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OA publisher accepts fake paper. Posted by Bob Grant
[Entry posted at 10th June 2009 11:13 AM GMT]
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An open access journal has agreed to publish a nonsensical article
written by a computer program, claiming that the manuscript
was peer reviewed and requesting that the "authors" pay $800
in "open access fees."
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.
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 d
isciplines 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.
Davis said that last week the journal notified him that it
had accepted the manuscript, which contained absolutely
meaningless statements typified by the first few lines of
its introduction: "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."
He received an email from Ms. Sana Mokarram, assistant
manager of publication at Bentham, that the manuscript
"has been accepted for publication after peer-reviewing
process in TOISCIJ." But Davis said that he received no
reviewer comments in reference to the sham manuscript.
"The publisher said that it went through peer review,"
Davis said. "That looks very suspect. [Bentham says]
that they're a scientific publication that does peer review,
but at least in one case they did not do peer review, and
they said that they did."
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.
Earlier this year, Davis submitted another fake SCIgen-generated
manuscript to a Bentham journal, The Open Software Engineering
Journal, and it was rejected after what appeared to be an actual
peer review process.
Mokarram's acceptance email for the TOISCIJ article had a fee
form attached, asking Davis to submit an $800 payment to a
post office box in the SAIF Zone, a tax-free complex in the
United Arab Emirates. Davis wrote back and retracted the
manuscript. "We have discovered several errors in the
manuscript which question both the validity of the study
and the results," he wrote in an email to Mokarram.
Davis said that he considered scraping together the $800 to
see if Bentham would actually publish the fake paper, but
considered that taking the hoax further would be "unethical."
"I think that the point has been made," he said. "And, I mean,
it's $800, and I'm a graduate student."
All joking aside, Davis and Andrews say the episode points
out potentially serious flaws in the open-access, author-pay
model being adopted by an increasing number of publishers.
"What happens to be going on is that some publishers see
this as a lucrative opportunity," Davis said. "This open access
environment may set up the condition under which publishers
could use the good will of academics and their institutions
for profit motives."
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.
But open access advocate Peter Suber from Earlham College
in Richmond, Indiana, told The Scientist that the problem is
not the open access business model, per se. "If it were intrinsically
suspect, we would have to level that criticism at a much
wider swath of subscription journals," many of which also
charge page fees when manuscripts are accepted for publication,
As for Bentham, Suber noted that "many questions about their
business" have been circulating for more than a year. "There's a
whole range of quality in open access journals," Suber said, "in
the same way that there is a whole range of quality in
Correction (June 10): The original version of this story incorrectly
gave Peter Suber's affiliation as Earlham University in Richland,
Virginia. Suber is actually at Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana. T
he Scientist regrets the error.