Undeserved authorships: Blog + Poll

Recently, Nature News brought an article about the issue of scientific authorships. A Twitter discussion was started by Dorothy Bishop, neuropsychologist at the University of Oxford, and it can be summarized as such: how can we know that all of the paper’s listed authors have actually read the paper, never mind providing any actual original research or ideas to it?

The issue of who becomes a co-author of an academic publication, and who does not, is a rather old one. Yet even these days many scientists are not always sure what kind of contribution justifies an authorship. As a PhD student, I had to include certain people as authors on my publications, who never pitched in even a single experiment or any specific idea to my research project. Their input was restricted to sharing a certain technology (which they did not develop themselves) and allowing me to use their specially equipped lab.  Back then, I raised the issue with my supervisor, only to be made to understand that these people were strategically important for him.  In fact, where I did my PhD, and at any other medical clinic of a German university, such “political” authorships are rather normal. I was once offered a gene expression plasmid which I thought I needed, by a group leader of my University Clinic, in exchange for an authorship. The plasmid was commercial, but that group leader received it gratis from someone else. Even back then, I considered his expectations ridiculous and was happy that I did not need that plasmid after all. Continue reading “Undeserved authorships: Blog + Poll”

Frontiers removes junior peer reviewers

Brief NEWS piece

Shortly after my article appeared where I reported of a case of a freshly graduated Master Student acting as  peer reviewer and associate editor at Frontiers in Computational Neuroscience,  Frontiers started to act on its junior peer reviewers. Coincidence?

Natalie Matosin has finished her PhD studies in 2014 at the University of Wollongong, Australia, her research topic was molecular biology of schizophrenia. She is author on a number of publications, several of them as first author. Continue reading “Frontiers removes junior peer reviewers”

Is Piero Anversa heading to Cardiocentro Ticino in Switzerland?

This is a brief NEWS post.

Harvard stem cell researcher, Piero Anversa, has left his job with Brigham & Womens Hospital, Harvard University  in Boston.


It is safe to assume he did not leave voluntarily, given that Brigham&Women’s was investigating him on suspicions of misconduct (he has sued them for doing this, unsuccessfully). In fact, another controversial Brigham&Women’s medical researcher, Charles Vacanti (the mastermind behind the fraudulent STAP cells) was sent on a sabbatical year in September 2014, from which he apparently has not returned back to his office and probably never will.

So most likely, Anversa has been sacked by Brigham&Women’s after the conclusion of misconduct investigation. A paper of his was previously retracted and another one earned an Expression of Concern from The Lancet upon Brigham&Women’s request. A number of papers authored by Anversa were flagged for potential data manipulation at PubPeer.

According to Retraction Watch, Anversa is moving to Switzerland. But where to? Continue reading “Is Piero Anversa heading to Cardiocentro Ticino in Switzerland?”

Do nanoparticles deliver? Merck’s Smart Flares and other controversies

Do nanoparticles deliver? Merck’s Smart Flares and other controversies

A large body of scientific nanotechnology literature is dedicated to the biomedical aspect of nanoparticle delivery into cells and tissues. The functionalization of the nanoparticle surface is designed to insure their specificity at targeting only a certain type of cells, such as cancers cells. Other technological approaches aim at the cargo design, in order to ensure the targeted release of various biologically active agents: small pharmacological substances, peptides or entire enzymes, or nucleotides such as regulatory small RNAs or even genes. There is however a main limitation to this approach: though cells do readily take up nanoparticles through specific membrane-bound receptor interaction (endocytosis) or randomly (pinocytosis), these nanoparticles hardly ever truly reach the inside of the cell, namely its nucleocytoplasmic space. Solid nanoparticles are namely continuously surrounded by the very same membrane barrier they first interacted with when entering the cell. These outer-cell membrane compartments mature into endosomal and then lysosomal vesicles, where their cargo is subjected to low pH and enzymatic digestion. The nanoparticles, though seemingly inside the cell, remain actually outside. How so? Continue reading “Do nanoparticles deliver? Merck’s Smart Flares and other controversies”

Part 2: Trolling peer review to promote its ethics

Part 2: Trolling peer review to promote its ethics

In this follow-up to my previous article, I will describe two cases of how the editorial and peer review weaknesses at a Frontiers journal were exposed or abused (depending on viewpoint) by its own academic editors.

In the first case, an established scientist, Nikolaus Kriegeskorte, research group leader at the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit in Cambridge, UK, cleverly revealed the deficiencies of Frontiers peer review, while simultaneously defending peer review ethics. By placing, with the help of his own student as handling editor, largely data-free (and scope-unrelated), yet peer-reviewed opinion articles in the journal Frontiers in Computational Neuroscience,  Kriegeskorte demonstrated that Frontiers’ official high editorial standards can easily be circumvented. In the second case, a professionally rather unrelated medical surgeon has imposed himself as associate editor of this journal, and allowed a publication of an original research paper by his senior colleague which can only be described as disastrous. Nowhere was there any protest or interference from the journals’ chief editor or from the publisher.

Dunderhead Continue reading “Part 2: Trolling peer review to promote its ethics”

Part 1: Frontiers in Paranormal Activities

Part 1: Frontiers in Paranormal Activities

This is my currently final (two-part) instalment on the topic of Frontiers listing by Jeffrey Beall as a potential, possible or probable predatory publisher. This time I will focus on the Frontiers scientists: the authors as well as the academic editors. In brief, it appears that Frontiers’ own rules for peer review and conflict of interest are sometimes being bent and broken to boost scientists’ publication record. As result, in better cases personal ideas and largely data-free opinions are published as peer reviewed papers, often outside the journal’s original scope. In more embarrassing cases, pseudo-scientific and esoteric nonsense was peddled as original peer reviewed research. Though maybe, Frontiers is being instead secretly trolled and ridiculed by its own authors and academic editors. In any case, the publishing house profits through additional publication fees, increased output on citable (even if totally scope-unrelated) papers per field journal and thus likely an improved journal impact factor.


Continue reading “Part 1: Frontiers in Paranormal Activities”