Open Access is Giving Taxonomy a Bad Name

Do-it-yourself taxonomy.

Do-it-yourself taxonomy.

A Peru-based open-access journal devoted to plant taxonomy is bulldozing its way into the field. The “Scientific Editor” and co-author of most of its published articles are one and the same. Taxonomy, a precise science, is being damaged by unvetted, unselective, and activist open-access journals.

The journal — Weberbauerella — takes its name from a legume native to South America. It’s the effort of two guys, Eduardo Antonio Molinari-Novoa — apparently a graduate student at Peru’s Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos — and Carlos Enrique Sánchez Ocharan, who has some connection to the Universidad Nacional Agraria La Molina, also in Peru. Neither has a graduate degree, as far as I can tell.

The journal has so far published a single “volume” only, volume 1 (2016), and Molinari-Novoa, by my count, appears as a co-author on 15 of the volume’s 19 articles.

The journal has a “Scientific board,” which apparently functions as an editorial board. It has eight members, all from Peru. Carlos Enrique Sánchez Ocharan serves as the journal’s Editor-in-Chief, and our prolific author, Eduardo Antonio Molinari-Novoa, is the “Scientific editor.” These two are also two of the eight members of the Scientific Board.

An annotated bibliography entry in the Manual de Plantas de Costa Rica criticizes one of Eduardo Antonio Molinari-Novoa’s Weberbauerella articles. The entry says:

Molinari-Novoa, E. A.  2016. Two new lamiid families for the Americas.  Weberbauerella 1(7): 1–4.

So now we have two new family names, both potentially applicable to genera occurring in Costa Rica, validated by an individual who evidently spends much of his time surfing the Internet to peruse the careful work of others in search of just this sort of opportunity, and who now has his own vanity-press, online journal to facilitate the whole nefarious enterprise.  Enough said.  Namaceae Molinari, segregated from Hydrophyllaceae, would include four genera, one of which (Wigandia) is represented in Costa Rica.  Peltantheraceae Molinari accommodates the monospecific Peltanthera, widespread in the Neotropics (including Costa Rica), which has been bounced among Buddlejaceae, Loganiaceae, and Solanaceae, and could eventually find a home in Gesneriaceae (see under “The Angiosperm Phylogeny Group,” at the head of this column).  Oddly, the subfamily names Namoideae Molinari and Peltantheroideae Molinari are also validated here (can a family have just one subfamily?).  All the new taxa are minimally diagnosed.

Sánchez Ocharan (left) and Molinari-Novoa.

Sánchez Ocharan (left) and Molinari-Novoa.

Note that the entry indicates Molinari-Novoa has named a taxonomic family after himself, Peltantheraceae Molinari, and two sub-families also.

I wrote about predatory journals and taxonomy previously in 2013. In that blog post, I cited this article:

Kaiser, H., Crother, B. I., Kelly, C. M. R., Luiselli, L., O’Shea, M., Ota, H., et al. (2013). Best practices: In the 21st century, taxonomic decisions in herpetology are acceptable only when supported by a body of evidence and published via peer-review. Herpetological Review 44(1), 8–23.

I think this passage from the article is relevant here:

For taxonomists, this [easy publishing] trend is both a curse and a blessing. Even as the path to publication has been simplified and the time to publication shortened by the emergence of reputable, rigorously scientific, peer-reviewed, and well-edited electronic or rapid-print journals (e.g., ZooKeys, Zootaxa), publishing is no longer a controlled environment and there are outlets where nonscientific and misguided taxonomy is presented as fact. Differentiating between science and non-science in taxonomy is a challenge (p. 8-9).

Will taxonomy survive the transition to open access?

15 Responses to Open Access is Giving Taxonomy a Bad Name

  1. Wim Crusio says:

    Things like this have always been there in taxonomy, no need for OA (although that certainly makes it easier). As long as a new name is published somewhere, even a stenciled “journal” sent to a few libraries, it’s published “validly”. People used to self-publish books and fill them with descriptions of new species, varieties, subfamilies and what not, leaving it to the professionals to clean up their mess. Not surprisingly, this kind of stuff usually occurs with plant groups that are popular (like orchids and cacti), although more obscure plant groups are not safe from these practices either. One note though. Molinari did not name any of these groupings after himself. A plant (sub)family name consists of one word, like “Peltantheraceae” above. It is then standard practice to append the “authority name” (i.e., the name of the first author describing the taxon), it’s a kind of bibliographic reference. For example, Poa annua L.: the species name is “Poa annua” and it was first described by Linné, but the “L.” is a bibliographic reference, not part of the name.

    Of course, none of this changes anything about this journal polluting taxonomy.

  2. This is perhaps more a penalty of e-only publication than of open access. Historically there have been paper journals with limited circulation published by individuals who choose to move away from the mainstream for whatever reason.

    The quality of the nomenclature seems low however the code sets the bar pretty low for valid publication of names.

    Perhaps the biggest concern is the probable lack of longevity of such literature and the risk of loss of the original publications unless a permanent archive of the journal is established.

  3. Yanmei says:

    I am not commenting about this specific topic. I want to share some of my thoughts. Recently I found myself come to this website at least once or twice a week to check if the journals that invite me to submit articles or serve on their editorial boards are on the list. Sadly all of them are. I wonder why this happens so often these days and whether they only send out invitations to a certain group of researchers or they just sent to anybody in research. Thanks for any thoughts..

    • Nils says:

      I believe we all receive plenty of these invitations. As soon as your name and address appear on some research-related site, be it a database of published papers or merely an institutional website, it will be found by data-miners. I hear there are companies selling huge lists of addresses found on the internet, more or less well sorted according to people’s speciality.

      The main point is that if a journal sends you an invitation to publish with them, it is probably not worth doing so – except in those rare cases where a fellow scientist whom you know specifically asks you to write some kind of review.

  4. Alex Portocarrero says:

    I frankly find this article quite out of context from the vision of someone who ignores science in third world countries. Peru is a country with almost no money destined for research neither by the government nor the private industry. The little money there is, is incorrectly managed by old-fashioned, frustrated, unachieved, unsuccessful, unknown Peruvian researchers who destined their lives trying to copy the scientific methodologies of first world researchers. Therefore Peru is a country with no scientific identity, where never Peruvian-reality-based methodologies where built and designed. This of course is the result of a deep social disease product of massive lack of identity and self esteem. However, things are the way they are and this situation is similar in third world countries. It is easy when you as a researcher just have to design a project and somehow know the government or private industry will finance it. Things change when you know nobody will finance you especially if you’re trying something new. This guy of course made a critical mistake. He shouldn’t be coauthor of 15 out of 19 publications. It’s a beginners mistake. However I consider it’s an attempt to begin something new, just like an entrepreneur in a new business, mistakes will happen. I just call for reason, I understand the mistake of this young fellows, however I don’t understand the motive to humiliate them. Every research made mistakes. Every journal began somewhere. Please consider the context where new projects are born before criticizing in such imprecise manner. Everyone knows scientific community is very hard and unforgiving. Let’s start changing that. On some point scientific methodologies and rigor made us loose the focus of what science is about: finding answers. No matter the way if the answer is found.

    • Juan Nemi says:

      Alex, por favor es una irresponsabilidad. Los medios no justifican los fines en este caso. Donde quedó el Herbario San Marcos del Museo de Historia Natural Javier Prado (UNMSM), Herbario “Augusto Weberbauer” de la UNALM, Herbario de la Universidad San Agustín de Arequipa, Universidades de la Selva… entre muchos otros especialistas e instituciones que pueden colaborar en la revisión de pares. Un abrazo.

    • Tom Smith says:

      Ignorar la ciencia o como se hace la ciencia en paises de tercer mundo? La situacion de no dinero, NUNCA justifica que se deban hacer cosas tan mal hechas. Conozco muchos investigadores en paises de tercer mundo, que con muchas dificultades, hacen las cosas bien, limitado a lo el presupuesto los deje. O mejor dicho, si uno nacio en un pais de tercer munda, puede hacer lo que venga en gana? No!

      Ademas, no es solo el error de ser “co-author” en 15 publicaciones, es todo el sentido de la revista, ni tampoco justificar que como la revista apenas empieza, son errores de “principiante”. Son muchos errores!!!!!

      1. No tiene un comite editorial con cienificos de renombre o con experiencia en publicaciones.

      2. Los editores carecen de un fuerte Background en la ciencia, tanto en publicaciones como en formacion, no se trata de hablar y decir “sabemos y tenemos experiencia”. Lamentablemente, no tienen aun una formacion académica sólida

      3. Publican familias y propuestas taxonomicas, basado en el trabajo de otros, sin tener siquiera un historial de trabajo en esas familias.

      4. El justiticar que ser coauthor en 15 publicaciones es un error de “”principiante”” es inaceptable. Eso NO son errores de principiante. Cuando se tiene experiencia en varias revistas internacionales con publicaciones arbitradas (asi sean pocas), uno sabe que eso NO se hace y las revistas que lo hacen, son altamente criticadas y descalificadas por la comunidad cientifica internacional. Ahi es donde, el tal “expertise” que ellos se autoproclaman se viene al suelo. Si uno NO tiene experiencia, debe pedir asesoria directa con alguien que lo asesore directamente.

      El problema es que ya el daño para ellos y su revista esta hecho, pues la situacion se comenta en diversos circulos de taxonomos a nivel mundial. Una buen idea, que no comenzar bien

      Finalmente, es muy penoso como se refiere a otros colegas peruanos, lo cual deja mucho para hablar del que escribe el post “”…….managed by old-fashioned, frustrated, unachieved, unsuccessful, unknown Peruvian researchers who destined their lives trying to copy the scientific methodologies of first world researchers…..””

      ………

  5. quipupe says:

    This seems to be a common practice in some Peruvian journals. For example, in this journal http://sisbib.unmsm.edu.pe/bvrevistas/biologist/v13_n2/contenido.htm number in Spanish, the editor-in-chief http://sisbib.unmsm.edu.pe/bvrevistas/biologist/Editorial.htm appear as a coauthor five times. I believe that the Peruvian government (Concytec) should take action and improve the quality control of journals funded by public universities.

    • Martin Timana, PhD says:

      No it is not; there are excellent journals produced in Peru such as those by some unversities including ESAN, PUCP, U. Pacífico.

  6. OffHours says:

    From the journal’s Instructions for the authors it doesn’t seem like this publisher is after profit at the moment:

    “The publication fee is currently of S/35 (thirty-five soles, about 10 USD) for UNALM-based researcher-students, and S/ 50 for other Peruvian scholars, to be paid after acceptance”. Meanwhile, “[f]oreign scholars are, for the time being, exempt of fees.”

    Also, they clearly state where they are from and declare their main interest in South American botany – this is quite different from the commercial publishers, say, from the British Commonwealth countries who tend to pretend to be North American or European ones, with broad areas of interest. Such a light-hearted self-description as an irregular journal of botanical curiosities doesn’t seem to falsely pretend to be an established prestigious journal so as to trap inattentive authors who tend to send their thousands of US dollars in author’s fee to the journals they haven’t read before. I do not know a thing about taxonomy in general and in Latin America in particular and the academic scene in Peru, so cannot make an informed opinion, however from the journal’s introduction and instruction for the authors I would have thought they deserve the benefit of doubt.

  7. Martin Timana, PhD says:

    First of all, using the “oh we’re a poor, third-world country, so we don’t have to worry about ethical issues” argument is just plain pathetic and shameful. So basically what you’re saying is that because there’re no research funds in Peru you get a free card to produce a totally predatory journal. Well, I am Peruvian and an academic and let me say that your assessment is just wrong; as your Facebook buddy Molinari, you obviously don’t know that science is based on data. So, let me offer you some: there ARE plenty of research funds in Peru – for honest, well-trained researchers, not a guy with a bachelor degree who predates on other’s work. In 2103 the National Science Council, CONCYTEC – equivalent to the NSF, awarded research projects for US $100 million. This year they are offering US $120 million for research projects in biology, physics, math and chemistry. Those funds are available for both public and private universities, again, only to real researchers. Do you need more data? Every year my university (PUCP) finances R&D projects for US $1.5 million. As to your statement “Peruvian researchers who destined their lives trying to copy the scientific methodologies of first world researchers” What in the World are you taking about? So, you want a PCR protocol “adapted to the our third world reality”? You want a gene-sequencing method adjusted to “our social reality”? You obviously don’t have a clue about scientific research. Then you talk about “unachieved, unsuccessful, unknown Peruvian researchers” – well just because YOU don’t know them doesn’t mean they don’t exist; never heard of Dr. Carlos Bustamante, a Peruvian molecular biologist at UC Berkley and member of the US National Academy of Sciences? Well, stop play pokemon and get INFORMED before writing absurd claims. But hey! I guess your buddy Molinari is very well known and famous, right? Finally your claim of “No matter the way if the answer is found” – boy you are just the same sort as your buddy Molinari, right? You guys are SO lost and with no sense of shame.

  8. Martin Timana, PhD says:

    It is not just a matter of Molinari’s predatory journal, but also his “research” methods. His modus operands is simply take advantage of any recommendation given by the original author, such as suggesting a new taxa (species, genus, family) and publish it under his own name. Here I offer you just three examples:
    1) Eduardo Antonio Molinari-Novoa: Two new Lamiid families for the Americas. He appropriates the proposal of Refulio & Olmstead, American Journal of Botany 101(2): 287–299. 2014.
    2) L.F. Mayta Anco, Eduardo Antonio Molinari-Novoa & A.J. Salomon Raju: A new genus within the Elsholtziae (Lamiaceae) from southeast Asia. An unethical appropriation of the work by Chen et al. (Taxon, Volume 65, Number 1, March 2016).
    3) What any botanist would consider a textbook example of really lame taxonomy: Molinari (2015). Homage to Christenson: combinations under Maxillaria. Richardiana 15: 291. Here Molinari produces 66 new combinations of Maxillaria based on a comprehensive study published by Dr. Mark Chase et al. just five month earlier (Chase et al. 2015. Bot. J. Linn. Soc. London 177:151). Not a single specimen is cited. He simply declares: “among other changes and suggestions [by Chase et al.], stated that the best way to deal with the Maxillaria problem is to treat it in a wide sense” So congratulation Mr. Molinari, now you have 66 new useless names that will carry your name!

    • Tom Smith says:

      You are totally rigth. They want to be famous? Now they are “infamous”.

      Es una pena que esto suceda y su comentario Martin clarifica todo este proceso de una forma muy clara. Es algo que en el proximo congreso internacional de botánica debe proponerse, con respecto a las “e-journal” de pesima calidad.

  9. Jonathan Miller says:

    I agree totally with you. I work on mollusks taxonomy and I have see several times how a person has invented a new journal just to publish his own articles and predating the work of many others… it’s a problem we have to solve in the future…
    Best regards!
    Jonathan

  10. Barry says:

    They already closed the website, may be just for some time. The most funny thing is that one of the former editors “Sanchez Ocharan”, already have more than 18000 reads in his Research gate profile, being the most “read” author in Peru!!!!, but almost no publications in HI journals. Funny: more than 1100 reads in one week, for one poster called something like “10 species in Peru” or something. Of course, Nobody will suspect that somebody is “clicking” and “clicking” his own profile just to have an high number of “reads”. Anyway, Impact factor less than 3%.

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