Impostor Science in Open-Access Journals

As anti-vaccinationists, global-warming denialists, and young-earth creationists know, it’s not too hard to fool the public with bogus science. But a new exercise by John Bohannon of Science suggests it’s not too hard too fool professionals either. Bohannon used a computer program to generate unique iterations of a purposely flawed paper, playing Mad Libs with the formula “Molecule X from lichen species Y inhibits the growth of cancer cell Z.” He sent his fake papers to 304 open-access journals, and it was accepted by more than half. Some of these journals are admittedly sketchy, but others are published by Elsevier, Wolters Kluwer, and Sage. Only PLOS ONE distinguished itself by identifying problems with the paper and rejecting it on the basis of its scientific quality. PZ Myers writes that one cause of this widespread negligence is the almighty dollar; since many open-access journals charge authors to have their papers published, “the journal editors profit by accepting any papers, the more the better.” But PZ asks, why didn’t Bohannon form a control group by sending his fake papers to traditional journals as well? On Stoat, William M. Connolley writes that pay-to-publish journals threaten to “pollute the science-o-sphere with trash, and/or rip of poor authors,” and if you submit your honest paper to one of these journals “you’ve shot yourself in the foot.”

Posted to the homepage on October 4, 2013.

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3 thoughts on “Impostor Science in Open-Access Journals

  1. Might want to revise this piece to get the facts more correct. It is not true that “only PLOS ONE distinguished itself…” According to Bohannon’s article, he submitted the paper 304 times, and it was rejected 98 times, and accepted 157 times. So almost 1/3 of the open access journals rejected it.

  2. I love it!! Rooting out not only the low-quality publishers but also the ROOT of their willingness to publish – money!

    That being said, I would take issue with your header – I am a proud “alarmist” about global warming, and I firmly believe evolution exists [duh!!] and the world is ancient beyond 6000 yrs [duhhhhh!!] – but the vaccinations… look at the ROOT of the reason kids get 32 vaccinations now, compared to the 6 I got in the 1960s – it is MONEY. Big Pharma is a very legitimate target of conspiracy charges.

    If not, 2 out of 3 ain’t bad, eh?

  3. ecologist, you’re right that my phrasing is misleading, I meant that only PLOS ONE distinguished itself by identifying problems with the paper [to the paper’s “author”].

    Ellin, I am not opposed to the sentiment that there are problems with our vaccination system. But the fact is that vaccines prevent disease. And another fact is that anti-vaccinationists have a history of promoting bogus science.

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