|Country of origin|
|Headquarters location||Basel, Switzerland|
|Key people||Shu-Kun Lin|
|Publication types||Open access scientific journals|
|No. of employees||2137 (in 2019)|
MDPI or Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute is a publisher of author-pays open access scientific journals. Founded by Shu-Kun Lin as a chemical sample archive, it has established over 200 broad-scope journals.
MDPI's journals are peer-reviewed, but the quality of MDPI's peer review has been disputed. MDPI was included on Jeffrey Beall's list of predatory open access publishing companies in 2014 but was removed in 2015 following a successful appeal. As of December 2019, MDPI publishes 222 academic journals, including 55 with an impact factor out of 70 covered by the Science Citation Index Expanded. Four journals are indexed in the Social Science Citation Index. MDPI journals are currently included in the Directory of Open Access Journals. MDPI has been criticized for being a "money machine" driven by quantity rather than quality.
MDPI is a member of the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association, a participating publisher and supporter of the Initiative for Open Citations, and a member of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE).
MDPI traces its roots to Molecular Diversity Preservation International, also abbreviated MDPI, which was founded by Shu-Kun Lin in 1996 as a chemical sample archive, with some scholarly publishing and conference activities. The second organisation, Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute, was founded in 2010, primarily as a publisher. All of MDPI's journals have been open access and since 2008 published under a Creative Commons Attribution License (CC-BY).
Molecular Diversity Preservation International
Molecular Diversity Preservation International was founded and registered as a non-profit association (Verein) by Shu-Kun Lin and Benoit R. Turin in Basel in 1996 to enable the deposit and exchange of rare molecular and biomolecular research samples.
The journal Molecules was established in 1996 in collaboration with Springer-Verlag (now Springer Science+Business Media) in order to document the chemical samples of the MDPI collection. Several other journals were established by the MDPI Verein, including Entropy (1999), the International Journal of Molecular Sciences (2000), Sensors (2001), Marine Drugs (2003), and the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health (2004). The publisher MDPI AG (see below) was spun off from MDPI Verein in 2010.
MDPI Verein co-organized several academic conferences, including the International Symposium on Frontiers in Molecular Science. It also runs virtual conferences, such as the Electronic Conference on Synthetic Organic Chemistry, which was started in 1997. In 2010 MDPI launched the platform Sciforum.net to host virtual conferences. In 2014, various virtual conferences were hosted in the areas of synthetic organic chemistry, material sciences, sensors, and sustainability. In 2015, MDPI co-organized two physical conferences with and at the University of Basel, the 4th Internationational Symposium on Sensor Science and the 5th World Sustainability Forum. Since 2015, scholars can organize their own conference for free on the Sciforum platform.
MDPI (Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute)
MDPI, a publisher of open-access scientific journals, was spun off from the Molecular Diversity Preservation International organization. It was formally registered by Shu-Kun Lin and Dietrich Rordorf in May 2010 in Basel, Switzerland, and maintains editorial offices in China, Spain, Serbia, and the United Kingdom. It is primarily based in China and has established over 200 broad-scope journals, usually with one-word titles.
In December 2011, the MDPI journal Life published Erik D. Andrulis' theoretical paper, Theory of the Origin, Evolution, and Nature of Life, aiming at presenting a framework to explain life. It attracted coverage by the popular science and technology magazines Ars Technica and Popular Science, which characterized it as "crazy" and "hilarious". A member of the editorial board of Life resigned in response.
In 2013, another MDPI journal, Entropy, published a review paper claiming glyphosate may be the most important factor in the development of obesity, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, cancer, and infertility. The paper itself does not contain any primary research results. It was criticized as pseudo-science by the popular science magazine Discover. With regard to the same controversial study, Jeffrey Beall has rhetorically asked, "When publishers like MDPI disseminate research by science activists like Stephanie Seneff and her co-authors, I think it’s fair to question the credibility of all the research that MDPI publishes. Will MDPI publish anything for money?".
In 2016, MDPI journal Behavioral Sciences published a review paper that claimed that watching pornography is a cause of erectile dysfunction. Six scientists independently contacted MDPI concerned about fraud and other issues in the article. An independent review by the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) was initiated, which recommended that the article be retracted. Issues raised by COPE and/or critics included:
- Scott Lane, who was listed as the journal editor who handled the submission, described his experience with this manuscript as "one of the most bizarre and atypical experiences I have encountered in my academic career" and declared that he "was not in involved in the final decision regarding correction/retraction/authorship." This raises questions about the nature and processes of peer review undertaken by the journal in relation to this manuscript.
- The article failed to provide an accurate and complete conflict of interest declaration. Author Gary Wilson was listed as affiliated with The Reward Foundation, but it was not disclosed that this is an activist, anti-pornography organization with a declared mission to "highlight the benefits of quitting porn based on the latest research and self reports of those who have." Another author, Andrew Doan, is an eye specialist and the founder of Real Battlefield Ministries, an organization advocating about addiction which adopts an anti-pornography position, but this association was also not disclosed.
- Wilson made extensive social media postings describing the review as a study "by the US Navy," but omitting the fact that the manuscript stated that it does not reflect the views of the US Navy.
- COPE determined that proper and ethical informed consent was not obtained for two cases included in the article, and that the identities of the men involved were not adequately protected.
MDPI issued a correction that amended the conflicts of interest declaration to read:
- "Gary Wilson is the author of Your Brain on Porn: Internet Pornography and the Emerging Science of Addiction. He holds an unremunerated, honorary position at The Reward Foundation, the Registered Scottish Charity to which his book proceeds are donated. The authors declare no other conflicts of interest. Opinions and points of view expressed are those of the authors' and do not necessarily reflect the official position or policies of the U.S. NAVY or the Department of Defense."
Retraction Watch noted that this modified declaration does not identify the activities of The Reward Foundation nor does it address Doan's conflict of interest, though it does declare that no other conflicts of interest exist. It does not address the concerns COPE raised about ethics and informed consent, nor act on its recommendation that the paper be retracted by the journal. It does take account of Scott Lane's comments, in that it adds that "[i]n addition, the academic editor's name has been removed from the manuscript," but in doing so leaves unresolved questions about the approval and review process for the article. According to Retraction Watch, an MDPI spokesperson's final words on the subject were "The argument is already done. Both sides got large audience. Time to stop and made peace."
The journal Magnetochemistry accepted a paper in 2019 by a controversial scientist Susan Pockett which stated that "scientists are suppressing evidence that microwave radiation from smartphones and other devices cause harm to people". The paper was later that year retracted due to lack of a scientific contribution and being an opinion article. MDPI initially invited Susan Pockett to submit a paper according to the author's own account.
In 2019, MDPI journal Psych published an editorial on race and intelligence by Richard Lynn, who had previously had his emeritus status revoked due to his promotion of discredited sexist and racist views, such as scientific racism. MDPI later issued an expression of concern and they changed the status of the article from editorial to opinion, three months after publication. According to science journalist Angela Saini, Psych had also published other similar work defending scientific racism.
Who's Afraid of Peer Review?
Inclusion in Beall's list
MDPI was included on Jeffrey Beall's list of predatory open access publishing companies in February 2014, and removed in October 2015 following a successful appeal. Beall's concern was that "MDPI's warehouse journals contain hundreds of lightly-reviewed articles that are mainly written and published for promotion and tenure purposes rather than to communicate science." Beall also claimed that MDPI used email spam to solicit manuscripts and that the company listed researchers, including Nobel laureates, on their editorial boards without their knowledge. Beall remained critical of MDPI after removing the publisher from his list; in December 2015 he wrote that "it is clear that MDPI sees peer review as merely a perfunctory step that publishers have to endure before publishing papers and accepting money from the authors" and that "it's clear that MDPI's peer review is managed by clueless clerical staff in China."
MDPI was removed from Beall's list in 2015. Beall's list was shut down in 2017; Beall later wrote that he had been pressured to shut down the list by his employer University of Colorado Denver and various publishers, specifically mentioning MDPI. In a 2017 article in Biochemia Medica, Beall wrote that he had been pressured to remove his list due to harassment from predatory publishers, and mentioned MDPI specifically as a publisher that had "tried to be as annoying as possible to the university so that the officials would get so tired of the emails that they would silence me just to make them stop."
2014 OASPA evaluation
Following Beall's criticism of MDPI, the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association (OASPA) conducted an investigation in April 2014. This investigation was based on the controversy surrounding two papers, one in Life, the other in Nutrients; the listing of Nobel Prize winners on the website; the roles of editorial board members and of Shu-Ki Lin within the company; and the functions of the different office locations. OASPA concluded that MDPI satisfactorily meets the OASPA Membership Criteria.
2016 Data breach
In August 2016, MDPI was breached, leaving exposed 17.5 GB of data, including 845,000 e-mail addresses and e-mail exchanges between authors, editors and reviewers. According to MDPI, the unprotected instance at which the data was breached has since been protected.
2018 Resignation of Nutrients editors
In August 2018, 10 senior editors (including the editor-in-chief) of the journal Nutrients resigned, alleging that MDPI forced the replacement of the editor-in-chief because of his high editorial standards and for resisting pressure to "accept manuscripts of mediocre quality and importance."
Assessments in the Nordic countries
The National Publication Committee of Norway has assigned MDPI an institutional-level rating of "level 1" in the Norwegian Scientific Index since 2017, the standard rating designating a publisher as academic. Individual MDPI journals have separate journal-level ratings. As of 2020, 165 MDPI journals are listed in the Norwegian Scientific Index of which 158 have a rating of "level 1", and 7 have a rating of "level 0."
Norwegian scholars Olav Bjarte Fosso and Jonas Kristiansen Nøland at NTNU have criticised the inclusion of MDPI's journals in the Norwegian Scientific Index and noted that MDPI's journals have not been assigned basic scientific status in the Danish index, and that a third of MDPI's journals lack such recognition in the Finnish index with the remainder being assigned the lowest possible status; they note that many academics boycott MDPI and describe it as a "money machine" based in China with "a small 'artificial' office in Switzerland." The National Publication Committee of Norway stated that they shared Fosso's and Nøland's concerns over MDPI and described it as a "borderline publisher" that "deftly makes sure not to fall in the 'predatory publisher' category" and that "superficially meets the criteria" for level 1 status, and noted that Norway will introduce a new "level X" for questionable publishers in 2020.
Simen Andreas Ådnøy Ellingsen questioned the quality of MDPI's peer review based on his experiences as a reviewer for the publisher; he wrote that he was only given one week to review a paper, that he recommended rejection, that the paper was then simply published without further comment, and that he never was in contact with any editor.
In June 2020, MDPI sparked controversy when - while attempting to publish a special issue on failures - a group of Water, Sanitation and Health researchers from the University of Leeds was informed by an MDPI representative that scholars from developed countries would be given priority for publication.
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