October 6, 2013

More fraud: coming soon to an online journal near you

The Guardian published a story of a phony article submitted to 304 open access journals in less than a year:
The paper, which described a simple test of whether cancer cells grow more slowly in a test tube when treated with increasing concentrations of a molecule, had "fatal flaws" and used fabricated authors and universities with African affiliated names, [John] Bohannon revealed in Science magazine.

He wrote: "Any reviewer with more than a high-school knowledge of chemistry and the ability to understand a basic data plot should have spotted the paper's shortcomings immediately. Its experiments are so hopelessly flawed that the results are meaningless."
Bohannon, who wrote the paper, submitted around 10 articles per week to open access journals that use the 'gold' open access route, which requires the author to pay a fee if the paper is published.

The "wonder drug paper" as he calls it, was accepted by 157 of the journals and rejected by 98. Of the 255 versions that went through the entire editing process to either acceptance or rejection, 60% did not undergo peer review. Of the 106 journals that did conduct peer review, 70% accepted the paper.
The Guardian story is based on a paper by John Bohannon, a correspondent for Science.

Of course, Science is to open access journals what the (late great) Encyclopedia Britannica is to Wikipedia: it’s not exactly a neutral party in the conflict between open access and proprietary publication business models. (And since Science published one of the 50+ fraudulent articles by social psychologist Diederik Stapel, it can hardly be considered above reproach on such matters.)

Still, the ease by which Bohannon generated 150+ future retractions suggests that we academics will be accessing even more low quality information via Google Scholar — even without the massive scale of a Gottinger or his recent successors.

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