Two EMBO corrections for the martyred saint Maria Pia Cosma

Two EMBO corrections for the martyred saint Maria Pia Cosma

The cell biologist Maria Pia Cosma, top-funded and prize-winning professor in Barcelona, is either an indestructible zombie scientist or a martyred saint. Her name means in Italian Mary the Pious, so it is probably the latter. So the following post is written in the style of a canonical satire.

Holy Mary Pia was accused by evil tongues on PubPeer of research misconduct in several of her publications. Philistines pointed crooked fingers and cast stones at duplicated western blot bands in papers published by St. Maria Pia in exalted scriptures like Cell. The accusers, envious of such impact factors, wished those gospels of scientific truth crucified on the cross of retraction and demanded for Our Lady of Barcelona to be judged and investigated. Yet Lord took mercy upon the tortured saint and sent His angels to defend her.

The martyr of research integrity, St. Maria Pia (right, standing) receives a sign for “Beatified”. Source: Cosma lab, under fair use

Continue reading “Two EMBO corrections for the martyred saint Maria Pia Cosma”

Kathrin Maedler: persecuted genius or zombie scientist?

Kathrin Maedler: persecuted genius or zombie scientist?

The prize-winning German pharmacologist and diabetes researcher Kathrin Maedler is regularly in the German and international news, either as a celebrated genius about to cure diabetes or as a potential cheater, responsible for masses of duplicated images in her publications. The rectorate of her own University of Bremen absolved their professor of all suspicions of data manipulations, while admitting image duplications and loss of original data. One argument was that all results were successfully reproduced, yet by whom: that the Bremen rectorate prefers not to answer, together with all other relevant questions which would have made this investigation anywhere credible. In the same vein, another investigation at the University of Zürich in Switzerland, where Maedler did her PhD in 2000-2004 under the supervision of Marc Donath, absolved them both of any suspicion of misconduct as well, while refusing to provide any further explanations. Meanwhile, other labs have refuted Maedler’s discoveries, but these publications were dismissed by the University of Bremen as irrelevant. Maedler also had to retract a publication Ardestani et al 2011 from the Journal of Biological Chemistry (which is known to have a rather tough stance on suspected misconduct). Continue reading “Kathrin Maedler: persecuted genius or zombie scientist?”

Beall-listed Frontiers empire strikes back

Beall-listed Frontiers empire strikes back

The Swiss publishing business Frontiers was placed by the US librarian Jeffrey Beall on his well-known and hotly disputed list as “potential, possible or probable predatory publisher”. Frontiers however was not prepared to take this lying down. The publisher’s Executive Editor Frederick Fenter first tried it nicely. Shortly before Christmas 2015, he flew to visit Beall at his University of Colorado in Denver, with the senior manager Mirjam Curno in tow. Curno is incidentally also board member and trustee of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE). Afterwards, Fenter stopped being nice. In August 2016, he bombarded around ten senior officials at the University Colorado in Denver with letters and a dossier (see below) demanding that they make sure Frontiers is removed from their employee’s private list.

Thing is: University of Colorado has nothing to do with the so-called Beall’s List. The list is part of the librarians private blog on WordPress (same platform I use). In fact, this is the disclaimer which Beall placed on his site clear for all to see:

“These views represent the personal opinions of the author (Jeffrey Beall)  and may not reflect the position of the University of Colorado Denver or the University of Colorado System”.

Continue reading “Beall-listed Frontiers empire strikes back”

Frontiers reviewer told: don’t be strict, endorse paper, reports Giulia Liberati

Journal peer review is a mysterious black box all scientists fear. The task of the reviewers is to help authors to improve their manuscripts scientifically and to help journal editors to weed out scientifically substandard and inappropriate works. That’s the theory anyway, in practice there are good reasons why the peer review process is traditionally something to be hidden by all means from the readers of published papers. Probably to avoid occasional shock, disgust  and repulsion, similar to how the supermarket customers should by no means be made aware of the true origins of industrially raised meat. In a kind of a vicious circle, this peer review secrecy is a direct invitation to rig it even more. Editors tend to assign friendly reviewers according to authors’ eminence, while peer reviewer conflicts of interests are routinely disregarded, since no one will ever find out anyway. In the same vein, scientists who made themselves some powerful enemies will see their manuscripts destroyed by unreasonable and aggressive peer review. They often naively hope the editor was decent enough not to invite those same adversaries whom the authors specifically asked to be excluded. Continue reading “Frontiers reviewer told: don’t be strict, endorse paper, reports Giulia Liberati”

The smelly compost heap of plant-based nanoparticles

A gang of Indian nanotechnology scientists, allegedly from Annamalai University in India, placed in 2014-2015 several papers in different journals, all of them about nanoparticle synthesis using extracts from various local plants. Most papers went into the journal Spectrochimica Acta Part A: Molecular and Biomolecular Spectroscopy, published by Elsevier. The publications were harshly criticised on PubPeer for their poor science, but also for suspected data manipulations (electron microscopy images, photographs of bacteria dishes and X-ray diffraction measurements were reused across different unrelated papers, see PubPeer examples below).

Five nanotechnology papers at Elsevier are now about to be retracted, at least four of them from Spectrochimica Acta Part A. The concerns about research quality and data integrity may have been however less decisive here. The faculties of the Annamalai University carry no mention of any of these authors as their members, all of the provided corresponding email addresses are from Gmail. A publishing scam, possibly including fraudulent peer review, is the likely reason why these papers are being retracted now. Continue reading “The smelly compost heap of plant-based nanoparticles”

With Voinnet and Cosma cover-up, Cell now admits to have no editorial integrity whatsoever

The elite journal Cell issued editorial notices in regard to 3 papers by the Swiss-based French plant scientist Olivier Voinnet (found guilty of research misconduct in many papers) and one by the Spain-based Italian cell biologist Maria Pia Cosma (some information about her papers here). The journal Molecular Cell (which editorial offices are not entirely independent from Cell) issued same note for a different Cosma paper.

Despite obvious data manipulations, the journal decided not to do even as little as a correction. This is in full agreement with a previous declaration by the Cell Editor-in-Chief Emilie Marcus, who announced one year ago to be tolerating data manipulations in her journal, provided the science described is “wow” and “cool” (see details in my satire article here). Indeed, as a branch of the private business Elsevier, Cell is free to publish whatever they wish, even explicit fraud, lies and fakery. It is however the duty of all scientists, funding agencies and the subscription-paying university libraries to decide if what Cell publishes is actually any good science under such policies.  Even if it reads“wow”.

I will simply list the four editorial notices below, accompanied with some corresponding images off PubPeer. Naturally, none of that author-provided evidence (i.e., where it existed in the first place) which Cell found so convincing, is shared with us nosy readers. Make your own judgement, the notices speak for themselves. Continue reading “With Voinnet and Cosma cover-up, Cell now admits to have no editorial integrity whatsoever”

The infectious self-plagiarism of radiologist Hedvig Hricak

The infectious self-plagiarism of radiologist Hedvig Hricak

In medicine, academic performance is evaluated quantitatively, by the sheer number of papers. Promotions are granted according to the publication output, often counted in hundreds. Doctors love to throw around sentences like “I have more than 300 papers”, or 400, or 500, which is meant to put their clinician colleagues in their place. Such high-throughput publishing culture heavily relies first of all on the system of “honorary” authorships, i.e. those utterly unrelated to the actual research become co-authors solely by the virtue of their higher hierarchy status or their being friends or even family. Other questionable tactics are salami-publishing (where even a tiniest dataset or analysis is stretched and re-used again and again for several consecutive publications) and good old self-plagiarism, or text re-use. To avoid being busted for double-publishing, clever doctors combine both methods to achieve some variation between their overlapping publications. At the end of the day, where others would publish only one measly paper, these tricksters get two, three and much more. Guess whose publication list will look more impressive, and who will climb the academic career ladder then. Another danger of self-plagiarism: it can lead to “proper” plagiarism and poor quality research. When untreated in one scientist, it also becomes contagious. Continue reading “The infectious self-plagiarism of radiologist Hedvig Hricak”