Tag Archives: bad science

Journal of Allergy

Being spammed by a company called Hindawi for many years, I tried to find out a bit more about one of their journals called “Journal of Allergy”. The website http://www.hindawi.com/journals/ja says

Journal of Allergy is a peer-reviewed, open access journal that publishes original research articles, review articles, and clinical studies in all areas of allergy. Journal of Allergy currently has an acceptance rate of 43%. The average time between submission and final decision is 59 days and the average time between acceptance and final publication is 34 days.

According to their own description, they are located in Cairo and employ some 200 to 1,000 employees. Hindawi seems to be the name of one of their founders. In some other web sources they claim  410 Park Avenue, 15th Floor, New York, USA, as their address.  Google Streetview shows at  that address a 11+2 floor building with Chase Manhattan Bank located at the ground floor.
Only 40 or so of the 500+ Hindawi journals have any impact factor associated with.
Declan Butler at Nature already wrote about these kind of journals:

Open-access publishers often collect fees from authors to pay for peer review, editing and website maintenance. Beall asserts that the goal of predatory open-access publishers is to exploit this model by charging the fee without providing all the expected publishing services. These publishers, Beall says, typically display “an intention to deceive authors and readers, and a lack of transparency in their operations and processes”.

At the moment, the Journal of Allergy is not being black listed by Beall (while Hindawi had been in the past). “Journal of Allergy” should not be confused with “The Journal of Allergy”[Jour] that has 1514 PUBMED entries while the “Journal of Allergy”[Jour] has only 157 entries so far. Is this an “intention to deceive authors and readers”?
The most recent issue appears as of “Epub 2014 Apr 6”, the first one as “Epub 2009 Jul 2”, so the company basically publishing 2-3 papers per month.
The Pubmed Analyzer are not very informative here. The whole “Journal of Allergy” has accumulated only 135 citations in the past 5 years (not an impressive figure as I have authored more than a dozen single papers that have received all more citations than the whole journal).
The extreme low citation rate and the missing impact factor may not be taken as an indicator that all papers are of poor quality but raises serious doubts.
The next question therefore is: Does the journal run a state of the art review process? The website list the following 24 scientists on the review board:

William E. Berger, University of California, Irvine, USA
Kurt Blaser, Universität Zürich, Switzerland
Eugene R. Bleecker, Wake Forest University, USA
Jan de Monchy, University of Groningen, The Netherlands
Frank JP Hoebers, MAASTRO Clinic, The Netherlands
Stephen T. Holgate, University of Southampton, United Kingdom
S. L. Johnston, Imperial College London, United Kingdom
Young J. Juhn, Mayo Clinic, USA
Alan P. Knutsen, Saint Louis University, USA
Marek L. Kowalski, Medical University of Lodz, Poland
Ting Fan Leung, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong
Clare M Lloyd, Imperial College London, United Kingdom
Redwan Moqbel, University of Manitoba, Canada
Desiderio Passali, University of Siena, Italy
Stephen P. Peters, Wake Forest University, USA
David G. Proud, University of Calgary, Canada
Fabienne Rancé, CHU Rangueil, France
Anuradha Ray, University of Pittsburgh, USA
Harald Renz, Philipps University of Marburg, Germany
Nima Rezaei, Tehran University of Medical Sciences, Iran
Robert P. Schleimer, Northwestern University, USA
Massimo Triggiani, Università degli Studi di Napoli Federico II, Italy
Hugo Van Bever, National University of Singapore, Singapore
Garry M. Walsh, University of Aberdeen, United Kingdom

Unfortunately this list is not identical to the editor names that are being listed directly on the PDFs ( eg the academic editor RM is not being listed at the web front). The  above editor list includes indeed some well respected scientists but there are also others that show their Hindawi affiliation as their first hit on Google only. As I know 7 of the 24 persons, I decided to email them a short 6 item questionnaire via Surveymonkey.

When did you start your role as an editor?
2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014
2. What is your role there?
Leading editor- supervising associate editors
Editor – assigning papers to reviewes, holding final decision Reviewer – reading and scoring papers
Sonstiges (bitte angeben)
3. How many papers have you been dealing with?
0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 or more
4. How many papers did you accept?
nearly none, about half, most, all
5. Are you being paid for that work?
no, yes, don’t want to tell
6. Is this a serious journal?
no, yes, don’t know

2 of my 24 emails bounced- some of the members of the editorial board are already retired.
19 did not respond. I believe they will show the same behaviour when being addressed by Hindawi.
1 editor sent me a personal email saying that he will resign from the board. It will be interesting to see when the list of editors will be changed, I already started a change detection.
3 editors answered the mini survey: Editor #1 started in 2010, has been dealing with more than 5 papers, accepted most, is not paid and believes it is a serious journal. Editor #2  started in 2009 with all other responses being identical.  Editor #3 started also in 2009 but accepts only half of the papers.
It doesn’t come unexpected that these 3 motivated editors believe in a regular review process. I fear, however, that most editors either do not work for the journal (anymore) or are not motivated to spend even 3 minutes for the quality control of their work.
Without any transparent review process like that at the BMC journals, we can not judge from the outside if there is any review process. The names of the individual reviewers are unknown, and even contacting the authors would not help as they don’t have an interest to reveal that they get a paper published without any review process.

As a library one could order printed copy ( e.g. 20 articles per year for $395 ) although I could not locate any library in the world that has any subscription to this journal.
As an author I would be charged $800 per PDF. There seems to be no major text editing included in the publication process, what you get for your $800 is a quickly reformatted text, a PUBMED entry and a PDF sitting at a cloud server for an unknown storage time. My estimate for that service is $10.

Declan Butler developed a check list of serious publishers and journals. So we can now use that check list to judge this journal.

Check that the publisher provides full, verifiable contact information, including address, on the journal site. Be cautious of those that provide only web contact forms.

FAILED (PARTIALLY)

Check that a journal’s editorial board lists recognized experts with full affiliations. Contact some of them and ask about their experience with the journal or publisher.

FAILED (PARTIALLY)

Check that the journal prominently displays its policy for author fees.

PASSED

Be wary of e-mail invitations to submit to journals or to become editorial board members.

FAILED (SPAMMER)

Read some of the journal’s published articles and assess their quality. Contact past authors to ask about their experience.

FAILED (POOR QUALITY)

Check that a journal’s peer-review process is clearly described and try to confirm that a claimed impact factor is correct.

FAILED (NO IMPACT)

Find out whether the journal is a member of an industry association that vets its members, such as the Directory of Open Access Journals (www.doaj.org) or the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association (www.oaspa.org).

PASSED

Another set of guidelines for fake journals is available at Wikipedia. Complaints that are associated with predatory open-access publishing include

Accepting articles quickly with little or no peer review or quality control, including hoax and nonsensical papers.

CAN NOT BE DECIDED YET

Notifying academics of article fees only after papers are accepted.

FALSE

Aggressively campaigning for academics to submit articles or serve on editorial boards.

TRUE

Listing academics as members of editorial boards without their permission, and not allowing academics to resign from editorial boards.

UNCLEAR

Appointing fake academics to editorial boards.

FALSE

Mimicking the name or web site style of more established journals.

TRUE

Verdict: The journal does not pass the Butler criteria of a scientific journal.

Comment: I do not see any major problem if an open access journal is publishing all manuscripts it receives, leaving the final decision of being good or bad science to a post-publication review process. I see, however, a major problem if any pre-publication review process is being assumed for Pubmed listed papers (and paid for) while being never documented in a transparent way.

Addendum: Change log editor page

Dung hill counting

Wikipedia writes about Imre Lakatos (1922-1974), the famous Hungarian mathematician and philosopher who graduated 1961 in Cambridge with “Essays in the Logic of Mathematical Discovery”

He showed that in some cases one research programme can be described as progressive while its rivals are degenerative. A progressive research programme is marked by its growth, along with the discovery of stunning novel facts, development of new experimental techniques, more precise predictions, etc. A degenerative research program is marked by lack of growth, or growth of the protective belt that does not lead to novel facts.

One of these degenerate research program relates to the hypothesis that farming protects you from allergy

E 2006:

There is increasing evidence that environmental exposures determining childhood illnesses operate early in life. Prenatal exposure to a farming environment through the mother might also play an important role … Both atopic sensitization … and the gene expression of receptors of innate immunity were strongly determined by maternal exposure to stables during pregnancy, whereas current exposures had much weaker or no effects … Each additional farm animal species increased the expression of TLR2, TLR4, and CD14 by a factor of 1.16

Keep in mind – it’s the farm animal.

K 2008:

Several epidemiological studies have shown that the farm environment impacts allergy protection mechanisms in children … In investigating the link between farming lifestyle and prevention of childhood allergy, we examined the prevalence of Listeria spp. in dust specimens from the environment of rural children … The dominant species found by culturing methods were L. innocua (n=12) and L. monocytogenes (n=8).

Sorry – it’s listeria.

K 2006:

There is increasing evidence that the farming environment has a protective effect as regards allergic diseases. Exposure to animal parasites, particularly helminth infections, is common in the farming environment. Exposure to nematodes, as determined by the levels of antibody to A. lumbricoides, was more frequent among farmers’ children than non-farmers’ children… This positive serology was found to be significantly associated with high total IgE levels … and eosinophilia.

Sorry again – it’s ascaris.


E 2007
:

In recent years, studies have shown a protective effect of being raised in a farm environment on the development of hay fever and atopic sensitization…Inverse relations with a diagnosis of asthma were found for pig keeping …, farm milk consumption …, frequent stay in animal sheds …, child’s involvement in haying …, and use of silage … Protective factors were related with higher expression levels of genes of the innate immunity.

Sorry, it’s everything: the pig, the milk, haying and silage.

W 2007:

Some studies in rural environments claimed an inverse association between consumption of farm-produced dairy products … Farm milk consumption ever in life showed a statistically significant inverse association with asthma… rhinoconjunctivitis … and sensitization to pollen and the food mix fx5 …, and sensitization to horse dander.

Hey, milky ways ahead something new: the horse!

K 2007:

There is still uncertainty about the determinants of atopic eczema … In multivariate analyses, helping with haying was the only variable related to a farming environment having a consistent inverse association with both current symptoms and a doctor’s diagnosis of AE.

Yes,  haying makes sense with hayfever.

W 2005:

An increasing number of studies report pet exposure to be associated with lower risk of asthma and allergies … Current contact with dogs was inversely associated with diagnosed hay fever (OR 0.26, 95% CI 0.11-0.57), diagnosed asthma (OR 0.29, 95% CI 0.12-0.71), sensitization…

Oh no, the dog.

V 2008:

Numerous epidemiologic studies have demonstrated an allergy-protective effect of farm life early in childhood …In vitro, B. licheniformis spores activated a T(H)1 cytokine expression profile. In vivo application of these spores resulted in less spore-specific but long-lasting immune activation preventing eosinophilia and goblet cell hyperplasia; however, they provoked an influx of neutrophils in lung tissue of asthmatic mice.

What about bacillus spores?

vM 2008

Contact with farm animals, at least in childhood, likely confers protection; other factors have not been completely identified. Also, the consumption of milk directly from the farm during childhood has been shown to be beneficial with respect to childhood asthma and allergies.

Ok, the newest review is convincing: it’s the milk. Are you still reading here?

This week I am back with the most exciting research

Previous cross-sectional surveys have suggested that maternal exposure to animal sheds during pregnancy exerted a protective effect on atopic sensitization in children lasting until school age … Different sensitization patterns in cord blood of farm and nonfarm children were observed. In multivariable analysis consumption of boiled, but not unboiled, farm milk during pregnancy was positively associated with specific IgE to cow’s milk independently from maternal IgE.

This paper counts dung hills! The authors even invent a new classification (sorry, not of dung hill height but “distance between dung hill and house 50 meters”).

And did you also wonder why paternal history is no more a risk as in virtually all studies? Because there is no allergic parent due to healthy worker effect?
No adjustment for multiple testing “because it will lead to fewer errors of interpretation when the data under evaluation are not random numbers but actual observations on nature”??
The overall response rate in this study is 32% and the strongest risk for cord blood IgE is maternal IgE. Is there any statistical model that can account for poor data by contamination of newborn cord blood with maternal IgE? And uhh, 32% response is that really a representative sample?

Did you notice that being a farm child now suddenly becomes a risk for seasonal sensitization (OR=1.18, NS) and food allergy as well (OR=1.25, NS)? And that farm milk consumption is suddenly a risk! for IgE to cow’s milk (OR=3.64, p=0.01)?

The mantra at the beginning at each of the abstract above is certainly necessary to let us believe in the rest of these papers.

Addendum 8/8/2008
Poster E3269: Prenatal exposure to a farm environment affects atopic sensitization at birth at ERS Berlin Tuesday, October 7, 2008.

Furthermore, inverse associations of CB IgE to seasonal allergens with positive maternal records for Toxoplasma (T.) gondii (adjusted odds ratio = 0.37 [0.17-0.81]) and rubella virus (adjusted odds ratio = 0.35 [0.13-0.96]) were found.

gotcha – Toxoplasma + Rubella.

Addendum 11/12/2009
a new paper & a new cowshed derived bacterium: Acinetobacter

Using the cowshed-derived bacterium Acinetobacter lwoffii F78 together with a mouse model of experimental allergic airway inflammation, this study investigated the hygiene hypothesis.

Addendum 28/2/2011
a new press release Eurotium

Mikrobielle Vielfalt allein reicht vermutlich allerdings nicht aus, um Asthma zu verhindern. Wahrscheinlich ist es eine Kombination spezifischer Arten, die eine Schutzwirkung entfalten kann. „Im gesamten untersuchten Spektrum fanden sich einige Keime, die besonders interessant sein könnten”, berichtet Ege, „dazugehören außer bestimmten Bazillen und Staphylokokken – etwa die Art Staphylococcus sciuri – auch Schimmelpilze der Gattung Eurotium.“

Addendum 1/1/2018
The research above has now lead to the highest German Science Prize, an honorary doctorate, an ERC advanced grant, a Leopoldina and Bavarian Academy membership.

Are science blogs dangerous?

Amnesty International reports that an Egyptian blogger is now facing up to 10 years in prison for criticizing Egypt’s religious authorities. A German blogger writing about constructing buses in China even faced an invitation to a court in Bejing. And everybody knows of Ellen Simonetti becoming famous for being fired by Delta.
A major difference of blogs to accredited journalism is also the limited capacity to respond to any prosecution: I don’t have any money for a lawyer while newspapers and journals can hire dozens.
Sure, science blogs are much less intrusive but there is always a risk that the empire will strike back; 99% of grant and paper reviews are anonymous.
BUT, there are good news – the blog community is large and always alert. As a science blooger writing on bad science you can now even get nice prizes – gratulations to Ben. Don’t forget that all students arriving in your lab have read your weblog first.
Refraining from all activities also involves some risk, yea, yea.