Online academic journals are losing integrity. It has now been proven that many open access journals trade truthful scientific information for a mere profit, as they accept flawed scientific studies just to earn publishing fees. This is generating a lot of poisoned, misleading scientific articles that spread around the internet, causing misinformation.
157 journals exposed in sting
Several journals have been exposed, thanks to a recent sting led by journalist John Bohannon, who is a contributor to the Science journal.
Bohannon collaborated with Harvard contributors to write up a fake research article that looked and sounded official. They dumbed the paper down with basic errors in the data, method and conclusion. They even threw in a graph that was in direct contrast with the paper’s data. They sent the paper to 305 online journals for publication review. Shockingly, over sixty percent of the journals accepted Bohannon’s flawed, fake paper, asked for publication fees and published his bogus study in their respective journals.
To be exact, Bohannon received 157 acceptance letters for his flawed paper and only 98 rejections. Many of the acceptance letters came from India.
“I was expecting 10 to 15 percent, or worst case, a quarter accepted,” says Bohannan, but a stunning 61 percent of journals accepted his bogus piece! “Peer review is in a worse state than anyone guessed,” he said.
To view an interactive map of the journals involved in this sting, click here: http://scicomm.scimagdev.org.
Academia flooded with imitators who put profit before quality publication
With the internet spiraling with infinite information and growing conscious awareness, there is also a dark side. Fake gurus, imitators and greedy journals may collect fees from scientists who are just trying to get published. The wide acceptance of Bohannon’s fake paper proves that academia itself has lowered its standards just to bring in revenue.
Those researchers seeking truth may not find the whole truth from online open access academic sources, since many journals have sold out, publishing a bunch of flawed information in the process.
Some online journals may look official, with academic titles and expert gurus, but this may all be a sham. That’s why it’s important for researchers to remain skeptical and question all “scientific” studies jogging around the internet.
Bohannan’s experiment further shows that many online journals can’t even recognize fatal flaws in a paper, revealing that the publishers may even be lazy, treating the information they publish as mere digits that need to be moved to keep money coming in. Solid peer review that is aware and accountable is dying off, as journals publish papers that they neither understand nor care to double check.
Bohanna said that many of these online journals never even noticed flaws that should be spotted by anyone “with more than a high-school knowledge of chemistry.” He states, “[T]his sting operation reveals the contours of an emerging Wild West in academic publishing.”
Bohannan’s experiment also shows that greed is deeply involved. In some of the cases, reviewers pointed out mistakes with Bohannan’s flawed paper, but the journal’s publishers accepted the paper anyway, asking the author for thousands of dollars in publication fees.
Big industry may fuel the misinformation to further their special interests
Online journals have a special responsibility to review scientific data. Under an incentive to publish relevant quantity to please subscribers, online journals may be letting big industry run loose in misinformation scams.
Traditional print journals had to abide by rigid constraints that screened out junk scientific information that may have been fueled by big industry studies that had a special interest slant. Online journals’ lack of review and motivation for profit may be allowing big industries to fuel misinformation to the public.
The misinformation spans across many professional fields. Drug companies can manipulate the medical community by influencing false studies that bolster their claims. Government officials may get behind a fake study to help support their policy. Researchers themselves may be misled altogether as the misinformation piles up. Lawyers rely on scientific citations in briefs and trials. As fake papers are accepted more often then not, the quality of scientific information may become completely contrived and supportive of big industry’s specials interests.
What can be done to hold online journals more accountable?