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‘Bad actors’ dominate new chemistry journal’s editorial board, critics allege

The publisher of the journal Green Biomaterials says it is investigating the allegations

by Dalmeet Singh Chawla, special to C&EN
April 30, 2024

The cover of an academic journal called Green Biomaterials.
Credit: Taylor & Francis

When François-Xavier Coudert came across a brand-new chemistry journal launched by the reputable publisher Taylor & Francis, he decided to check out the people who are running it.

He recognized two names in the journal’s editorial leadership because he had used PubPeer, a website where scientists discuss papers, to note concerns about some of their publications. Often, but not always, being flagged on PubPeer means the research’s integrity is in question.

Coudert, a theoretical chemist at the French National Center for Scientific Research and a member of C&EN’s advisory board, soon realized that almost all the editorial members of the journal, Green Biomaterials, which has yet to publish a research paper, had several papers discussed on PubPeer.

He took to social media to voice his concerns. “We have reached the point where entire journals are being run by bad actors,” he wrote on X on April 20.

A tweet saying "We have reached the point where entire journals are being run by bad actors . . .".
Credit: X

“They’re really problematic,” Coudert tells C&EN, referring to papers by some of the journal’s editorial leaders that were discussed on PubPeer. “I don’t think they have in the past responded well to problems and concerns being raised in their publications.”

In addition, Coudert and others on social media noted that the Green Biomaterials editors all list private email addresses rather than institutional ones, a practice generally discouraged in academic publishing.

“It’s a big red flag,” Coudert says, explaining that using personal email addresses has been part of fake peer review scams, in which authors suggest peer reviewers for their papers who either are compromised or aren’t legitimate experts. “If I’m writing from a Gmail address that looks like my name, there’s no guarantee that it’s me who’s writing,” he says.

Coudert says the journals he works with ask for institutional email addresses during the submission of papers and when contacting referees.

One of the researchers whose work is under scrutiny is Navid Rabiee, a chemist who is based at Murdoch University and Macquarie University, both in Australia, and is the new journal’s editor in chief. Researchers on PubPeer are discussing more than two dozen of his studies for reasons including reporting unlikely results; using questionable references, often to retracted research; and engaging in excessive self-citation.

In an email, a Taylor & Francis spokesperson says, “Allegations of misconduct have been brought to our attention concerning the Editor in Chief and editorial board members of the journal Green Biomaterials. We take these concerns seriously and are investigating.”

We’re constantly seeing more papers, more authors, more reviewers.
François-Xavier Coudert, theoretical chemist, French National Center for Scientific Research

In an email to C&EN, Rabiee acknowledges accusations about his work over the past few years. “During this time, journals and publishers have contacted me regarding the matter. After a thorough investigation by field specialists, all accusations were found to be false, and my articles were upheld,” he writes. “Now, the journals and publishers are aware of the falsity of these accusations, so no matter how many false comments are made, it is not worth addressing.”

C&EN also reached out to all six of the journal’s editorial board members. The only one to reply was Ali Zarrabi, the journal’s drug discovery and drug delivery associate editor, who is based at Istinye University and has 18 papers flagged on PubPeer.

Zarrabi coauthored a 2021 review article that was retracted by the publisher Hindawi after it “uncovered evidence of systematic manipulation of the publication and peer-review process,” according to the retraction notice. Zarrabi claims that the “nonsense accusations” on PubPeer are coming from a former colleague who was a doctoral student.

“After being fired because of some ethical misconduct, he started revenging a large group of scientists from different universities by commenting falsely/fakery on the publications,” Zarrabi writes in an email.

Part of the challenge in maintaining quality in scholarly publishing is that publishers are continually launching new journals, Coudert says. “We’re constantly seeing more papers, more authors, more reviewers,” he says. “It’s stretching the limits of what’s possible while maintaining quality, and that’s partly why we’re seeing more cracks and failures in the system.”



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