An open-access publisher from the United Arab Emirates has published an article with a conflict-of-interest statement that itself may have a conflict of interest. Here’s the explanation.
The publisher is Bentham Open, one of the open-access publishers on my earliest list of questionable OA publishers created about five years ago. Bentham Open publishes The Open Urology & Nephrology Journal, one of over one hundred low-quality journals in the firm’s portfolio.
The article in question is “Gonadotoxic Effects of DBCP: A Historical Review and Current Concepts” by Kathleen Hwang, Michael L. Eisenberg, Rustin C. Walters, and Larry I. Lipshultz. It was published in 2013.
DBCP is a pesticide, and the review article seems to question whether the compound is as harmful as earlier research has asserted, finding,
Despite the lack of substantive scientific data indicating a causal relationship between testis failure and the agricultural application of DBCP, extensive litigation continued and extends even to the present day (p. 29).
The article includes this conflict-of-interest statement:
I find this statement to be ambiguous and perhaps unprofessional. Scientific articles do not have personal “interests”.
Is the statement purposefully written this way to shield the authors from not declaring any possible conflicts-of-interest? In other words, does this statement allow the authors to say, “We never said WE had no conflicts of interest”?
A 2015 letter-to-the-editor by Susanna Bohme published in the journal takes the authors to task and states,
There is little debate that DBCP is gonadotoxic in men. However, Hwang et al.’s interpretation of studies of exposed agricultural workers suggests that exposures in this population pose no important risk. The authors fail to adequately report the findings of the studies they consider, and omit other important scientific information (p. 56).
The letter also discusses the ambiguous conflict-of-interest statement attached to the article, asserting that one of the authors does indeed have what may be a significant conflict of interest, as he served as an expert witness for the defense in lawsuits making DBCP damage claims. Despite the problems identified in the letter, no known relevant action has been taken by the authors.
The journal charged the author of the letter, Dr. Bohme, an author fee to publish it.
Were the authors using the easy acceptance that author-pays, scholarly journals offer to make the compound appear less harmful than it really is?
If someone has an interest in a compound and wants to make it appear more efficacious or safe than it really is, whether to sell it or to protect against lawsuits, dozens of predatory journals stand ready to publish these claims in the form of a scholarly article.
Similarly, if a researcher wants to make unscientific claims about a compound and avoid having to declare any conflicts-of-interest, predatory journals provide an easy means to do this.