Open Access, possibly predatory publisher and that's just the start of the weirdness

Mar 18 2014 Published by under Open Access, Scientific Publication

I recently received a run-of-the-mill spam that I should sign up for email updates from the Journal of Experimental Neuroscience. It is described as "an open access peer reviewed journal published by Libertas Academica".

Okay, what the heck, I'll visit the journal website to find out it isn't indexed in PubMed so, no thanks. But let's check on the Editorial Board (ok, at least couple of names most everyone would know) and do a little check on the Editor in Chief to make sure he's a scientist, not a professional editor.

The bio lists Raphael Pinaud as "an Associate Professor in the Department of Neurobiology at Northwestern University, USA" so let's look at the Department listing for Core Faculty and Research Faculty. Nothing. Courtesy faculty? Emeritus?

Ok, weird. No sign of the guy. Google search seems to turn up validation that he was once there.


Interesting. So the journal EIC bio page did mention two prior faculty appointments that I originally missed. The RePORTER record puts a grant timeline on this. Lets reconstruct.

The 7R01DC010181-03 award is the only one at Northwestern. The "7" type code indicates a switch of University and it went there for the 2012 Fiscal Year. Okay, the first year of funding was at University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center starting from August 15, 2010. The end date for the total award is listed as July 31, 2015, your typical 5 year R01. But we're in 2014. Hmm, the latest year for this award says that it ended Feb 15, 2013. Odd.

It is odd to end in the middle of an award year to me. If someone dies or takes another job or something it is frequently the case that the University and the IC will just run out the existing award. There are usually some students, postdocs or collaborators finishing up projects or whatnot. And it is just so bloody convenient to fit into the regular University accounting.

I did notice that this guy had another institutional change code 7R21DC010033-03. The original award funded at University of Rochester which has a writeup on one of the guy's papers. The R21 originally ran from June 15, 2009 to May 31, 2011 and the jump-code award started Sept 1, 2010 and expired May 31, 2012. So a move in year 2 followed by a no-cost extension, no doubt.

Not sure exactly when Pinaud got appointed at U. Rochester but an alumni blurb from his postdoctoral lab suggests in 2007.

Hmm. "Frankland" Lab, eh? That name is on the Editorial Board list for this spammy journal. And for that matter, that oddly spelled name "Liisa" drew my attention on the Editorial Board as well, it popped up on the University of Rochester PR bit. And presumably this is the guy's spouse going from the consistent co-publication record.

Ok, now we're starting to make some sense.

The Editorial board lists Liisa Tremere as "Assistant Professor, Department of Neurobiology, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, USA". The U. of Rochester splash on the paper as "Liisa Tremere, a research assistant professor of brain and cognitive sciences". Clearly this is a dual hire situation. A couple working their way until they both get tenure track faculty appointments. Perfectly understandable.

But what was up between Sep 2010 and Aug 2012 at University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center?

Well, it looks like Tremere was put on some existing P20 center funding there. Aha, Google to the rescue. "In September of 2010, Dr. Tremere joined the faculty of OUHSC as a tenure-track Assistant Professor."

Ok, ok, I can see this. A couple in science plays the multiple-job search game to reach their goal of two tenure track positions. One jump moves the more-junior person up to Assistant Professor and they soon leverage this into another move- who knows, maybe for the culture or family proximity or something. Anyway, this explains the departure from University of Rochester and the brief stay in Oklahoma. Pretty understandable stuff.

But after less than two years they...disappear? With an R01 terminated in the middle of a year of funding instead of running to the end of an award interval?

That part is weird.

Why do all this academic career climbing, appear to pull off an amazing dual-career triumph and then just....bail.

I am perplexed.

Is being an Editor in Chief at a Libertas Academica title some sort of amazing paying gig?

update: Tremere and Pinaud have had a paper retracted.
See predatory journal list from Jeffrey Beal. The spouse and the postdoctoral advisor of the EIC on this journal Board do not help with the impression of dodginess.

52 responses so far

  • There certainly *are* predatory journals out there to be wary of, and some of them are indeed open access, but others aren't. I distrust Jeffrey Beal's focus on open access ones. Like the idiots at "Scholarly Kitchen", I strongly suspect an ulterior motive for his spin on the issue.

  • poke says:

    So their website doesn't list indexing by pubmed, but there are a handful of articles on pubmed from this journal.


    Not a lot of papers. Also, certain authors are well-represented in this journal's output...

  • drugmonkey says:

    interesting poke. is that the self-submission to PMC required by funders, perhaps?

    JB- ok, point taken but this whole thing has a bit of a stench to it, wouldn't you admit?

  • drugmonkey says:

    Also, certain authors are well-represented in this journal's output...

    ahhh, yes, I see what you mean.

  • Tom Hill says:

    I am the CEO of Libertas, the publisher of this journal. I'd like to clarify several points:

    1. We require that any relationship hindering an editor in chief's ability to make an objective editorial decision on a paper must be disclosed to us. In respect to Dr Tremere no disclosure has been received. Further, papers co-authored by Dr Pinaud will have been directed to an alternative editorial decision-maker. Dr Pinaud will not have had an opportunity to make editorial decisions on papers that he is an author of.

    2. The promotional email was sent by a legitimate marketing firm and will have invited the recipient to register to receive the journal's newsletter on the basis that the recipient works in the subject area. The firm has a very good reputation and we work with them on the basis that they strictly do not conduct themselves in a manner that is in contravention of relevant laws.

    3. I understand that submission to PMC of papers reporting on NIH-funded research is required by the NIH Public Access Policy, and the papers currently on Pubmed will be there for that reason. In fact the journal itself has recently been accepted for inclusion in Pubmed but because the first set of files has not yet been released we have not announced this development on the journal's webpages.

    4. Dr Pinaud is intending to supply updated biographical details soon. I acknowledge that the current details have given rise to uncertainty and apologize for this.

  • toto says:

    Am I the only one who finds this post super-creepy?

  • drugmonkey says:

    Thanks for the additional information, Tom Hill.

  • Pinko Punko says:

    I don't detect any weirdness from Beall's list. Reason: in the author pays model, of course there are many reasons to be predatory. In the old school predatory model, publishers would bundle massive numbers of titles at inflated cost with desirable titles for libraries because the libraries were the mark. This could be a publisher's scam, but the financial drive need not extend to the individual papers. There is direct incentive for a predatory open access format for each and every paper to be compromised. I am a fan of open access, but there is a new and shiny morass out there, in addition to the previous morass driven by big publishers. My email inbox is not swamped with emails regarding those traditional marginal titles, it is swamped with emails from these new titles.

  • erickttr says:

    I notice that you go to RePORTER for information to help solve mysteries and gather data and strategic thinking respecting grant strategies and for a feel for national trends. Do you ever bring this up in conversation with POs? For example, "I noticed in RePORTER that only 5 R01s have been funded from this PAR, none from my IC of interest (which had a part in creating the FOA) .... what's up with that?" Or is that too .... something ... seems like something you'd learn in business school .... not grad school (where we learn to pipette and run gels).

  • Anon says:

    Weren't these the two who got fired from Northwestern shortly after they got hired, because they were a cute little married fraud factory?

  • odyssey says:

    That's a very serious allegation. I can't find anything on that via google. Can you point us at a reliable source? If not, perhaps you shouldn't be posting such things.

  • DrugMonkey says:


    Heck yeah I do!

  • DJMH says:

    "The "7" type code indicates a switch of University "

    Just when I think I have a handle on most NIH stuff, up pops DM with another nugget of info. So are there other prefixes besides 1, 5, and 7?

  • drugmonkey says:

    Anon, odyssey-

    Yes we should certainly be circumspect about our accusations of fraud. OTOH, we have a systematic problem in science that we only hear about fraud investigations if they result in an ORI finding. I'm going to allow this to be brought to the table as a speculation on this weirdness but let's all keep in mind there is no public record yet.

  • drugmonkey says:

    2, 3, 9 .... DJMH

  • DJMH says:

    How do I find out what they MEAN?

  • drugmonkey says:

    The "9" iirc is for a change in institute. Think I learned this when Insel was chasing the old experimental psych folks out of NIMH.

  • drugmonkey says:

    You could google it, DJMH.

  • SidVic says:

    Ericttr- yeah i have used reporter info in the past too. Along the lines of " hey- x and z are clearly the pertinent factor for disease Y, yet your study section hasn't funded one ro1 on the topic. You are poorly served by these idiots, and it is shameful that the NIAAA portfolio doesn't contain at least 4-5 projects addressing x and z. Hey you should really do your duty to humankind and pick up my grant..." Of course underlying argument must be compelling to make this kind of case. Incidentally, you can search funded grants by study section. I have found very useful in judging the kind of projects they like to fund, study section culture etc...

  • Dana says:

    FYI, Raphael Pinaud was at NU but left inexplicably about a year 1/2 ago. I was a grad student at the time. There are many theories that I will spare you from hearing but the guy is a legit neurobiologist and was at NU until fairly recently.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Thanks for the comment Dana. Interesting to hear that NU folks are not generally aware of the reason for such a quick departure. That rules out some more common ideas like maybe going to work for the government in some capacity where NIH funding would be a conflict of interest and have to be quickly shed.

  • Anonydoc says:

    I don't think the reason for his departure was as inexplicable as all that. See Anon above.

  • MaryK says:

    DrugMonkey. I first want to say that you are an absolute genius. Have you thought about working for the CIA. Second, the answer to your questions is already posted.

  • The Other Dave says:

    Two words: Anal Probe.

    I think they were abducted.

  • Postdoc says:

    I have never met them, but have read their papers for the past few of years. I like their papers a lot and they seemed scientifically sound. It would be good to know if there was a problem with the actual work.

  • Postdoc says:

    Maybe they moved to Europe or Brazil?

  • drugmonkey says:

    Yep, could be a offer-they-couldn't-refuse at another institution, in US or elsewhere. I still think it weird the Uni didn't run out the grant award year though. They can just stick a new PI in place for 6 mo. And often do.

  • MaryK says:

    Not when you leave the University in disgrace.

  • Leco says:

    It is fascinating finding this post. I know both for a long time, and I considered them good friends. They are indeed a couple, and I google them from time to time trying to find then. You traced their professional career right. Raphael was hired very young by UR in 2007, and Liisa was his Research Assistant Professor. in 2010 they moved to UOHSC, where he was hired as an associated professor and got an endowed chair position. he also started his RO1 there. Liisa started her tenure track there. But for my surprise they move to NU 2 years later in early 2012. Sure it is a heck of a better place than Oklahoma but it was odd because Liisa was back as being a Research Assistant Professor. By that time I was very impressed with his ability of getting good job positions. His research was dogin well too, but oddly, peopple did not stay in his lab for much long.
    In March 2013 I was told that they left UN and their whereabouts were unknown. I tried to get in touch with then and nothing. Liisa even calcelled her FB account. I contacted someone at his Department in NU and was told they just quit in Jan 2013 with no explanation and refused to answer any form of communication. They left lab and students and postdocs behind, with no justification why and they had to find new positions.
    Yesterday I noticed he is not the editor of the Journal of Experimental Neuroscience anymore.
    It is a real mistery that puzzle me a lot. I am sure they quit sience and academia. I have some tips they are in Brazil, Raphael´s home country, but no idea what they are doing.But one thing I know for sure. They fled and don´t want to be found. I just don´t know from what/whom.
    A real Science mistery...

  • drugmonkey says:

    Thanks for the update. I hadn't noticed the journal has removed him from the EIC position.

  • Laine says:

    Yes actually, it is slander as the post and comments contain factual errors about the couple and the journal.

    Dr. DrugMonkey's post:

    -is likely to cause pecuniary loss.

    -contains false information that is published and unprivileged.

    -injures, offending the dignity of other persons.

    -may constitute an unwarranted attack on Dr. P. Frankland.

    Hey Tom, is there any record that the journal actually sent any email to this guy?

  • drugmonkey says:

    the post and comments contain factual errors about the couple and the journal.

    this is a blog. we welcome correction on "factual errors". Please expand.

    -contains false information that is published and unprivileged.

    do explain. what is "false"?

  • Sia says:

    Here is a possible scenario of what happened to this couple. This is some story that I have heard and can be used for a movie like Bonnie and Clyde or another Hamlet tragedy.
    The core will be an overzealous husband who would do anything for power and a wife who is more than willing to be a faithful accomplice. Imagine a couple scientists whose pillow talk is how to make up sexy data which wins grants; after all sex is what happens in the bedroom but not for scientists, Okay kidding! Well, that was not all, sometimes they also discussed how to run a fraudulent scientific lab and keep others in the dark.
    The husband makes up theories and the wife provides the data (yeah, you are right; it should be the other way around [no I didn’t mean that the wife should have provided the theory]).
    [Of course as usual, things might not have been so black and white. They might have found something to begin with that came up to be bogus later, but too late to take back their papers; or they had found something but they exaggerated that).]
    And ironically the bigger the lie, the easier to believe it; hence estrogen started to do all the things that Raphael envisioned and grant money followed (do you see the metaphor? Sexy pillow talk with your wife > estrogen follows > data creation > money baby!)
    You can see it through his papers as no matter what Raphael hypothesized, it came out to be true!
    That is when he made the mistake of hiring postdoc to do their recording. I guess when you lie to others; you slowly start to believe it yourself too. Or when you have multiple grants, you are obliged to hire postdocs and you can’t just keep using undergrads who in most cases have no clue what they are doing.
    But just to be on the safe side, they made sure to hire a postdoc that they thought was in dire straits and would do their dirty bidding no matter what. Of course, intimidation, bullying, harassment (that Raphael was a master of that) can do wonders too; not mentioning the” good-cop bad-cop” routine which was played by him and his wife frequently.
    Well, what can go wrong in this scenario? Surprise, surprise, that postdoc had more integrity than the Pinhead couple altogether. And that is how the house of cards falls and the shit hits the fan.
    You don’t believe these? I am sure Raphael is reading this post and will prove otherwise if this is not true! They say he was big in writing.

  • Sia says:

    Correction: I meant the "Macbeth", but Hamlet could be that postdoc!

  • Leco says:

    Dear Sia, I see you REALLY know what you are talking about.

  • kali says:

    I want to commend the postdoc for noticing the truth, and being honest. I wish this person all the best in their future! I am happy to hear that this person has such inner strength and morality.

  • Tiger says:

    If you are still interested in this issue, they are living in Rio. Liisa just was awarded a postdocotaral scholarship there.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Ah. And has Pinaud landed in a professorial appointment somewhere?

  • Tiger says:

    I don´t think so. He has a wealthy family, so he might be taking care of dad´s business.

  • mytchondria says:

    I murdered them. For asking too many questions. Take a hint Ted. Also, if science doesn't work out, you can be Magnum PI. You must grow super large mustache, have sidekicks TI and Rick. I'm Higgins and will set the dogs on you on a semi regular basis.

  • Anonymous says:

    I have not see the Journal of Experimental Neuroscience on the list of Predatory Journals for either 2014 or 2015 Nor was this journal listed on the extended academic list. Is this correct?

  • […] wrote a prior post about the bizarre disappearance of an Editor in Chief of a journal I suspected of being […]

  • koko says: has their name in the list of presenters..

  • kiko says:

    This was published before they disappeared.

  • swusie says:

    Are there updates? Where others involved. Looks like a few of them traveled together from Rochester to Oklahoma to Northwestern. Quite odd to have graduate students traveling from university to university with faculty members. Once maybe, like from Rochester to OKC. but then from OKC to Norhtwestern. Odd

  • Roi. says:

    I dont want to say my name because this discussion would be probably take a lead to inocent people.
    I worked with Pinaud like 2 weeks. He was famous for his perfectly clean western blots and I wanted him to teach me his technique. Since day one I noticed that all the good data appeared at odd hours, when nobody was in the lab. All the proofs: gels, and plaques were in the trash far away as soon someone asked about them, only beautiful scanned pictures were there. He was so good that he managed to convert a R = 0.5 calibration curve to a 0.95, how? deleting the uncomfortable data points. Later I really learnt how to do western blots, he had no idea what he was doing when he was teaching me. I really doubt that he has more than a couple of papers that are not more than complete fabrications.

  • Lan says:

    I was a NU grad student at the time and was friends with those who were students in the Pinaud lab. No one in the lab was aware of any fraud or unsavory activity. They were all just doing work when mysteriously they received notice from the university that they were under investigation. Pinaud fled that night with his entire family out of the country and only sent his students a brief "goodbye, I'm onto better things" email, no further explanation.

    NU handled the situation with secrecy for fear of damaging careers of those who worked under him and collaborated with him. It's certainly not the best, but I think the allegations would have been extremely damaging to researchers who have published with him not knowing anything of the fraud.

  • The Other Dave says:

    "NU handled the situation with secrecy for fear of damaging careers of those who worked under him and collaborated with him."

    This is bullshit on at least three levels.

    First, NU is not heroic. They handled the situation with secrecy to protect THEIR reputation.

    Second, why should we protect those who worked with him? As co-authors of proposals and papers, they have a responsibility. You can't take credit for something until things turn bad and then suddenly claim you had nothing to do with anything.

    Third, let's call it what it is: A code of silence. NU and a bunch of investigators are playing hush-hust to protect each other. The fact that they get away with it ensures that this crap will keep happening.

    We need to face reality in this country. We have a scientific establishment that incentivizes profiteering and fraud, and a culture of cover-up when fraud is discovered. This will ruin us.

  • Kenzo says:

    Any Updates on this? I know for a fact that Raphael is now in Brazil.

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