Sting operation reveals science’s insane fake news problem 

Posted: March 26, 2017 by oldbrew in Accountability, research


If someone applied to a top position at a company, you’d hope a hiring manager would at least Google the applicant to ensure they’re qualified.

A group of researchers sent phony resumes to 360 scientific journals for an applicant whose Polish name translated to “Dr. Fraud.” And 48 journals happily appointed the fake doctor to their editorial board.

This sting operation was the first systematic analysis on editorial roles in science publishing, adding concrete evidence to a problem past stings have shed light on.

There are a whole lot of “predatory” scientific journals out there, journals that take advantage of scientists’ need to produce articles by publishing anything for a fee, without checking to make sure the paper is actually new research, worth publishing, and not completely inaccurate.

But the problem is more than a juiced-up email scam (despite some probably-predatory journals looking essentially the same), and highlights many issues in today’s scientific publishing industry. Those issues can result in important science not being published in real journals, or worse, bad, un-vetted science being published, scientists bolstering their resumes with crap, and an eroding public trust in science as an institution.

“What this boils down to is that scholarly papers published in these types of journals are far less likely to have undergone any kind of quality check, including proper peer review,” one of the scientists leading the sting from the University of Sussex, Katarzyna Pisanski, told Gizmodo in an email. “It could result in (and probably already has) thousands of scientific articles that have essentially gone ‘un-checked’… If we cannot trust the academic publishing system, who can we trust?”

The standards of academia require scientists to publish papers. It’s how many get their Ph.Ds, and how universities judge the quality of their research. Most journals say they thoroughly vet their research through peer review, by having knowledgeable subject matter experts look over the work and make suggestions before publishing.

Some, like Science and Nature, charge a subscription fee to access their articles. Others, like PLoS One and Peerj are open access, meaning that scientists pay a fee to have their work appear in the peer-reviewed journal, but the articles are free to read and access for anyone.

The idea for a sting operation came after the paper’s authors began noticing “absurd number” of emails asking them to send papers or be the editors of journals outside their expertise, said Pisanski.

The researchers randomly selected 120 papers each from three sources: Jeffrey Beall’s blacklist, a since-removed list of predatory journals, the Directory of Open Access Journals (which is exactly what it sounds like), and titles indexed by Journal Citation Reports, which gives “impact factors,” a flawed but frequently-used metric that ranks journals and how often their articles are cited.

The researchers created a fake web presence for their “doctor,” along with a fake resume listing fake research publications and no editorial experience. A third of the journals from Beall’s blacklist accepted Dr. Fraud as an editor. Seven percent of the DOAJ’s journals did, but none of the JCR’s journals did.

This may be the first peer-reviewed analysis of predatory journals, but scientists and others have been aware for the problem for a while. In 2013, journalist John Bohannon sent over three hundred nearly identical bogus papers to open-access journals, around 60 percent of which accepted the paper without peer review, and published his results in Science.

The problem hasn’t gotten better, Bohannon told Gizmodo. “I’m confident there are more predatory journals today than there were a few years ago,” he said. I sent an email to the editor of one of the Society for Science and Nature journals, the fishy looking website below whose journals are probably predatory, given its appearance, buzzwords and content. I will update the post if I hear back.

So what’s going on? There are lots of theories, but basically, scientists need to publish, and more journals than ever are open-access. Predatory journals are predominantly open access, pointed out Bohannon. Their publishers take money from scientists who are either gullible or just looking for a quick way to tie a publication to their name.

Bohannon thinks the open access community needs to work to rid itself of these journals. “Finding bad guys in the world of open access publishing is something you should do if you love open access publishing,” he said.

That being said, some folks I spoke to, including Beall and people in the open access community, thought it was a larger problem than open access publishing alone.

Continued here

  1. tom0mason says:

    “There are a whole lot of “predatory” scientific journals out there…” such an idea is just as market driven publishing should be. So what is wrong with this so called ‘predatory’ publishing?
    I see nothing wrong with it, I see everything wrong with scientist who fail to responsibly check the bona fides of the publishing companies. You still want a protected, cossetted world? Tough luck it’s gone, this is the 21st century not the 19th, so get with it! Academics get off your fat complacencies and join the rest of the modern world by checking these publishing houses yourselves, just as every normal author has to do for themselves.
    Academe should already be vetting these publishers, it is their (academia’s) failure that they do not! It’s not like they have not the money, wit, talent or incentive to do so, or is it that academia is nowhere near as clever as it makes out?