In the news: August 2018 Digest


In a brief letter to the editor of Nature, the authors make simple suggestions to try to limit the presence of “zombie citations” in the literature. A zombie citation is one that references a retracted paper, one which may have significant errors or some fatal flaw detected after publication. These authors suggest that citing papers through 3rd paper platforms such as Google Scholar, Sci-Hub and ResearchGate is one of the reasons these zombie citations are populating the literature. The authors urge editors and publishers to display retractions more prominently on their website and post alerts with the article names. They also recommend using an automated cross-check of references against the Retraction Watch database. Many journals do a plagiarism check already—this seems like a reasonable additional step.

How much editorial misconduct goes unreported?
A COPE case of an editor requiring that an author add citations to a paper is the “hook” for this article’s discussion of citation coercion. A survey of one group of authors in Science showed that 1/5 respondents were coerced into adding citations and findings were similar in a study of PLOS ONE authors. The specter of citation cartels among participating journals—you scratch my back, I’ll cite your paper. The author of this post suggests that an automated algorithm, similar to what is used by the US Securities and Exchange Commission to detect insider trading could be used to detect rapid rises in citation performance in order to determine how wide spread this practice is.
In July, there was a robust discussion on the WAME forum about citation cartels as well.

What really drives academic citations?
The Neuroskeptic discusses a paper by Erikson and Erlandson in the social Studies of Science who describe 4 drivers for academics to cite prior work. The first—Argumentation is the traditional reason—citations help to support an argument that the author is makings. Authors will cite papers as part of a review or meta analysis, in which case the citation is actually part of the Data for the paper being written. These are proper. However, the two other reasons for citations are somewhat more controversial. The first is Social Alignment which allow the author to appear “mainstream or avant-garde”. These citations allow the author, in my words, to be either in or purposefully outside the “club”. The last reason—which Erikson and Erlandson dub “Mercantile Alignment” is less savory—an author may cite another in hopes that editors will be happy (perhaps boosting a journal’s impact factor), that other authors will be happy (its good for the h-factor) and they may be repaid in kind or that it may just be a pat on the back to a friend or colleague. Neuroskeptic wonders as well about whether search engine optimization may also play a role—one may cite the first or first ten papers that show up on a search. In any case, which papers are cited by an author may have a complex set of reasons and is worth considering.

Open science

Open science is all very well but how do you make it FAIR in practice?
It's not FAIR yet! Findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable. The principle of FAIRness undergirds open science and relate to both the findings and the data. A recent workshop examined the terrain in the UK of how well these principles have been adopted. Key findings include that it is uneven across disciplines and stakeholders; that there is a lack of tools to make this seamless and that the benefits of FAIR will not be attained until it is practiced across the board.

Research integrity

British universities fail at research integrity self-regulation
A report released July 11, 2018 noted that ¼ of UK Universities does not comply with the concordat to support research integrity released in 2012. This concordat tied loss of funding from agencies to transparent and robust management of research misconduct investigations. In response to this finding, the Parliament’s Science and Technology Committee suggested establishment of a national Research Integrity Committee.

Predatory journals

German scientists frequently publish in predatory journals
Report by several German organizations that > 5,000 German scientists have published their work in > =1 predatory journal. Scientists may have been tricked or may have purposefully chosen these platforms. Anja Karliczek, Germany’s Federal Minister of Education and Research called for an investigation into scientific publishing practices: In the interest of science itself. Everything must be done to ensure that ‘the credibility and the great trust in science do not suffer’.

Inside India’s fake research paper shops: pay, publish, profit
Investigative reporting by the Indian Express as part of a global project including reporters from Germany, the US and France, contacted publishers of many publishing organizations of India through the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. They report the number of journals that the different publishing organizations publish, the range of charges for publication, and the general topics covered. They also have some quotes from leadership of these organizations—apparently uniformly denying any wrong doing.  OMICS, pending action by the US Federal Trade Commission, has 785 journals, charging between USD $ 149-1819 article publishing charge.


The preprint dilemma: good for science, bad for the public? A discussion paper for the scientific community
Preprints may have unintended consequences by accelerating the release to the public of research outcomes without the benefit of an embargo. Embargoes allow journalists time to interview authors and study their work before having to finalize a report to the public of potentially important clinical and other types of scientific work. Publication to the lay press prior to a final version of a paper that was preprint published may serve as a damper for others to publish information about a paper in the peer review literature—perhaps robbing the public of information about important clinical information. Authors could use this to their own advantage, by alerting journalists to their preprinted article, prior to peer preview, to claim first to publish on a topic. The Science Media Centre article suggests several alternative steps to consider. Primarily, however, they advocate for the best introduction of information into the public domain.

Preprints could promote confusion and distortion. 
The author is a journalist who raises similar concerns as that in the Science Media Centre. He urges researchers, journalists and preprint server administrators to be aware of the risks of preprinted articles garnering unfounded media attention or the converse, important articles being neglected. Now is the time to get everyone concerned talking about these problems.

Academic press

Taking back control: the new university and academic presses are re-envisioning scholarly publishing

The authors comment on opening of establishment of several UK academic presses and suggest ways of supporting these efforts
1. Support community building and knowledge exchange predicated on tenet that these presses intend to collaborate
2. Library integration as an urgent effort
3. Use of open-source software and platforms
4. Extend to the rest of Europe
5. Funders and government agency supports

Conflicts of interest

Hidden conflicts? Pharma payments to FDA advisers after drug approvals spark ethical concerns
Post-hoc competing interests? The US Food and Drug Administration vets advisory committees whose job it is to make recommendations to the FDA about drug approvals in order to avoid conflicts of interests in the process. New block buster drugs make billions of dollars for the company and its investors after all. This post however describes how one company, after drug approval, paid one member of the advisory committee $200,000 in honoraria, accommodations and consulting fees, along with millions of dollars in research support. In this reader’s perspective, unless there are pre-decision agreements to make these payments and any research or promotional activities by the researcher declares these payments, this is probably not a terrible thing. But those are big “unlesses”.

Capitalism is ruining science
The author reviews a paper by Edwards and Roy “Academic Research in the 21st Century: Maintaining scientific integrity in a climate of perverse incentives and hyper-competition”. This paints a gloomy picture of the academic’s need to publish and chase grants in order to be hired and continue in academia. The authors offer some suggestions to decrease quantitative (rather than qualitative) metrics on research output and prevention of misconduct, but at the end of the day conclude that nothing will really change until universities are no longer dominated by capitalism.


In Nigeria, a battle against academic plagiarism heats up
A researcher in Nigeria, Emmanual Unuabonah, observed a case of plagiarism in a Nigerian-based journal and felt that it was a poor reflection on the state of Nigerian science. He became a leader in a movement to combat academic plagiarism in his country—a problem considered by many to be quite significant. The biggest source of these problems seems to be a lack of awareness in the research community about plagiarism. The group Unuabonah participates in to combat this problem—which they note is not just a Nigerian problem—is to educate the community about it, in order to prevent it, but also to punish wrongdoers. 

COPE Council members Nancy C Chescheir and Deborah Kahn 

Read August 2018 Digest: Citation Manipulation