The Strange World of “Reward Deficiency Syndrome” (Part 1)

By Neuroskeptic | June 10, 2015 5:39 am

JRDS

Yesterday a new scientific journal appeared on PubMed, the standard index of the biomedical literature. That journal is called the Journal of Reward Deficiency Syndrome (JRDS). The first issue is here, indexed on PubMed here. (EDIT: It seems the journal is not exactly indexed on PubMed, although the papers appear there. See end of post.)

I spotted JRDS yesterday. I soon noticed a few strange things about it.

First off, almost every single paper in the first issue of JRDS is authored by neuroscientist Kenneth Blum, the Editor-in-Chief of the journal. He’s first author on an introductory Editorial, which makes sense, but he’s also lead author of a Hypothesis, an Expert Opinion, something called a Clinical Pearl and strangest of all, a Letter to the Editor (himself).

Blum is also second author of a Case Series and an Original Research. The only pieces in the first issue that he didn’t write are a Commentary commenting on one of his articles, and a book review… of Blum’s book.  (Blum’s Co-Editor-in-Chief, Rajendra D. Badgaiyan, is also an author on most of these articles.)

blumsrewarddeficiency

Overall, the JRDS might as well be called the Journal of Kenneth Blum Studies. Indeed, the domain name is blumsrewarddeficiencysyndrome.com.

What is going on here?

To learn more I decided to look into who Kenneth Blum is. He has a Wikipedia page, which says that

Kenneth Blum (born August 8, 1939) is a researcher on neuropsychopharmacology and genetics. He is known from his study on the genetics of alcoholism published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1990.

He works in the fields of neuropsychiatry and genetics, nutritional genetics, and pharmacogenetics. Blum’s research has been recognized through numerous awards.

He’s also associated with a number of different medical and biotech companies in the field of addictions, such as Rivermend and Dominion Diagnostics. I can’t find a current personal website for Blum, but I located an archived one from a couple of years ago called rewarddeficiencysyndrome.com (archive.org).

This brightly colored page featured a long autobiographical section (“The Kenneth Blum, PhD Life Story: A man seeking truth while reaching for the Stars”). The site also promoted a product called ‘synaptamine’, some kind of patent nutrient remedy, and ‘nutrigenomics’ genetic testing. See for instance the odd video advertisement for these products.

‘Synaptamine’ is now sold by from a company called LaVitaRDS, who say that

Syptamine (sic) uses a patented KB220z Neuroadaptagen technology that is nano sized to an average of less than 18nm, providing greatly accelerated absorption by the body for optimal brain health, enhanced energy, reduced stress…

“KB220z” is presumably named after Kenneth Blum. Which brings us back to the new Journal of Reward Deficiency Syndrome. One of the papers there is about KB220z. This paper is a) authored by Blum b) published in a journal edited by Blum c) about a product named after Blum and d) hosted on a URL starting with “blum”.

What kind of academic publisher would host an outfit like this? Well, JRDS is published by United Scientific Group (USG), which is on Beall’s List of ‘predatory’ open access publishers.

Who’s the founding president of USG? Inevitably, it’s none other than Kenneth Blum.

In summary, this is the most extreme example of academic editorial self-publication I’ve ever seen. JRDS appears to be edited by, published by, and largely written by one man. This makes previous cases of editorial self-publication, like Johnny Matson, look positively tame.

How can JRDS ensure a proper peer review of papers when the author is also the editor and the publisher?

All of which raises two questions. Why is this journal indexed on PubMed? And just what is Reward Deficiency Syndrome? Stay tuned for Part 2.

Update 12/06/2015: JRDS is in fact not indexed on MEDLINE, the main database that underlies PubMed. Five JRDS papers nonetheless appear on PubMed but this is because these papers were deposited in the PubMed Central (PMC) database by the authors. The journal’s status is “Not currently indexed for MEDLINE. Only citations for author manuscripts are included.” I wasn’t aware that it was possible for non-MEDLINE indexed papers to appear on PubMed. But it is. Thanks to Hilda Bastian for pointing this out!

Part 2 and Part 3 of this post are now up.

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  • BreakFromCoding

    He is also Chuck Norris.

    • Bee

      rotfl 😀

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/neuroskeptic/ Neuroskeptic

      A deadly snake once bit Kenneth Blum. After several days of agonizing pain… that snake died.

  • Gabriel Castellanos

    Maybe someone can ask Pubmed custserv@nlm.nih.gov

  • seanfw

    I thought you were into publishing everything and letting the internet decide what’s good?

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/neuroskeptic/ Neuroskeptic

      I am, but I don’t think we should publish everything in an academic journal indexed on PubMed.

      If Kenneth Blum had a blog he could publish whatever he likes on that blog and that would be fine.

      But an academic journal is supposed to be more than a personal blog.

      • seanfw

        I agree, on the basis that people will assume the article has gone through peer review, and also because it’s just fishy. This is probably most serious for people who don’t have the expertise to critique the article, who might assume it’s good, valid research because it has been published and apparently gone through peer review. For people with sufficient expertise it arguably shouldn’t make a difference whether it’s published in a journal or online (i.e. we should value each contribution according to the rigour of the argument/methods).

        • Colleen Mollentze

          That would be my concern. Want your “research” published and endowed with the credibility of having been peer-reviewed without actually going through all that bother? Start your own journal and run the whole show. And of course he has his own “supplements” for sale. So far his credibility level is +- Deepak Chopra. If the next issue has anything of merit by other contributors, I will adjust my opinion accordingly

          • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/neuroskeptic/ Neuroskeptic

            It would take several issues of high quality non-Blum material to make me start to trust JRDS.

      • Romain Ligneul

        Alternatively, Pubmed could attribute special pmid to academic blogs labelled as such. This would help them being cited and recognized for their possible ideas rather than plagiarized.

  • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/qz4.htm Uncle Al
  • Romain Ligneul

    Ahah, the reward deficiency syndrome* certainly applies to Mr Kenneth Blum himself. He might find great relief from this terrible condition each times his praiseworthy articles are accepted for publication in JRDS, ensuring high return on investment for his miracle molecule!

    * actually the reward deficiency idea really exist in the litterature (although it might receive formal refutation soon). It was used to explain inter-individual variability in addiction, with people suffering from insufficient reward signaling being more prone to engage into arousing, big-stakes, risky businesses.

  • Hilda Bastian

    I followed that link to PubMed: each of those entries is an author-submitted manuscript. So the question seems to me to be a different one than one about indexing. (Just to clarify: an author obliged to deposit their manuscript is obliged to do so, whether it’s an indexed journal or not. It doesn’t necessarily mean the journal is indexed. I know nothing about this particular case other than looking at the link.)

    • Chris States

      All articles in the scientific literature are author submitted.

      • Hilda Bastian

        Not in PubMed though. Articles from journals that are indexed by MEDLINE or PMC are submitted by publishers. This is*not* an indexed journal. Authors may be required by their funder to submit their article to PMC. That is what’s happened here. The contents of the journal are not indexed.

  • http://AddictionMyth.com/ AddictionMyth

    If this isn’t more proof of the need for PAID peer review I don’t know what is. syntapticpeerreview dot com

  • Neurocritic

    Excellent sleuthing! Dredging up such an extensive website on archive.org that has seemingly vanished into thin air has to make you wonder… But KB220Z is marketed as supplement that is not regulated by the FDA, I assume.

    Here’s another archived incarnation (DocBlum), this one with testimonials by both Nick Nolte *and* Sol Snyder…

    http://web.archive.org/web/20030503141402/www.docbluminc.com/main.htm

    Looking forward to Part 2!

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/neuroskeptic/ Neuroskeptic

      Ah, nice find. That site seems to date from 2003, and back then Blum was selling products ranging from “Anti Alcohol/Opiates” to “Anti-Sugar/Carbs” and even “Anti-PMS”.

      • http://www.facebook.com/felonious.grammar Felonious Grammar

        Where can I get the mugs and T-shirts?

        I too, am opposed to PMS.

      • John Edwards Cummings

        Hey, is Part 2 of this coming?

        I want to know more about wonderful world of self-made journals made by self-made mad scientists pushing “anti-opiate dietary supplements”

        Pretty please ?

  • Matt

    Lots of researchers try to start journals and are sometimes successful. Dr. Blum seems to have published in decent journals and has NIH funding. He is of the opinion that dopamine is deficient in drug addicts and that his “natural” dopamine agonist might help. He seems to be creating his own journal to spark more research in this area like so many other journals. Anyway, I only perused a few of his articles. I don’t know your background, but your lack of knowledge in this area may be why you are overly concerned and your contention is misplaced. I can’t find good pharmacology studies with his test compound, but have not researched thoroughly enough. Bernard Naunyn and Oswald Schmiedeberg founded the oldest pharmacology journal, which is now called the Naunyn-Schmiedeberg’s Archives of Pharmacology.

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/neuroskeptic/ Neuroskeptic

      Whether he has NIH funding or has published in good journals isn’t at issue. The question is whether it’s appropriate to edit, publish, and write all of the papers in a journal. And whether such a journal can meaningfully be called ‘peer reviewed’.

      If Blum had merely started a new journal that would be fine. I’m not objecting to the novelty.

      Even if he called it “Blum’s Journal” and was the editor, that would not be problematic, so long as it was published by an independent publisher and it contained papers by people other than him.

      The very first issue of Naunyn-Schmiedeberg’s Archives of Pharmacology had six papers, Naunyn wrote one of them. Imagine if he had written all six – I think even in 1873 this would have raised eyebrows.

      • Matt

        Okay, what’s your point? Again, what is your science background? I came across this blog from realclearscience. It is just a researcher who is trying to start a journal about a topic that he appears to be the only expert on. He’s not worried about tenure or trying to get NIH funding by publishing in his own made up journal. Besides, no one in the science community would be tricked. Are you worried the media is going to push his science or something? If every issue henceforth has him as the only author, then you have a point. Or if he starts citing that journal to make his products more believable.

        • empireinrecline

          you don’t understand what peer review means apparently. and a big way the science community isn’t tricked is by having reliable index sites like: PubMed. Once something makes it into the literature, like vaccines causing autism, it can take a mountain of work to undo the damage. There is a clear ethics violation and conflict of interest at work here which SHOULD put this whole endeavor under a cloud of suspicion.

          • Matt

            It is indexed on pubmed because the Director of the National Library of Medicine thought it was worthy of that. Neuroskeptic, who has credentials that are not blatantly provided on this blog as they should be, is complaining about the first issue. It is unfair to make these claims. If future issues also have little peer-review then you can be worried.

          • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/neuroskeptic/ Neuroskeptic

            I’m not making any claims. I’m just pointing to JRDS and saying, isn’t this odd? If you think it’s fine then so be it, but I for one think it’s odd and I don’t think I’m alone. But maybe I’m wrong.

          • Kenngo1969

            It depends. Are you peerless? Would you have to clone yourself in order to have a peer to review your work? ;-D

        • practiCalfMRI

          “It is just a researcher who is trying to start a journal about a topic that he appears to be the only expert on” In which case a dedicated journal is not required. Case closed.

        • Rhoda Penmark

          What about Rand Paul? He’s running for president, unlike that other guy.

          Paul started an accrediting agency in his medical specialty called the National
          Board of Ophthalmology. The board members were himself, his wife and his
          father-in-law. The organization was never accepted as an accrediting entity by the American Board
          of Medical Specialities or anyone else.

          Paul makes a big deal of the fact
          that he is a physician, but he is not board-certified. He let his certification
          lapse ten years ago.

          I wouldn’t want to be one of his
          patients. I also wouldn’t want him as my president. Although he calls himself a libertarian, he’s okay with the government forcing pregnant women to give birth against their will.

      • urstoff

        How can you be peer reviewed when you are peerless?

        • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/neuroskeptic/ Neuroskeptic

          Then you must take up human cloning, clone yourself, and assign your clone to review your paper.

          • Romain Ligneul

            This idea raises an interesting question regarding the genetic ground of scientific intuitions.

  • g05b

    Interesting. I suggest to check also the first version of his wiki page (strangely not created by him… but by one of his co-ahoutors): http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Kenneth_Blum&oldid=152976427

    Not surprisingly the page has been extensively modified in the years (by other users).

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/neuroskeptic/ Neuroskeptic

      Wow. Thanks for the link:

      “Dr. Blum’s Famed Genetic Research Into Addictions”
      “Dr. Blum’s Expertise Has Been Recognized Worldwide”
      “Dr. Blum’s Research Has Been Published in over 300 Scientific Journals”

  • harkin

    So he’s taking the ‘Reverse Obama’ method?
    Obama was editor of the Harvard Law Review without ever contributing anything.

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/neuroskeptic/ Neuroskeptic

      Good. No self-publication for him.

    • emer83

      President of the Law Review not editor; one has to know how to write to do that. He was party planner-in-chief.

      • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/neuroskeptic/ Neuroskeptic

        You both have gone to great lengths to deal with the fact that he was at Harvard and you weren’t.

        • emer83

          Sorry for repetition. You are accurate, I didn’t go to Harvard merely Penn and I didn’t have a “compelling personal narrative”.

          • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/neuroskeptic/ Neuroskeptic

            Oh, but you do have one – you’ve created a compelling narrative for yourself, to explain away the fact that Obama was at Harvard.

          • emer83

            I apologize if this sounds cruel but you can’t be this dense; no one, least of all a politician and a Democrat, hides his SAT and LSAT scores should they be even marginal (i.e. Clinton’s 1008). Obama represented himself as a brilliant student and instructor, neither of which turned out to be true. Hence, his academic resume does matter. And for the record: everyone who gets into Harvard doesn’t matriculate because often they prefer other institutions, folks such as my husband who also attended Penn.
            None of this matters. Truman was (arguably) smarter than either his predessor and Obama and you know where he matriculated.

          • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/neuroskeptic/ Neuroskeptic

            This obsession with college grades is nothing more than a (slightly) more high-brow version of birtherism.

            Lacking substantive criticisms, attacks on the origins and background of the target are the only possible tactic.

          • emer83

            Grades are not scores which is probably the reason the education establishment wants to and has diminished their importance (standardized tests, I.e.). The former are much easier to manipulate than the latter.
            I am more than happy to engage in substantive criticism of both this pathetically inept President as well as the standards which colleges use for admission.

          • Rhoda Penmark

            Thank you, Neuroskeptic. If college dropout Scott Walker ends up the Republican nominee for president in 2016, these same hateful commenters will declare educational credentials irrelevant.

            The ad hominem attacks on Obama’s academic record have pungent undertones of envy. At least they didn’t reference affirmative action, which is usually part of this sort of attack.

          • emer83

            I just read your comment and I’m forever frustrated that no argument seems to be able to stay on topic. Firstly, ad hominem attacks were standard discourse when Bush was in office and Neuroskeptic (irony at its best) used it in attacking Bush. I have no personal loathing of our President except the fact that he was, is woefully unqualified and has proven a disaster in all categories (happy to discuss). College is hardly important as I referenced in a previous comment in relation to Truman but Obama was sold as an intellectual from Harvard which as proven untrue. Of course he got into Harvard through affirmative action. Minorities have fought for this privilege for several decades and I’m not arguing its merit but it exists and the candidates who benefit should own up. No President nor candidate should be allowed to seal his records. You couldn’t be hired as a Bloomingdale’s clerk without releasing them because it implies there is something to hide.
            A discussion is not an attack and we can do better. Because we disagree character aspersions shouldn’t follow.
            I take umbrage at being called hateful; you don’t know me nor I you yet I’ve refrained from any ad hominem attacks, something you seem to value.

          • John Edwards Cummings

            What’s Romney’s SAT/LSAT?
            Sincere question, because I can’t find an official, published source to substantiate any of the claims circulating online…

      • Kenngo1969

        I take it that you don’t care for his multitudinous biographies, either, then? (Never before has so much been written about a man who has actually done so little …)

  • emer83

    You’re correct: Penn and I haven’t a “compelling personal narrative”.

    • John Edwards Cummings

      But you do seem to have a severe case of butthurt )

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  • Jyoti Paintel

    Nowhere in your analysis of Dr. Blum do you also mention that he is widely published in many well established databases, such as the NIH, Pubmed, etc,. Not to mention over 5,000 citations on Research Gate, these are not exactly Mickey Mouse outfits. I’m assuming you have to be somewhat credible? Aside from that, the RDS Journal that you’re writing about has a website that lists over a dozen researchers from prestigious academic associations in his editorial board ( including Yale and Harvard ) and they have put their names and academic affiliations on his Journal’s website. Are they all wrong? Duped?

    His main goal is to raise the profile of open-access publishing and give new scientists a chance to have their work published. Publishing in the elite journals, such as JAMA, New England Journal of Medicine, etc. is quite difficult for most researchers and scientists if you did not happen to go to the corresponding elite institutions that they mostly cater to. Publishing is doubly hard if you don’t have English as their first language, but are very talented. Dr. Kenneth Blum is trying to do something new and of course, he’ll meet with resistance, such as this piece. Bottom line: don’t believe everything you read, and don’t just read one view.

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/neuroskeptic/ Neuroskeptic

      Thanks for your comment.

      1) I agree that Dr. Blum has an impressive publication record. However, I’m not sure this makes any difference to my evaluation of the JRDS.

      2) As you point out, many prestigious researchers are on the JRDS editorial board, but in my experience this is no guarantee of anything. Previously I blogged about the strange world of “PIE” and “OAPL”, organizations which boasted dozens of major scientific names on their advisory and executive boards, but which turned out to have serious problems.

      3) I never said Dr. Blum has a sinister plan, nor do I doubt that he is sincere in his desire to help addicts.

      What I’m saying is that there’s something odd about an academic journal which is largely written by, edited by, published by and about, one man – it’s nothing personal to Dr. Blum. If anyone else started a journal in the same fashion, I’d be saying the same about them.

      In fact a couple of years ago I did say something similar about another journal with a somewhat similar history.

      • Jyoti Paintel

        1. So then you are saying that a man who has extensive experience within the world of scientific publishing and research, and has a passion for helping others to publish, has no absolutely no business trying to start his own journal? Because its clearly a publicity stunt or something ‘strange’?

        2. You’re right, the whole journal might fall apart, and no one involved will produce anything of substance. Or it might actually do very well. Can I remind you that he has published ONE issue? Let’s give the Good Doctor the credit and the benefit of the doubt he is due.

        3. I just found the piece to be highly subjective and overly- critical, and the tone accusative.
        Have you considered that you’re not just a Neuroskeptic, but a Neuropessimist? 😉 I seem to remember that in the grander scheme of things, there isn no guarantee for anything. There’s no guarantee I that I will actually stop wasting time today, and do some real work.

        By the way, Dr. Blum is someone I consider a mentor. He has been helping me to start an institute that will train international neuroscientists from regions typically under-represented in science about research capacity building. The plan is to have them start publishing in RDJS, if you can believe it, which I doubt.

        If you’d like to meet him, I’d be happy to introduce you. Heck, he’s probably even give you an interview, and personally respond to your post. Perhaps you’ll view me as biased, and I’m not sure you’d be wrong.

    • Jyoti Paintel

      By the way, I eagerly await Part Deux of this..

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  • Cassidy

    There hasn’t been a president in quite a while worth diverting from this topic. When a true leader steps into office, you will be able to see the difference. As for this article, the implications behind the medical community accepting this disorder would lead them to want more proof than what has been conducted regarding DA receptors and the A1 Allele of the D2. However, I can understand Blum’s perspective in that if we were talking about anything other than the reward center of the brain, his theory would probably get more consideration. Your issue is simply a matter of whether or not the community should recognize his article as being a scholarly one. Especially in a traditional sense, obviously the answer is no, but it is not to say that that nothing can be derived from his article. A scientist or physician that cannot do this lacks insight and fundamental understanding.

  • Pingback: The Strange World of "Reward Deficiency Syndrome" (Part 3) - Neuroskeptic()

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  • Richard Henry

    Hi kenneth. My name is Richard Henry a friend of Marc Lewis. I thought I was all alone when it came to Reward deficiency syndrome. before I even new it existed back in 1996 I talk to a psychiatrist with my theory of what I thought I suffered from R.D.S. well at that time I just told him I thought I had a Reward Deficiency. Then in 2009 writing my memoir “Life in the Game of Addictions I wasn’t sure if I would call it Rewardificeny syndrome or disorder. then looking up the difference between Deficiency and Disorder, I seen a video on youtube of the very thing I believed in…Was shocking to see it was already out there.To jump way ahead today after suffering amphetamine Substance use for so many years and looking for help I finally found a doctor that has prescribed me Vyvanse. It has made a world of difference. Now I’m researching the relationship with the amygdala and reward to see if it is a genetic disorder handed down, as alcoholism, depression and anxiety run in the family. I have 4 children and 4 grandchildren. Finding the answer is very important to me, that I may break the cycle and share the knowledge with my family, that they don’t go down the same path i have, With alcohol, cocaine crack etc. Would you please help, and share any knowledge you may have to help me end this unknown disorder if genetic in my family… Thanks for your support… Here are few other places people can find more about me, resources and support.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Va
    http://homelesshub.ca/blog/stories-
    My memoir. Get your copy @
    lulu.com/spotlight/Lifeinthegame
    My homepage Face Book
    https://www.facebook.com/LIFEINTHEGAME
    Addiction and drug Education
    https://www.facebook.com/pages/Life-in-the-game-of-Addictions/405264699595502
    http://www.cbc.ca/…/home-takeover-horror-stories-shared-by-…
    Home Takeovers
    http://www.crimepreventionottawa.ca/en/videos
    Check out my “Notes” on
    https://www.linkedin.com/profile/view…
    My Migration video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hx5xkz0CzDohttps://www.facebook.com/groups/555171084641770/

    Homelessness is Only One Piece of My Puzzle: Implications for…
    HOMELESSHUB.CA
    http://blog.smartrecovery.org/2016/

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Neuroskeptic is a British neuroscientist who takes a skeptical look at his own field, and beyond. His blog offers a look at the latest developments in neuroscience, psychiatry and psychology through a critical lens.

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