In Lamentably-Successful Search of Rotten, Scammy Journals

Reader (when reading a study) and writer (when submitting a study for publication) beware — if the journal publishing (or offering to publish) that study is not known to you. Dan Vergano explains, in this National Geographic article:

Fake Cancer Study Spotlights Bogus Science Journals

A cancer drug discovered in a humble lichen, and ready for testing in patients, might sound too good to be true. That’s because it is. But more than a hundred lower-tier scientific journals accepted a fake, error-ridden cancer study for publication in a spoof organized by Science magazine. The fake study points to a “Wild West” of pay-to-publish outlets feeding off lower tiers of the scientific enterprise by publishing studies without any appreciable scrutiny

John Bohannon is the person behind this effort to test for rotten, scammy journals. His article begins:

Who’s Afraid of Peer Review?” John Bohannon, Science, vol. 342, no. 6154, October 4, 2013, pp. 60-65.

“On 4 July, good news arrived in the inbox of Ocorrafoo Cobange, a biologist at the Wassee Institute of Medicine in Asmara. It was the official letter of acceptance for a paper he had submitted 2 months earlier to the Journal of Natural Pharmaceuticals, describing the anticancer properties of a chemical that Cobange had extracted from a lichen.

“In fact, it should have been promptly rejected. 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. Its experiments are so hopelessly flawed that the results are meaningless.

“I know because I wrote the paper. Ocorrafoo Cobange does not exist, nor does the Wassee Institute of Medicine. Over the past 10 months, I have submitted 304 versions of the wonder drug paper to open-access journals. More than half of the journals accepted the paper, failing to notice its fatal flaws. Beyond that headline result, the data from this sting operation reveal the contours of an emerging Wild West in academic publishing….”

Bohannon graphically illustrates of how the money flows in this curious backwater of the publishing industry, commenting that “The location of a journal’s publisher, editor, and bank account are often continents apart”:

Science Magazine

BONUS: Pharyngula gave this a good, hard look.

BONUS. What does it all mean? Perhaps this:

Bohannon’s experiment demonstration two related principles:

  1. The goodness of any system that depends on people depends on those people really trying to be good.
  2.  The mere functioning of the system is not restricted by or to reality.

(This week, we also see these principles being demonstrated on a larger scale in the US government.)