But let's start at the top. Many blogs (such as bioethics.net) and The Scientist reported that pharmaceutical company Merck was behind the "Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine". It looked like a real journal. It had real-looking articles in it, although they were reprints or summaries of other journal's research, all strangely enough favorable about Merck products. Summer Johnson on the bioethics blog points out the problem with this:
What’s wrong with this is so obvious it doesn’t have to be argued for. What’s sad is that I’m sure many a primary care physician was given literature from Merck that said, “As published in Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine, Fosamax outperforms all other medications….” Said doctor, or even the average researcher wouldn’t know that the journal is bogus. In fact, knowing that the journal is published by Elsevier gives it credibility!Right. Elsevier used to be a respected name in scientific publishing. The Guardian quotes a spokesman as saying that the publisher does not consider this a journal, as it is a compilation of reprinted articles. Then why does it have the word "Journal" in its title?
Laika's MedLibLog goes on to explain how some of the articles that were reprinted got themselves published in the first place: the company sponsors the research, and then employees of the company offer manuscripts to the academic investigators, who put their name on the paper (and sometimes forget the footnote explaining who paid for the research). So we have a "journal" with reprints of ghostwritten articles.
The Scientist has now found 6 similar journals:
- the Australasian Journal of General Practice
- the Australasian Journal of Neurology
- the Australasian Journal of Cardiology
- the Australasian Journal of Clinical Pharmacy
- the Australasian Journal of Cardiovascular Medicine, and
- the Australasian Journal of Bone & Joint Medicine.
Yes, the mother company regrets what its Australia division has been up to. And the people responsible apparently don't work there any more.
But how can we know for sure that the next Elsevier journal that we hold in our hands is legit? That it declares all of its interests and who paid for and wrote the research?
Can we now declare the peer-review system for journal articles officially broken? Can we also quit counting number of articles and impact factors and just have people submit the 3 of 5 most important papers they have written when they are evaluated?
Oh, the Elsevier statement is linked from their home page....