A story published in Nature News online on 15 June, describes how the editor-in-chief of a journal is to resign after claiming that the publisher, Bentham Science Publishing, accepted a hoax article for publication without his knowledge.
The fake, computer-generated manuscript was submitted to The Open Information Science Journal by Philip Davis, a graduate student in communication sciences at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, and Kent Anderson, executive director of international business and product development at The New England Journal of Medicine. They produced the paper using software that generates grammatically correct but nonsensical text, and submitted the manuscript under pseudonyms in late January. After receiving several unsolicited invitations by e-mail to submit papers to open-access journals published by Bentham under the author-pays-for-publication model, Davis wanted to test if the publisher would “accept a completely nonsensical manuscript if the authors were willing to pay”. The manuscript was accepted with a request from the publisher for Davis to pay US$800 to its subscriptions department, based in the United Arab Emirates, before the article was published. Davis then retracted the article.
Bambang Parmanto, an information scientist at the University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and editor-in-chief of The Open Information Science Journal, told Nature that he had not seen the manuscript or any peer review comments before it was accepted. Nor was he informed that the manuscript had been accepted for publication. “I think this is a breach of policy,” he says, adding: “I will definitely resign. Normally I see everything that comes through. I don’t know why I did not see this. I at least need to see the reviewer’s comments.” Parmanto says that Bentham Science Publishing told him that the manuscript had been reviewed by one member of the journal’s editorial board. “The peer review didn’t work,” says Parmanto, who now fears that the journal’s publishing system could be open to abuse. “The publisher could take advantage of the fees, and that is why I want to leave,” he says.
Mahmood Alam, director of publications at Bentham Science Publishing, told Nature in an e-mail statement that “submission of fake manuscripts is a totally unethical activity and must be condemned.” He defended Bentham’s peer review process, saying, “a rigorous peer review process takes place for all articles that are submitted to us for publication. Our standard policy is that at least two positive comments are required from the referees before an article is accepted for publication.” In this particular case, “the paper was reviewed by more than one person”.
Peter Suber, a philosopher at Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana, and a proponent of open-access publishing, is worried that the case could turn people against the author-pays open-access model. “There are many legitimate and rigorous open-access journals that use this same business model,” he says.
Further details are provided in two articles at The Scholarly Kitchen blog: an account of the experiment by Philip Davis, Nonsense for dollars; and an editorial, The tip of an Iceberg, by Kent Anderson.
Janet Young, in a comment to the Nature News story, writes: “I’ve had six requests to review papers from a Bentham Science journal over the last year. The first was for a paper in my field, but I refused as I was very busy at the time. The other five have been for papers in fields I know nothing about – I would have been an utterly inappropriate reviewer had I accepted the requests (I didn’t). Each request had the full paper attached to the email, rather than just an abstract. That seems like a very unusual review process to me.”
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