October 4, 2013
Journalist Publishes Bogus Research Paper In 157 Open-Access Journals
Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
Those looking to make a philosophical or political point will sometimes question clinical researchers’ personal motivations in an attempt to discredit scientific findings they don’t agree with.
“From humble and idealistic beginnings a decade ago, open-access scientific journals have mushroomed into a global industry, driven by author publication fees rather than traditional subscriptions,” Bohannon wrote in a recent Science report about his duplicitous scheme.
“Most of the players are murky,” he added. “The identity and location of the journals' editors, as well as the financial workings of their publishers, are often purposefully obscured.”
Bohannon’s work showed that scientists in search of a journal in which to publish the fruits of their hard work could be taken advantage of, just as the victims of any other scam that preys on someone’s desire for recognition. He discovered that many of these open-access journals use fake addresses, fake names, offshore bank accounts and shallow "peer reviews" on a regular basis.
To uncover the phony nature of these journals, Bohannon submitted a ‘research paper,’ about a promising cancer treatment derived from something found in lichen – complete with fake data and a fake author from a phony institution.
Long-established, highly-regarded journals use peer reviewers, or scientific colleagues of the submitting authors, to review research reports. These reviewers are supposed to catch everything from minor typographic errors to major conceptual flaws.
“Any reviewer with more than a high-school knowledge of chemistry and the ability to understand a basic data plot should have spotted (my) paper's short-comings immediately,” Bohannon wrote. “Its experiments are so hopelessly flawed that the results are meaningless.”
The journalist sent variations of the paper to 304 journals and despite glaring and obvious problems with the research, 157 journals - more than half - accepted it. Just 98 journals outright rejected the paper and 49 never gave Bohannon a response. He said many of the journals that did accept the paper demanded as much as several thousand dollars for publication fees.
One of the offending journals singled out by Bohannon in his investigation was the American Journal of Polymer Science, which is published by Scientific & Academic Publishing Co. (SAP).
“SAP's website claims that the journal is published out of Los Angeles,” he wrote. “The street address appears to be no more than the intersection of two highways, and no phone numbers are listed.”
“After months of e-mailing the editors of SAP, I finally received a response,” Bohannon continued. “Someone named Charles Duke reiterated — in broken English — that SAP is an American publisher based in California. His e-mail arrived at 3 a.m., Eastern time.”
Bohannon went on to say that one-third of the journals targeted in his sting were based in India, making it the world's largest source of open-access publishing.
“Among the India-based journals in my sample, 64 accepted the fatally flawed papers and only 15 rejected it,” he wrote.
Bohannon said that not all open-access journals should be suspected of such hijinks. Most notably, he pointed out that the highly respected PLOS ONE promptly rejected the bogus paper two weeks after submission based on its lack of scientific merit.