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Table of Contents
Year : 2017  |  Volume : 4  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 120-123

Ivan oransky: the 2004-2006 digital undertaker for Elsevier's the lancet

P. O. Box 7, Miki-cho post office, Ikenobe 3011-2, Kagawa-ken, 761-0799, Japan

Date of Web Publication6-Jul-2017

Correspondence Address:
Jaime A Teixeira da Silva
P. O. Box 7, Miki-cho post office, Ikenobe 3011-2, Kagawa-ken, 761-0799
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.5530/ami.2017.4.21

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Dr. Ivan Oransky is a self-proclaimed science watchdog who, together with Adam Marcus, have taken on the world of science in a blaze of public shaming – disguised as science journalism – that has already caused irreparable damage to science, despite the informative nature of those reports. Their portal for launching attacks on the publishing establishment and on scientists is Retraction Watch, a blog that sees monthly traffic in the hundreds of thousands of hits. One of the loudly claimed key tenants of Retraction Watch is to hold science and scientists accountable, and to thus be open and transparent. What is not very known, because Oransky fails to provide a full listing of his own publications, i.e., he does not show equivalent transparency that he expects or demands from others, is that he held a very important role at Elsevier's The Lancet, a premier medical journal that he now aggressively critiques, almost without impunity. That role at The Lancet was primarily to record the death of medical scientists. In the real world, taking care of the dead and the deceased lies in the hands of an undertaker. It is thus very apt that the role of digital undertaker for The Lancet established the necessary credentials that Oransky required to overlook the cadaver he and Marcus wish to create of science, and of scientists’ and publishers’ reputations.

Keywords: Critical analysis; Lack of transparency; Opacity

How to cite this article:
Teixeira da Silva JA. Ivan oransky: the 2004-2006 digital undertaker for Elsevier's the lancet. Acta Med Int 2017;4:120-3

How to cite this URL:
Teixeira da Silva JA. Ivan oransky: the 2004-2006 digital undertaker for Elsevier's the lancet. Acta Med Int [serial online] 2017 [cited 2022 Sep 25];4:120-3. Available from: https://www.actamedicainternational.com/text.asp?2017/4/1/120/209814

  The Rise of Dr. Ivan Oransky as the Lancet's Digital Undertaker Top

In 2010, some hope was created that important issues in science could be discussed in a fair and frank online discussion forum. That hope came in the form of Ivan Oransky and Adam Marcus, two self-proclaimed science watchdogs[1], who created a blog, Retraction Watch (www.retractionwatch.com) that had, as its stated core objective, to examine retractions so as to better understand processes in science that might be leading to its degradation. Humble beginnings now appear to have blossomed into one of the most powerful (in terms of web traffic) anti-science blogs (with a pseudo pro-science façade) in the recent modern era of the internet. Receiving strong financial support of their charitable parent organization, the Center for Scientific Integrity Inc. (CSI)[2], Oransky and Marcus have embarked on a crusade that is rapidly leading to the implosion of science by invoking the lack of accountability and transparency by science bodies, editors, publishers and scientists. This does not imply that these parties are also not responsible for this crisis, but simply that Retraction Watch is serving as an extremely dangerous and explosive catalyst. Sadly, and very ironically, on the “About Adam Marcus” (http://retractionwatch. com/meet-the-retraction-watch-staff/ about-adam-marcus/) and “About Ivan Oransky” (http://retractionwatch.com/ meet-the-retraction-watch-staff/about/) web-pages at Retraction Watch, no information appears about the publishing background of these co-founders. This is quite remarkable, considering that both individuals are focusing on the publishing history of scientists, and their lack of accountability, to expand and fortify their anti-science blog. It is therefore fitting to begin to examine what these two anti-science watchdogs, who appear to have all but dropped out of medical science careers to become science journalists, have published.

The list in Appendix 1 shows how Oransky was given an incredibly important task at Elsevier's premier medical journal, The Lancet (http://www.journals.elsevier.com/ the-lancet/). This task, primarily as obituary writer, involved registering the deaths of medical scientists, which, in the real world, is the responsibility assigned to an undertaker. As can be appreciated from the list of 57 papers published by Oransky in The Lancet, 40 were obituaries published from 2004-2006 [Figure 1]; [Appendix 1]. In this period, Oransky became a scribe of death. It is highly likely that this close association with the deceased among the medical community – even within his own family – would have created a personality that embraced the death of things related to science, if not science itself. Given this vast and scholarly training in issues related to death, it is thus fitting that he be the co-founder of Retraction Watch and President of the CSI, the self-proclaimed organization dealing with the death of science and science publishing. Very unfortunately, most scientists – too afraid of being trolled or harassed by Retraction Watch and thus being profiled on the Oransky and Marcus blog for issues sometimes unrelated to retractions – will likely not make this association. Thus, may this letter shed some fresh perspectives on the possible reasons and psychology behind the anti- science blog, Retraction Watch.
Figure 1: Screenshot of the NIH's PubMed showing a partial idea of the flood of obituaries written by Ivan Oransky from 2004-2006, all published in The Lancet, a medical journal with a very high impact factor. From 1996-2016, Oransky published a total of 75 PubMed-listed “papers”, 40 (i.e., 53%) of which were obituaries. Red “O” indicates an obituary.

Click here to view

  Increasing Concerns About Oransky, The Retraction Watch Team, and Their Objectives Top

In the first of several papers aiming to explore the inconsistencies, contradictions, lack of professionalism or bias by Retraction Watch and its staff and co-founders, it was shown that Retraction Watch employs very lax editorial policies, enacting changes, even to the title of a blog story, without any formal corrective measures or retractions, followed by republication, as would occur in an academic journal of quality.[3] That first paper was important because it highlighted an important double standard in place at Retraction Watch: extremely aggressive scrutiny of scientists, editors, journals and publishers, but a lack of reciprocal scrutiny of their own editing and publishing or journalistic practices.

One of the unintended consequences of this long list of 40 obituaries (Appendix 1) published in a high-ranking medical journal, and indexed on PubMed, is that such simple reports with no profound scientific value at all – with all due respect to the deceased - have given Oransky a stunning head-start among medical scientists who struggle to publish their hard work in a competitive journal like The Lancet. If one considers the current The Lancet impact factor scores for 2004–2006 [Table 1], Oransky's PubMed-listed “publications” [Appendix 1]; [Figure 1] would offer an incredibly biased and skewed impact factor score and citation metrics to Oransky in essence for simply describing the passing away of deceased medical scientists. It is curious that only three of the 40 obituaries written by Oransky are in fact labelled as “obituary”, perhaps to avoid the embarrassment of being associated with science's premier digital morgue. This unfair attribution of such high impact factor scores for in essence obituary-type work would almost certainly cause rage amongst many medical scientists, no doubt. Although there is no proof yet that Oransky has benefitted financially, or otherwise, from the impact factor scores of his The Lancet publications, certainly having this many “papers” (more correctly entries) in a leading medical journal has given him a potentially unfair advantage over other medical journalists, and even medical researchers, many of whom would dream of having just a single paper in The Lancet during their entire medical career. However, having this heavy presence on PubMed and pseudo-academic productivity in The Lancet allows for influence peddling, which was undoubtedly essential for the initial growth and professional survival of Oransky and his Retraction Watch. This possibility is not beyond reality since Oransky and Marcus have a poor academic journal publishing track record, having scored their first academic paper for Retraction Watch – since inception in 2010 – only in 2014[4] [Figure 2].
Table 1: The JCR impact factors of The Lancet (2004-2006)

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Figure 2: On August 3, 2015, Ivan Oransky gloatingly self-applauded Retraction Watch's first (# 3 in Fig. 1) academic publishing achievement: “We published our first scholarly paper, a review of the retraction literature, in the Journal of Microbiology & Biology Education”.4 Not a very substantial achievement if one considers that Retraction Watch has been in existence since 2010, and given the highly prolific obituary writing by Oransky for The Lancet in 2004-2006.

Click here to view

The irony of having served as The Lancet's digital undertaker, is that Oransky now keeps a critical and watchful eye over its attempted demise (http://retractionwatch.com/category/by- journal/lancet/), always under the guise of “critical” scientific journalism. In fact, Oransky personally wrote several of the stories himself[5],[6],[7],[8],[9],[10] before he primarily contracted Cat Ferguson and Alison McCook to complete these tasks for him.

  Disclaimer and Conflicts of Interest Top

The author is not associated with any academic institute, blog or web-site. The author was profiled multiple times, unfairly and considerably aggressively, by Retraction Watch, always under the supervision and approval of Oransky, and often for issues totally unrelated to retractions.

  Appendix 1 List of Obituaries Published by Dr. Ivan Oransky in the Lancet (2004-2006) Top

  • Oransky I. Richard Joseph Mulvaney. Lancet. 2006 Dec 16;368(9553):2120. PMID:17195298
  • Oransky I. Wayne S. Fenton. Lancet. 2006 Nov 4;368(9547):1568. PMID:17099954
  • Oransky I. Joan Wright Goodman. Lancet. 2006 Sep 9;368(9539):912. PMID:16998958
  • Oransky I. Ronald E Cranford. Lancet. 2006 Jul 8;368(9530):112. PMID:16858764
  • Oransky I. Charles Schepens. Lancet. 2006 Jun 17;367(9527):1974. PMID:16810776
  • Oransky I. Horace W. Davenport. Lancet. 2005 Oct 8;366(9493):1260. PMID:16231418
  • Oransky I. Margot Kruskall. Lancet. 2005 Oct 1;366(9492):1158. PMID:16217878
  • Oransky I. Sir Richard Doll. Lancet. 2005 Aug 6- 12;366(9484):PMID:16208779
  • Oransky I. Clarence Dennis. Lancet. 2005 Sep 3- 9;366(9488):PMID:16196128
  • Oransky I. Vincent J. Fontana. Lancet. 2005 Aug 27-Sep 2;366(9487):710. PMID:16193615
  • Oransky I. Dame Cicely Mary Strode Saunders. Lancet. 2005 Aug 20-26;366(9486):628. PMID:16189851
  • Oransky I. Zoltan Ovary. Lancet. 2005 Jul 30-Aug 5;366(9483):364. PMID:16178121
  • Oransky I. Marshall S. Horwitz. Lancet. 2005 Jul 23-29;366(9482):286. PMID:16178073
  • Oransky I. David Tyrrell. Lancet. 2005 Jun 18-24;365(9477):2084. PMID:16121448
  • Oransky I. Joseph Bogen. Lancet. 2005 Jun 4- 10;365(9475):PMID:16121410
  • Oransky I. Jeanne Petrek. Lancet. 2005 May 28-Jun 3;365(9474):1844. PMID:16118904
  • Oransky I. Maurice R. Hilleman. Lancet. 2005 May 14-20;365(9472):1682. PMID:15912596
  • Oransky I. Wilfred Gordon Bigelow. Lancet. 2005 May 7- 13;365(9471):PMID:15898141
  • Oransky I. Georgeanna Seegar Jones. Lancet. 2005 Apr 23-29;365(9469):1460. PMID:15868654
  • Oransky I. J. Donald M. Gass. Lancet. 2005 Apr 9- 15;365(9467):PMID:15864835
  • Oransky I. H. Jeremy C. Swan. Lancet. 2005 Mar 26-Apr 1;365(9465):1132. PMID:15822167
  • Oransky I. Sonja Buckley. Lancet. 2005 Mar 12-18;365(9463):932. PMID:15786567
  • Oransky I. Edward D. Freis. Lancet. 2005 Mar 5-11;365(9462):840. PMID:15779117
  • Oransky I. William Trager. Lancet. 2005 Feb 26-Mar 4;365(9461):748. PMID:15779108
  • Oransky I. Susan Sontag. Lancet. 2005 Feb 5-11;365(9458):468. PMID:15724276
  • Oransky I. Lauriston Taylor. Lancet. 2005 Jan 15-21;365(9455):210. PMID:15657983
  • Oransky I. William Silverman. Lancet. 2005 Jan 8-14;365(9454):116. PMID:15643704
  • Oransky I. Ancel Keys. Lancet. 2004 Dec 18-31;364(9452):2174. PMID:15614938
  • Oransky I. Sol Londe. Lancet. 2004 Nov 27-Dec 3;364(9449):1932. PMID:15570702
  • Oransky I. Katharina Dorothea Dalton. Lancet. 2004 Oct 30-Nov 5;364(9445):1576. PMID:15536676
  • Oransky I. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. Lancet. 2004 Sep 25-Oct 1;364(9440):1120. PMID:15481104
  • Oransky I. Sir Godfrey N. Hounsfield. Lancet. 2004 Sep 18-24;364(9439):1032. PMID:15455486
  • Oransky I. George Widmer Thorn. Lancet. 2004 Aug 7-13;364(9433):496. PMID:15320337
  • Oransky I. Obituary. William Ross Adey. Lancet. 2004 Jul 17-23;364(9430):242. PMID:15281218
  • Oransky I. Charles Kelman. Lancet. 2004 Jul 10- 16;364(9429):PMID:15281216
  • Oransky I. Paul Francis Wehrle. Lancet. 2004 Jun 19;363(9426):2093. PMID:15244006
  • Oransky I. Clayton Samuel White. Lancet. 2004 Jun 5;363(9424):1913. PMID:15202486
  • Oransky I. Obituary. Harold Kletschka. Lancet. 2004 May 8;363(9420):1559. PMID:15151136
  • Oransky I. Obituary. Ewald W. Busse. Lancet. 2004 May 1;363(9419):1479. PMID:15139370
  • Oransky I. Margaret Thaler Singer. Lancet. 2004 Jan 31;363(9406):403. PMID:15124608

  References Top

Teixeira da Silva JA. Science watchdogs. Academic Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies 2016;5(3):13-15. http://dx.doi. org/10.5901/ajis.2016.v5n3p13.  Back to cited text no. 1
Oransky I (2015) New $300,000 grant marks the fifth anniversary of Retraction Watch. http://retractionwatch.com/2015/08/03/new- 300000-grant-marks-the-fifth-anniversary-of-retraction-watch/ (last accessed: January 13, 2017).  Back to cited text no. 2
Teixeira da Silva JA. The blasé nature of Retraction Watch's editorial policies and the risk to sinking journalistic standards. Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences 2016;7(6):11-14. http:// dx.doi.org/10.5901/mjss.2016.v7n6p11.  Back to cited text no. 3
Marcus A, Oransky I. What studies of retractions tell us. The Journal of Microbiology & Biology Education 2014;15(2):151 - 154 http://dx.doi.org/10.1128/jmbe.v15i2.855 PMid: 25574267 PMCid: PMC4278466.  Back to cited text no. 4
Oransky I. (2012a) Millennium Villages Project forced to correct Lancet paper on foreign aid as leader leaves team. http:// retractionwatch.com/2012/05/31/millennium-villages-project- forced-to-correct-lancet-paper-on-foreign-aid-as-leader-leaves- team/ (last accessed: January 13, 2017).  Back to cited text no. 5
Oransky I. (2012b) Ovarian transplant update: Authors of 2004 live-birth follow-up letter ask Lancet to retract it. http:// retractionwatch.com/2012/07/26/ovarian-transplant-update- authors-of-2004-live-birth-follow-up-letter-ask-lancet-to-retract-it/ (last accessed: January 13, 2017).  Back to cited text no. 6
Oransky I. (2013a) Trial irregularities earn Lancet study of potential weight loss drug tesofensine Expression of Concern. http:// retractionwatch.com/2013/04/09/trial-irregularities-earn-lancet- study-of-potential-weight-loss-drug-tesofensine-expression-of- concern/ (last accessed: January 13, 2017).  Back to cited text no. 7
Oransky I. (2013b) Lancet retracts Jikei Heart Study of valsartan following investigation. http://retractionwatch.com/2013/09/06/ lancet-retracts-jikei-heart-study-following-investigation/ (last accessed: January 13, 2017).  Back to cited text no. 8
Oransky I. (2014a) Harvard-Brigham heart researcher under investigation earns Lancet Expression of Concern. http:// retractionwatch.com/2014/04/11/harvard-brigham-heart- researcher-under-investigation-earns-lancet-expression-of- concern/ (last accessed: January 13, 2017).  Back to cited text no. 9
Oransky I. (2014b) Contrary to reports, Lancet not retracting controversial letter to people of Gaza. http://retractionwatch. com/2014/10/02/contrary-to-reports-lancet-not-retracting- controversial-letter-to-people-of-gaza/ (last accessed: January 13, 2017).  Back to cited text no. 10

  Authors Top

Dr. Teixeira da Silva obtained his BSc in botany and genetics at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, an MSc in Horticulture at Kagawa University in Japan and a PhD in Agricultural Biotechnology from the United Graduate School of Agricultural Sciences, Ehime University, Japan. A wide range of experience with botany, genetics, molecular biology, plant physiology, agronomy and ecology, among other topics in plant science. An interest in publishing and ethics-related topics as pertains to the plant sciences. Founder and former EIC of Global Science Books.


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