Saturday, February 11, 2006

More fraud

One of my hobby horses is scientific fraud. 25 years ago I wrote an article entitled "Fake" which reviewed scientific fraud through the ages. As a result I am now the major source for the realisation that there is no more iron in spinach than in lettuce leaves. This was not a fraud but a simple mistake because somebody put the decimal point in the wrong place. I have retained my interest in it and today came across this reference from COPE, the committee on publication ethics.

Manipulation of a journal’s impact factor

An editor had been recently sacked from her/his job as an assistant editor with a medical research journal. The editor stated that “s/he believed that the reason for his/her dismissal was in large part motivated by disagreements with the editor in chief over several editorial policies at the journal.”

During the review process it was common practice for the editorial staff to ask authors to add references to the journal in their submitted articles.The editorial staff sometimes asked the authors to find “pertinent” references themselves and sometimes suggested references that should be added. The editor was told by the editor in chief to imply, but not overtly state to authors, that the acceptance of their submissions depended on these additions.

Although some refused, many of the section editors of the journal—under pressure from the editor in chief—would determine possible references to be added and then state that one or more of the anonymous referees had insisted on these additions during the peer review process.
The sacked editor had archived examples of this and other policies that consistently manipulated the impact factor at the journal during her/his employment. Several previous employees have also stated their willingness to testify on this matter.

A journal's impact factor is its life blood. Researchers only get grants and promotion if they publish in journals with high impact factors. All the best papers therefore go to a few journals. Journals are in a competetive market and are therefore keen to raise their impact factor by whatever means possible.

The impact factor is determined by dividing the number of times papers published in the journal are quoted in other joournals in the first 2 years after publication divided by the number of papers published in that journal. Therefore if papers quote more papers in the references at the end it raises the impact factor of the journals that those papers were published in.

The quote from COPE names no names, but it sounds very like a case that I as editor of Leukemia Research reported to COPE in 1997 about our rival Leukemia and which was cited in both the BMJ and Lancet.

1 comment:

Jon Oakhill said...

Hi Terry,
Being an initiate to the world of blogging I have very little idea of what I am doing but I have enjoyed reading some of your various thoughts – I find myself in agreement with you about many things - Terry Pratchett, metatarsal injuries, cutting commuting times and the Human Rights Act to name but a few. You are also right about Australians and groin injuries. I was drawn to your site by a google search involving spinach – how you must be sick of hearing about the damn vegetable again so I apologise up front. In fact I feel very bad for not referring to your much more important scientific contributions. To cut a long story (relatively) short I moved from the UK to a research institute in Melbourne several weeks ago to conduct some research into AMP-dependent kinase (an interesting and increasingly important enzyme that could provide a gateway to developing drugs aimed at obesity and diabetes treatments – I hope to gain substantial funding from U.S. based charities in the future!). As is the usual case I will present an introductory seminar on my previous research - my Ph.D work at Kings College London involved iron absorption pathways - and I am trying to find an interesting angle to begin with. I think the whole public misconception re. iron levels in spinach is a useful start but I am having trouble getting a copy of your 1981 BMJ paper. Of course I could conceivably ask BMJ but I suspect I may be waiting for an answer for some time, so I thought it best to go straight to the source. Are you able to oblige if you have a copy in some electronic form that you could send me? My email address is and I would be most appreciative. By the way I know Bournemouth very well, my parents run a B+B in the New Forest just outside a village called Tiptoe (if a village could be onomatopoeic then this would be it) – are there any imminent plans to destroy that monstrosity of a cinema yet? Many thanks, Jon.