Saturday, May 9, 2009

Fake Journals

Now we not only have fake conferences and invented publications. If you have enough money (as pharmaceutical companies do), you can just purchase your own fancy-schmancy, scientific-sounding journal from a reputable publisher. Or shall we say, previously reputable. Now that six of their thousands of journals have been identified as fakes, maybe we should just assume that the rest are also problematic and proceed to take our papers to Open Access journals.

But let's start at the top. Many blogs (such as and The Scientist reported that pharmaceutical company Merck was behind the "Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine". It looked like a real journal. It had real-looking articles in it, although they were reprints or summaries of other journal's research, all strangely enough favorable about Merck products. Summer Johnson on the bioethics blog points out the problem with this:
What’s wrong with this is so obvious it doesn’t have to be argued for. What’s sad is that I’m sure many a primary care physician was given literature from Merck that said, “As published in Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine, Fosamax outperforms all other medications….” Said doctor, or even the average researcher wouldn’t know that the journal is bogus. In fact, knowing that the journal is published by Elsevier gives it credibility!
Right. Elsevier used to be a respected name in scientific publishing. The Guardian quotes a spokesman as saying that the publisher does not consider this a journal, as it is a compilation of reprinted articles. Then why does it have the word "Journal" in its title?

Laika's MedLibLog goes on to explain how some of the articles that were reprinted got themselves published in the first place: the company sponsors the research, and then employees of the company offer manuscripts to the academic investigators, who put their name on the paper (and sometimes forget the footnote explaining who paid for the research). So we have a "journal" with reprints of ghostwritten articles.

The Scientist has now found 6 similar journals:
  • the Australasian Journal of General Practice
  • the Australasian Journal of Neurology
  • the Australasian Journal of Cardiology
  • the Australasian Journal of Clinical Pharmacy
  • the Australasian Journal of Cardiovascular Medicine, and
  • the Australasian Journal of Bone & Joint Medicine.
Elsevier would not tell The Scientist the names of the companies sponsoring these titles.

Yes, the mother company regrets what its Australia division has been up to. And the people responsible apparently don't work there any more.

But how can we know for sure that the next Elsevier journal that we hold in our hands is legit? That it declares all of its interests and who paid for and wrote the research?

Can we now declare the peer-review system for journal articles officially broken? Can we also quit counting number of articles and impact factors and just have people submit the 3 of 5 most important papers they have written when they are evaluated?

Oh, the Elsevier statement is linked from their home page....


  1. Thank you for referring to my post.
    However I fear that some things also got a little shaked and pasted ;)
    I never intended to say that Excerpta Medica Journals are "journals" with reprints of ghostwritten articles. Most of these articles are just peer reviewed papers, published elsewhere and "excerpted" here.
    I.m.o. the following applies:
    A. the 6 Australian Excerpta journals are throwaways=advertorials
    B. (most?) of the other Excerpta Journals are regular excerpts .
    C. Excerpta never said these are peer reviewed papers, and you can immediately see they are "just" excerpts (citations given)
    D. Indeed Excerpta Medica as a MECC has done some ghost management for Wyeth in truly peer reviewed papers. This was a few years ago. The Excerpta Medica JOURNALS had nothing to do with it.

    Nevertheless both the throwaways and (even more so) the ghost management are worrisome and wrong.

  2. And there was also this Elsevier math journal that published mainly articles written by its editor, "Chaos, Solitons & Fractals". Granted, this one might probably rather be considered just a "very bad journal" and not "fake" like the ones in your list (following Dr. Freeride).

    Still, Elsevier is a indeed a rather strong argument against that funny Nature editorial, where they suggested that Open Access journals like PLoS are prone to vanity publications.

  3. Thank you, Laika, for the clarifications!

    I have some more links coming in from bashful readers:

    * The full story of the Chaos, Solitons and Fractals journal by El Naschie is blogged at Mathblog* The bizarre story of Dr. Herbert Schlangenmann, a non-existent researcher with a great publication record (in German).

    I hope that this discussion makes its way into the mainstream press, in the hopes that many university libraries decide that they can spend their money on better publications or better publication methods, especially Open Access.