Tuesday, October 8, 2013

I'm still here and talking about academic publishing!

I can hardly believe it's been so long since I checked in on my blog, but things have been crazy, and time flies.

Anyway, I was motivated to comment by a paper published in Science last week.  They've marked it as a "News" article, but frankly, it reads more like a research report.  And it's ingenious!

The article's author, John Bohannon, wanted to better understand the recent proliferation of online journals.  Are these legitimate scientific publications, or are they just scams designed to take your publication money?  So he wrote a bogus paper with really obvious flaws and then submitted it to 304 online journals.  Of the journals that actually responded, a staggering 157 accepted the paper.  Only 98 rejected it.  Here's the really interesting part:  Most of the journals didn't really do any peer review.  According to Bohannon, "Of the 106 journals that discernibly performed any review, 70% ultimately accepted the paper."  So peer review works, sort of.  At least when it's done well, it has a much better chance of identifying problems.

Meanwhile, the damage control in the 157 journals who accepted the paper is very illuminating.  Some editors owned up to their failure and apologized, so good for them.  Others made strange excuses, but the most disturbing of all was Malcolm Lader, a fellow of the Royal Society of Psychiatrists, professor at King's College London, and editor of Journal of International Medical Research.  While he admirably took responsibility for his journal's acceptance of the bogus paper, he nevertheless tried to cast aspersion on Bohannon.  The article quotes him: "An element of trust must necessarily exist in research including that carried out in disadvantaged countries ... Your activities here detract from that trust."  He cannot be serious!  The problems with the paper were not a matter of accurately reporting results.  The problems were experiments that lacked adequate controls and results that showed the opposite of the conclusions of the paper.  Trust had nothing to do with it.

So when looking for an online journal for your research, caveat emptor.

Bohannon.  2013.  Who's afraid of peer review?  Science 342:60-65.

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com.