost impossible in a real-world study, other issues, such as the indication for Caesarean section in a myomectomy paper, are extremely worrying.

Given the seriousness of the allegations, we would have expected the journal to respond immediately by placing a note of concern on these papers and asking the authors for their original data so that an investigation could be carried out. However, the journal has not even replied to Prof Mol (who is himself a leading clinical trialist in maternity care).

They continued:

We cannot continue to serve on the editorial board of BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth unless the journal responds to serious, substantiated allegations of research fraud. Fraudulent research endangers women and babies by supporting ineffective treatments. We cannot allow this to go unchallenged and therefore feel that we cannot continue to serve as members of the editorial board. 

They left the door open to reversing themselves:

We would be happy to rejoin the Editorial Board if there is a strong and immediate response to raise concerns about the published manuscripts, and to retract papers where research fraud is proven. In addition, we believe that authors of proven fraudulent research should be banned from future submissions to the journal and from serving on the editorial board. For now, we can no longer justify being an editor of BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth.

We have long supported BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth, submitting our own research and facilitating peer review of others’ research. It devalues our research and that of the majority of authors to allow fraudulent research to remain in the public domain unchallenged. We urge you to act to preserve the integrity of the journal.

Aronin told Retraction Watch:

I would like to assure you that investigations of Ben Mol’s accusations are ongoing. We have been remiss in proper communication with the Editorial Board regarding these accusations and our investigations and we are planning on sending communications to them soon, and I hope that we will be able to reassure them that there is no need to resign.

According to Mol, he has so far flagged nearly 900 papers, of which 155 have been retracted and 72 have received expressions of concern. Most of the rest are in limbo, with no known outcome. Mol added: 

I have flagged only 10% of what should be flagged. The big problem is the lack of response from the field.

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18 thoughts on “Editorial board members resign from obstetrics journal to protest handling of allegations”

    1. I don’t know anything about that journal, but on looking it up, I see that it has been owned by Springer Nature since 2008.

      That is actually the point that I find interesting from my own perspective, as the publishers are the ones setting the parameters. I’ve generally considered Springer as still fairly respectable, unlike Elsevier and Wiley … with increasing doubts on that score.

    2. At the University I am based (Top 50), they have actually been advising AGAINST faculty publishing in a number of BMC journals (except BMC Medicine of course) because of the poor quality of reviews (often turned in by very junior staff with maybe h index 1 or 2), long turnaround times and generally low perceived standards of papers published in the journal.

      I was personally surprised by this because I thought BMC would be better than Frontiers, Hindawi or MDPI but seems like academic publishing as a whole is just going through a very bad phase.

        1. Let me start the list.
          * Cell Communication and Signaling;
          * Stem Cell Research & Therapy.
          For letting in, respectively, 9 and 8 review-shaped artifacts from Navid Shomali without noticing that something is off.
          There are many reasons to include
          * Molecular Cancer.
          A minor one, still more than sufficient: just check what a certain Mohammad Chehelgerdi managed to place in there! Including this ridiculous correction (PubPeer).

          1. Thanks. We should build a list of all such journals. They have good impact factors, a shiny gloss of prestige and reputation, but under the surface, they simply don’t care OR their staff are too weak to notice. We should expose such journals making publishers to do something.

  1. Not that it necessarily bears directly on data fabrication, but Nature has gone the way of the journal, Science, in wokeism. One bad apple….

  2. BMC is good when it comes to its speed of publication, peer-review speed, or its friendly environment. But it is becoming a joke from a management standpoint. Because:

    1. The managing editor (also signing as editor-in-chief) and the staff members at BMC hold degrees that have nothing to do with the journal’s specialty. They know absolutely nothing about the specialty field of the journal they are managing AND also about research methodology itself (because they are very young with no publication or peer review under their belts). At best, the leading editor is a very young PhD holder in a field that has nothing to do with the field of the journal. The staff members barely hold any respectable degree.

    So these people are actually laypeople without any smallest idea what the field of their journal is.

    Sadly, these laypeople are the final and the MAIN decision makers; they can easily overrule the editors’ decisions or if they “feel necessary”, can even “guide” the editor in whatever direction they deem fit of course in a friendly tone.

    It is a joke that experienced editors are being led and “managed” by very young and inexperienced LAYPEOPLE (not even young researchers, but complete laypeople who know nothing about the field of the journal they are handling, and constantly make inconsistent and self-contradictory mistakes as decisions).

    —————————————

    2. At least BMC editors used to be good researchers till some years ago. Each BMC journal used to have around 30 editors who had great experience as peer reviewers and researchers. But No more: BMC is rushing to invite tens or even hundreds of very rookie researchers for each journal. Now each BMC journal has around 300 or 400 editors. New editors have the poorest CVs in terms of their peer-review records and publications.

    If you have an academic degree, a few publications, and an H-index about 4 or 5, wait for BMC’s invitation asking you to become their editor!

    ———————————————-

    Both of the above problems also exist at Hindawi, except that in Hindawi, at least the Editor-in-Chief is a respected and knowledgeable researcher and specialist who is experienced in the field of his journal and knows what he is doing; only the staff members know nothing.

    Of course, Hindawi has several other issues that makes it a worse publisher than BMC. For starters, its peer review process is really defective, leading to many papers being withdrawn even without any peer review.

    If you submit your paper to Hindawi, it is very likely you wait for 4, 5 months without even 1 review report. The journal will eventually withdraw the paper on your behalf. And will count that withdrawal into its “Acceptance Rate”.

    If you see Hindawi journals’ acceptance rates, you will see very small percentages for acceptance rates. They are not made up, but many (or even most) of the Not-Accepted papers have not been really Rejected after proper peer review; they were simply withdrawn without review, either by their authors who were grown tired of waiting for any reviewers showing up, or by the journal on their behalf (after seeing that no reviewer agreed to review).

  3. Thanks to the editors for resigning and thanks for Retraction Watch to document this story.

    Here are some more problems with BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth

    The editorial board continues to hold proven fabricators
    Ashraf Nabhan Two retracted articles here https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/?term=nabhan+and+retracted&sort=date

    Ahmed Maged has 9 expressions of concern and 5 retractions so far due to data fabrication and plagiarism. http://retractiondatabase.org/RetractionSearch.aspx#?auth%3dMaged%252c%2bAhmed%2bM.

    Ibrahim Abdelazim (BMC Women’s health) http://retractiondatabase.org/RetractionSearch.aspx#?auth%3dIbrahim%2bA%2bAbdelazim
    Allowing possibly fabricated papers a correction
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/36419028/
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/36344921/

    Despite raising concerns for many years, the journal keeps publishing problematic papers: Abdel-Rasheed M is a know fabricator http://retractiondatabase.org/RetractionSearch.aspx#?auth%3dAbdel-Rasheed%252c%2bMazen

    1. Delayed versus early umbilical cord clamping for near-term infants born to preeclamptic mothers; a randomized controlled trial.
    Rashwan A, Eldaly A, El-Harty A, Elsherbini M, Abdel-Rasheed M, Eid MM. BMC Pregnancy Childbirth. 2022 Jun 25;22(1):515.
    PMID: 35752762
    2. Hysteroscopic management versus ultrasound-guided evacuation for women with first-trimester pregnancy loss, a randomised controlled trial. Meshaal H, Salah E, Fawzy E, Abdel-Rasheed M, Maged A, Saad H. BMC Womens Health. 2022 May 25;22(1):190.
    PMID: 35614405
    3. Effect of maternal BMI on labor outcomes in primigravida pregnant women. Khalifa E, El-Sateh A, Zeeneldin M, Abdelghany AM, Hosni M, Abdallah A, Salama S, Abdel-Rasheed M, Mohammad H.
    BMC Pregnancy Childbirth. 2021 Nov 8;21(1):753. PMID: 34749684
    4. Role of suppression of endometriosis with progestins before IVF-ET: a non-inferiority randomized controlled trial.
    Khalifa E, Mohammad H, Abdullah A, Abdel-Rasheed M, Khairy M, Hosni M. BMC Pregnancy Childbirth. 2021 Mar 30;21(1):264. 33784989
    5. Intrapartum versus postpartum insertion of intrauterine device in women delivering by cesarean section. Abdel-Ghany A, Khalifa E, El-Din MZ, Ibrahim E, Abdallah A, Abdel-Aziz M, Abdel-Rasheed M, Abdel-Azim A. BMC Pregnancy Childbirth. 2022 Apr 28;22(1):365.

    The journal now published datasets on line. For BMC Pregnancy Childbirth 2024 ;24:140 see https://pubpeer.com/publications/000894C393D0B946A62530FA9C5E4C#

  4. Regarding Springer Nature, a friend makes this comment:
    Springer Nature’s “Licence to Publish Proceedings Paper” now contains the clause
    “Without limitation, the above grant [from the Author] includes: (i) the right
    to edit, alter, adapt, adjust and prepare derivative works …”
    Remarkably, the same License says
    “Ownership of copyright in the Contribution will be vested in the name of the Author.”

  5. I’m not in the field of medicine but I find it mind boggling how this willful wrongdoing is not the highest possible ethical and criminal offense and public scandal, on a part with mistreating patients in actual care. These criminals should have their degrees revoked and careers annulled and spend some time in an actual prison, and instead they’re not even getting a retraction?!? How are there no consequences for their fabricating data with humans and publishing dangerous nonsense for posterity?!

  6. I found this article really interesting. I think that it is admirable that someone like Mol has devoted so much time and effort to looking for fraudulent and fabricated articles. It is good to know that someone is looking for this and keeping harmful misinformation from permeating medical journals.

  7. We have actually noticed the comments raised by Ben Willem Mol and his allegation of fabrication. We have responded to his comments in email to the editors. and here is a copy

    Dear professor Aronin,
    I hope this e-mail finds you well. This is a response to the concerns raised by Professor Ben W. Mol.

    1- “Both studies claim to be placebo controlled trials with two interventions; so two placebo’s : Unlikely.”
    Response: Being “unlikely” does not stand for fabrication.

    2- “Both studies recruit 300 and 180 participants in 2 months: the myoma paper from 20th August 2020 and 20th October 2020 and the SC paper from October 2020 and December 2020. Unfeasible”
    Response: The two studies were performed in multiple central hospitals with a very high rate of obstetric surgeries. Therefore, it was feasible to provide this number of participants in such short time.

    3- “Both studies have zero women refusing from 300 and 180 eligible Impossible”
    Response: Due to the economic troubles in Egypt, it is very common that the patients does not have the proper health service. It is also very common to have a very long waiting queue before being enlisted for the operation. Therefore, the patients (who manage to be enlisted in a hospital that will cover their operation fees) mostly do not refuse because they cannot afford doing the operation in their own cost.

    4- “Papers with authors from 12 and 8 authors while”
    Response: It is a multi-center study.

    5- “Both studies recruit women between 30 to 50 years old . This might be true for the myoma study, – although the mean age cannot be 31 years -, but it cannot be true for the SC study. Impossible. Evidence of copying between papers.”
    Response: Egypt has a very high incidence of CS (which is bad thing). But for this reason, it is very easy to recruit participants for the CS study in all age groups. The participants’ age do not range from 30 to 50 as the mean age was around 30 which means the range should be approximately from 20-40 (based on his logic).

    6- “Evidence of data-copying; The P-value 0.036 comes back in both tables. The 27.15 +/- 5.81 converts to 27.15+/- 5.83, the 26.87 to 26.97. Evidence of data copying and therefore of fabrication.”
    Response: This concern is based on nothing but a certainty that we fabricated the data. A researcher should not build his finding on an internal felling. We are ready to provide the raw data of both studies upon request. I think he should –at least- have asked for the data before making this conclusion.

    7- “Same is true for Hemoglobin, see below. Impossible that the Hb in women undergoing myomectomy and SC is so similar; the Hb of 10.81 +/- 0.81 identical in 2 groups is also impossible. Evidence of data copying and therefore of fabrication.” “Idem for two hematocrits of 32.41. You might organise a competition for the readers: who finds 10 similarities between the articles?”
    Response: I understand this concern, which was actually a weird coincidence.

    Although we deny any fabrication, we have reperformed the analysis of the two studies again to make sure everything is right. The caesarean paper had the same results and there was no problem. However, when we reperformed the myomectomy analysis we noticed some mistakes. We later realized that the statistician made a mistake while copying the data from multiple sheets to the analysis program. Once we realized this mistake, we sent another email to the editor asking to publish a correction or to withdraw the paper and resubmit it completely and we are still waiting for his response.

    Again, we deny any fabrication and we can provide both data sheets of both studies upon request from or through the editors (to maintain confidentiality of the data). We also admit there were mistakes in the myomectomy paper that we are waiting the editor response whether to publish a correction or to withdraw the current manuscript. However, in our defence, these mistakes were not noticed by the editor or the reviewers too.

    1. “We are ready to provide the raw data of both studies upon request.”

      OK: Why don’t the authors post the data for both papers to a public repository now?

      1. We cannot share the raw data of the myomectomy study before publishing it first as a paper to prevent stealing the data in another paper by different authors. We intend to provide the data publicly once we publish the correction or resubmit the paper.

    2. “Again, we deny any fabrication and we can provide both data sheets of both studies upon request from or through the editors (to maintain confidentiality of the data). ”

      I don’t say your raw data is not genuine; it is.

      But what if the raw data itself was made up (fabricated) by authors? The raw data is nothing but a bunch of numbers. Anyone can make it up in an hour.

      I mean is ‘showing the raw data’ equivalent to ‘proving that the study was real’? To prove that a study is not fabricated, stronger forms of proof are needed.

      1. I think that we cannot provide more than the deidentified data sheets, this is actually the way journals can make sure of the data. If they needed more information, they should have made it clear in the journal guideline or in CONSORT, we would have kept a copy of every required data.

        I am just curious what do you think is “stronger forms of proof” and what guideline that we should have followed to ensure the availability of these proofs. I am asking this actually for my future research in general not for this study in specific.

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