Some Strange Goings On at Cureus

Cureus masthead

Would you want your doctor to read this journal?

Cureus is an open-access medical journal based in Palo Alto, California. It charges no author fees. I recently became aware of some possibly serious problems with an article the journal published in July, 2015.

First, a citation to the article in question, a review article:

Blum Kenneth, Badgaiyan Rajenda D., & Gold Mark S. (2015). Hypersexuality addiction and withdrawal: Phenomenology, neurogenetics and epigenetics. Cureus 7(7): e290. http://dx.doi.org/10.7759/cureus.290

My first concern is with the peer review, which according to the journal itself only took two days, followed by the actual publication of the article a day later:

Cureus Publication History

Two-day peer review in a medical journal?

I don’t know whether this fast of a peer review is acceptable to the medical research community or whether the fact that it is a review article justifies the fast review. Was the publication rushed to press because of the extra attention and page views an article on hypersexuality will deliver to the journal?

The journal has a very large editorial board, made up of world-renowned medical researchers. Are they okay with the fast peer review?

My second concern is with a big mistake that appeared in the article’s abstract when it was first published and how that mistake was handled.

Cureus original abstract

The original abstract.

Cureus edited abstract

The edited abstract.

The original abstract appears above; the corrected one follows. As you can see, the first one starts out with the clause “Hypersexuality is now part of the DSM-V …”. This phrase is removed from the corrected abstract.

How could such a fundamental error be published in a serious medical journal? The determination of whether a given medical condition is part of the DSM-V should be easy to make. It’s binary. If the authors of the article know so much about the topic, how could they make such a blunder? Why did the peer reviewers also miss the error? Did the fast peer review contribute to the mistake not being caught?

The original abstract still appears in the PubMed version of the article.

My third concern is that no correction notice appeared for the changed article. I think the Committee on Publication Ethics advises that publishers issue a correction notice whenever the content of an article is changed. I cannot find one for this change.

My final concern is that the journal has what appears to be a contrived metric:

Cureus Scholarly Impact Quotient

Contrived metric.

It’s called the Scholarly Impact Quotient (SIQ), and it’s an article-level metric. I’m not sure it has any value and fear it could be misread or misused to make the articles and the journal appear better than they really are.

I think these issues I’ve identified are serious. I realize Cureus is a new journal and still finding its way. However, given all the lofty rhetoric on the Cureus website, such as “Cureus is the medical journal for a new generation of doctors and patients,” I believe that the blunders I’ve described here should not have occurred.

Cureus’ FAQ says, “In the future, Cureus plans to introduce paid, targeted ads from BioPharma … “. I hope the journal is able to get its house in order before it starts cashing checks from pharmaceutical companies.

Hat tip: Dr. Nicole Prause

20 Responses to Some Strange Goings On at Cureus

  1. Ken Lanfear says:

    The Cureus review process is explained in their blog. Apparently, they invite a fairly large number of reviewers, hoping a sufficient number can meet a very short (1 week?) deadline. Obviously not perfect, and I am concerned about their errata policy.

    The copy editing for Cureus is do-it-yourself. The blog already includes several laments about authors providing sloppy manuscripts. Is this really sustainable?

    Cureus seems like an interesting and innovative experiment. It uses crowd sourcing to keep the expenses low, though I wish they were more forthcoming about their funding. Is Stanford involved? Also, I wonder about their long-term security against false science, gamed reviews, etc. Might be worth following and learning.

  2. tekija says:

    Interestingly, an older paper by the Editor-in-Chief has an expression of concern attached to it:

    http://www.cureus.com/articles/2543-extreme-tolerance-of-the-optic-nerve-to-ionizing-radiation-a-case-report-revealing-the-role-of-the-dose-volume-effect

    The expression is completely opaque, because as far as I can judge it is neither dated nor specified.

  3. Good post. For more about Kenneth Blum see this post of mine.

    Blum is the founder of United Scientific Group (USG), an OA publisher on Jeffrey’s list, and which Jeffrey reported is linked to the notorious OMICS group.

    The two publishers certainly have a similar modus operandi including mass mails to researchers with invitations to conferences.

  4. Like every journal, Cureus is imperfect, and at times false statements slip through its pre-publication peer review process and make it into published articles. The current paper is a case in point, specifically with regard to hypersexuality being part of the DSM. Nevertheless, unlike nearly all other journals, Cureus emphasizes post publication review and enables a very simple process for commenting and tool for crowd sourcing article quality, i.e. SIQ. However in this case a handful of critics have unfortunately expressed reluctance to use Cureus’ comment process; I don’t understand such reluctance and assume they prefer to kill papers under the clock of anonymity. Regardless, the senior editorial team has embarked on an external investigation, directed by ICMJE guidelines, and a final adjudication of this matter will require process and patience. I am really not at liberty to say more at this time.

    Despite the above incident, I do quarrel with the implication that somehow 48 hours, is as rule, insufficient time to review a manuscript. No reviewer ever spends more than a few hours actually doing a review so the “time required to review” is nothing more than the time allotted for reviewer procrastination. A long pre-publication review period merely means the reviewers took their time getting around to the manuscript.

    Yes Cureus is different that nearly all other journals, and isn’t for everyone. However for extremely busy practicing clinicians who wish to report important but simple clinical findings without the cost and procedural overhead of many journals, while reaching the widest possible “open access” audience, Cureus has a lot to offer. I think if you are willing to dig deeper into Cureus you will discover that there is much to like! And yes, I would like “my doctor to read this journal”, because if s/he does, s/he will have ready access to and probably be practicing leading edge clinical medicine.

    Neuroskeptic…..I have no idea what conferences you are referring to when you state that Cureus sends “mass emails to researchers with invitation(s) to conferences”? Perhaps you are confusing Cureus with some other open access journal

    • herr doktor bimler says:

      I have no idea what conferences you are referring to when you state that Cureus sends “mass emails to researchers with invitation(s) to conferences”?

      When Neuroskeptic wrote about “the two publishers”, I read him as referring to United Scientific Group and “the notorious OMICS group”.

    • Dom says:

      While possible, 48 hours for a review is highly unusual – I say this from the viewpoint of being an academic editor as well as a reviewer of papers. Many a review will require extra digging, some help (information) from others, sometimes for literature to be sourced (few establishments can afford the breadth of journal subscriptions required for reviewing), and some simple reflection on the final review.

      The suggestion that taking longer than 48 hours is laziness (or lack of application) seems to make light of the overly full diaries of most academics, who are after all doing this for free.

      As to anonymity, it is sadly the case that there are large figures in many fields that no-one wishes to cross and that these individuals often have a big influence in grant funding. As such they hold the jobs of pure academics in their hands. Of course clinicians, such as yourself, can still pay the mortgage with earnings from the clinic, but the rest of us lack that second income stream, so we need that anonymity.

      • I have seen first hand in and around this particular article the fear some researchers feel when being asked to render a judgment; I am astounded and at some point I intend to write my own blog about it. So yes I do feel the pain non-clinical researchers must witness when being asked to review articles non-anonymously. However, the Cureus model skirts this issue to some extent by virtue of the fact our journal is willing to publish all credible/plausible medical science that is presented in good faith, and then only AFTER publication sort out what is quality/important via our SIQ crowd sourcing tool, i.e. by design peer rejection is not a big part of our review process. It is my hope that this model of post publication review will catch on but for now that which is foreign is mistrusted by many a traditionalist. Meanwhile I cannot emphasize enough that in my hardcore world of clinical medicine many/most publications are observational in nature. Data analysis is almost secondary and oftentimes superfluous. With such clinical articles, and in the Cureus model, there is not a whole lot for a reviewer to judge…..unless the reviewer deems the obervations are totally bogus or fraudulent. This fact means that an extended review process is often little more than an opportunity for political meddling, which I have seen a lot on my 30 years of scholarly publishing!

  5. tekija…..with regard to the paper you reference (my own article in fact) what expression of concern are you referring to?

  6. herr doktor bimler……OK, I understand now that Neuroskeptic was not referencing Cureus. Clearly I was in a defensive frame of mind when writing! :-)

    By the way, I liken Cureus a lot to a peer reveiwed WordPress, where intelligent communication can be conducted, adjudicated and archived. This reference is perhaps understandable to this current WordPress audience.

  7. […] In turn and in my honest opinion, this renders these metrics useless and arbitrary. Yet, people like and create this kind of metrics for a simple reason. In contrast to the definition of ‘impact’ from before, a simple number is graspable. People can work with simple numbers. Counting, comparing, sharing, simple math. The higher the number, the more of ‘it’ – whatever ‘it’ is. People feel better with ‘more’ instead of ‘less’. People like having more IQ points (than others). People like having more impact points (than others). People like having more working hours (than others). The last one seems wrong at first glance, but since the impact of work generally is quantified by counting the number of working hours, more hours imply that a person is more valuable (for society). Analogously, the quality of peer-review is often quantified by counting the number of days it takes. […]

  8. The paper “Hypersexuality Addiction and Withdrawal” has now been retracted: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4596082/ because it contained incorrect statements about DSM-V.

    Although it will be back, we’re told: “In an effort to unambiguously rectify all errors, the authors have agreed to submit a significantly revised manuscript for subsequent peer review and re-publication.”

    This raises the question of why it was corrected to fix some errors, but later retracted for the very same reason. Was the correction not enough?

    • Speaking as the Editor-in-Chief of Cureus I can say that the published erratum to the “Hypersexuality” article addressed the vast majority of the incorrect statements around the DSM-V, and under most cirumstances would have been enough to rectify the situation. However, it turns out that the politics surrounding “hypersexuality as an addiction” are particularly vicious leaving little room for honest differences of opinion or inadvertent or even innocuous mistakes. So yes, you could say that the “correction was not enough”. But ultimately the above was my rationale for asking the authors to retract the article…..the newly published article can now be found at:

      http://www.cureus.com/articles/3465-hypersexuality-addiction-and-withdrawal-phenomenology-neurogenetics-and-epigenetics

      Having been personally pummeled, along with the journal, in the midst of what is largely a political spat, I intend to soon publish a blog detailing more of the story at play here, and illustrating how scientific discourse, can, in the age of social media, be easily held hostage to politics.

      • Venkataramana Kandi says:

        I take this opportunity to support the cureus journal. The issues raised by critics are simply to undermine the journal and hold no truth. The standard of most journals depends on the quality of editing that goes before publication and CUREUS gives certainly provides you best editing services free of charge.

  9. […] peer review. The review process, as University of Colorado Denver librarian as Jeffery Beall pointed out on his blog, was just two […]

  10. G Parker says:

    The biggest problem with cureus is that the quality of the peer review is questionable. That is being worked on.

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