April 7, 2021
An Elsevier journal has retracted more than two dozen Covid-19 papers by a researcher in Malta with a fondness for Star Trek after determining that the articles did not meet its standards for publication.
The move comes several months after we reported that Hampton Gaddy, a student at the University of Oxford, had raised questions about more than 100 articles written by a pediatric cardiologist named Victor Grech. The papers appeared in Early Human Development (EHD), which Grech managed to turn into something of a vanity press — including for papers about how the lessons of Star Trek shed light on everything from the evolving role of nurses to the horrors of Nazi doctors.
As Gaddy pointed out to Elsevier last December, Grech has written at least 113 papers in EHD, 57 as sole author:
19 of these 113 articles focus on various aspects of the TV series Star Trek. They generally discuss topics within the series that are relevant to the field of medicine, but the extent of this stops at discussing the potrayals [sic] of doctors, 2 medical practices, 3 medical technology, 4 etc., in the series.1 Many of these articles were confusingly published in the category of 'Best practice guidelines' [BPGs].
The April issue of EHD has an editor's note addressing 17 of the "Star Trek BPG" papers. The note reads:
However, only one of those, "Doctors in Star Trek: Reflections on the changing faces of future doctors," is now shown as retracted.Upon publication of this BPG series, concerns were raised regarding its appropriateness for inclusion in a peer-reviewed academic journal. It is the Editor's judgement that this series of articles should not have been accepted for publication by the journal since it is not within its scope. The idea was to engage topics that the ordinary reader of Early Human Development might not normally come across – but could find interesting. The journal has re-designed its editorial and review workflow to ensure that this will not happen again in future.
Returning to a realm where man has gone before, EHD has also withdrawn 26 papers by Grech about COVID-19. ("Withdrawn" is Elsevier's problematic term for retractions of papers that are online but have yet to appear in print.)
For example, Grech's article "Theoretical novel COVID-19 vaccination risk of rare and severe adverse events versus COVID-19 mortality," is withdrawn with the statement:
This article has been withdrawn at the request of the author(s) and/or editor. The Publisher apologizes for any inconvenience this may cause.
Grech — who in one fell swoop now joins our leaderboard of 30 authors with the most retractions in the world — told us, referring to the BPG series, that:
I abide by the editor's note.
Also on the list is "COVID-19 and potential global mortality – Revisited," which EHD published in May 2020 and which drew its conclusions in part from a controversial article by researchers at Imperial College London whose correction we reported on last April. That notice reads:
The author has requested that Early Human Development retract this article. This article was based on very early data and reports from the World Health Organization and Ferguson et al. from which the article drew imprecise conclusions. We now have a far better, albeit still incomplete, understanding of COVID-19. The anticipated mortality will fortunately be far less than estimated in the paper itself.
The other retractions — which bring the total number of retracted COVID-19 papers above 100 for the first time — are:
- Countering fake news in the COVID-19 era: The public's opinion on the role of an honest and reliable website
- Malta tourism losses due to second wave of COVID-19
- Novel research opportunities 2: An unfortunate small silver lining to COVID-19
- The way in which COVID-19 changed behaviour on social media in Malta
- Some health effects of global warming
- Novel research opportunities: An unfortunate small silver lining to COVID-19
- COVID-19: Combined supply-side and demand-side shocks, so lift restrictions (carefully) lest GPD declines ultimately kill more than COVID-19
- COVID-19 is ageist, sexist, ruthless, dispassionate and opportunistic – Protecting our vulnerable
- One of COVID-19's many costs: Malta's expenditure in consumables and non-consumables, a population-based study
- Vaccine hesitancy among Maltese healthcare workers toward influenza and novel COVID-19 vaccination
- COVID-19 related acute decline in paediatric admissions in Malta, a population-based study
- COVID-19: The possible seasonal shape of things to come
- Holidays over: A review of actual COVID-19 school outbreaks up to September 2020
- The Spanish flu, COVID-19 and Malta's reactions: Contrasts and similarities
- COVID-19: A global and continental overview of the second wave and its (relatively) attenuated case fatality ratio
- Vaccine hesitancy in the University of Malta Faculties of Health Sciences, Dentistry and Medicine vis-à-vis influenza and novel COVID-19 vaccination
- Vaccine hesitancy in Maltese family physicians and their trainees vis-à-vis influenza and novel COVID-19 vaccination
- Needed: Less influenza vaccine hesitancy and less presenteeism among health care workers in the COVID-19 era
- Sports and sportsmen as role models – or otherwise – in the COVID-19 era
- COVID-19: Mathematical estimation of delay to deaths in relation to upsurges in positive rates
- COVID-19, its novel vaccination and fake news – What a brew
- To wear or not to wear? Adherence to face mask use during the COVID-19 and Spanish influenza pandemics
- Sharp decline in acute and elective hospital attendances and admissions due to COVID-19 in Malta (Q1 2020) – A population-based study
- Safe school reopening under COVID-19 restrictions – Measures implemented in San Andrea Independent School in Malta
Upon publication concerns were raised regarding the appropriateness for inclusion of several of the WASP BPGs in a peer-reviewed academic journal. It is the Editor's judgement that some of the papers in this series fall outside the journal's scope and should not have been accepted for publication. The idea was to provide an educational series of articles aimed at junior medical and nursing staff on the basic principles of writing a scientific paper. The journal has re-designed its editorial and review workflow to ensure that this will not happen again in future.