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 of 2009
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"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 disciplines 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, Suber said.
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 subscription journals."
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. The Scientist regrets the error.
So, the road that IEEE organization opened with the fake, junk papers (put in the Google, please,
fake IEEE, or Bogus IEEE) is long!!!