Under Pressure, MDPI Tries to Clean House, Retracts Paper

Satire

Why publish with MDPI when there are many better venues ?

I recently added publisher MDPI to my list of questionable publishers, an addition that has caused the publisher to go on the offensive against me and, on the positive side, to address some of its problems.

MDPI owner Shu-Kun Lin called in favors, asking his friends to support his business by leaving MDPI-favorable comments on my blog. One commenter wrote, “I have just received an SMS message from a MDPI Editor to come to this forum and to defend MDPI.”

I found that most of the comments favoring MDPI were written either by non-scholars or by scholars who have never published a paper in MDPI’s many journals. Several researchers, clearly friends of Lin, but who had never published in Lin’s journals, made arguments about how great the journals are. I think it’s very telling that Lin’s friends don’t publish in his journals. His friends know him well.

I’ve also angered someone named Fang Zhouzi (real name Shi-min Fang, or Fang Shi-min). He apparently markets himself as a Chinese science watchdog, trashing science published in journals other than those published by his friend Shu-Kun Lin, from whom he reportedly receives a stipend.

Fang is feverishly searching for dirt about me on the internet and publishing whatever he finds in his U.S.-based blog, all to defend his patron, Lin.

Retraction 

After I added MDPI to my list of questionable publishers, the company quickly retracted the 2004 article “Statistical Convergent Topological Sequence Entropy Maps of the Circle,” for plagiarism, even though the plagiarism was reported many years earlier. The plagiarism was reported in 2005 in an American Mathematical Society website called MathSciNet (picture below).

Retraction

A report of the plagiarism was first published in 2005.

This report of the plagiarism was first published in 2005; the retraction (from the MDPI journal Entropy) occurred in February, 2014.

A discussion of the plagiarism — and the publisher’s anger at someone who reported it — was published on a math forum called MathForge (see comment #8), based at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, Norway. It is likely that MDPI publisher Lin himself was the editor at the time the plagiarized article was published

I stand by the addition of publisher MDPI to my list. I recommend that scholars not submit papers to its journals and not serve on its editorial boards. This publisher is becoming increasingly controversial, and researchers should insulate themselves from such controversy, for it could hurt their careers in the long term.

Note: I wrote this blog post before Retraction Watch reported the retraction.

33 Responses to Under Pressure, MDPI Tries to Clean House, Retracts Paper

  1. Hi Jeffery,

    I have a long-running dispute with the MDPI journal Nutrients and the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre about the extraordinarily faulty yet influential “Australian Paradox” paper.

    The extraordinarily faulty paper was “peer reviewed” and published while the lead author operated as the “Guest Editor” of a “Special Issue” of Nutrients.

    The credibility of the dud research was again shredded recently in an investigation by Australia’s public broadcaster, the ABC: http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/backgroundbriefing/2014-02-09/5239418

    The authors and MDPI’s Nutrients responded to the high-profile public shredding of the dud research by making several minor formal “Corrections” but otherwise pretending that everything is fine. It isn’t.

    The credibility of the paper having again been shredded in excruciating detail, this time on national radio, I am amazed that a senior University of Sydney scientist is continuing to defend such an obviously flawed piece of work.

    For the record, I have discussed the need for retraction with MDPI’s CEO, Mr Dietrich Rordorf, on the Retraction Watch blog. But, clearly, he’s not inclined to do anything to correct the integrity of the scientific record on this matter: (see interactions in comments) http://retractionwatch.com/2013/08/22/journal-to-feature-special-issue-on-scientific-misconduct-seeks-submissions/

    Jeffery, I have documented the obvious problems – up versus down is the main one! (see charts in the next link) – and I’m hoping that you and others will assist my push for the retraction of the faulty paper and its main “finding”: there is “an inverse relationship” between sugar consumption and obesity.

    For those interested, I’ve even drafted an excellent retraction notice (Section 5): http://www.australianparadox.com/pdf/CPCscientistsresponse.pdf

    Regards,
    Rory

  2. Dr. Samy Oraby says:

    Dear Jeffrey
    I am not a friend of Shu-Kun Lin but all my link to MDPI was to publish two of my research papers in the MATERIALS journal. Peer reviewing procedures were very efficient and took many stages until reaching the acceptable technical merit. My point is to say that is not practical to judge a publisher with too many journal based on one or two of your findings. Instead I think it would be more logical to argue about the intended single issue or journal. Research-wise it may be or not an outlier component.

    • Yes, Dr. Oraby, I see your article “Prior Surface Integrity Assessment of Coated and Uncoated Carbide Inserts Using Atomic Force Microscopy” published in Materials. Congratulations.

      Except, this article seems pretty similar to your article “SEM and AFM Investigations of Surface Defects and Tool Wear of Multilayers Coated Carbide Inserts” published in World Academy of Science, Engineering and Technology 49, 2011. Both articles even contain some text and figures in common. That’s great that you can get double credit for what is essentially the same work! No wonder you’re happy with MDPI !

      • Dr. Samy Oraby says:

        Dear Mr. Beall
        Thank you for your discovery but there are few points for you to know. First, in our project and funding system, we have to present research output in a conference but credit is for publication in an approved journal. Second, I think you don’t have technical background to realize the difference between the two articles, just read them. It is one project and literature should be somewhat relevant but they are different in objectives. Third, I noticed recently that you became more offensive and tense in your discussion and this could reduce credibility of your appreciated system. Finally, there is no big reason to be happy with MDPI for me to publish two of over forty published papers in top journals. I am sure you have net capability to find about that. Thanks

      • For the text and figures that were previously published, you could have at least cited them, especially since they were already published. (Or perhaps both articles were published at the same time? They both say 2011.)

        Regarding the tenseness you observe, I am just amazed at what I am learning about MDPI, about what’s beneath the surface. Do you know the popular American English expression, “to have a lot of baggage” ? MDPI has a lot of baggage.

      • AlexH says:

        I think that if MDPI really wants to address the problems highlighted by Mr. Beall they should start with publishing the anonymized peer reviews for past articles and implementing an open peer review system for future articles. I can assure them that it would be more effective than using online reputation management techniques.

    • leo says:

      Even though I appreciate Jeff’s effort, I don’t think it’s very scientifically stringent to say that MDPI retracted one paper only due to pressure from this blog. Since MDPI houses many journals with many papers published, I can only imagine that papers get retracted all the time. What’s said here is “post hoc ergo propter hoc”, or the often-seen logical fallacy that “because one thing occurred after another, it must have occurred as a result of it”. If you truly want to prove that retractions increased due to Jeff’s blogging, you’d better run some statistical tests to show that retractions has indeed increased. The sample size of one retracted paper is too small to form meaningful conclusion. Obviously the people who care to visit this blog are scientists who are trained to recognize logical fallacies. Please take care not to dramatize this way in the future, since doing so may undermine your credibility.

  3. Sabah Alwachi says:

    Dear Dr Jeffery It was a pleasure meeting you and attending your important workshop in Rotana Hotel of Erbil . Could you please be kind enough to confirm the situation and Impact Factor of the following two journals as I already publish a research article in each of them : 1- European Journal of Health . 2- Nephrology & Therapeutic . Best Regards Sincerely Yours Prof.Dr.Sabah N. Alwachi Professor of Physiology PhD ( Edinburgh Univ.,UK ) Head of Biology Department College of Sciences Univ. of Baghdad , IRAQ

  4. Harvey Kane says:

    I think what we are seeing is the naivety of a Chinese businessman who is just now encountering science as it exists in a free world. Instead of addressing the issues he faces he is seeking endorsements to legitimize what he does.

    The fact that the Journals are fraught with predatory practices and inaccurate science or some would say nonsense does not seem to be an issue with the owner of the journals, but rather the belief that endorsements will cure what ails his publications does.

  5. anonym says:

    Mr. Beall, Fang not only spread rumors about you on his US-based blog, but also posted them on his sohu weibo–that’s something like twitter in China–on which he has over 19million followers(http://fangzhouzi.t.sohu.com/). What’s more, he wrote letters to OASPA, SPARC-Europe and even head of your library and chancellor of your university. So Mr. Beall, be prepared.

    • Thanks, and I understand. It is natural for people to want to protect their income.

      • Ali Rezvani says:

        Mr. anonym. Let him even write to the president of the US. Why should Jeffery be prepared while there is nothing wrong with what he did. He has revealed some facts about the MDPI operations an proved them and finally, warned authors and editors to stop publishing or serving on their boards. If MDPI thinks he is doing rights right and there is nothing to question about his operation why they keep posting several things that does not make any sense.
        I think the person who needs to be prepared and ready is MDPI not Jeffrey.

      • Readers, the evidence that MDPI journals facilitate nonsense-based “science” goes beyond what Jeffrey Beall has already documented.

        I’ve had an extraordinary two years seeking the much-needed retraction of the University of Sydney’s clownish yet “peer reviewed” finding – self-published by a lead author operating as “Guest Editor” in MDPI’s Nutrients “journal” – that there is “an inverse relationship” between sugar consumption and obesity: http://www.australianparadox.com/pdf/quickquizresearch.pdf

  6. jerry says:

    Fang, the so-called Chinese science watchdog, is [considered by some to be] a liar and big plagiarist. The following is one of the many examples. Prof. Root-BernStein from Michigan State University, where Fang got his Ph.D. degree, formerly charged Fang with plagiarism and copyright infringement. There are more about these open letters from Prof. oot-BernStein here: http://www.2250s.com/list.php?28-page=2

    RE: Did you get copyright or permission?

    From:”rootbern@msu.edu”
    To:”Shi-min Fang”

    21 August 2011

    Dear Dr. Fang,

    What a joke! You threaten to no longer participate in this dialogue if I insist on making your emails to me, and mine in return, public? In the first place, what is the point of public letters, such as those that I have written, if they are not public? In the second place, since you have not participated in this discussion at all for quite some time, what difference does it make? Third, I thought your goal was to help China identify and reveal frauds wherever and whenever they occur, so why are you refusing to participate in an open discussion about what constitutes plagiarism and copyright infringement? And finally, and most importantly, how can you have the gall to demand that I keep private your emails to me when you have been attacking me and on your website and in the Chinese press behind my back this entire time? So, yes, this letter is going to everyone, and you can do as you like. You don?t play by anyone?s rules but your own anyway?

    You ask where I got the figure that you have plagiarized as much as 90% of my article in yours and object that it could not possibly be more than 50%. Well, there?s a simple answer: I apparently have never been shown your entire article, even by you! You will recall sending me your translation of your article. It does not appear to be complete. So if I have been misled as to the amount my material that may be in your article, you are as much to blame as anyone.

    In any event, at least we are talking about how much of my article appears in yours. On this point, one of your self-proclaimed supporters (email attached) actually puts the amount of your article that matches mine at 60%. No matter how we look at it, everyone ? including you ? agrees that a substantial portion of your article is drawn from mine. So the issue becomes how much is too much? You have already admitted that there was sufficient commonality that you should have cited me as the source of your arguments in your original blog. So if there is that much commonality, how can you deny both plagiarism and copyright infringement? The reason for making this a public debate is precisely because the issue of how much is too much needs to be hashed out and your own admissions certainly help make my case against you.

    You also claim that I am making up my own definitions of plagiarism and copyright infringement. I insist on pointing out with regard to this question that the criteria I am using in accusing you of plagiarism and copyright infringement are not something I have made up. Every major journal and every educational institution has guidelines regarding these points, all of which are very similar. If Chinese scholars, such as yourself, expect to participate in the worldwide culture of science, you must learn to abide by the standards set forth in these guidelines. I have attached one such set from the American Chemical Society. You will note that not only do YOU not have the right to reproduce my article, even I do not have the right to use more than 400 words from my own publication, nor can I use my own illustrations, without written permission from the journal. Copyright not only protects the author of a work, but also the publisher of that work! This raises a point that has not yet been discussed in our correspondence, which is that you have not only plagiarized and/or breached the copyright on my article, but also Oxford University Press, which published the book in which my chapter appears. Did you get their written permission to use my material?

    Your only response to that issue so far has been to say that you are an expert on fraud and you know that you have not plagiarized me or violated my copyright. Yet you refuse to reveal the criteria you are using in making that decision, which not only leaves me in the dark, but also leaves the people of China in the dark about how you reach your conclusions regarding the fraudulent behaviors of anyone you accuse. And there is an additional problem: even if you get around to divulging your criteria, you can’t be the judge in your own case. Indeed, you can’t be the accuser, judge and jury in any fraud case ? and yet that is exactly the power you have attempted to accrue to yourself.

    And here we get to the crux of the matter. I am far less worried about whether you have stolen some of my work than I am worried that you have set yourself as an unassailable and unregulated monitor of fraud in China. No individual should ever have the power that you have taken upon yourself. You have every right, and indeed every responsibility, as do I!, to point out fraud wherever you think it occurs, but you do not have the right to decide whether your accusations are valid. For you see, if you have that right, then so do I, in which case you would be guilty of plagiarism and copyright violations just because I said so. You clearly don’t want that to be the case (nor do I), but you must learn from this controversy that you cannot have that power over others, either. The determination of fraud must lie in the hands of unbiased, disinterested parties, both in this case and in any other case you might bring or be accused of. I’m not sure who in China, or in the world, should decide how much of my work you should be permitted to use without permission, but I do know it is not you! My fondest hope at this point in time is that our controversy will lead to substantial changes in how fraudulent practices such as plagiarism and copyright infringement are handled in China and in who has the authority to handle such issues.

    Quoting Shi-min Fang :

    Dear Dr. Root-Bernstein,

    I don’t know how you got the idea that “Dr. Fang’s article is essentially
    90% (or somewhere around that percentage) my work”, and this unfair charge
    has been posted on many Chinese Web sites as part of public smear campaign
    against me. My article contains 11 paragraphs, and only 5 paragraphs are
    about criteria of science from your article. Even if these 5 paragraphs were
    directly translated from your article and contained nothing else (which is
    not true), that would be only about 50% of my article.

    I have been fighting against academic misconducts in China for eleven years,
    and I am confident that I know how to determine a plagiarism case. I have
    consulted two Chinese lawyers specified at intellectual property, and none
    of them thinks my article infringe your copyright.

    I don’t want to communicate with those persons who have harassed me, my
    family, mentors, classmates and friends for years (I have to delete their
    email addresses from the list again). As soon as you put them back to the
    list, I knew this type of discussion would lead us nowhere. I will not
    provide any further responses. If you insist keeping the discussion going,
    can you please kindly remove my name from the list? Thank you.

    Sincerely,

    Shi-min Fang

    • jx says:

      Hi Jerry,
      There is absolutely no point to write such a long response to Fang, he will simply twist your word and keep on abusing you on his blogs / websites / etc.

      Fang is a much worse person than you could ever imagined. If you do wish to find out some truth, please search: Xiao ChuanGuo & Xiao procedure – a nerve rerouting surgery introduced by Xiao ChuanGuo, which has saved hundreds lives in the states & China, was accused by Fang in front of Chinese medias, that the procedure has 0 successful case.

      Xiao sued Fang in WuHan China and won the case, Fang refused to execute the court’s ordere, and even started accusing the court in his blogs / web. Yes, this kind of things happens in China.

      A lot of terrible things by Fang began to come out of water in past 2 years.

      My opinion – Fang himself is one of the biggest fraud in China.

      Cheers
      Jx

      • Samy Oraby says:

        Knowing all horrible stuff, I now may understand and appreciate your reaction Jeaffrey. Good luck >>>> Samy

      • Joel Kinnamann says:

        I looked up the stories about Fang and Xiao recently, having followed bits and pieces from what I read in Jeff’s blog… I do not know much background since I don’t read Chinese… What I found however, does not completely match your story.

        Nature news reported on Sep. 21, 2010 that Fang was attacked by hired thugs on Xiao’s directive. The alleged motive behind was that Fang criticised Xiao’s experimental surgical procedure and exposed Xiao’s padded CV, among other things.

        http://www.nature.com/news/2010/100929/full/467511a.html

        One month later, Nature published an editorial following Xiao’s trial and 5.5 month sentence.

        http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v467/n7318/full/467884a.html

        The last time Nature news addressed Fang Shi-min was when Nature awarded him the inaugural John Maddox prize for exposing scientific fraudsters in China.

        http://www.nature.com/news/john-maddox-prize-1.11750

        If one accepts that Nature or NPG is a reasonably credible and objective publisher, from their reports one could profile Fang as such: a well-known fraud-buster who runs a non-governmental platform against science fraud in China, he success culminating in receiving an international reward from a prestigious science publisher; along the way Fang also made numerous enemies, one of them even resorted to physical violence.

        As for Xiao, the most independent source I found was this: NIH has withdrawn his clinical trials: http://clinicaltrials.gov/archive/NCT01096459/2013_08_01/changes

        So what is going on?

  7. Cleve says:

    In China, Fang has not only been called a Science Watch-dog, but also a Crazy dog. He not only reportedly receives stipend from MDPI journals, but also allegedly receives money from other undisclosed sources. This alone proves that he is not simply a Science Watch-dog. He makes millions from a tricky business like publishing short messages written by himself or others on his website saying “someone plagiarized”.

  8. Bogdan says:

    What about Hindawi Publishing Corporation (http://www.hindawi.com)?

  9. MDPI: Most Dodgy Publisher Invented?

  10. scientist from europe says:

    I’m suspicious of MDPI for a long time. I’ve reviewed a paper for them once and had contact only with a secretary. Not sure if an editor even existed. They have put the paper to peer review but the tone of the secretary from MDPI was as if they really really want the paper published.

    In addition, they seem to use a simple word template for their publications, which look quite unprofessional and charge very heavily for their “services” which add zero value to the publications.

    How they managed to maintain some journals with a reasonable impact factor is a mystery to me.

  11. Steve Jordan says:

    I published two papers recently in different MDPI journals. The peer reviews were thorough and fair, and the process efficient. There was no charge for one of the papers, and the charge for the other was reasonable. I have no basis otherwise to defend or condemn MDPI, but the blog and some of the comments here seem to reflect academic and cultural snobbery. I agree with the post that suggested we deal with any issues specifically rather than tar the entire business. Bullying is not appropriate.

  12. Wayne Dawson says:

    Admittedly, a key word search would have shown MathSciNet, but that can be for more prosaic reasons that it was missed. The editor does acknowledge the presence of the 2005 information.

  13. I too published in MDPI (Journal of Developmental Biology) and received a review that in two cycles resulted in a manuscript that I am proud of. I applied for and was accepted as an associate editor of JDB and, so far, have not been asked to handle any manuscripts. I am also an AE at PLoS One and have found their practices to be similar to JDB, however in a much larger scale. I so far do not regret publishing in JDB and may consider doing so in the future.

  14. Anon says:

    Shoot, this is unfortunate (for me). I published a paper in MDPI’s Metabolites about two years back, as it was getting started but seemed kind of reasonable. MDPI wasn’t on Beall’s list then. Now I have a mark on my CV (or at least that’s how I feel).

  15. gaudart says:

    At the time when MDPI was not on Beall’s list, I did review an manuscript fo Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health. I did not see specific problem during this review. The article was accepted. I will be more carefull next time.

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