Dermatology journal editors in the spotlight for pseudoscience publications

By Michael Woodhead

28 Oct 2020

The editors of a leading dermatology journal have become the focus of media reports for publishing prolifically on a range of pseudoscientific topics such as linking 5G and coronavirus.

The Wiley journal, Dermatologic Therapy editor in chief Professor Torello Lotti and several other co-editors are featured in an article in Vice for publishing apparently nonsensical articles outside their field of expertise.

Professor Lotti, Chairman of Dermatology at University of Studies Guglielmo Marconi, Rome, is shown to be part of a ‘bizarre publishing ring’ responsible for numerous articles in scientific journals on subjects such as black holes in the centre of the earth, sexing of chicken eggs and brainwaves.

The papers are published in obscure journals by a group of authors that include two other members of the Dermatologic Therapy editorial board, Uwe Wollina  – a dermatologist in Germany – and  Massimo Fioranelli, a radiation physicist.

After coming to public attention through social media, many of the group’s articles have been retracted – including a recent one entitled “5G Technology and induction of coronavirus in skin cells.”

While the journal editors also publish many apparently credible scientific papers in their field of dermatology, the Vice article notes they would not comment on the reasons for their prolific publication in other unrelated areas. However one co-author did hint that they liked to ‘think outside the box’ and were critical of flaws in the peer review system that limited free discourse.

The article leaves open the possibility that the authors are deliberately trying to have nonsensical articles published as a stunt to draw attention poor quality control by journals. But it questions the sheer number and ongoing volume of publications and asks why there has been no ‘expose’ or explanation.

The group has also come to the attention of quack skeptics and supporters of evidence-based medicine, who have noted links to pseudoscientific cures for conditions such as vitiligo.

Elisabeth Bik, who blogs about integrity in scientific publishing says some of the articles published by the dermatologists contain duplicated images, are full of extraordinary claims without any evidence and include photos of patients without consent.

She notes that a recent ‘Global Dermatology’ special issue of the Open Access Macedonian Journal of Medical Sciences contains 39 articles published by Professor Lotti and his usual co-authors.

“No peer reviewer should have accepted any of these papers without asking some critical questions. In fact, one can wonder if these papers have been peer-reviewed at all,” she wrote.

Ms Bik says journals such as this should be removed from the NCBI/PubMed database because being included confers scientific legitimacy to nonsensical content.

According to Vice, Professor Lotti’s tenure as editor of the Dermatologic Therapy will finish at the end of 2020, and the publisher Wiley is seeking a new editor in chief.

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