The journal Neurology published a unique and touching paper today: it’s by artist Susan Schneider Williams, the widow of actor Robin Williams, who died by suicide in August 2014. It’s titled The terrorist inside my husband’s brain, the ‘terrorist’ being Lewy Body disease (LBD), the neurodegenerative disorder that, as Schneider Williams recounts, destroyed his life.
A draft article due to appear in APS Observer caused widespread outrage this week. Susan Fiske, the former president of the Association for Psychological Science (APS), writes that bloggers and other online critics of psychology papers are running wild:
New media (e.g., blogs, twitter, Facebook posts) are encouraging uncurated, unfiltered trash-talk. In the most extreme examples, online vigilantes are attacking individuals, their research programs, and their careers. Self-appointed data police are volunteering critiques of such personal ferocity and relentless frequency that they resemble a denial-of-service attack that crashes a website by sheer volume of traffic.
Fiske goes on to call critics “bullies”, “destructo-critics” and, most notoriously, practioners of “methodological terrorism.” She says that these offenders “destroy lives” because they “attack the person, not just the work” and that “our colleagues at all career stages are leaving the field because of the sheer adversarial viciousness.”
Now, many people have responded to Fiske’s piece already (see Andrew Gelman, Sam Schwarzkopf, and many more.) Many people are unhappy at the use of language such as ‘terrorism’ to describe people who are just posting their thoughts about papers online.
However, I want to take a different tack.
Let’s suppose that Fiske is right and that some individuals, while pretending to be discussing science, are actually engaged in the targeted personal harassment of particular scientists. If that’s the case, what should we do?
In my view, we should name names (or pseudonyms!): we should hold the offenders accountable with reference to specific examples of their attacks. After all, these people (Fiske says) are vicious bullies who are behaving in seriously unethical ways. If so, they deserve to be exposed.
Yet Fiske doesn’t do this. She says, “I am not naming names because ad hominem smear tactics are already damaging our field.” But it’s not an ad hominem smear to point to a case of bullying or harassment and say ‘this is wrong’. On the contrary, that would be standing up for decency. If terrorists really are among us, we need to know who they are.
Another reason why I think Fiske (and anyone else in a similar position) should name names is that it helps to draw boundaries. Fiske acknowledges that not all bloggers are bad: “Not all self-appointed critics behave unethically.” So who are the ethical ones? It would help to know some examples of the ‘good’ critics because we could then know where Fiske draws the boundary seperating good criticism from bad. As it stands, Fiske’s denouncations can easily be read as aimed at the vast majority of those who debate science online.
In summary, I want to know who Fiske is calling a “destructo-critic” so I can judge the accuracy of the label. Am I one?
Retraction Watch reveals that a ‘contrarian’ paper on climate change has been withdrawn after it emerged that the authors submitted it under pseudonyms – in fact, their own names spelled backwards:
The withdrawn paper, about predicting surface temperatures of planets, appeared in Advances in Space Research in August, 2015, and is authored by ‘Den Volokin’ and ‘Lark ReLlez’… climate scientist Gavin Schmidt pointed out on Twitter that the authors’ names are eerily similar to another pair who have published climate papers together: Ned Nikolov and Karl Zeller.
Writing in PLoS Biology, neurobiologist Thomas C. Südhof discusses Truth in Science Publishing: A Personal Perspective. Südhof is a Professor in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Physiology at Stanford. A veteran scientist, he’s been publishing since 1982.
So what’s the state of science publishing as Südhof sees it?
To what extent does brain structure correlate with different psychological traits? An interesting new paper from Massachusetts General Hospital researchers Mert R. Sabuncu and colleagues uses a new method to examine what the authors call the ‘morphometricity’ of various behaviours and mental disorders.
A paper just published in Science has given rise to some astonishing headlines:
But is the media’s excitement justified, or are they barking up the wrong tree?
OMICS International is a large open access (OA) academic publishing group. Founded in 2007, OMICS has since grown rapidly and now boasts of having over 700 journals with over 50,000 editorial board members. However, the rise of OMICS has not been welcomed by everyone; the company has been branded a ‘predatory publisher‘, accused of spamming academics, and of organizing poor quality ‘academic conferences’.
Given this background, it was not so surprising when we learned, last week, that the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has decided to sue OMICS. The FTC say that OMICS “regularly deceive consumers”; for instance, while the company “claim that their journals follow rigorous peer-review practices”, in fact, “Many articles are published with little to no peer review”.
But how bad are the standards at OMICS, really? In this post, I will reveal that OMICS published a paper containing extensive plagiarism – a paper co-authored by none other than the publisher’s founder, CEO and Managing Director, Dr Srinubabu Gedela. Furthermore, I can reveal that I reported the problems with this article to OMICS repeatedly, but they did nothing.
The paper is called Rational Therapeutics of Cardiology in Elderly and it appeared in 2011 in the OMICS Journal of Clinical & Experimental Cardiology. It was authored by Swati Srabani Nayak, Sridevi Kadali, and Srinubabu Gedela.
Numerous passages from this article appear to have been copied verbatim from previous sources. According to Turnitin plagiarism detection software, the Nayak et al. paper shows 67% textual similarity overall:
The single biggest source (source #1, shown in red above) is Wikipedia. Take, for example, this paragraph from the paper:
Therapy (in Greek: Oepatteia), or treatment is the attempted remediation of a health problem usually following a diagnosis. In the medical field it is synonymous with the word “treatment”. Preventive therapy or prophylactic therapy is a treatment that is intended to prevent a medical condition from occurring. For example, many vaccines prevent infectious diseases. An abortive therapy is a treatment that is intended to stop a medical condition from progressing any further. A medication taken at the earliest signs of a disease, such as at the very symptoms of a migraine headache, is an abortive therapy. A supportive therapy is one that does not treat or improve the underlying condition, but instead increases the patient’s comfort. Supportive treatment may be used in palliative care.
Compare this to the Wikipedia entry for “therapy” from July 21st 2011, i.e. from before the OMICS paper was submitted:
Therapy (in Greek: θεραπεία), or treatment, is the attempted remediation of a health problem, usually following a diagnosis. In the medical field, it is synonymous with the word “treatment”. Among psychologists, the term may refer specifically to psychotherapy or “talk therapy”. Preventive therapy or prophylactic therapy is a treatment that is intended to prevent a medical condition from occurring. For example, many vaccines prevent infectious diseases. An abortive therapy is a treatment that is intended to stop a medical condition from progressing any further. A medication taken at the earliest signs of a disease, such as at the very symptoms of a migraine headache, is an abortive therapy. A supportive therapy is one that does not treat or improve the underlying condition, but instead increases the patient’s comfort. Supportive treatment may be used in palliative care.
Wikipedia isn’t cited anywhere in the paper. Note also that Nayak et al. have left a copy-paste “smoking gun” when they wrote that “therapy” comes from the Greek word “Oepatteia”, which is nonsense. This can only be a corruption of the Wikipedia page, which correctly gives the word’s origin as θεραπεία (“therapeia”). Nayak et al. must have copied the Greek and assumed that the Greek letters could simply be rewritten as Latin ones. In fact θ is not Greek for “o”, it’s Greek for “th”, and so on.
I reported this paper to OMICS twice, first on January 27th and again on April 29th this year (I emailed firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com, contact addresses given here and here). I included a copy of the Turnitin report. I never received any reply, and the paper is still available.
So does OMICS have an “open door” policy for plagiarism? Or is copy-pasting only tolerated when it comes to articles written by their CEO? Either way, I don’t think this reflects very well on the publisher, or the idea that they practice rigorous peer-review.
Link: this isn’t the first time Gedela has been accused of plagiarism.
A new paper in Brain tells the story of attempts to turn brain waves into music. The authors are Bart Lutters and Peter J. Koehler: Brainwaves in concert: the 20th century sonification of the electroencephalogram