[open-science] Fake Cancer study published in 157 Open Access Journals

Francois Grey francois.grey at cern.ch
Mon Oct 7 13:54:23 UTC 2013

Hi Jenny, All,

I see the Economist has picked up on this story, too. Unfortunately, their version<http://www.economist.com/news/science-and-technology/21587197-it-seems-dangerously-easy-get-scientific-nonsense-published-sciences-sokal> links open access to poor quality control. A shame, as The Economist has previously covered OA in a quite positive light.

The article does not mention the lack of comparison with closed access publications, nor indicate that many of the journals were already known to be predatory. There is some useful criticism in the Reader's comments, but none as succinct as yours, Jenny.

Those of us old enough to remember the Sokal hoax will be bracing ourselves now for the tsunami of controversy that the "Bohannon hoax" will generate. What seems clear is that, for those opposed to open access, this is a godsend. Because busy managers who make decisions about science funding are probably going to take their cue from The Economist and other mainstream media, not from discussions on blogs and list-serves of the OA community.

What can be done? Consider first The Economist article. I would encourage  you to consider writing a letter to the editor, on behalf of OKF. This is likely to have much more impact than yet another comment on the web page of the article. Would be good for OKF visibility, too. Concise and witty is what the editor is looking for.

What else can be done? Despite its flaws, the Bohannon hoax shines light on a serious problem, namely the way OA is being co-opted on a grand scale by corrupt publishers. Much like Bitcoin being co-opted by Silk Road, this can seriously damage OA and the whole open science movement by association. It suggests that some form of independent vetting of scientific journals is necessary.

Beall's list is a great starting point. It needs to be extended beyond OA. And it should be made more widely known (I had not come across it before) and put on a more solid footing than just a personal blogpost. Could that be a job for OKF?

What about the wider implications of the Bohannon hoax for scientific publishing, OA or not? It seems to me that, rather than engaging in endless arguments about the limitations of Bohannon's analysis, the best thing would be to commission a further study, that did a controlled comparison of open vs. closed journals, as well as predatory vs. non-predatory and peer-reviewed vs. non-peer-reviewed, to measure their relative susceptibility to fraud. Another variable to test is the scale of the fraud itself, from flagrant to subtle.

That's a lot of work. Perhaps a job for a Panton Fellow?


From: Jenny Molloy <jcmcoppice12 at gmail.com<mailto:jcmcoppice12 at gmail.com>>
Date: Friday, October 4, 2013 4:16 AM
To: Daniel Lombraña González <teleyinex at gmail.com<mailto:teleyinex at gmail.com>>
Cc: open-science <open-science at lists.okfn.org<mailto:open-science at lists.okfn.org>>
Subject: Re: [open-science] Fake Cancer study published in 157 Open Access Journals

Hi Daniel

Thanks for sharing! It would have been nice to see a comparison to acceptance rates by closed access journals, as one commenter further down the article points out, peer review problems are not OA specific.

The author addresses this in this Retraction Watch Article:

"I did consider it. That was part of my original (very over-ambitious) plan. But the turnaround time for traditional journals is usually months and sometimes more than a year. How could I ever pull off a representative sample? Instead, this just focused on open access journals and makes no claim about the comparative quality of open access vs. traditional subscription journals."

This post also explains that 137 of the 157 journals which accepted are already recognised as predatory (as per Beall's list<http://scholarlyoa.com/2012/12/06/bealls-list-of-predatory-publishers-2013/> )

I think National Geographic did start explaining that this is not specifically an open access issue, but could have flagged up that fake journals to make money are a by-product of the pay to publish business model, not the licensing terms under which the papers are are made available. They also included unhelpful comments like this:

"The public wanted open access to scientific literature, and now they are getting it," Steneck says. "They now need to get over the idea that they can get all that information for free without someone doing the real hard work of reviewing papers."

I don't think anyone has that idea and it maintains the myth that open access = no peer review rather than shoddy/fake journal = no peer review.


On Fri, Oct 4, 2013 at 7:54 AM, Daniel Lombraña González <teleyinex at gmail.com<mailto:teleyinex at gmail.com>> wrote:
Hi there,

Today I've found this interesting article in National Geographic<http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/10/131003-bohannon-science-spoof-open-access-peer-review-cancer/> about a study conducted by Bohannon to test if Open Access peer reviewed journals actually rejected a spoof study due to several important errors (copy & paste from the original article):

The spoof study had at least three problems:

  *   The study drug killed cancer cells with increasing doses, even though its data didn't show any such effect.

  *   The drug killed cancer cells exposed to medical radiation with increasing effect, even though the study showed the cells weren't exposed to radiation.

  *   The study author concluded the paper by promising to start treating people with the drug immediately, without further safety testing.

Only 106 performed a review, while the others basically accepted the paper for publication (PLOS One rejected it).

In the article you can feel a subtle "attack" or complain against Open Access journals. However in the same article they say that they think it will happen the same in non OA journals; i.e. they mention two cases where Science, the popular journal, actually accepted two papers that were not good (one was a faked and the other one refuted).

In summary, I think this type of articles actually reveal a problem regarding publishing: reviewing articles is really complicated (for any type of journal), taking into account that as a researcher you don't get any credit for doing a proper one, and that usually the paper does not provide all the data, information, etc, etc. to replicate the study.

All the best,

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