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The Dark Side

Crap, Courtesy of a Major Scientific Publisher

I hate to be like this. But yesterday a number of chemists began noticing this paper, and after having a look, I think it really needs to be mentioned. (Update: if that link is down, and it’s been spotty under all the attention, try this one). It’s a group from Kuala Lumpur, the pharmacology department of the University of Malaya, and it details the effect of a particular compound on various cell lines (particularly hepatocarcinoma-derived ones).

Fine. I’ll say up front that I don’t find papers like this particularly interesting, but that’s just my own opinion. A lot of compounds will affect various cell lines in vitro, and by now I’ve seen enough of them that I don’t feel the need to read about more examples unless there’s something really notable about what’s going on. At the same time, though, there’s nothing erroneous about saying “Here’s this compound and here’s what it does to cells”. Uninteresting does not mean wrong. I will say, though, that I find that rationale behind the paper to be rather thin – as far as I can see, it comes down to “Piperazine compounds are known to affect liver cells – here’s a piperazine compound, and here’s what it does to liver cells”. But again, that’s not wrong.

SR structure

So let’s get down to the parts that are wrong. This is the structure of the compound of interest, as rendered in the paper’s supporting information. And this is a warning sign. That structure has been drawn by someone who has little or no experience with organic chemistry or with a structure-drawing program. The bond lengths and angles are all skrinked around to no purpose. The connectivity of the structure is still there, but the other message this drawing conveys is “I don’t know what I’m doing”. You’d say the same thing if someone produced a picture that is supposed to be an outline of the state of Florida, but shows the panhandle curving back around towards the Keys. It doesn’t do that; Pensacola isn’t over that way. In the same way, that carbonyl carbon isn’t trying to flee the rest of the molecule by lengthening its bonds and angling them off into the distance (and that’s not the only funny-looking bond in the structure by any means).

Well, fine, there are ugly structures all over the place, drawn (more often than not) by biologists and appearing in biology-oriented journals where most of the readers don’t even notice. But more serious problems are coming. You’ll note that no stereochemistry is shown for those hydroxyl groups on the cyclohexane rings, so in theory this could be a mixture of eight compounds. When you go to the experimental section of the paper, though, you get this for the synthesis:

Using tert-Butyl piperazine-1-carboxylate, a Buchwald coupling was performed. Deprotection of the carbamate was achieved using 20% HCl in methanol. Subsequent amidation using triethylamine and various acyl chlorides yielded the final compounds that were tested after purification and structure validation using NMR.

That’s it. And that “procedure”, unacceptably sparse as it is, clearly will not make that structure. Buchwald couplings make bonds between nitrogens and aryl rings, so one’s first guess is that someone really didn’t know organic chemistry and meant for both of those cyclohexyls to be phenyls. But hold on – the structure, as drawn, is C17H30N2O5, for a molecular weight of 342.4. The aromatic version, if that’s what was meant, comes to C17H18N2O5, 330.3. But the experimental says that they calculated the elemental analysis for C20H20N2O2 (320.4), and it came out correct. What compound is that? Not what’s drawn, that’s for sure. It gets even worse when you look at the mass spec in the supplementary information. There’s a big, strong peak at 395, which the authors apparently think is just fine to put next to a structure that doesn’t match it in any way, neither of which match the experimental section of the paper itself.

They also have proton and carbon NMR spectra, and I don’t suppose that it’ll come as a surprise at this point that neither of those appear to match the structure given, either. The carbon NMR certainly tells you immediately that those rings aren’t cyclohexyls, as drawn, but it also tells you that there are apparently two carbonyls in the molecule (or at least some other carbon out in that region), which isn’t right, either. The proton NMR doesn’t remotely match anything discussed so far. There are aromatic peaks out at 8.7 (pyridine?), a singlet at 9.4 (?), and a doublet out at 14.3 (phenol OH? carboxylic acid? who knows?). Nothing adds up. Any organic chemist who looked over this stuff for thirty seconds would know this, which tells us that no organic chemist ever did so – not the authors, not the reviewers.

Figure 5

We’ll get back to that topic of reviewers in a moment. For now, though, let’s walk away from the wreckage that is the paper’s chemistry content and turn to its biology, which is clearly its main emphasis. Take a look at figure 5. As a commenter on the paper (see the bottom of the page at its link above) caught, this figure supposedly describes the effect of the compound at two different concentrations on three different cell lines. But all the images are identical. The same cells are in the same places, which is impossible. All that’s been added in each frame are the “features” pointed out by the red arrows. One does not need to be a cell biologist to notice this. But neither the authors nor the reviewers thought anything of it.

There’s more like this. Figure 6 is full of copy-and-pasted cells, in a manner so blatant that a high school student would not expect to get away with it. Figure 10 has whole panels duplicated between what are supposed to be different cell lines. I don’t even want to start looking at the Western blots – why would you trust them when the rest of the paper is such a mess?

Enough. The authors should be ashamed of sending a manuscript out like this, because its mistakes are so numerous and so obvious as to make outright fraud – deliriously incompetent fraud – the first explanation that comes to mind. The reviewers, if there were any, should also be ashamed for letting something like this pass. Who looked at this stuff? Now, Scientific Reports is a catch-all journal, for sure, the Nature Publishing Group’s answer to PLOS ONE. In theory, it’s not supposed to review for impact in any way, just for scientific accuracy. Once that’s established, the authors pay the fee and the paper gets published, and the whole thing is open-access.

I don’t have a problem with that model. But it doesn’t work if you don’t review the damned papers. I don’t think that Nature wants to compete head-to-head with all the junk publishers of this world, but if they really want to, this is how you’d do it. Wave everything through, publish crap, cash the checks. They need to get their act together before they do any more damage to their good name.

Update: alert reader Adrian Roitberg has sent along a link to this paper, published in January from the same authors in Malaysia in the journal Frontiers in Pharmacology. Note that Figure 2 in this second paper contains some of the same images that are found in Figure 5 of the Scientific Reports paper. Unfortunately, they’re supposed to be images of completely different cell lines. Similarly, Figure 4 of the Frontiers in Pharmacology has images that are reproduced in the SR paper’s Figure 3, and again, they’re supposed to be completely different cells from a completely different experiment.

Want to see something even more stupid? Not only are these images being blatantly recycled between papers, but in the Frontiers in Pharmacology paper, Figure 4, the images for the HT-29 cells are the same images for the WiDr cells, just rotated 90 degrees. Such a time-saver! I get the impression that this lab has only taken about half a dozen cell images, which keep getting rotated and recolored as needed.

Update 2: Retraction Watch is on this, too. Yet another paper from the same group also shows duplicated and shared images as well. Amazingly, the lead author is denying any problems at all, saying that well of course these cells look the same – they’re in the same stage of growth, right? That explanation shows all the believability and finesse of the original image manipulations. I look forward to seeing what comes next.

81 comments on “Crap, Courtesy of a Major Scientific Publisher”

  1. This is Spartan says:

    From my side I am done with reviewing. I have decided to not do it anymore. I am aware that it’s not the right attitude to have but two times in a row, I was recently involved in the peer-reviewing of such crappy papers. And at the end the papers were accepted without revision despite the detailed and valid criticism I made in both cases.
    One was in J.Med.Chem and the other I cannot recall. Anyway, I think there is a problem with the current system.

    1. NJ BugHunter says:

      I hear you. I reviewed a paper for PLoS one that literally was not science at all–it was a summary of interviews with people had a particular disease and how it affected their lives–no hypothesis, no quantitation, no analysis–just quotes from interviews. I pointed this out in no uncertain terms at both the initial review and revision stages and it was accepted with minimal changes. No more reviewing for that journal by me.

  2. Nick K says:

    Hello Derek,

    My comment has disappeared, as has the comment which followed it. Any idea why?

    1. Derek Lowe says:

      Unfortunately, I tried to go in and edit the post to make the graphics appear better, and managed to mess it up totally! But when I got it restored, which was a near-run thing, the two comments had unfortunately gotten wiped out. Sorry about that! I hope that’ll be a rare event.

  3. LeBron James says:

    I think that there are 32 possible diastereomers, not 8. The right hand (pseudo-meso) side of the compound has four possible conformations.

    1. NC says:

      Conformations do not make diastereomers, my friend.

      1. anonymous coward says:

        Bad terminology, but I think he’s right: four stereoisomers of the right-hand ring (enan a – trans-3,5-HO; enan-b-trans-3,5-HO (piperazine is always cis to one HO); cis-3,5-HO, cis-piperazine; cis-3,5-HO, trans-piperazine – last two can’t have absolute stereo because of a mirror plane) and eight stereoisomers (four diastereomers, each with two enantiomers – no mirror planes) of the left hand ring gives 32 possible stereoisomers of the whole molecule.

        1. NC says:

          Ah, I see what you mean… yes. Was confused by configurations vs conformations, rather than just looking at it and understanding what was meant.

  4. Semichemist says:

    “ is currently experiencing technical difficulties, please try back later.”

    Derek, your wrath is swift

    1. SUMIT says:

      Yeah I also trying to access that paper but only Sci. Report showing error from last 12 h….

  5. Nat says:

    Congratulations on for (un)scientific report!

  6. a says:

    Scientific Reports is a garbage journal publishing garbage papers to make NPG money.

    If I were working at NPG, I would be looking to lobby to have it disbanded; it severely dilutes the already diluted “nature” reputation by being associated with it.

    1. mjs says:

      See Leonard Wibberley, The Mouse That Roared, the book not the movie, for a discussion of the Dilutionist vs the Antidilutionist parties in Grand Fenwick. “Nature Whatever” is the journal of the Dilutionist faction at Nature.

      1. a says:

        Nature: subject x
        journals are home to some quite good science
        dilution, yes, but not fatal (e.g. N.Chem, N.Nano both publish good stuff)

        “scientific reports” is home to lies and imbecility.

        1. b says:

          Nature Publishing Group seems determined to undermine their reputation by adding more and more of these Nature subject journals. They’re apparently planning to launch a new one also in my field (astronomy). I don’t see that working well, because even the main journal isn’t all that highly regarded in this field.

    2. JoshVW says:

      My cynical take on these journal (Nature->Scientific Reports, Science->Science Advances, JACS-> ACS Omega) is that there are two classes of articles:

      1) People who submit an article they think is Nature/Science/JACS-worthy, it sits in review for months (I’ve heard horror stories with N/S submissions taking a year to be accepted with multiple review rounds), then gets rejected. The authors are then so desperate to get the thing published that they jump at the chance to have their paper shunted over to the sub-journal in a frictionless process. A few thousand dollars is cheaper than having to go through review again.

      2) People with bad science who want to have the glow of being published by Nature or Science instead of making their science better and publishing in a respectable specialized journal (Phys Rev B, Inorganic Chemistry, etc)

      Is there a third class of papers I’m not aware of? Are there fields in which people submit their good-but-not-CNS-sexy papers directly to Scientific Reports or Science Advances as their first submission?

      As a side note, the people who should really be pissed at this are the Science/Science Advances editors. As the reputation of Scientific Reports goes down the tubes, so will that of Science Advances by association.

      1. The Forever War (of Publication) says:

        I’ve definitely done option 1 before: after a round of revision at both Nature and NChem (each ending in split referee reports and rejection) we were offered publication w/o further review at Nature Comm. Since our paper had been “under review” for 9 months at this point we jumped at the offer…

        1. mzspectrum says:

          Yeah, if the major drivers of the project leave, and no one has time/resources/effort to deal with reviewers asking for more experiments.

          Sci Reports has an IF of 5, which is pretty much great anecdote on how useless IF is…
          Sci reports has published some major crap recently in my field, and caused a not insignificant amount of damage in terms of non-reproducible assays and questionable pseudoscience getting a peer-reviewed stamp on it. Probably should question that peer-reviewed stamp…

  7. Peter Kenny says:

    On the basis of Fsp3, I recommend that this compound be prioritized for Phase II evaluation as soon as FPI and LELP have been calcuated to 4 significant figures.

    1. Phil says:

      You forgot all the stereocenters. Go straight to the pivotal study, it’s a shoo-in.

  8. Matt says:

    Wow, this is frustrating for me, as I’ve recently published a large, original, multi-diciplinary paper in this journal with multiple collaborators. I don’t like the idea of being lumped in with papers like this.

  9. a. nonymaus says:

    The MS data are in accord with the aromatic version of the putative compound, plus a proton and two molecules of methanol. However, I would still expect to see more than zero signal for the M+H^+ species. The proton and carbon NMR spectra are entirely beyond my ability to explain. In combination with the obvious biological data shenanigans, I’m left wondering what (if anything) these spectra are of.

  10. J says:

    Figure 1, the SNU-423 Nucleus is taken from the normal cell and is a
    vertical and horizontal mirror of it. The SNU-475 is just a portion of
    the normal cell. No need to check the rest
    Figure 2, SNU-475 and SNU-423 have EXACTLY the same flow cytometry
    profile, that’s impossible
    Figure 4, seriously, the two cell lines have the same microscopy
    pictures, just treated differently (look at the cells shapes and positions).
    Figure 5 is obviously faked… many cells look the same… Also why is it in
    two rows?
    Figure 6 is so grossly made that it would be funny…
    Figure 8 is faked (copy and paste between conditions SNU-457 and 423)
    Figure 10 is faked (left and right microscopies have copy and paste too,
    look bottom left and top right)

    The NMR and mass spec don’t match the compound.

    Fig 12 looks overly treated, it has been leveled and information has
    been hidden from it (seen in a noise analysis)

    This paper has not been reviewed at all. This should never have been
    through… Nobody did even read this paper once, and if they did, they
    should probably not do that job. And I just did spent exactly 10 min on
    this paper, I’m sure there is way more to say about this paper…

  11. JAB says:

    I recently served as an editorial board member for this journal. They have a pretty elaborate refereeing system set up. Editroial board members, as far as I could see, could make a final judgement on a paper with or without review. I quit mostly because it was too time consuming to find decent referees. I’m not sure who is monitoring the decision process – it’s such a sprawling unfocused journal. The quality of submissions I saw was variable, but the paper Derek mentions is a clear fail of the editorial process. In total, I think I only managed a dozen manuscripts so can’t make an overall judgement.

  12. NC says:

    I’ve been trying to figure out what the actual compound is. Frustratingly, I don’t think all the numbers for the peak positions are shown. Perhaps if the authors deny wrongdoing, they would be happy to provide the fids?

    I guess I’m also a little confused about the NMR in the Frontiers in Pharmacology paper you linked to – but I confess I know nothing about polymers (am a run-of-the-mill synthetic organicker), so that could just be me.

    In fact, I just clicked onto another of his papers randomly (the first one I saw), and the NMR in there looks a little odd, too. I can’t figure out how it’s the compound it’s said to be – even if the nitrogen that’s clearly meant to be there were shown. That’s here: (interestingly, the DOI doesn’t work). There’s also a free copy of the paper on his ResearchGate profile:

    1. Marya Lieberman says:

      Yeah, in this paper I like the way they analyzed their copper compound using a formula containing two iron atoms (“Calc. for C51H79Fe2N7O6”)

  13. JE says:

    “I don’t have a problem with that model. But it doesn’t work if you don’t review the damned papers.”

    The open access publishing model works optimally if the papers aren’t reviewed. The people who are paying are the authors and they don’t want their papers reviewed. Maximum customer satisfaction.

    The traditional model where the readers pay all costs is the only way to ensure quality of scientific publications. Maximum customer satisfaction for the readers demands good peer review.

    1. Juani says:

      Just wanted to recall that with modern technology the cost of publishing is ridiculous:

      PD: I mean, the parts of publishing that are now super expensive. Authoring and peer-review, which could be very expensive, are done for free.

      1. price does not equal cost says:

        Juani —
        First, you are confusing value creation with cost of production. Having a paper pass through, say, Nature’s professional editors (who quite often make significant editorial contributions), making it past the very high profile reviewers, beating out all the competing high value papers for space, etc., creates a LOT of value for the authors (and for others, e.g. grant agencies trying to evaluate work they don’t understand). NPG organizes all that, in all sorts of ways that cost real money (computers, facilities, salaries — not paid for by grants or tuition). Another part of the value NPG creates is being an independent third party held to a market standard. If and when they don’t create value, people will stop wanting to read their journal. However, it’s not fair to force them to give away their work for free. Obviously, their value creation does drop off as you move down the food chain. “Nature X” is still pretty valuable, with the third and fourth tier journals less so.

        Second (continuing to pick on NPG), Nature does capture some of their value creation in their fees — but they really don’t capture that much. Like most publishing houses, they don’t make much return on invested capital. I could be wrong, but if they actually had a high ROIC, I don’t think NPG/Macmillan would have been bought out by Holtzbrinck.

        What we will find going forward is the value added and value captured by ultra low cost journals will be extremely low. Barriers to entry are almost zero, and the net effect will be incredible dilution in quality, and — as we’re already seeing — increasing difficulty in getting reviewers. Don’t forget that NPG is indirectly creating value for the *reviewers* as well by exposing them to important cutting edge research in advance of everyone else. What does a reviewer get out of sorting through the chaff? The net result may well be that we see the fourth and third tier journals move out of the publishing houses, but I suspect the publishers will just create their own open access journals (as they’ve already started to do). Network and halo effects and economies of scale will work in their favor, likely.

        1. price does not equal cost says:

          Correction on para 2. I was thinking of the 2015 merger of Macmillan and Springer units. Holtzbrinck got control of Macmillan in 1995. FWIW, in 2014 Holzbrinck reported pretax profits of 6%, on revenue of 1.7 billion euros. By way of comparison, Apple’s pretax profit is 31% of revenue, Walmart’s is 4%. Make of that what you will.

    2. CR says:

      Who pays the piper calls the tune, as they say. This is indeed my objection to the OA model (or my cynicism showing). But I agree it can be hard to find competent reviewers, while good reviews are time-consuming and have no immediate direct return. There may also be a question of education: are we taught to review papers or is it usually a self-taught experience? At least I never had any mention of reviewing in my education, why it is important, what it should do, what to look for.

  14. I’ve submitted several problems with the Frontiers in Pharmacology paper by this group, DOI: 10.3389/fphar.2015.00313, on Pubpeer.

  15. I’ve submitted several problems with the Frontiers in Pharmacology paper by this group, DOI: 10.3389/fphar.2015.00313, on Pubpeer.

    1. NC says:

      I tried posting a comment here about problems with that paper and one other (I looked at the first paper I randomly came across) by the same lead author, but I guess it didn’t post. Similarly, NMR problems in both, at least as far as I could tell.

      1. Derek Lowe says:

        NC, it was in approval limbo, but I just had it publish. Thanks!

        1. NC says:

          Ah, because of links maybe. That must be a tiring job… Thanks!

  16. huh?? says:

    It’s funny how we mock papers from the third world and China but we take pharmaceutical companies seriously when their labs are primarily staffed with such people, passing over Americans from good labs

    1. Derek Lowe says:

      Not going to let this one pass without comment. Pharma companies, in my experience, don’t tend to hire people with only papers like these on their records, and if they show such behavior in their own research, they tend to fire them. I’m not upset with these authors because they’re from Malaysia – I’m upset with them because they have published a mound of stupidly faked data.

      1. Hwa SH says:

        Thank you Derek for not letting bigotry go unchallenged.

        I first saw the story about this scandal from Retraction Watch’s blog post posted on the Malaysian Scientists Abroad Facebook group. All of us are disgusted, not that this should need to be said.

        I’ve worked with scientists of various races and nationalities who are very good, and (thankfully few) scientists of various races and nationalities who are lazy idiots.

        The education systems in Asia that emphasize obedience to authority, rote memorization, and pro forma exercises do share some of the blame for plagiarism and other shoddy practices, but smart people will learn quickly that this is not right in science. I did my tertiary education overseas but again, I have worked with some locally-educated colleagues who were good scientists and some western-educated colleagues who were twits.

        1. Derek Lowe says:

          I’ve worked with some Malaysian scientists in the past a couple of times. That’s one of the things that I thought of when I saw this paper, that the legit researchers from the country would be upset to see it, and justifiably so. It’s always hard to take when people from your country/state/university let down the side like this. . .

        2. Isidore says:

          I think the tradition of obedience to authority, fostered by the education system, plays a big role here. I mean, most grad students, postdocs and junior staff want to please their supervisors, but the more fearful (for lack of a better term) is one of one’s supervisor the more likely it is that one will go to extremes to come up with satisfactory experimental results. And for some people this includes faking (however poorly) data. I have witnessed this first hand in US academia with many new arrivals from certain countries, who tend to be exceedingly deferential to authority. With time many are weaned off.

    2. Researchfella says:

      In Pharma, there are multiple checks and balances from internal peer review, as well as management oversight. On any given project there are multiple PhD lab-heads as well as their associates in chemistry, multiple pharmacologists, scale-up/process chemists, etc. The collective team effort provides pretty good QC. I’ve seen some shoddy or falsified work show up once or twice, but the system worked and it was caught.

  17. Blunderbuss says:

    Oh what a tangled web we weave… Assuming the NMR spectra are from a real compound (s), I can’t come up with a reasonable structure based upon what they are saying they did. The spectra look too clean. Aromatics definitely are there. Any cyclohexyl compounds with -OH groups would create a real diasterotopic shit show from 1.5 – 4.0 so that is out. 188 ppm carbonyl is too far downfield for an acyl piperazine. -OMe maybe and two other Methyl groups in 1H. It doesn’t even look like an acyl piperazine, since there are no multiplets from 2-4. I hope someone puts this on a cume.

  18. Anonymous Researcher snaw says:

    My grad school adviser sometimes showed me papers for which he had recommended rejection. In one case his entire review was the sentence “I have now seen this paper from six different journals. I each case I recommended its rejection.”

  19. blah says:

    it also have some leftover traces of bad photoshop (ms paint?) here:

  20. Li Zhi says:

    I’ve not published in more than several decades. I don’t understand why a reviewer would feel justified in requesting more work be done. If more work needs to be done, then the current work can’t justify the conclusion(s) and the paper should be rejected. Right? I guess my model is whether or not the paper is rejected with prejudice attached (in the legal sense) or not. If academic and other institutions don’t require their full professors to be reviewers (or editors (or both)), then the incentives are obviously inadequate, it seems to me. Its far from clear to me that the journals are the major ‘bad actor’ here. End users can not (and will not) support the massive STEMM publishing industry. I don’t know what the solution will be, but I’m pretty sure it will be a new system. Perhaps (non-profit) archived, followed by peer reviewed/accepted (compensated ? pro bono? both probably). But I’m guessing the major problem is few reviewers and taking far too long to respond. I’m not sure what that structure is, but I assumed the 3 rings were aromatic – based on really ancient graphics drawing software. (for instance, the bond length may have been determined by where the end groups were placed, with little user control) OTOH, the paper is clearly fraud, and the authors should be red-flagged. Blah, blah, due process, blah…Gawker’s gone, huh? Too bad. Maybe we need an ICANN for reputation reviews. These guys need to go on a wall of shame. How to do that without punishing the innocent? Retraction Watch for a start.

  21. Li Zhi says:

    cyclohexyls ought to be boat or chair, imho.

  22. Rich Rostrom says:

    Maybe what is needed is a “tiger team” approach to validating editorial and peer review.

    That is, papers should be concocted and submitted which contain clearly detectable errors or falsifications, with the intent of testing the editors and reviewers. If they don’t spot the bogosity and approve the paper, they get dinged.

    Multiple dings, and the ding score gets published. If the ding score goes high enough, the publishers or reviewers lose credentials.

    Under this system, editors and reviewers would get a lot more careful, I think.

    (NOTE: There has to be a mechanism for stopping a bogus paper between approval and publication, so it doesn’t actually enter the literature.)

    1. KevinH says:

      Under this system, editors and reviewers would get a lot more careful, I think.

      Under this system, editors would have even more difficulty finding volunteer reviewers than they already do.

      That leaves aside the difficulty of who would fund, manage, and execute such a scheme.

      1. Phil says:

        If anyone would do it, it would be Dale Poulter and JOC. That guy takes this shit seriously (and I mean that in a good way).

  23. Anthonymous says:

    Derek, you were quite right not about your western blot intuition.
    Figure 7 from Frontiers in Pharmacol and Figure 12 from PeerJ are identical. They didn’t just copy-paste a couple of spots – the whole figure has been ducplicated…

  24. Anon says:

    Here is a mirror of the paper, sci. rep. seems to be down:

    Already Figure 1 is fraudulent. The second row is a segment of the the image from the first row, with some cells removed. The third row is a segment of the first row, turned 180°. It’s pretty funny how bad these guys are at forgery.

  25. Gwen R says:

    The system and circumstances have created a monster. The expat PhD student needs to justify his studentship/scholarship, the ageing non-performing professors need to justify their tenure with the university, the university needs to break into the Top100 World rankings, the politicians need to show these “achievements” to justify their positions, and the food chain goes on. The sum of these is the easy way out which is fraudulent publications in pay-to-publish journals.

    1. Nick says:

      I agree. Lecturers want papers and enough students to graduate so they can be permanent staffs. Professors want papers to get money from the government. The university promised ridiculously high amount of papers when applying for grant, and this is the consequence. Not to mention there are many non-qualified lecturers and professors who only exist to pass time and play politics. Pick a chemistry lecturer to draw that piperazine compound and I dare you he/she won’t be able to do it.

  26. organic dork says:

    If you add 2 methyl groups in the piperazine ring, and put a methyl group on one of the phenols, the mass matches (It gives 273, so 295 is M+Na).

    That being said, the NMR data doesn’t match that structure at all. Moreover, the triplets around 7.0 and 7.3 suggest the compound has aromatic protons with 2 ortho hydrogens substituents coupling, which doesn’t match the proposed structure.

    1. oganic dork says:

      Sorry, I meant mass gives 372, so 395 is M+Na

  27. Andrew says:

    Looking at the MS data and NMR data, It seems like the plausible molecular formula is C19H20N2O6 + Na-cation in the MS. This corresponds to the correct number of 1H/13C from the NMR data and the isotopic pattern in the MS. This certainly doesn’t solve the mystery but it definitely precludes even a fully aromatized structure fitting the general structure given since the unsaturation of the structure doesn’t fit.

  28. Anon says:

    From just a few days ago (“Reproducibility: Crisis or Not?” May 26), it is clear that there are MANY other cases of CRAP being published in more prestigious journals. Most should have been caught by referees or editors. Even if exposed, most of these papers are not corrected or retracted.

    E.g., “A New Synthesis of Lysergic Acid”, James B. Hendrickson and Jian Wang, Org. Lett. 6, 3-5 (2004), DOI: 10.1021/ol0354369 was debunked by “A Reported “New Synthesis of Lysergic Acid” Yields Only The Derailment Product: Methyl 5- methoxy-4,5-dihydroindolo[4,3- f,g]quinoline-9-carboxylate.” Markondaiah Bekkam, Huaping Mo, and David E. Nichols. Org Lett. 2012 Jan 6; 14(1): 296–298. doi: 10.1021/ol203048q

  29. Agix says:

    I am a Canadian researching (nothing related to biology) in Malaysia at current, and research issues like this here is widespread… at the despair of many of the competent professors and professionals.

    And, here is what to expect (beyond the coming lip-service to good institutional practices): “…and in reaction to this complete farce of research, the authoring professor and students were treated harshly by being given a slightly less higher raise than they had expected…”

  30. Dare one say “arsenic bacteria”?

  31. Joshua Telser says:

    I just was sent the link to this blog by a colleague. I downloaded the original article using the “try this one” link and see that there is no organic structure, poorly drawn or otherwise. Does that mean that Nature have already done damage control on this paper?
    So much for something being published as record of something – pay as you go, I guess.

    1. Anon says:

      It was in the SI last I checked (yesterday). Haven’t redownloaded today but you might check there.

  32. not my first rodeo says:

    Also WiDr is just a derivative of HT-29, they are genetically identical, as anyone looking at the ATCC catalog can tell (regarding this comment from Deryk: ” Frontiers in Pharmacology paper, Figure 4, the images for the HT-29 cells are the same images for the WiDr cells, just rotated 90 degrees”)

  33. anonymous says:

    “The bond lengths and angles are all skrinked around to no purpose. The connectivity of the structure is still there, but the other message this drawing conveys is “I don’t know what I’m doing”.”

    I don’t disagree that this paper is clearly a fraud, but I’ve read plenty of patents from pharmaceutical companies of which this could be said, or where the same compound is named with a different pseudo-systematic name in the examples and the claims, or other clearly intentional obfuscations.

  34. Y. Mehmani says:

    I believe it’s the duty of a good scientist to ignore “crappy” papers and not to waste time writing a blog about it. What is useless will never get used, and that’s the ultimate test, isn’t it.

    1. NC says:

      Good scientists never waste time, write blogs, or comment on blogs about crappy papers.

    2. eugene says:

      So… you’re one of ‘those authors’ from the Tett. Lett. papers from the 80s whose procedures I tried to use for resolving a chiral diol with an enzyme, using a novel catalyst for a tricky sterically hindered epoxide, using montmorillonite clay for selective reduction of alkynes, or some shit like that, right? You owe me at least a day of salary time, more if you’re the author of multiple papers.

      Name and location please. The invoice will come a week later. Also, please give me the contact details of your fine institution’s chair of the chemistry department.

      1. Nick K says:

        Well said. I’ll never get back the weeks of my life I wasted trying to reproduce dishonest Tet Lett and JACS papers.

    3. Anon says:

      Also to Mehmani: More than 2 man-years and almost $200,000 was spent trying to reproduce and repair the bogus Hendrickson-Wang Lysergic Acid synthesis (Org. Lett. 2004, 6, pp 3-5). That time and money could have been put to MUCH better use.

  35. BAC says:

    Thanks, Prof Derek. At least we will not be directed to the wrong knowledge. I hope all the researcher can share their true finding. In my opinion, it is doesn’t a matter whether the findings is not what we are expected during the proposal. That’s your finding but DON’T share your cheating result to us.

  36. loupgarous says:

    Gresham’s Law says “bad money drives out good.” I think a corollary for open access scientific publication is starting to emerge. Fallacious, outright meretricious crap is easier to produce than valid research results. A little dab-hand work with photo editing utilities, some glib hand-waving (and if you want plausibility, either plagiarize someone who actually did the stuff you’re pencil-whipping; otherwise, feel free to write some science fiction) and one or two images can be flippped, folded and pixelated to yield a high-schooler’s parody of a paper on scientific results.

    What scares me is that a synergy between the frauds who are using open-access journals which either don’t peer-review or don’t follow their peer reviewers’ recommendations and the postmodernists is possible. Why insist on fact-based, patriarchal constructs in science, when these have been used to oppress women and minorities for decades? That poor man in Malaya was just asserting his right to be a published researcher, after all.

    I wish I were making stuff like this up, but a similar case in which several of us wikipedia editors were debating whether a certain physicist was notable enough to have an article in wikipedia.

    It came out during the discussion that he owns an “institute” which publishes several journals of physics and mathematics (his specialties), and has, of course, published papers in all of them. He’s also a frequent contributor to The American Journal of Modern Physics, which is based in the Sudan, and an Editorial Board of 33, only two of which reside in the US (a professor at Texas Tech and a Fermilab man). His articles for this open-access, pay-to-play journal cite many articles of the author’s (40 out of 70 total citations in one paper). The remainder of the citations are mostly also in The American Journal of Modern Physics.

    Two other wikipedia editors with academic backgrounds also saw what I did – gaming automated measures of a researcher’s impact on his field (like h-index and Google Scholar) by profuse walls of papers citing other papers of the author’s in journals mainly remarkable for impressive article preparation and reprint fees.

    This isn’t going away until more people like Derek stand up and call it what it is -crap. Best we do it before the postmodernists tell these “researchers” that they are, indeed, entitled to their own reality.

  37. D.W. says:

    Recently, I also reviewed a paper in some Journal. From my own experience, I quite suspect it is faked or wrong, so I submitted a comment of mandatory add supports for their declaration. And after submitted, I checked the other reviewer also issued a serious problem for that manuscript, and also give a “Major review” and mandatory modification. But after two weeks I find that paper was published without any modification. This shocked me, I checked the information of the in charged as. editor and the authors, I find out that they are from the same region, and I guess they should quite familiar each other. This kind of review is really a waste of my time.

  38. Hank Roberts says:

    This article has been retracted. See Sci Rep. 2016 June 22; 6: 29056.

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