Academic Publishing

Editors vs the Anonymous

A tale of brave academic editors fighting those bad, naughty, annoying anonymous whistleblower trolls

The debate about anonymous whistleblowing in science is old, and frankly speaking boring and redundant. It shouldn’t matter who sent you the evidence of research fraud if the evidence speaks for itself. But still, some editors, academic and professional, reject the evidence from anonymous whistleblowers on principle. And when the whistleblower reveals their identity confidentially, certain editor types immediately write to the accused authors to rat out the whistleblower.

Because academia is such a toxic environment it brings out the worst in people. It is a perfectly acceptable practice to confidentially phone colleagues to smear someone you don’t like with false allegations of fraud or sexual harassment or thievery, really anything, without any proof, yet still your peers will trust your rumours and the victim will never know. But an anonymous person sending you evidence of image manipulation in published papers? Never to be trusted, don’t even look at the pictures they sent, who knows what their motives are, and do they even have the required rank, title, status, pedigree, h-index and academic credentials to make such accusations?

So here are some recent cases of editors rejecting anonymously submitted evidence. Coincidence or not, all these editors are old white men.

Enna vs Aneurus

My sleuthing colleague under the anonymous name Aneurus Inconstans uncovered a massive fraud factory in Spain, the common author is the Spanish physiology professor, Javier Gonzalez-Gallego. I published the story, and Aneurus then set off to email the chief editors of each journal of the currently 56 papers affected. Hardly anyone replied. But one did.

Javier suspects everyone!

“If in any case we consider that the problems with the images really affected the validity of the results, we ourselves would ask the corresponding journal to retract the article.” – Prof Javier González-Gallego

Aneurus wrote to the Editor-in-Chief of the Elsevier journal Biochemical Pharmacology and emeritus professor at the University of Kansas Medical Center, Sam Enna, about this paper:

Tuñón MJ, Sánchez-Campos S, Gutiérrez B, Culebras JM, González-Gallego J. Effects of FK506 and rapamycin on generation of reactive oxygen species, nitric oxide production and nuclear factor kappa B activation in rat hepatocytes. Biochem Pharmacol. (2003) doi: 10.1016/s0006-2952(03)00288-0.

The actin blot is clearly fake, a pair of bands were copy-pasted.

So how did the almost 80 year old white man react? Grumpily. Enna replied to Aneurus with this one line:

Biochemical Pharmacology does not respond to anonymous comments.

In such cases, I offer myself as named notifier, so I made this offer to Enna. His reaction was:

Who are you? Are you Aneurus Inconstans?  If so, I need to have  your institutional email address before responding.

I explained that I am the guy who wrote that article about Gonzalez-Gallego. But true, I am neither Aneurus nor do I have an institutional email address. And anonymity obviously wouldn’t work if whistleblowers like Aneurus used institutional email accounts.

We three exchanged some emails all of which went around Enna’s refusal to admit me as notifier and his insistence to know Aneurus’ real name. For example, Enna told us this:

You and Aneurus know the terms. Have him/her get back to me with requested information if you wish to see the results of our investigation. After all, the authors of the work aren’t hiding behind anonymity, and those trying to question their integrity shouldn’t either. Aneurus first brought this to our attention. I need to communicate directly with him or her, not a surrogate.

Basically, Enna refused to admit evidence from Aneurus because they are anonymous, and he refused to admit this same evidence from named me because he doesn’t like me. A vicious circle which I could only break by revealing to Professor Enna Aneurus’ real name.

Yes, this was what I did.

I told the editor the real name of this anonymous whistleblower.

Don’t judge me, professor’s authority was too strong and his demands too stern.

The name I revealed was…

Carlos Lopez-Otin.

Carlos Lopez-Otin and the revoked Nature Mentoring Award

St Carlos of Oviedo almost was canonised as Spain’s first living martyr, but now Nature revoked his mentoring award. Spanish media and science elites are desperate, even the Queen is not amused. The Royal Academy of Sciences insists Lopez-Otin is a victim of journal’s failure.

Enna sounded triumphant:

Fine.

Be happy to send Carlos our report as soon as he submits to me a request for it using his real name and email address.

I will also notify the authors that Carlos has raised questions about their research so they can respond directly to him as well if they wish.

I so much would love to see Gonzalez-Gallego’s face when the Editor-in-Chief Enna informs him that none other but Carlos Lopez-Otin accuses him of fake science in his 56 papers.

But fun aside, did you notice what was the first act Enna announced as editor? To rat out to the accused authors the identity of the whistleblower he received in presumed confidence. This is cruel, sadistic and plain evil. No wait, this is standard behaviour in academia it seems, because this was exactly what another academic editor and Oxford professor, Dame Kay Davies did, for example.

Bologna cover-up at Oxford University Press

This is the second part of the Bologna whistleblower account. As the university was burying their own misconduct findings, Oxford University Press and their ignoble editor were busy punishing and gaslighting the whistleblower.

And then Aneurus found a problem in one of Enna’s own papers, in a journal where Enna used to be member of editorial board:

Scott A. Sands , Maya Gadhvi Purisai , Bibie M. Chronwall , S.J. Enna Ontogeny of GABAB receptor subunit expression and function in the rat spinal cord Brain Research (2003) doi: 10.1016/s0006-8993(03)02534-4 

The overlap is quite clear, but maybe it is OK, showing different areas of same sample? Both Fig 3D and Fig 3E describe an adult rat’s spinal cord, the former microscopy image shows dorsal horn and the latter shows ventral horn, which (I looked it up) lie 1.5-2 mm apart, way too far to be in the same field of the microscope objective. Hence, the images should never overlap, but what can one do, you saw how Enna treats the evidence of data fudging we send him.

Here are other cases previously covered in Friday Shorts.

Rainsford vs Aneurus

I was much more successful by submitting evidence on behalf of Aneurus with a Springer Nature journal. It was about some Indian fraudsters in Allahabad whom Aneurus previously reported about, and the paper got retracted quite fast.

It was this paper:

Deepika Singh, Ekta Yadav, Neha Falls, Vikas Kumar, Manvendra Singh, Amita Verma Phytofabricated silver nanoparticles of Phyllanthus emblica attenuated diethylnitrosamine-induced hepatic cancer via knock-down oxidative stress and inflammation Inflammopharmacology (2019) doi: 10.1007/s10787-018-0525-6

Aneurus inconstans: “Figure 6, SEM micrograph of Phyllanthus emblica embedded silver nanoparticles has been published two years later by the same group for Carissa carandas (another plant) embedded silver nanoparticles (red boxes).”

When Aneurus reported the fraud to the journal’s Editor-in-Chief Kim Rainsford, emeritus professor at Sheffield Hallam University, he received this reply:

“Dear Dr Inconstans,
While appreciating your attention to details about published papers, it concerns me that in your anonymity you conceal affiliation and any potential conflicts of interest.
These details would be confidential if you would disclose them. In their absence any credibility would be totally lost.
Your sincerely,
Professor K D Rainsford
Editor in Chief”

Right, you saw how confidentially some editors treat such things, hence Aneurus’ reluctance to comply. So I had to resubmit the notification under my own name, to which Rainsford never replied, but the Springer Nature Executive Hans Detlef Klueber did. The paper was soon retracted, the retraction notice from 20 July 2022 stated:

The Editor-in-Chief has retracted this article because of the following concerns with three of the figures:

  • Figure 6a appears to overlap with part of Fig. 2 in Singh et al. (2021).
  • Figure 7(b) appears to be identical with Fig. 7(b) in Singh et al. (2018a).
  • Part of Fig. 15f appears to overlap with Fig. 9f in Singh et al. (2018b).
  • Figure 15e appears to overlap with Fig. 15c.

The Editor-in-Chief therefore no longer has confidence in the data reported in this article.

The data reported in this article are therefore unreliable. None of the authors agree to this retraction.

I suggested that Prof Rainsford, who seemed now more than happy to claim for himself the credit for Aneurus’ work, should be more distrustful towards authors instead of whistleblowers next time. Especially when these authors submit manuscripts with silly titles like “Phytofabricated silver nanoparticles of Phyllanthus emblica attenuated diethylnitrosamine‑induced hepatic cancer via knock‑down oxidative stress and inflammation“. Rainsford reacted by calling me an “activist” (he thinks it is an insult) and demanded I apologise.

It can be worse. The other paper, Singh et al 2018, mentioned in the retraction notice and also originally flagged by Aneurus, was published in Elsevier’s Toxicology Reports.

Lash vs Cheshire

You probably heard of this antivax journal, Toxicology Reports, and its Editor-in-Chief Aristidis Tsatsakis. If not, here some relevant reading:

Elsevier’s Pandemic Profiteering

Aristidis Tsatsakis, Konstantinos Poulas, Ronald Kostoff, Michael Aschner, Demetrios Spandidos, Konstantinos Farsalinos: you will need a disinfecting shower once you read their papers.

Elsevier pandemic profiteering, again

“a scientific journal is not a social network, not even a newspaper. People reading papers in FCT are expected to be scientists with a good basis to distinguish between trash and science.” EiC Jose Luis Domingo on new paper by Peter McCullough

Elsevier seems to recruit its editors in the darker recesses of academic depravity, the more toxic and dishonest the better. Yet we won’t be talking about Tsatsakis and his gang here, but about the founding editor of Toxicology Reports, Lawrence Lash, professor at the Wayne State University in USA.

Another anonymous sleuthing colleague of mine, Cheshire (who comments on PubPeer as Actinopolyspora biskrensis), wrote to Tsatsakis and Lash about this fraudulent paper.

Shahanshah Khan, Sandeep Choudhary , Arun Kumar , Akanchha Mani Tripathi , Amit Alok , Jawahar Singh Adhikari , Moshahid Alam Rizvi , Nabo Kumar Chaudhury Evaluation of sesamol-induced histopathological, biochemical, haematological and genomic alteration after acute oral toxicity in female C57BL/6 mice Toxicology Reports (2016) doi: 10.1016/j.toxrep.2016.03.005 

Actinopolyspora Biskrensis: “Figure 1 images overlap, but description describes different treatments.
Hoya Camphorifolia: “Fig 7: “Panel A: Normal. Heart showing normal histological architecture; Panel B: sesamol—300 mg/kg, heart showing normal histological architecture”
Actinopolyspora Biskrensis: “Figure 5 […] Arrows in original figure (Panel A: normal. Liver showing normal histological architecture; Panel B: sesamol—300 mg/kg,
Hoya Camphorifolia: “Fig 9. “Panel A: Control, brain showing normal cellular architecture; Panel B: sesamol—300 mg/kg, brain showing normal cellular architecture;...”
Fig 4. “. Panel A: control, stomach showing normal cellular architecture; Panel B: sesamol—300 mg/kg, stomach showing normal cellular architecture …

Lash informed Cheshire:

First, an anonymous concern is inappropriate. Your identity should be revealed.”

Followed by:

what you sent provides non real insight into any problem with the data.

Followed by:

You provide no explanation of the problem. This type of complaint is garbage and unprofessional.”

To me, Lash ordered not to “act like some sort of crusader” and explained why he attacked Cheshire:

There is a procedure to follow when commenting on an apparent problems in a paper, and this has not been followed.

But Cheshire did follow the due procedure, writing to the acting EiC as well as to other editorial board members including Lash (who was still Editor-in-Chief when the paper was published). But what Lash was actually angry about was Cheshire’s anonymity, like Enna above the Toxicology Reports editor also insisted that he only communicates with fellow scholars using institutional email accounts. Lash informed me:

If anyone is a bully, it is you. This is not a whistleblower situation, but a commentary on a publication. Your colleague insulted me by condescendingly stating that I obviously am not up on current publication ethics.”

Noteworthy, Lash recently was re-installed as Editor-in-Chief of Toxicology Reports after the antivaxxer Tsatsakis became too embarrassing and unbearable even for Elsevier’s standards.

Predictably, this happened: Cheshire then found a duplicated image in Lash’s very new one-author MDPI paper (apparently, Larry works in the lab all by himself?).


Lawrence H. Lash, Unexpected Enhancement of Cytotoxicity of Cisplatin in a Rat Kidney Proximal Tubular Cell Line Overexpressing Mitochondrial Glutathione Transport Activity International Journal of Molecular Sciences (2022) doi: 10.3390/ijms23041993


Lash replied on PubPeer that those were correct, “representative” images:

The two panels do indeed look very similar. I have checked the original data files, which were from experiments conducted in 2006 and 2007, and those are the correct pictures for the two conditions, […] Thus, as far as I can tell, these are correct photos.


The images are however not similar, but identical. It’s a copy-pasted picture, as PubPeer commenters proved. Lash then thanked them for finding the error, admitted “It may be that the panel for the 10 µM CDDP – 4 h was mislabeled” and announced a correction. MDPI then stealthily swapped the offending image with a replacement without issuing a Corrigendum or any other note.

The many fake papers Cheshire found in Lash’s journal: nothing happened so far. It seems the old and new Toxicology Reports editor is busy retracting the antivax covidiocy garbage his successor and predecessor Tsatsakis published. Like Kostoff et al 2021 and Pott-Junior et al 2021, retracted in May 2022 with the note:

“The article has been retracted at the request of the Founding Editor,
Prof. Lawrence H. Lash, on the basis that there is clear evidence that the
findings are unreliable…”

In reality, Lash simply does as Elsevier says, while attributing credit to himself as the hero of research integrity. Something he did already in 2016, having penned together with Tsatsakis and his antivaxxer mates Michael Aschner and Jose Domingo a letter in Elsevier’s journal Toxicology, titled:

An appeal for the integrity of science and public policy

“We, scientists and signatories of this appeal assert our concern for the erosion of scientific principles in the purported validation ofexperimental evidence, which is manifest in arguments disguised as true science. Such arguments are used to simulate and exaggerate hazards and risks that justify official intervention policies in health, safety and environmental issues. This erodes public confidence in science and government, leads to misallocation of public resources, cause massive economic distortions, and strains court adjudications.

Our concern is motivated by the importance of adhering to the self-evident precepts of the scientific method in arriving at defensible conclusions. Those precepts require observational and experimental data that are authentic and of known measurement error; experimental variables that are relevant to the hypotheses being tested; the control of externalities that may confound observations and experimental results; and reproducibility by other performers or counterfactual verification. […]

We believe it is necessary to affirm the reliable and evidence-based power of science to ensure the rational and ethical integrity of public policies and regulations, and of legal proceedings. Not only is science in play, but also those ideals of justice and rationality that sustain free intellects, free persons and free societies”

It was quite obviously a industry shill piece written to discredit researchers who question the allegedly total and absolute health safety of the herbicide glyphosate.

Garbage and unprofessional behaviour.


Inglis vs Clare Francis

Let’s end with another new case I haven’t reported in Shorts yet.

Clare Francis is a pseudonymous sleuth whose real identity even I don’t know exactly. They have been screening biomedical papers for over a decade already, much of PubPeer’s record was generated by Clare Francis who hardly ever uses the same automatically generated pseudonym there twice. And each of their findings gets delivered right away to journal editors by email. Many papers were retracted based on Clare Francis evidence.

But many were not, not even corrected, and it seems that is because some editors and publisher executives simple DELETE Clare Francis’ anonymous emails right away.

As apparently the allegedly respectable academic publisher Cold Spring Harbor Labs Press (CSHL Press) does. Which is sad, because CSHL Press are supposed to be the good guys, they host the preprint platform BioRxiv.

Clare Francis sent CSHL Press this paper by Alan Storey, a former professor at Queen Mary University London and University of Oxford, who since 2013 for some reason works as medical writer for changing businesses.

Sarah Jackson , Catherine Harwood, Miranda Thomas , Lawrence Banks, Alan Storey Role of Bak in UV-induced apoptosis in skin cancer and abrogation by HPV E6 proteins Genes & Development (2000) doi: 10.1101/gad.182100 

Now, Storey has had even more fake stuff in his papers exposed on PubPeer, maybe this is somehow connected to his abrupt and surprising career change. In any case, the editorial team at CSHL Press and the journal Genes & Development should have been concerned and taken Clare Francis evidence seriously. Yet this is how an editorial assistant reacted (they accidentally replied to Clare Francis instead of forwarding):

Hi Laureen, Do we do anything with this or should I delete?

I couldn’t resist and replied from my named email account to the editorial assistant that yes, please “go ahead and delete”, and signed with “Laureen”. I also informed CSHL Press executive director John Inglis, again signing as “Laureen”. His reaction was a bit unexpected:

You replied to an email mistakenly sent by an administrative assistant to Claire Francis. And you made up two emails and fraudulently signed them with someone else’s name. And went on twitter with this charade.

You should get back on twitter and admit what you did, and why. Perhaps it was a joke.
If you don’t correct the record, we will have to.

I did what?

Inglis kept demanding I apologise:

Let’s talk about your making up emails, signing them fraudulently, and deceiving people by posting them on twitter as if they were genuine. I’m giving you the opportunity of admitting it and doing so today.

Eventually, Inglis admitted that this accusation of his was made up:

Yes, my understanding that you had tweeted the fake Laureen correspondence was wrong. So all you did was to send messages impersonating a colleague to an administrative assistant already upset by having mishandled journal correspondence. Shame on you for demeaning a junior person who’d made an obvious mistake. And how sad that whoever is behind Claire Francis then tried to build a clerical error into some kind of indictment on twitter. A triumph of investigative journalism.

But as far as I know, Clare Francis is not even on Twitter, and hasn’t tweeted anything Inglis accuses us of. Inglis went silent when I confronted him with that.

Then I found the tweet:

It seems Clare Francis forwarded the initial misguided CSHL Press email to Cheshire, who then tweeted it. Inglis first misconstrued Cheshire’s tweet and falsely attributed it to me, failing that, to Clare Francis.

Nobody ever tweeted my “fake” correspondence to CSHL Press where I jokingly signed as “Laureen”. Inglis made it all up, presumably to discredit mine and Clare Francis’ work. Remember, false accusations against people you don’t like being standard practice in academia?

But most importantly: I asked Inglis several times to deny if CSHL Press indeed deletes emails by Clare Francis, and stated that if he doesn’t I will take it as confirmed. Inglis did not deny. He never apologised, also not to Clare Francis, and seemed only angered by the “clerical error” of an internal email landing in the hands of us, the enemy.

Look what other emails by Clare Francis Inglis may have had trashed. Here a case reported to CSHL Press in May 2020:

Anna Polesskaya, Sylvain Cuvellier , Irina Naguibneva , Arnaud Duquet , Eric G. Moss , Annick Harel-Bellan Lin-28 binds IGF-2 mRNA and participates in skeletal myogenesis by increasing translation efficiency Genes & Development (2007) doi: 10.1101/gad.415007

Also, Lin-28 blot is cack-handedly spliced
Polesskaya, now tenured researcher at CNRS in France, commented:there was clearly an error scanning and putting together this image. […]
Please note that the Lin28-IMPs-eIF3beta interaction was clearly demonstrated by mass spectrometry and confirmed in another cell line
.”

Nothing at all happened. Here another French case Clare Francis reported to CSHL Press in April 2020, also here nothing at all happened:

Vera Schramke , Holger Neecke , Vanessa Brevet , Yves Corda , Giovanna Lucchini , Maria Pia Longhese , Eric Gilson , Vincent Géli The set1Δ mutation unveils a novel signaling pathway relayed by the Rad53-dependent hyperphosphorylation of replication protein A that leads to transcriptional activation of repair genes Genes & Development (2001) doi: 10.1101/gad.193901 

In the email thread, Clare Francis asked Inglis:

How come Genes and Development hardly ever corrects, or retracts, anything?For example the papers by Joan Massague.

Because they delete your emails.


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10 comments on “Editors vs the Anonymous

  1. I would comment, but as I now identify as “deleted,” that seems inappropriate.

    Like

  2. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-022-02071-6

    Retractions are increasing, but not enough

    “On its face, the increase in retractions is good: a sign that science is becoming more scrutinized and rigorous, and that scientific publishing is doing its job. But it’s not that simple: journals publish more papers than they did in 1756, or even 2016. A higher proportion is now being retracted, but we estimate — on the basis of evidence from surveys, studies and reports from sleuths — that one in 50 papers would meet at least one of the criteria for retraction from the Committee on Publication Ethics, a non-profit collective in Eastleigh, UK. These include “clear evidence that the findings are unreliable”, whether because of falsified data, plagiarism, faked peer review or just ‘major error’, which might involve contaminated cell lines or another non-fraudulent problem. Yet the rate of retraction is still under 0.1%.

    Retraction Watch has seen the retraction process change dramatically over the past decade. We’ve come to feel that the community is falling short.”

    “…the process of retracting a paper remains comically clumsy, slow and opaque — often taking years, if it ever happens at all. That’s caused by publishers, who frequently act as if admitting to accepting flawed papers threatens their reputations and bottom lines.”

    “Sleuths should be compensated and given access to tools to improve the hunt for errors and fraud — not face ridicule, harassment and legal action. Publishers could create a cash pool to pay them, similar to the ‘bug bounties’ that reward hackers who detect flaws in computer security systems.”

    Like

    • Ivan Oransky demands publishers pay him, the kind of all sleuths?
      Such a wise man. The reason why there are so few retractions is because proper experts including him don’t believe in research fraud when someone they admire is concerned.

      Like

  3. Klaas van Dijk

    Ivan Oranski was willing to publish at RW a lengthy posting about my efforts to retract a fraudulent study on the breeding biology of the Basra Reed-warbler in a Taylor & Francis journal. The posting in question can be regarded as a long rant with lots of negative information and lots of badmouthing about me.

    Alison McCook, the ‘journalist’ who wrote this posting, did not contact me for comments from my side. Such a behaviour is towards my opinion highly unethical for journalists.

    Ivan and Alison have also never responded on my proposal for a follow-up with my points of view. It is my understanding that Ivan and Alison are not allowed to read two reports about this case which are posted on OSF and that both are as well not allowed to read a preprint about this case who is posted at ResearchGate.

    Both do not communicate with me. Both have therefore until now not refuted that it is correct to state that they are not allowed to read these 3 documents and/or to communicate with me about any of the findings in these 3 documents.

    Like

  4. unless we have more Biks and Cheshires and the likes (not even a dozen) the number of retractions will plateau soon… The dirty dozen cannot work 25 hours a day … 😕

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Biochemical Pharmacology does not respond to anonymous comments.

    S.J. Enna, Ph.D.
    Editor-in- Chief
    Biochemical Pharmacology”

    Some hours after the above article went online, a reply to us all:

    Dear Dr. Inconstans,

    I would like to introduce myself as the Publisher of Biochemical Pharmacology. Thank you so much for alerting the journal to this allegation. We take these matters seriously and we will start investigating immediately.

    Best,
    Anne Marie


    Anne Marie Pordon
    Publisher
    STMJ Publishing
    Elsevier

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m sure it makes no difference with people like these, but COPE guidelines state that it makes no difference whether or not the whistleblower chooses anonymity – the allegation should be investigated and followed-up.

    Liked by 1 person

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