A sham research paper purposely loaded with easily identifiable errors was submitted to more than 300 open access journals as part of a sting operation. Despite the flaws in the paper, 157 journals accepted it, according to a report published in the October issue of Science.
“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 short-comings immediately,” wrote journalist John Bohannon, who carried out the investigation. “Its experiments are so hopelessly flawed that the results are meaningless.”
The sting shows the problems that exist in world of open access journals, which Bohannon described as “an emerging Wild West in academic publishing.”
“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,” he wrote. “Most of the players are murky. The identity and location of the journals' editors, as well as the financial workings of their publishers, are often purposefully obscured.”
The fake paper—submitted under the pseudonym Ocorrafoo Cobange of Wassee Institute of Medicine—claimed to have demonstrated anticancer properties in a molecule extracted from a lichen. However, despite the claims made by the paper, the data provided clearly did not back up the conclusion. Bohannon used Google Translate to translate the text into French then back into English, which produced a number of grammatical errors and simulated broken English.
Of the 304 journals targeted, 157 accepted the fake paper and 98 rejected it. Of the remaining journals, 29 appear to be defunct and 20 failed to reply. Only 36 submissions received peer review that recognized the flaws, and in 16 cases, even reviews that noted the flaws led to the paper’s acceptance.
Some of the accepting journals are hosted by publishers Elsevier and Sage, including the Journal of International Medical Research. The Journal of Natural Pharmaceuticals and Journal of Experimental and Clinical Assisted Reproduction also accepted the paper.
Despite having names that indicate otherwise, many of the journals are not published in the U.S. Approximately one-third of the targeted journals are published in India, with others originating in Turkey or Pakistan.
PLoS One and journals published by Cairo-based Hindawi were among those that rejected the paper.
Any accepted papers were immediately withdrawn by Bohannon to ensure none were actually published.