The pitfalls of complaining about those in power: the Committee on Publication Ethics’ handling of an authorship dispute unsatisfactorily resolved by a university

whos on first

Who’s on first?

We shouldn’t expect any other outcome when a former PhD student complains to COPE. Note how the university stacked the deck in defining rules for how these disputes are resolved.

cope screenshot authorship dispute

My summary

Like a lot of these  authorship disputes, details of the official record do not reveal much. But…

COPE deftly passed responsibility for settling an issue of contested authorship back to the journal. No surprise, the journal passed responsibility back to the university, which predictably supported professors over a student.

This case history reaffirmed my expectations of COPE and of universities forced to judge between faculty and a former PhD student. But there is some interesting rules revealed in the telling.

Someone outside of academia might think, “For Pete’s sake, give the student the first authorship. What’s the big deal?” They don’t understand the logic of these kinds of situations.

Early career persons low in power risk compounding their mistreatment when formally complaining about abuse, unless they have the assistance of others in their immediate environment with more power.

Appropriation and denial of authorship often take advantage of prevailing norms in an environment favoring the more powerful over the weaker.

Early career persons challenging what they perceive are injustices may get more blowback than they expect because they are threatening some practices lots of people are doing and accepting without protest.

Caught in an authorship dispute, early career persons may have a sense of injustice. They may be motivated to complain and to rectify the situation and endure whatever cost that involves. But they should not miscalculate and have the expectation that the environment, both local and COPE, will respond with a shared sense of injustice.

What we know

A PhD student lost control of her project when she failed to complete her PhD.

The PhD student complained about not getting a first authorship resulting paper.

The corresponding author, presumably the PhD student’s advisor, declared that the PhD student at not contributed to the experiments and neither the writing nor the analyses reported in the paper were performed by the PhD student.

The University backed up the corresponding author by asserting that universities own the data generated by state funded projects. Furthermore, authorship by PhD students requires that they complete their PhD within the allotted time.

The Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) called the decision by the University “punitive” and suggested that the journal contact the University and requested a re-investigation and a resolution.

Not surprisingly, the University sided with the corresponding author.

Things to be noted

We don’t know what led up to the PhD student not completing with the allotted time, something that the corresponding author could have influenced.

Journals increasingly require that authorship be based on documented contributions to a paper, but advisers and other faculty members can control students’ ability to make such contributions, even when the research is their own. Faculty can deny access to these activities in ways that undercut any claims of authorship, even for the student’s own project.

So, faculty members can take a student’s work, write up the research without giving the student the opportunity to participate. The faculty can then use the student’s lack of contribution to the writing as a justification for diminished rights to authorship.

I’m not surprised that a complaint to COPE proved ineffective. The committee simply advises journals, and cannot dictate what is done. I’ve seen COPE be quite passive in the face of editors abusing authors. COPE tends to pass issues back to journals, which then passed it back to institutions. The results can usually be predicted.

A case history

Authorship dispute unsatisfactorily resolved by institution [emphasis added]

The journal was contacted with a claim to first authorship of a paper currently published online ahead of print. Print publication was put on hold pending the result of the investigation. The claim to first authorship was based on the claimant stating that they had obtained most results published in the paper during their PhD studies under the supervision of the corresponding author, and contributed to the writing of the text. The claimant provided evidence of this in the form of screenshots of a submission confirmation email and subsequent rejection email from another journal for a manuscript with a similar title, a Word document labelled as the claimant’s PhD thesis and details of overlap with the published paper, and a screenshot of an email reported to have been sent by the claimant to the corresponding author in 2013 containing images used in the published paper.

The corresponding author was contacted and declared on behalf of all authors that the claimant had not contributed to the experiments or writing, and that none of the results shown in the article were performed by the claimant. They explained that the claimant was discharged from the PhD programme before successful completion. The claimant indicated that they wished to dispute this, and the institution was asked to investigate and resolve the dispute.

The institution informed the journal that the knowledge generated during state funded projects was the property of the institution, and only the institution has the ability to agree a copyright transfer in agreement with the corresponding author, and that the corresponding author had full legal and institutional support to determine the author list of papers resulting from the project. They stated that a graduate student may or may not be included as an author on papers deriving from projects to which they have contributed, and according to institutional guidelines, in order to be included as an author, a student must successfully complete their studies within a defined timeframe. The decision to remove the claimant as a co-author was confirmed to have been made because they were dismissed from the graduate programme before successful completion.


The Forum noted it seems punitive on the part of the university regarding their decision to exclude the student from being an author because they did not complete their studies within a defined timeframe. If the student was in the middle of their training and had submitted a paper, would the institution have handled the case differently? Was the claimant’s role acknowledged in the published article? If not, might the claimant and authors agree to a correction to publish an acknowledgment?

Otherwise, a suggestion was to contact a higher authority at the institution—perhaps a committee on research integrity at the institution— or an oversight body and ask them to investigate and try to resolve the authorship issue. The Forum noted that it is up to the journal to set their own guidelines for authorship, and to clearly state that they follow the ICMJE and COPE guidelines, for example. The journal guidelines should take precedence.


Following advice from the COPE Forum, the journal approached the highest authority within the university to specifically confirm that the authorship of the paper was determined according to the criteria set by ICMJE/COPE, which they did. No further action was taken. The editor considers the case closed.


Case Closed


This could have gone differently.

For whatever reason, a student left the PhD program, presumably after investing a lot of time and effort. In some American programs, the student would be granted a terminal masters degree. As a faculty member, I would probably be inclined to help the student to write up a research paper so they had something to show for their time in the program. My decision would be a matter of charity, not a sense of what the student was owed.

I strongly suspect this case occurred in a European program. The evidence is that the student had a set time to complete the PhD. In the United States, that time period is often more flexible. I doubt there would be a rule in the United States the PhD student whose claims on the work it was not completed in an allotted time. Also, the student apparently was expected to publish their papers during their PhD, rather than waiting until the degree was awarded.

In the United States, PhD students are considered students.  any payment of their tuition or other expenses is considered a scholarship or fellowship. Students are seeing a working on the career. In contrast, in Europe, being a PhD student is a paid hourly position. A student receives health insurance contribution to the retirement fund. Yet, because they are being paid for their work, the workplace (university) retains control of their work.

Why, if you were a cook in a restaurant, you would not expect to take home the last meal you had been preparing, if you were discharged.


Rising early career female academics and second-to-last authorship

Anyone wanna talk gender now?

Are female early career academics getting less credit for work done on behalf of (usually male) faculty who get unearned senior authorships?

My posting of a link to a PLOS One article on gender differences in academic productivity at the wonderful Reviewer 2 Must Be Stopped Facebook page drew some interesting comments. I encourage more commenting at the Facebook pages and at this blog as well.

vicious cycle journal.pone.0183301.g007

My post

Always good when data enter into discussions of whether there are gender differences in productivity and impact and, if so, why? Here are some big data….

I have noticed in the Netherlands a tendency for early career women to be next-to-last author with senior (usually male) faculty last. Knowing the circumstances of this authorship order, I think this is due to rising women taking over responsibility for more day to day supervision of PhD students, but the head of the lab keeping last authorship. Some in the NL accord more prestige or credit to next to last author, but it does necessarily get appreciated elsewhere. Does anyone else notice such practices in the NL or elsewhere?

A comment from a female Australian vision scientist

Yes, been there with next-to-last authorship. I had to fight for last authorship on a PhD student paper for which I did ALL the supervision work.

A comment from a female academic in engineering

I feel there is a huge flaw with assigning such importance to the last authorship position aspect, as I am aware that it is different between disciplines even within a country (in this case Sweden, which happens to be highly relevant). Similarly to what Kyle and others have brought up, in my field the fight is for the first positions and second positions (to escape the oblivion of “et al.,”) while the last position is reserved for the person who probably has most cred already but did the absolute least (this is debatable, because some regard getting money for the project as a full justification for being included as an author even if you do f*-all on the actual paper, while others don’t – at any rate, such aspects should have been defined explicitly in the assumption of who is “productive”, and I sure couldn’t see that in the Methods section). When I was up for tenure it was my first authorships that were counted.

And at the same time I am aware that the medical sciences (where my father does research) regards the last few authorship positions very highly. Even within engineering I am skeptical that we all reason the same regarding author position, since some disciplines (e.g. bioengineering/pharma) may collaborate with medical researchers who adhere to their ideal order…

So in the end, it bothers me VERY much that someone would want to “make science” out of making an incorrect blanket assumption about authorship order when it may vary across disciplines. Especially when I as a young female researcher have used the last position of a paper to send a message to a higher-up coauthor that “we all know you didn’t help at all.” That in particular really bothers me that it could be interpreted as being the most productive/meaningful scientist in the bunch. Anyone wanna talk gender now?

A PhD comic suggested by one commentator

phd comics authorship

The open access article to which I posted a link is interesting in itself and worth a look.

van den Besselaar P, Sandström U. Vicious circles of gender bias, lower positions, and lower performance: Gender differences in scholarly productivity and impact. PLOS One. 2017 Aug 25;12(8):e0183301.

An excerpt from the abstract:

“As the analysis shows, in order to have impact quantity does make a difference for male and female researchers alike—but women are vastly underrepresented in the group of most productive researchers. We discuss and test several possible explanations of this finding, using a data on personal characteristics from several Swedish universities. Gender differences in age, authorship position, and academic rank do explain quite a part of the productivity differences.”

Some key quotes from the article itself:

Several possible explanations of the gender differences in productivity have been suggested. (i) Female researchers are on average substantially younger than male researchers (see Fig 1), and the high productive researchers are to be found in the more senior (higher age) groups [5; 6]. If this would be the only factor, one would expect that the observed productivity differences would further decline (in line with the Xie & Schauman study [9]) and disappear over time. But also other structural and/or behavioral factors may underlie gender productivity differences, hampering female academic careers [7; 15] and leading to a waste of talent. (ii) Women are rather strongly overrepresented in the lower academic positions, and in positions with a temporary contract (Fig 2), positions which are generally characterized by a higher teaching load, less access to funding, less career perspectives, and less opportunities for research [16; 17; 18; 19]. Indeed, there is a positive relation between job level and productivity. This situation is less prone to gradual change, as it may be the effect of gender bias and of a sustained existence of the glass ceiling in academic institutions [15]

iii) Women may have less access to research funding, whereas winning prestigious research grants is characterized by gender biased in favor of men, and above that very influential for the grant winners’ career [15; 14]. (iv) Female researchers have a lower status within teams and collaboration networks, and get less opportunities to become an independent researcher. This is reflected in different author positions on papers. Women more often get the less prestigious positions: the last author (= team leader) is more often a male researcher, whereas female researchers more often occupy ‘in between’ author positions. This may result in a slower career of female researchers compared to the career of male researchers [8; 13]. More directly, Van den Besselaar & Sandström showed that men progress faster through the various academic ranks [22]. (v) Productivity relates to the organizational environment where a researcher works [23], and if female researchers have more problems in being hired in top environments [24], this is expected to affect productivity differences between men and women.

In fact, gender differences may be the effect of a combination of these five factors….

From the integrated results and discussion:

What about the gender differences? In Biology, Life & Medical sciences and in Science and Engineering, women in the higher productivity classes outperform the male researchers, as they have on average a higher number of CSS3 papers: the dotted curves (representing female researchers) for these fields are above the straight curves (representing male researchers). Also in Psychology & Education we see such trend, although in the highest productivity class the scores are equal. In Agriculture and Food Sciences, and in the Social Sciences, the pattern is opposite. As already said, in the Humanities and in Computer Science & Mathematics the pattern is somewhat fuzzy, but in the latter field there are no female researchers in the highest productivity class to compare with male counterparts.

From the Conclusion:

The first question we aim to answer is whether the positive relation between productivity and impact differs between male and female researchers. We showed that this is not the case, and the relation between productivity and the number of high impact papers is about the same for men and women within the distinguished productivity classes. On average, female researchers have a at least similar impact as equally productive male researchers. In fact, we found cases where the ratio between top cited papers and productivity is considerable higher for women than for men. More specifically, the disciplinary demography seems to produce this effect: the lower the share of women in a discipline, the higher their impact compared to male researchers within the same productivity class. This may refer to gendered selection and/or to gendered self-selection.

Secondly, we found that the higher productivity classes are numerically dominated by male researchers. This leads to a lower overall productivity for female researchers, which is also in our sample about 70% of male productivity. This ratio seems to be stable over time. We should however be careful with averages in Lotka distributed data, although nonparametric tests (Mann-Whitney) show that women are outperformed by male researchers is we do not take other factors into consideration.

Thirdly, we investigated whether other variables influence productivity, and therefore explain part of the gendered productivity differences. We indeed found that a variety of factors have an effect on performance, and controlling for those reduced the effect of gender on performance considerable. So, a good part of the productivity differences are due to the fact that men are older and in higher positions, and that those in higher positions are more productive. Female researchers also occupy less last author positions than men do, and this factor also has a negative effect on female productivity. That women more often are in the middle author positions than men, reflects that women have on average lower positions, and that they are less often (conceived as) leader of a team or a collaboration network. This finding reflects that male researchers show a faster career than their female counterparts.



“1 in 2 cancer patients significantly distressed”? Fake news from Psycho-Oncology

Study in Wiley journal Psycho-Oncology generates fake facts to promote cancer as a mental health problem and portray cancer patients in need of mandatory screening for distress.

The  exaggerated rates of significant distress stem from poor measurement and biased opportunistic sampling.

Results of this large study will not generalize to other samples using the same measures.

Publication of this study in the official journal of  the International Psycho-Onocology Society (IPOS)  reflects the organization’s  explicit political and professional goals-

  • to promote distress as the  6th vital sign.
  • to mandate screening for distress in all medical settings offering cancer care.

A systematic review has shown Screening for distress has not been shown to improve patient outcomes

Imposing mandated routine screening in well functioning cancer care settings may disrupt the delivery of informal support integrated to that care, curtail care to patients with more intensive needs, and increase inappropriate prescription of psychotropic drugs.

edited distress thermometerMuch better studies with validated instruments replicate that  1/3 of cancer patients in waiting rooms are distressed, approximately the same as rates in primary care waiting rooms. For instance, our study of breast cancer patients.

Authors of this study are not early career investigators needing a publication, but senior leaders of the field in Germany with funding and a registered study protocol.

The study

Mehnert A, Hartung TJ, Friedrich M, Vehling S, Brähler E, Härter M, Keller M, Schulz H, Wegscheider K, Weis J, Koch U. One in two cancer patients is significantly distressed: prevalence and indicators of distress. Psycho‐Oncology. 2017 May 31.


Objective: Psychological distress is common in cancer patients, and awareness of its indicators is essential. We aimed to assess the prevalence of psychological distress and to identify problems indicative of high distress.

Methods: We used the distress thermometer (DT) and its 34‐item problem list to measure psychological distress in 3724 cancer patients (mean age 58 years; 57% women) across major tumor entities, enrolled in an epidemiological multicenter study. To identify distress‐related problems, we conducted monothetic analyses.

Results: We found high levels of psychological distress (DT ≥ 5) in 52% of patients. The most prevalent problems were fatigue (56%), sleep problems (51%), and problems getting around (47%). Sadness, fatigue, and sleep problems were most strongly associated with the presence of other problems. High distress was present in 81.4% of patients reporting all 3 of these problems (DT M = 6.4). When analyzing only the subset of physical problems, fatigue, problems, getting around, and indigestion showed the strongest association with the remaining problems and 76.3% of patients with all 3 problems were highly distressed (DT M = 6.1).

Conclusions: Our results show a high prevalence of psychological distress in cancer patients, as well as a set of problems that indicate the likely presence of other problems and high distress and can help clinicians identify distressed patients even if no routine distress screening is available.

The measure of distress was crude and nonspecific, but using it is consistent with political push of International Psycho-Onocology Society to mandate screening  for distress in all cancer care settings with a distress thermometer.

The screening contains a single‐item visual analogue scale ranging from 0 (“no distress”) to 10 (“extreme distress”) to quantify the global level of distress experienced in the past week including the current day and a standardized problem checklist containing 34 potential causes of distress (yes/no questions) that are grouped into 5 categories including physical problems (20 items), practical (5), family (2), emotional problems (5), and spiritual/religious concerns (2). The questionnaire gives the following instructions: “First: Please circle the number (0‐10) that best describes how much distress you have been experiencing during the past week, including today. Second: Please indicate if any of the following has been a cause of distress in the past week, including today.” A score of ≥5 at the visual analogue scale is recommended as a cutoff for a clinically significant level of distress.


The…standardized problem checklist containing 34 potential causes of distress (yes/no questions) that are grouped into 5 categories including physical problems (20 items), practical (5), family (2), emotional problems (5), and spiritual/religious concerns (2). The questionnaire gives the following instructions: “First: Please circle the number (0‐10) that best describes how much distress you have been experiencing during the past week, including today. Second: Please indicate if any of the following has been a cause of distress in the past week, including today.” A score of ≥5 at the visual analogue scale is recommended as a cutoff for a clinically significant level of distress.

top 10 concerns distress

The problem checklist is not a research-friendly  instrument, it is a psychometric disaster. I could go on for the rest of the post explaining why, but here are some problems. It does not inquire about whether problems are present, only if they are the source of distress. There is no good way to obtain a meaningful, generalizable score because that would involve some assumptions of the relative equivalency. Early versions of this kind of measure had many more items, but produced anomalies. Like transportation and parking being the most frequent problems and, importantly financial problems. These were simply eliminated, likely because they don’t require mental health intervention, But these are the things that matter. In the Netherlands, we modified the recommendations of IPOS and asked if patients wanted help from the cancer center in addressing these problems. Most patients did not, either because they were getting help elsewhere, thought the cancer center was not the appropriate place to get help, or, mainly, thought they could handle the problems themselves.

Low and biased recruitment. The bias in which patients were recruited vs declined exceeded associations of distress with other key variables.

Out of 5889 eligible cancer patients, 4020 participated in the study, leading to a final sample of 3724 patients with complete data on psychological distress. Most frequent reasons for nonparticipation were “not interested” (n = 993, 55% of nonparticipants) and “too burdensome” (n = 588, 33%). As reported previously,32 nonresponder analyses revealed that study participants were younger (P < .001), more educated (P < .001), and more likely to be recruited from a cancer rehabilitation center (P < .001) than nonparticipants.

Not surprisingly, many patients did not want to be bothered with completing questionnaires with no clear benefit. Chrissake, these people are there to be treated for a life-altering and often life-threatening condition, cancer. Researchers should leave them alone  unless what they require of the patients clearly contributes to the patients’ well-being or could conceivably contribute to the welfare of other patients.

We found that 52% of the total sample reported clinically significant levels of psychosocial distress (≥5 on the visual analogue scale). Our one‐way ANOVA revealed that the levels of distress varied significantly for sociodemographic and medical groups. The highest levels of distress were found in women, patients who were 60 or older, unemployed, had cancers of the female genital organs or pancreatic cancer, or were in advanced stages of the disease (Table 1). Time since current diagnosis was minimally yet significantly correlated with distress (r = 0.06, P < .01).

Distinctly mental issues are not the most commonly endorsed.

The most prevalent problems were fatigue (56%), sleep problems (51%), and problems getting around (47%; Table 2). On average, patients had 8 (SD = 5.6) problems (range 0‐29). Women endorsed 26 of the 36 physical and psychosocial problems significantly more frequently than men did. Men, on the other hand, more frequently reported sexual problems as well as changes in urination (P < .05).

We found no significant difference in the number of problems among inpatient care, outpatient care, and rehabilitative settings (P = .88). The total number of problems was significantly associated with higher distress (r = 0.56; P < .001).

Cluster analysis of the problem checklist is somewhere between meaningless and misleading:

Table 3 shows the results of a cluster analysis using all 34 DT items covering practical, emotional, physical, family, and spiritual problems. We identified 2 physical problems (sleep problems and fatigue) and 1 emotional problem (sadness) as most strongly associated with psychological distress on the visual analogue scale.

Inconsistency with past studies is acknowledged but the authors ignore the bulk of the literature.

Our results suggest a lower prevalence of distress than Meggiolaro and colleagues (60%)16 but a higher prevalence than Kendall and colleagues (33%),38 using the same instrument (DT) in similar populations. Discrepancies in distress could be caused by different sample compositions in sex, age, included cancer types, and treatment stages. In particular, our study used a random epidemiological sample, while some other studies may have used a self‐selection of patients seeking psychosocial support. We also found higher levels of distress compared with an early study by Zabora and colleagues,1 who found high distress in 35% of the patients, using the Brief Symptom Inventory. However, prevalence estimates derived from different instruments are difficult to compare .

I’ll buy that.

Our sample was slightly biased toward younger age, higher school education, and rehabilitation setting.32 In addition, the MONA we used to identify problems that best represent the remaining problems is a relatively fresh approach to the analysis of symptom clusters related to distress in cancer patients. Because our analysis does not guarantee that the problems identified represent the most distressing symptoms in general but is limited to the pool of problems from which they were chosen, we also aim to pursue further studies on this highly relevant subject to compare and replicate our results by using broader sets of potential indicators. In addition, the cross‐sectional design did not permit inferences on causality. The age‐limited inclusion criteria do not allow generalization to very young or old cancer patients.

Oh gawd, more research to follow, of limited scientific value, but politically useful.

surely you jestClinical implications and conclusions (?)

Our results provide crucial insights for health‐care professionals regarding the large number of patients facing a high psychosocial and physical symptom burden. In the spirit of personalized medicine,

indicators of distress and therefore need of psychosocial support should be taken into account during routine inpatient and outpatient cancer care. We therefore identified the core problems that can indicate high distress and are easy and quick to assess. We hope that this represents a significant step toward better detection and treatment of psychosocial comorbidity in cancer patients.

This article is indicative of what you find in Psycho-Oncology, except that it is a large and adequately powered study. Much of what is published in that journal are either underpowered intervention studies published with a strong confirmatory bias or studies correlating self-report questionnaires administered to convenience samples of cancer patients with low recruitment rates. The journal is not a place to which I would turn for cutting edge, top quality research.

I have never been a member of the Psycho-Oncology editorial board, but for a while reviewed numerous articles and attempted to contribute to raising the standards for what is published there. I found that I was typically given manuscripts from big name authors that the  editors did not want to publish but sought an authoritative negative review to justify their decision. Some really bad papers came my way and I explained why they were bad. But some papers I liked and said so. I never got any editorial decisions or feedback, and some manuscripts that I thought were good simply disappeared.

I was incensed that one paper that I did not review was published with an acknowledgment for my help. The authors had rejected my suggestions and did not ask my permission to name me.  Ioana Cristea and I wrote a critique that was accepted, but then the authors objected and it was not published. You can find an account of this at Shhh! Keeping quiet about the sad state of couples interventions for cancer patients research .

Key papers are published in Psycho-Oncology without peer review, but with no notification of readers.

For a while I went to IPOS meetings. I seemed to be one of the very few outspoken critics of the organizations’ dogma, at least one of the few senior people willing to disagree with it sober and in public. Then the conference came to Rotterdam. Local organizing committees for IPOS typically get to chose a few speakers, but most slots are left to the international committee and their slots go to themselves or their cronies. The Dutch committee wanted me to debate Alex Mitchell on the merits of screening for distress. Members of the international board objected. When they failed to prevail, they tried to limit my transportation reimbursement to a round trip train ticket. I live in Philadelphia.

The debate nonetheless occurred and was lively and well-attended. The President of IPOS, who was not a speaker, interrupted so many times that I had to ask for equal time.

Acta Oncologica offered both Alex and myself $500 each for invited papers based on the debate. Alex’s paper was published with little revision, even though it greatly exceeded the page and reference limitations. Mine was given a “revise and resubmit” by a reviewer who asserted that he was biased because he had just accepted Alex’s paper with minimal revision. For me, however, he insisted on a change in tone and a downplaying of the evidence I was presenting because it conflicted with practice guidelines set by IPOS. I announced my paper was being held hostage,  and so it remains captive, well fed, but getting old.

A version of my slides was placed on Slideshare.

I got numerous invitations to re-represent the talk from senior people who were present and were offended at my treatment. I gave the talk lots of places, including St. Andrews, Hong Kong, and Melbourne. One version of my slides is here. Together with the version from IPOS, there have bee 6,000 views.

The IPOS Early Career Investigator group invited me to give a talk to them, expecting it would be closed. The IPOS President showed up and began interrupting. One of the ECRs nervously told him to be quiet, because it was my talk and he was not invited. I turned the talk into one of my most popular blog posts at PLOS Mind the Brain Junior researchers face a choice: a high or low road to success?

Slides are available here and have received thousands of hits.


I don’t go to IPOS anymore and don’t get asked to review for Psycho-Oncology. The same editors continue their extraordinary long terms as editors. I hear from insiders that their position pays wella s a result of an unusual agreement with Wiley. I heard that two years ago in DC, at the opening ceremony for IPOS, participants had to sing over and over the same few lines shown in the slide. Try to imagine the tune or try to dance to it. I heard complaints that they did not get a second free drink and that they had a miserable time, but the band played on.

psycho-oncology song

A warning about searching on Google for Google Scholar Journal Reports

Where is Jeffrey Beall when we so desperately need him?

I saw a tip in an article that Google Scholar provided Journal Reports that would be useful in evaluating where to send a manuscript. So I undertook a Google search and the autofill suggested “google scholar journal citation reports” and so I accepted it. The top item was  inviting and sounded impressive:

journal-impact-factorsI I I was distracted by the prominence of this recommendation in the Google search and the large numbers from noticing that it was on top because it was being promoted [Green “Ad” box]. When I opened the link, things at first looked even more impressive:


But the numbers were again too big and the sweep of coverage too great not arouse suspicion.

So I clicked on the “Home” button. I  was led to an all-too-familiar site:


I recall that the recently disabled Bealls Predatory Open Access Publishers List had lots to say about this publisher. But that resource has seemed to vanished.

Fortunately, Wikipedia is uncharacteristically blunt about Omics International:

OMICS Publishing Group is a publisher of open access journals that is widely regarded as predatory.[2][3][4][5][6][7] It issued its first publication in 2008.[8] According to a 2012 article in The Chronicle of Higher Education about 60 percent of the group’s 200 journals had never actually published anything.[9]

Academics and the United States government have questioned the validity of peer review by OMICS journals, the appropriateness of author fees and marketing, and the apparent advertising of the names of scientists as journal editors or conference speakers without their knowledge or permission.[3][4][5][6][7] As a result, the U.S. National Institutes of Health does not accept OMICS publications for listing in PubMed Central and sent a cease-and-desist letter to OMICS in 2013, demanding that OMICS discontinue false claims of affiliation with U.S. government entities or employees.[6] OMICS has responded to criticisms by avowing a commitment to open access publishing, claiming that detractors are traditional subscription-based publishers who feel threatened by their open access publishing model,[10] and threatening a prominent critic with a US$1 billion suit.

bealls_listIf you click on the link for the “prominent critic “ on the Wikipedia page, it takes you to a 2013 Chronicle article.  You discover that the critic is none other than Jeffrey Beall.

The publisher, the OMICS Publishing Group, based in India, is also warning that Mr. Beall could be imprisoned for up to three years under India’s Information Technology Act, according to a letter from the group’s lawyer. Mr. Beall received the letter on Tuesday from IP Markets, an Indian firm that manages intellectual-property rights.

“I found the letter to be poorly written and personally threatening,” Mr. Beall said. “I think the letter is an attempt to detract from the enormity of OMICS’s editorial practices.” Mr. Beall believes he has documented all the statements he made about OMICS.

A serious threat? Commentators on the Chronicle article noted:

fullprof994 years ago

OK, any lawyers reading here, do you think a U.S. court really would enforce such a judgment entered in India? Somehow I doubt it, but I’d interested to know.

ceasar fullprof994 years ago

Just as U.S. courts can impose sanctions on foreign citizens for violating its own laws (there are numerous cases), a foreign court can impose sanctions on a U.S. citizen. Whether or not Mr. Beall stands trial India, a judgment against him ca be entered, and he will have to live with its consequences. Those consequences are not trivial.

Ken ceasar4 years ago

This is incorrect.  In the United States, the SPEECH Act protects citizens from foreign judgments premised on speech, unless the foreign country has protections for speech comparable to America’s.

ceasar Ken4 years ago

That may be the US law, but foreign courts are not bound US law, unless there are specific reciprocity treatises to protect each others citizens in such cases. The case here goes beyond free speech.

The thread goes on from there, but you get the flavor of it.

Could threats or actual legal action from OMICS explain the sudden vanishing of Beall’s List from the Internet?

Regardless, where is Jeffrey Beall when we so desperately need him?

The listing  I wanted was obtained with “google scholar journal list”

The long list gives only h-5 index and H-5 median, valuable for some purposes, but not mine.

A more useful link was Scholarly Research Impact Metrics. I recommend sticking with it.


To search for open access journals, there is the comprehensive and legitimate:



DOAJ is a community-curated online directory that indexes and provides access to high quality, open access, peer-reviewed journals.

I recommend this source, but I worry that in seeking it, naïve authors will stumble on the predatory OMIC site with its easily confused name. Seemingly impressive claims will entrap the naïve and inattentive who don’t keep probing.

ebook_mindfulness_345x550I will soon be offering e-books providing skeptical looks at mindfulness and positive psychology, as well as scientific writing courses on the web as I have been doing face-to-face for almost a decade.

Sign up at my new website to get advance notice of the forthcoming e-books and web courses, as well as upcoming blog posts at this and other blog sites.  Get advance notice of forthcoming e-books and web courses. Lots to see at


Saving oneself from the clutches of a predatory journal: A case study

how YOU doing?According to Wikipedia, predatory open access publishing is

An exploitative open-access publishing business model that involves charging publication fees to authors without providing the editorial and publishing services associated with legitimate journals (open access or not).

The Wikipedia article has generally useful and accurate information except that all predatory publishing is not open access, even if much of it is.

Recently, a number of us have received emails inviting submissions to supposedly paper journals published in bound volumes. When I checked out some of these offers, I found that these journals were not indexed in places where anyone would likely go when researching a particular topic, except sometimes Google Scholar. The journals charged steep publication costs but it wasn’t clear they had any subscribers. So, the gullible get the worst of two worlds: Article Processing Charges (APC) and publication of their paper in a pay-walled journal. If the article ever actually was published, it would reach few people. If someone somehow learned of it, they might not be able to obtain it, even If they went through a University library portal.

Predatory print journals are a whole new form of deceptive offers for quick “peer-reviewed” publication. Offers often come in the form of an email that mildly chastises the recipient for not having responded to a previous email, which might not even exist. That will be the subject of a future post. Be forewarned and check out the legitimacy of offers to publish a paper before responding.

bealls-listJeff Beall operates a regularly updated website listing predatory open access journals. But what he says here applies to predatory print journals as well:

“Many of the predatory publishers are in fact counterfeit publishers, and are very skilled at making themselves appear to be legitimate publishers,” said Beall. “Consequently, making a judgment about a publisher based only on a sample of its spam may not provide enough information to make a good decision.”

But for now, here is a guest post presenting a case history of someone who asked for advice after responding to a request for a predatory open access journal and then got billed. It’s an interesting tale, but also contains some valuable pointers for what you should do to avoid getting caught in such a situation.

The case study originally appeared in Editage Insights and is reproduced under the conditions of a Creative Commons License under which Editage Insights operates. I recommend their website for access to a rich set of free resources for early career investigators embarking on publishing.

The case study:

Case: An author received an email from a journal inviting him to submit an article, with a promise that it would be published within a month of submission. The author was tempted by the short publication time. Additionally, on checking the journal website, he found that the journal had a high impact factor. He decided to submit his article to this journal. Within two weeks of submission, the author received a letter of acceptance from the journal. However, the letter was not accompanied by reviewer comments. On inquiring about the reviewer comments, the journal gave an evasive reply, saying that the author would receive them later. The page proofs arrived soon after, along with an invoice from the journal charging him a high publication fee. The author was surprised as there was no fee mentioned on the journal website, nor in the email exchanges the author had with the journal. The author was upset and confused and approached Editage Insights for advice.

Action: We found the journal’s actions rather shady and checked their website. Although the homepage looked quite attractive, no detailed information about the editorial board or the decision making process was provided. Additionally, the articles that were available online seemed to be of poor quality. Incidentally, we also found this journal’s name in Jeffrey Beall’s list of predatory journals. We advised the author to immediately withdraw the paper from the journal as it seemed to be dubious.

However, when the author sent a withdrawal request, the journal refused, saying that they do not allow withdrawal after peer review. As per our advice, the author then replied that he had not received reviewer comments. When the author demanded to see the reviewer comments, the journal finally gave in and consented to the withdrawal. Finally, the author was free to submit the paper to another journal. We advised the author to be more careful in the future and check the credibility and reputation of any journal before submission.

Summary: Often, bogus or predatory journals obtain email addresses of researchers from web sources and send them email invitations to submit their articles. However, unless an author is able to verify the authenticity of these invitations, it is best to ignore them. Predatory journals lure people who are under a lot of pressure to publish with promises of quick publication. However, these journals do not have a proper quality control or peer review process and engage in a lot of deceptive practices. Publishing in such dubious journals can be damaging for a researcher’s career as it gives out an impression that the author either does not know the reputable journals in the field, or, worse, that the author is using the quick and easy route to get publications rather than putting in the effort required to get published in a high quality journal.

Jeffrey Beall, librarian at the University of Colorado Denver, has created lists of ‘Potential, possible or predatory’ open access journals and publishers in his blog “Scholarly Open Access.” Beall has also put together some Criteria for Determining Predatory Open-Access Publishers. Although this may not be a comprehensive authoritative source, it can be a good starting point to check journals that seem suspicious.

The Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) also has a document entitled “Principles of Transparency and Best Practice in Scholarly Publishing” that can help authors assess the credibility of a journal before they submit their articles.

Here are some criteria that authors should check to evaluate a journal prior to submission:

  • The publisher’s full contact information, including address, should be provided on the journal website.
  • The journal’s editorial board should consist of recognized experts with full affiliations.
  • The journal’s policy for author fees should be prominently displayed.
  • The journal’s peer-review process should be clearly described on the site.
  • The quality of articles published in the journal should be good.
  • The journal should be indexed in a prominent association such as the Directory of Open Access Journals (

Have you ever fallen prey to a predatory journal? If you have, please share your experience so that other researchers can be cautious and avoid falling into a similar trap.

You might also be interested in reading about a few simple steps that you can take to avoid falling prey to predatory journals.
This post Saving oneself from the clutches of a predatory journal: A case study was originally published on Editage Insights.

ebook_mindfulness_345x550I will soon be offering scientific writing courses on the web as I have been doing face-to-face for almost a decade. Sign up at my new website to get notified about these courses, as well as upcoming blog posts at this and other blog sites.  Get advance notice of forthcoming e-books and web courses. Lots to see at