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The Strange World of "Reward Deficiency Syndrome" (Part 1)

Neuroskeptic iconNeuroskeptic
By Neuroskeptic
Jun 10, 2015 2:39 PMNov 20, 2019 5:57 AM


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Yesterday a new scientific journal appeared on PubMed, the standard index of the biomedical literature. That journal is called the Journal of Reward Deficiency Syndrome (JRDS). The first issue is here, indexed on PubMed here. (EDIT: It seems the journal is not exactly indexed on PubMed, although the papers appear there. See end of post.) I spotted JRDS yesterday. I soon noticed a few strange things about it. First off, almost every single paper in the first issue of JRDS is authored by neuroscientist Kenneth Blum, the Editor-in-Chief of the journal. He's first author on an introductory Editorial, which makes sense, but he's also lead author of a Hypothesis, an Expert Opinion, something called a Clinical Pearl and strangest of all, a Letter to the Editor (himself). Blum is also second author of a Case Series and an Original Research. The only pieces in the first issue that he didn't write are a Commentary commenting on one of his articles, and a book review... of Blum's book. (Blum's Co-Editor-in-Chief, Rajendra D. Badgaiyan, is also an author on most of these articles.)

Overall, the JRDS might as well be called the Journal of Kenneth Blum Studies. Indeed, the domain name is blumsrewarddeficiencysyndrome.com. What is going on here? To learn more I decided to look into who Kenneth Blum is. He has a Wikipedia page, which says that

Kenneth Blum (born August 8, 1939) is a researcher on neuropsychopharmacology and genetics. He is known from his study on the genetics of alcoholism published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1990. He works in the fields of neuropsychiatry and genetics, nutritional genetics, and pharmacogenetics. Blum's research has been recognized through numerous awards.

He's also associated with a number of different medical and biotech companies in the field of addictions, such as Rivermend and Dominion Diagnostics. I can't find a current personal website for Blum, but I located an archived one from a couple of years ago called rewarddeficiencysyndrome.com (archive.org). This brightly colored page featured a long autobiographical section ("The Kenneth Blum, PhD Life Story: A man seeking truth while reaching for the Stars"). The site also promoted a product called 'synaptamine', some kind of patent nutrient remedy, and 'nutrigenomics' genetic testing. See for instance the odd video advertisement for these products. 'Synaptamine' is now sold by from a company called LaVitaRDS, who say that

Syptamine (sic) uses a patented KB220z Neuroadaptagen technology that is nano sized to an average of less than 18nm, providing greatly accelerated absorption by the body for optimal brain health, enhanced energy, reduced stress...

"KB220z" is presumably named after Kenneth Blum. Which brings us back to the new Journal of Reward Deficiency Syndrome. One of the papers there is about KB220z. This paper is a) authored by Blum b) published in a journal edited by Blum c) about a product named after Blum and d) hosted on a URL starting with "blum". What kind of academic publisher would host an outfit like this? Well, JRDS is published by United Scientific Group (USG), which is on Beall's List of 'predatory' open access publishers. Who's the founding president of USG? Inevitably, it's none other than Kenneth Blum. In summary, this is the most extreme example of academic editorial self-publication I've ever seen. JRDS appears to be edited by, published by, and largely written by one man. This makes previous cases of editorial self-publication, like JohnnyMatson, look positively tame. How can JRDS ensure a proper peer review of papers when the author is also the editor and the publisher? All of which raises two questions. Why is this journal indexed on PubMed? And just what is Reward Deficiency Syndrome? Stay tuned for Part 2. Update 12/06/2015: JRDS is in fact not indexed on MEDLINE, the main database that underlies PubMed. Five JRDS papers nonetheless appear on PubMed but this is because these papers were deposited in the PubMed Central (PMC) database by the authors. The journal's status is"Not currently indexed for MEDLINE. Only citations for author manuscripts are included." I wasn't aware that it was possible for non-MEDLINE indexed papers to appear on PubMed. But it is. Thanks to Hilda Bastian for pointing this out!

Part 2 and Part 3 of this post are now up.

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