|Country of origin|
|Headquarters location||Basel, Switzerland|
|Key people||Shu-Kun Lin|
|Publication types||Open access scientific journals|
|No. of employees||5,700 (in 2022)|
MDPI (Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute) is a publisher of open access scientific journals. Founded by Shu-Kun Lin as a chemical sample archive, it now publishes over 390 peer-reviewed, open access journals. MDPI is the largest open access publisher in the world and the fifth largest publisher overall in terms of journal paper output. The number of published papers has been growing significantly in the last decade with year over year growth of over 50% in 2017, 2018 and 2019.
As of June 2022, MDPI publishes 393 academic journals, including 93 journals indexed within the Science Citation Index Expanded, and 8 journals indexed within the Social Sciences Citation Index, with a total of 98 journals ranked with an impact factor.
MDPI journals are included in the Directory of Open Access Journals. 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).
The publisher's business model is based on establishing entirely open access broad-discipline journals, with fast processing times from submission to publication and article processing charges paid by the author. MDPI's business practices have resulted in significant growth but have attracted criticism, with controversies related to the quality of its peer reviews and accusations of subordination of academic functions to business interests. 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 while applying pressure on Beall's employer. Some journals published by MDPI have also been noted by the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Norwegian Scientific Publication Register, two major scientific bodies, for lack of rigour and possible predatory practice.
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 as 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 with its official headquarters in Basel, Switzerland. Including Switzerland, MDPI has editorial offices in 11 countries, with five offices in China, two offices in both Romania and Serbia, and offices in the United Kingdom, Canada, Spain, Poland, Japan, Thailand, and Singapore.
The number of published papers has been growing significantly in the last decade with year over year growth of over 50% in 2017, 2018 and 2019, with 110,000 papers published in 2019, and MDPI reported publishing 235,638 papers in 2021 alone. As of 2020, MDPI was the largest publisher of open access papers in the world and the 5th largest publisher overall in terms of journal paper output.
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. 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.
MDPI made a successful appeal to the Beall's list appeals board in October 2015, and was removed from the list. Even after its removal, Beall remained critical of MDPI; in December 2015 he wrote: "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 "it's clear that MDPI's peer review is managed by clueless clerical staff in China."
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 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.
Resignations of 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."
In June 2020, the would-be guest editors of a special issue in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Health resigned after being informed by an MDPI representative that a quota of publication-fee exemptions allocated to the special issue could only be given to scholars from developed countries.
In 2021, five members of the editorial board of the journal Vaccines resigned after Vaccines published a controversial article that misused data to reach the incorrect conclusion that vaccines against COVID-19 had no clear benefit.
Withdrawal of support by the Faculty of Science of the University of South Bohemia
In December 2021, the Faculty of Science of the University of South Bohemia in České Budějovice announced that it will stop financial support for publishing in MDPI journals, officially recommended against publishing in or reviewing for MDPI, and warned that publications in MDPI journals might not be taken into account for evaluations of employees and departments.
Inclusion in Early Warning List of the Chinese Academy of Sciences
In December 2020, the Chinese Academy of Sciences published a list of journals that may suffer from issues of scientific quality and other risk characteristics. There were 22 MDPI group journals in the 65 journals given in its initial list. MDPI responded to the list promising to communicate with the academy and improve its journals' parameters to remove the affected journals from the list as soon as possible. The list was updated in December 2021 and reduced to only 41 journals, of which seven MDPI journals were included.
Assessments in the Nordic countries
The National Publication Committee of Norway has assigned MDPI a book-publisher level rating of "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 October 2022, 214 MDPI journals are listed in the Norwegian Scientific Index of which 204 have a rating of "level 1" and 10 have a rating of "level 0". In 2021 the National Publication Committee of Norway conducted a survey of how MDPI is perceived among Norwegian researchers. It showed that many are outraged at the way authors and reviewers are treated, but that some also appreciate fast and open publishing. In 2021 the executive committee of the National Publication Committee announced the creation of a new level X for possibly predatory journals and publishers, and linked the creation of the new level specifically to the many expressions of concern regarding MDPI. The new level became active in September 2021, and five MDPI journals were among the initial 13 journals included in the level, making MDPI the largest publisher of level X-designated journals; the journals were Arts, Sustainability, Geosciences, Processes, and Axioms. In the 2022 update, 3 of these were rated as non-academic (level 0) and 1 as academic (Geosciences). In 2022, one MDPI journal was nominated for a level X rating: Remote Sensing, but later on the journal retained its status as academic (level 1). In 2022 the Norwegian national publication committee determined that Sustainability is not an academic journal and moved it to level 0 for the year 2023.
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 head and two members of 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. In 2021 Fosso and Nøland argued that MDPI dilutes research by playing on academics' "vanity and desire to embellish their CV", and has "an aggressive focus" on "flooding the market with rapidly published special issues motivated purely by profit". Scientists Anders Skyrud Danielsen and Lars Mølgaard Saxhaug referred to MDPI as a "money machine fraud operation".
Simen Ådnøy Ellingsen questioned the quality of MDPI's peer review based on his experiences as a reviewer for the publisher. He wrote that he had been 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 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?".
A study published in the MDPI journal Nutrients in 2011 went through a series of corrections first in August 2011, then in April 2012, and then again in February 2014. The article claimed that obesity rates in Australia increased in the same timeframe that sugary soft drink consumption declined by 10%. The article was used by soft drink industry lobbyists to argue that sugary drinks were not significantly contributing to obesity rates. However the article itself debunked its own claim, with one figure showing that soft drink consumption had increased by 30% during the time period where the authors claimed a 10% reduction in consumption. Nutrients issued a correction claiming that the previously described 10% drop in consumption referred to an increase in the use of artificial sweeteners, and reflected overall sugar consumption rather than soft drink consumption. The correction said that "some words were missing." This correction has been derided by some as "nonsense" and untrue, suggesting that the correction does not address the core issue of whether sugar consumption increased in Australia over the time period investigated. The journal Nutrients and the senior author of the article maintain that the thrice-corrected article is now accurate, and that corrections that were made were immaterial to the conclusions of the study.
In 2016, MDPI journal Behavioral Sciences published a review paper that claimed that watching pornography is a cause of erectile dysfunction. After critics raised concerns, an independent review by the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) recommended that the article be retracted, based on issues including an unusual editorial process in which the listed journal editor declared that he "was not involved in the final decision regarding correction/retraction/authorship," an inaccurate and incomplete conflict of interest declaration that failed to disclose author connections with anti-pornography activist groups, failure to obtain informed consent from the study subjects, and failure to protect the identities of those subjects. Instead of retracting the paper, MDPI removed the editor's name from the paper and issued an amended conflict of interest statement which, according to Retraction Watch, did not fully address the conflicts of interest identified by COPE, nor the other issues identified by them. When contacted by Retraction Watch, MDPI's response was "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. The journal 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 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.
In 2021, the MDPI journal Vaccines published an article claiming a "lack of clear benefit" for COVID-19 vaccines. The article was heavily criticized for misusing data and as a result reaching a false conclusion. Katie Ewer, one of the journal's editors, called the publication of the article "grossly irresponsible" and resigned from the editorial board as a protest against its publication. Subsequently, four other members of the editorial board also resigned. Shortly afterwards, the journal published an "expression of concern" regarding the article and opened an investigation into the review process. The paper had received three reviewer reports (which the journal later made public) which were however not very detailed and had apparently been written by reviewers who did not have topic expertise. Vaccines eventually decided to retract the article.
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Still others tried different strategies. Some tried annoying university officials with numerous emails and letters, often sent as PDF attachments, with fancy letterhead, informing the university how I was hurting its reputation. They kept sending the emails to the university chancellor and others, hoping to implement the heckler’s veto. They 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. The publisher MDPI used this strategy.
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