The Trouble With The “Journal of Stem Cells”

By Neuroskeptic | April 5, 2017 6:36 am

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about a paper describing possibly unethical stem cell injection treatments for children with autism. That paper was published in 2015 in the Journal of Stem Cells.

I’ve since discovered additional problems with this journal.

It’s important to note at the outset that the Journal of Stem Cells is not some obscure operation. It’s indexed in MEDLINE, something that the vast majority of ‘predatory’ journals could only dream of. MEDLINE is the gold standard, or at least, it usually is.

journal_of_stem_cellsI have three main concerns about the Journal of Stem Cells:

  1. Plagiarism

I have discovered evidence of plagiarism in two papers in the Journal. What’s more, Prasad S. Koka, the Editor-in-Chief of the Journal, is the corresponding author on both of these papers, raising questions about the quality of editorial oversight.

The first paper (Koka et al. 2017) is a review on the topic of “Potential Origins of Cancer Stem Cells in the Disease Evolution and Etiology”. Turnitin reports that 41% of the text is identical to previous sources. Some of the sources are cited, others are not. To give one example, here’s a passage from Koka et al.

Cancer cells must be capable of continuous proliferation and self- renewal to retain the many mutations required for carcinogenesis and to sustain the growth of a tumor, since differentiated cells constrained by the Hayflick Limit and cannot divide indefinitely. The Hayflick limit (or Hayflick phenomenon) is the number of times (40-60) a normal human cell population will divide until cell division stops. This is because the telomeres associated with each cell’s DNA will get slightly shorter with each new cell division until they shorten to a critical length [15, 16]. In other words, a normal cell lacks a sustained division as opposed to the cancer cell.

This is similar to the Wikipedia page on “cancer stem cells“:

Cancer cells must be capable of continuous proliferation and self-renewal to retain the many mutations required for carcinogenesis and to sustain the growth of a tumor, since differentiated cells (constrained by the Hayflick Limit) cannot divide indefinitely.

Which links to the page for “hayflick limit“:

The Hayflick limit or Hayflick phenomenon is the number of times a normal human cell population will divide until cell division stops. Empirical evidence shows that the telomeres associated with each cell’s DNA will get slightly shorter with each new cell division until they shorten to a critical length.

Koka et al. don’t cite either of these Wikipedia pages.

The second instance of plagiarism I found is Das et al. (2013) “Adult Mesenchymal Stem Cells and Their Potency in the Cell Based Therapy”. Turnitin finds 47% overlap here, and some sections are a veritable rainbow of different sources:

adult_mesenchymal

Bear in mind that this isn’t a case of authors recycling their own text. As far as I can see, none of the the source material shares any authors with the Das et al. paper. This is outright plagiarism, in a MEDLINE-listed journal, brought to you by the editor-in-chief as corresponding author.

2. Editorial Conflicts of Interest?

As well as being editor-in-chief at the Journal, Prasad S. Koka is Scientific Director at DiponEd BioIntelligence LLC. DiponEd describes itself as providing products and solutions that prominently include stem cell technologies, such as “Adult Stem Cells – Autologus and Allogenic Transplantations in diseases/ disorders / trauma” amongst others.

It would seem that Koka has a conflict of interest here. His editorial decisions could have financial implications for him. For instance, accepting a paper showing that a stem cell treatment is effective could boost the market for DiponEd’s products. The same conflict is at play when Koka writes a paper of his own.

Koka doesn’t acknowledge this problem in his papers in the Journal. In fact, there is no “Conflict of Interest” (CoI) section in any Journal papers to my knowledge. As I noted last time, this is unusual. Almost all journals today require CoI reporting to promote transparency in science.

Interestingly, the CEO and Managing Director of DiponEd BioIntelligence is a Dr Kaushik Deb. Ten years ago, a University of Missouri-Columbia post-doc called Dr Kaushik Deb was suspected of faking data in a Science paper on stem cells. The paper was retracted. Deb vanished during the University of Missouri-Columbia investigation, but he was found guity of fabrication and falsification by the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) in 2014.

Is this the same Kaushik Deb who now manages DiponEd and is, presumably, Koka’s boss? Deb is certainly a regular at Koka’s Journal, having published 9 papers there, 4 of them with Koka as a coauthor. Thanks to commenter ‘Liberate Science’ for drawing my attention to this.

3. Uncertain Ethics

In my previous post I discussed a 2015 Journal paper that stuck me as quite possibly unethical. I also noted that the paper didn’t state which ethical review committee had approved the study.

I did a quick survey of the five most recent papers (that I was able to access) reporting studies on human participants published in the Journal: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. Of these, two contained no reference to ethics approval at all. The other three papers said that “the study had ethical approval” or words to that effect but none of them named the specific ethics committee that reviewed the study, making the claims difficult to verify. Funding and CoI statements were absent from all five.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: ethics, papers, science, select, Top Posts
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  • Liberate Science

    The problem goes far beyond Deb and Koka.

    The issue may not lie simply with this journal, but with the publisher, Nova Science Publishers. A “scheme” (unpublished) was uncovered a few years ago in which editors names to books published by this publisher appear to have been fictitiously created. For example, the trend was usually a three name editor, like John F. Smith, to give the semblance of a valid “Western” academic. However, no affiliations were given to such editors and Google or other data-base searches, including at PubMed, never revealed such individuals. Several dozen cases were discovered. The names were then run through Elsevier’s sciencedirect.com, and a pattern began to emerge, not perfect, but clear enough: first and family names appear to have been picked up from sciencedirect, a middle name, always abbreviated, thrown into the mix, and a new, undetectable, but “almost detectable” author/editor would appear on sciencedirect.com, thus allaying any Nova Science Publisher’s deepest fears, i.e., that they were being duped by a non-existent editor. Complaints to the then Nova Science Publishers CEO Nadya Gotsiridze-Columbus, who is now Nadya Columbus, were ignored and requests for Jeffrey Beall to list this as an academically dangerous and highly predatory publisher, were also ignored. Now we see the result: Journal of Stem Cells is listed on MEDLINE.

    Apart from a detailed analysis of this publishers’ journals, in detail, as Neuroskeptic has done so ably with this clearly problematic journal, the following also merits exploration:
    a) What is the precise process for inclusion of a journal into MEDLINE?
    b) Who exactly at Nova Science Publishers contacted who precisely at MEDLINE to get this journal indexed?
    c) Can MEDLINE release the application forms and criteria that are applicable to each journal listed there, so we, the public, can independently verify it?
    d) Do publishers pay MEDLINE to be indexed?

    • smut clyde

      requests for Jeffrey Beall to list this as an academically dangerous and highly predatory publisher

      It may be that the book publishing arm of the Nova operation didn’t meet Jeffrey’s criteria for “predatory” if they don’t actually charge authors (the journal arm is another story, of course). So he settled for describing them as “bottom tier”.
      https://web.archive.org/web/20161108155756/https://scholarlyoa.com/2015/05/26/watch-out-for-publishers-with-nova-in-their-name/

      By following a pingback to that post, I learned that someone else had already highlighted Bansal’s scammy involvement with the “Journal of Stem Cells” in May 2016:
      https://scientistabe.wordpress.com/2016/05/08/junk-sciences-is-reviving-brain-dead-patients-with-stem-cells-a-scientific-breakthrough-or-just-another-dr-frankenstein-monster-fantasy/

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

      The Journal of Stem Cells is not a classic predatory open access journal. It’s not open access (although certain articles are), and I don’t think it has a publication fee.

      So I don’t think the Journal is preying on its authors. It would be better to say it is colluding with them, especially since so many of the papers are by colleagues of the editor-in-chief.

      • Liberate Science

        Just to be clear, are you arguing that collusion is NOT predatory behavior, or that The Journal of Stem Cells is NOT predatory simply because it is not open access?

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

          I’m just saying that the Journal of Stem Cells is rather different from the “typical” example of a predatory OA journal of the kind that Beall’s list used to list.

          Collusion is a behavior that preys on the readers, but it doesn’t prey on the authors.

  • Liberate Science

    Compare with journals ethics policies at another Nova Science Publisher journal: International Journal of Child and Adolescent Health
    https://www.novapublishers.com/catalog/contrib.php?products_id=6317
    Especially:
    “STATEMENTS OF ETHICAL CONDUCT AND MALPRACTICE

    The ethics statements of the International Journal of Child and
    Adolescent Health (IJCAH) are in accord with the Committee on
    Publication Ethics (COPE) Best Practice Guidelines for Journal Editors.

    International Journal of Child and Adolescent Health requires all authors and reviewers to declare any conflict of interest that may be inherent in their submissions.”

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

      The Journal of Stem Cells has a similar set of guidelines, including “Journal of Stem Cells requires all authors and reviewers to declare any conflict of interest that may be inherent in their submissions.”

      The problem is that the papers, at least the online PDFs that I’ve seen, don’t actually contain any declarations.

  • https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=UUwbGJwCdp96FKSLuWpMybxQ Lee Rudolph

    Is there any possibility that the Wikipedia page(s) were plagiarized from the published article?

    • smut clyde

      The Chronopolice take a dim view about misuse of time machines for frivolous purposes.

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

      The Wikipedia pages from 12 months ago have the same text (1,2).

      In Wikipedia plagiarism cases it’s always possible that the “plagiarizing” authors were the ones who wrote the Wikipedia page, but this seems unlikely and at best it would mean it was self-plagiarism.

  • smut clyde

    Deb vanished during the University of Missouri-Columbia investigation, but he was found guity of fabrication and falsification by the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) in 2014.

    One should not forget the ensuing hilarity in which someone hired a low-rent Repairer of Reputations — calling himself “Jiya Khan” and apparently operating out of a Delhi petrol station — to abuse the DMCA and take down the RetractionWatch description of Deb’s fraud for a fortnight.
    http://retractionwatch.com/2016/12/29/removed-post-temporarily-back-heres/

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

      I wonder if I will get a DMCA request as well!

  • Pingback: Weekend reads: When reproducibility is weaponized; Internet-based paraphrasing tools; go parasites! - Retraction Watch at Retraction Watch()

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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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