Monday, May 11, 2009

Duped by Elsevier? Run to Your Local Library. NOW!

I was one of those that expressed outrage last fall over the Journal of Access Services decision to devote an entire issue to the postings of an anonymous blogger.  I felt the decision by the editor and publisher to lower their quality standards exposed a crack in the foundation of scholarly communication. Another controversy has emerged in the past few weeks.

Between 2003 and 2005 Elsevier produced several issues of  Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine. The controversy is that it has been recently exposed that the Elsevier was paid by Merck to publish the 'journal' which contained favorable data about Merck products Fosamax and Vioxx - without any disclosure of Merck's involvement. 

The Scientist obtained two PDF issues of the journal: Volume 2, Issues 1 and 2, both dated 2003. Other titles published by Elsevier and paid for by Merck include the Australasian Journal of General Practice, the Australasian Journal of Cardiology and the Australasian Journal of Cardiovascular Medicine. 

An interesting analysis at the Chemistry Blog revealed that 63% of the articles were favorable to Merck.

There is plenty of outrage over the ethics in this case. Elsevier deserves all the negative press. I am not going to pile on.  Instead, after looking over the issues I believe there were plenty of clues that the publication was not scholarly in nature, regardless of the title and the peer-review look. We all should be concerned if scientists were actually duped into thinking the journal was scholarly communication:
  • The journal is not indexed in MEDLINE. Sure, many journals are not in the database, but it is still the premiere discover tool and any journal of value would be in it.
  • It's not in ISI Web of Knowledge. Ditto.   
  • Most scientific research journals include financial and funding disclosures. The lack of them should raise a few flags. 
  • How many 'review' articles cite only one or two articles?  
  • The editorial board is 'honorary.' 
  • There were no 'instructions for authors.'
  • Many of the 'articles' had NO authors. 
  • Most science/tech articles these days have a DOI.  
  • The journal had no website.
I'm sure there are many more. 

I'm unsure if scientists were actually duped. Chances are that most are more concerned over the idea that this occurred then whether or not any life-changing decisions were actually made based on articles in the advertorial. 

Any scientist or professional that was duped needs to run - not walk - to their local library. Ask for the librarian on duty.  Ask them to explain how to evaluate scholarly journals.    
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Ben W. Brumfield said...

Do you include overworked GPs or PCPs in that group? Because that's who the EM imprint was aimed at, not scientists.

Dean said...

I would think that these "dummy journals" were never read at all, but rather "cited" in promotional literature given to practicing physicians. Considering all you've mentioned about these "journals," physicians would never be able to track down the full-text, and thus, be able to evaluate its content.