Using a bit of mischief, researchers at Cornell University and the New England Journal of Medicine have exposed the dangers of open access scientific journals after they were able to get a nonsensical article past editors of the Open Information Science Journal recently.
All they had to do was submit an $800 (US) "access fee" to the journal, blogger Bob Grant said in his blog for The Scientist magazine.
Philip Davis, a PhD student in scientific communications at Cornell University, and Kent Anderson, executive director of international business and product development at the New England Journal of Medicine, submitted the fake manuscript to The Open Information Science Journal (TOISCIJ) at the end of January. Image:
Davis generated the paper, which was titled "Deconstructing Access Points," using a computer program -- called SCIgen -- created at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He and Anderson signed the work using pseudonyms (David Phillips and Andrew Kent). The two listed the "Center for Research in Applied Phrenology" (CRAP) as their home institution on the paper, which featured fictitious tables, figures and references.
"I wanted to really see whether this article would be peer reviewed," said Davis. "[Our paper] has the look of an article, but it makes no sense."
Davis told The Scientist that he got the idea for this "little experiment" after receiving scores of spam emails soliciting article submissions and invitations to serve on editorial boards of open access journals from Bentham Science Publishers, TOISCIJ's publisher. According to its website, Bentham publishes "200 plus open access journals" that cover disciplines from bioinformatics and pharmacology to engineering and neuroscience. "One of the things that made Bentham catch our eye," Anderson said, "was that they were so aggressively soliciting manuscripts."
The two wrote about the incident today on the Scholarly Kitchen, the Society for Scholarly Publishing blog that they run.
The journal claimed the article had been peer-reviewed -- standard practice for scholarly journals -- but the two researchers received no review notes on their article. They were tempted to pay the $800 to see if their article would actually be published, but decided that would be unethical.
Grant tried to get the journal's side of the story, but was not successful.
I called Richard Morrissy, who's listed as the US contact for Bentham Science Publishers on the company's website, but he declined to answer my questions and instead directed me to his supervisor, Matthew Honan, who works in Bentham's France office. Honan does not have a phone number, according to Morrissy, and he did not reply to an email (which was CC'ed to Bentham's marketing team in Pakistan) by the time this article was posted.
Despite the obvious humour here, the incident also points to potential dangers, especially as one of the world's leading pahrma companies Merck & Co. finds itself in a fake publishing scandal of its own.
Open access journals generally charge authors fees to publish research papers. For example, BioMed Central journals charge up to $2265 in "article processing fees," and publishing in the PloS family of journals costs authors between $1300 - $2850. With institutional libraries, including Cornell's, and granting institutions, such as the Wellcome Trust and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, offering to pay open access publication fees for faculty authors and grantees, the potential for abuse may be increasing. "It's almost an inevitability that you might have several publishers tempted to take advantage of this relatively easy money," said Anderson.
By the way, here's an excerpt from the opening of the article in question:
"Compact symmetries and compilers have garnered tremendous interest from both futurists and biologists in the last several years. The flaw of this type of solution, however, is that DHTs can be made empathic, large-scale, and extensible. Along these same lines, the drawback of this type of approach, however, is that active networks and SMPs can agree to fix this riddle."