The predatory publishers sucking science's blood Updated audio
This is an ABC podcast Sir. Science Fiction Hey on the Tesha Mitchell. Welcome search this week. The pursuit of a Predator as a reporter. You you get all kinds of of little suggestions. Tips complaints yes. And you can't deal with them all. This one intrigued me. I had started to hear about similar complaints and sort of once. You hear enough of of them. The signal adds up. You think. Maybe there's a story here. What was I seeing? What what the clues that? That major smell a rash. I was a researcher myself. I was a faculty librarian at my university and I did a research probably starting five six years ago I I was always looking for publishing opportunities. I started getting letters and I started to receive these emails. Sort of saying extremely nice. Nice things to me that basically said call for Paper Journal Editors Wanting Me To submit my manuscript to their journal and they had lots of grammatical errors in addition to that one in the emails and then generally speaking editor. I don't say very nice things about you and they don't typically they don't write to you and ask you to submit a manuscript. Will you ever tempted to submit. No no I mean I'm a clinical epidemiology in some of these journals were literally from Soil Science Right. Why would somebody from soil science be asking me and saying Nice things about me? They wouldn't no me from anywhere he's smell. I did maybe several but that rash or several thousand rats via now well and truly on the loose predatory publishes and the predatory journals have become a mega industry global in reach ending ending destructive potential. In fact you're going to hear from someone who believes that this industry represents the biggest threat to science since the inquisition Shen the. US Federal Court recently ordered one of the biggest of these companies to pay up over fifty million US dollars. Only international headquartered voted in Hyderabad in India but also operating in the US claims to publish hundreds of scientific and medical journals. It was found to employ deceptive business practices essentially entrapping scientists to other publishing their journals or participate in conferences. So does the ruling site. bye-bye predatory publishes. Well let's see if Any of that money actually moves anywhere. It's not clear with a mix ex-group will cough up that fifty million dollars which is an estimate of how much the company made from customers over a six-year period or whether it will appeal. We sent a list list of questions to its representatives but yet to receive a reply but it is nice clear message to all the Sake Journal. Publishers of the world that they're being watched touched and there could be consequences. John Bohannon a science journalist and now director of science at an artificial intelligence startup in San Fran called primer. They didn't basically slipping under the radar and using American Canadian and European banks to move money millions of dollars of money from elicit gains. So this court ruling basically makes extremely inconvenient to do now. Joan was asked to present evidence in the case brought against the annex group by the US Federal Trade Commission because he'd had an unusually Hansa with the publisher so mix was one of hundreds of publishers offers. That I tested in sting operation. I wrote some computer code to generate thousands of very bad scientific papers. And what happened next these kind of legendary in science circles back in two thousand twelve John was reporting for the Journal. Science and the expression expression predatory journals wasn't in common news There was a guy named Jeffrey. You who was probably the only person around making a big stink about this and trying to actually Shine a light on it. It was very very bold effort. He had something called feels list or at least it became known as beal's list. My name is Jeffrey Bill. And I'm a retired academic librarian from the University of Colorado Denver professor. Beal beal's blacklist fame and a climb and Notaro He was the first to coin. The phrase predatory journals the Journal. Publishers hated being malysz because it stigmatizes them and meant that their income was decreased. Most of the predatory publishers are predatory not only in their publishing but in just the way they operate in general and they would use the heckler's actors veto. They would call the library director and complain about me and they would try to annoy people at my university as much as possible in order to manipulate those people at the university to make me stop the list so that their complaints would stop. I also received several threats of legal action including think it was in twenty twelve international threatened to sue me for one billion dollars one billion dollars. It was just a threat what I learned from it is that you can basically basically pay an attorney five hundred dollars in all right a threatening letter so they they did that but they never followed through with. It was never introduced in any court personal consequences consequences for Jeffrey of running. That black least were immense. And I'll come back to that. One estimate suggests that there are at least eight thousand predatory journals. This is just one publisher of many. But Jeffrey Bill provocatively calls it. The Evil Empire of Predatory Publishing I stand Dan by that statement and what they do is. They've really hurt a lot of people. You know the scholarly publishing system works on the honor system and people operate in good faith but oh mix international has has totally broken all that down. They use a lot of spamming to solicit article manuscripts from researchers they have journal titles that match the titles of respected journals. Usually one word off enough to confuse people that might be the respected journal in the `field they will at People's names to their editorial boards without the person's permission people from top universities top researchers in the field and they'll use their identity to promote the journal and when the person finds out about it and ask them to remove their name. They don't remove it they just leave it there because they're operating operating from foreign country. There's really nothing you can do about it and especially prey on young researchers in emerging researchers researchers who don't speak English as their first language it's not just scientists from developing countries that are targeted although that easing acknowledged problem clinical epidemiologist. David Mo- assays the crosses reaches into some of America's most delayed institutions including Harvard in an analysis that we did where we looked at a close to two thousand thousand articles published in Predator journals. We found that actually the most frequent corresponding authors were from what we would call first. World countries countries would lots of money and lots of resources that is troubling very very troubling because it suggests that at these institutions authors may not Be Aware of predatory journals and we need to obviously ramp up some educational activities. People think that they're sending the manuscript to a legitimate respected journal. When it's really just a phony dough mix international journal and then they quickly accept the paper without any peer review and then send them an invoice and at that point the authors realized that something is wrong because There was really no peer reviewed done yet. The papers accepted and they have this two thousand dollars invoice that comes through email and the olmecs demanding payment. Most of them asked to withdraw the paper when they realized that they've been duped. But then oh mix says has you can't withdraw your paper unless you pay US withdrawal fee. An often than olmecs will publish the article quickly and one of their journals and then and they can't submit it anywhere else. Because that would be duplicate submission it would be publishing the same article twice. which is something not supposed to do that? Nothing about predatory regionals. He's what he's supposed to happening science as John Bowen discovered when he sent them a taste. Yes yeah so I just wanted some data. It's frustrating to have such an enticing story of you know bad actors that Potentially Ricky and millions of ill gotten dollars dollars and not get some data to find out if it's true so we appear stay in molecular biology from Oxford oppy slave. He plotted an experiment which was pretty straightforward. And the idea in a nutshell is if I submit a really and I mean truly bad scientific paper to your journal title and you accept it with no sign of any peer review and you ask me for money then you're you're a fake journal publisher. Yeah John Wanted to test how easy it was to get published in a predatory journal it can usually take many months years even to get a pipe into a reputable scientific journal. And even then it's not a given. That's partly because of what's called Peer Review essential to the scientific process. So you do an experiment. You brought it up reporting your results. Submitted to a journal and then it gets pulled to shreds by a bunch of other scientists and so it should. That's it's peer review. It's designed to Cape Science rigorous experiments well-designed the results real usable and reproducible. Many predatory regionals site. They conduct peer review. That in fact most of them don't do appear review they go through the motions of period view. They might have like a stock appear of you that they use for every paper that's submitted and basically the papers are accepted in just published almost immediately as soon as the invoices paid and so pure review view is it's it's a fundamental component of how honest journals carry out their business of looking at manuscripts and seeing seeing whether they're fatally flawed or whether they can be improved and whether they're acceptable for publication dive. Moa Is Director of the Center for Gen in a Lola at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute at the University of Ottawa. Hey and colleagues. Just hosted a global summit on predatory journals because they what a building consensus Ivo what they are and how to shut them down. So is these sorts of behaviors and many other behaviors that are not trustworthy. Jiffy deal when something is published in a scholarly journal that doesn't represent validated science. Then then it pollutes the whole scientific record and can't build on junk science or if you do the future science isn't real science either On science fiction. ABC Iran with Natasha. Mitchell we're looking at predatory publishes and the threat. They pose to science scholarship in truth so back to science journalist John by Hannah. And he's sting operation own predatory journals. mm-hmm you wrote a fake paper. In fact you you actually wrote a computer program to write hundreds of spoof papers yeah actually. It spat out thousands. I ended up only needing hundreds. He's computer program changed the authors affiliations specific chemicals cancer cells and other ingredients have. He's experiment but the funding was pretty much the same and this study was potentially. We'll changing. Yes it was a thrill cure cancer at this John. I was basically claiming that this chemical that I found in this little lichens little plant. Plant like creature was able to kill cancer cells in solution. So you know in principle could inject stuff into your blood like you doing chemotherapy be and it would hopefully kill off the cancer cells and I had these very impressive charts showing the results very impressive. Yeah at face value. The Piper hype is sanded convincing but they will all seed in with glaring eras and this would take literally one minute just one glance really of any reasonable double science who was doing peer review of this paper. You just look at the numbers represented this charts and they just make no sense at all. Just don't make any sense. And the design of his experiment experiment that was fatally flawed too. I mean these are the kind of mistakes that highschool stupid mic like these. This isn't even college level. Mistakes this is just like the biggest most most embarrassing scientific mistake imagine. This isn't subtle stuff and then John Wind even further. I just wanted to like bring it to the next level so at the ended the paper. I have the authors say that you know the next thing we're going to do is test this in humans which to any reviewer should be the biggest red flag I mean aside from the fact that science it looks like completely junk. That's just completely unethical. Then he targeted generals suspected to be predatory including two run by ex scrape one cold medicinal chemistry another biology amid a season of eight months. He submitted ten pipers awake. And what happened. Next is incredible incredible. Any reasonable publisher should have looked at that. Paper said not in no way on that publishing this a lot of journals. Dd Saturday status. Give us give us the very murray doc stats well. The darkest of dark stats is that sixty percent of the publishers accepted my article. So did any any of those sixty percent ask you to make any kind of amendments almost never when they did it it involved formatting trivial changes often they would it asked me to add citations two papers that they'd published which is also really not a good practice but now they almost never did any substantial review an even in the few exceptions that DDP to conduct some kind of Scientific Peer Review Jones paper was often accepted anyway. I even after a damning review. What's more to mainstream totten's of Science Publishing Elsevier and sage court out not much to their embarrassment? Yeah it was grim. That was not a great day for Scientific Publishing and so over. The course of that experiment took months to finish. I just sort of got more and more pessimistic about the publishing world. It really changed my view of the whole industry that I was part of some people who a had been caught up in this thing did contact me afterwards. In fact we got at least one angry letter to the editor from one of these journals that got caught with its pants down but I don't have that much sympathy for them because they had the one job. You know if you're the editor of a journal all you gotTa do is withhold the integrity of the journal and clearly weren't doing that some editors of the more reputable journals I think expressed a sense of betrayal of trust and I wonder what you'll response constant. Oh Yeah Yeah. Absolutely everyone craft all over the whole thing. How else would they have reacted? It was basically like taking the giant dump on their entire world. A couple of editors lost their jobs but considering that they had jobs that a fake journal. I I don't see that it's such a big loss. So he's a handful of us now. In the industry the Predatory publishing industry has not gone away has not left silence infect all indications that it has grown massively strong if you carried out the sting operation again. What do you think might happen? Oh I think the picture would probably be worse if I were to do it again though. I'll tell you what I would do. Is I would send a sample papers to the the publishers who have the more traditional model as well It kind of amazed me that this whole problem that I uncovered was dismissed by many for the simple fact that I hadn't also submitted fake papers to different kinds of journals at so they felt like they were being unfairly picked mcdon- so so did some people in the open access publishing movement and it's a passionate movement. Did they think that you had unfairly. Targeted them in particular. Oh yeah absolutely. They dragged through the mud. It was really unpleasant cleaning shells for the traditional scientific publishing world which is hilarious. If if you've known me at all it's really quite the opposite. I'm quite an advocate for open access everything but whatever it's fine science journalist John Vo Hanan the confusion between the open access publishing movement and predatory journals is perhaps for another edition of the show. It's controversial you say. Both charge authors to publish their pipers. Instead of slugging raiders all subscribe as with phase so the open access argument for that is that opens up scientific knowledge. Like never before I phrase it up from behind traditional gentle pie walls but some believe these author pies model creates inherent conflict of interest and that predatory traded treat publishes of taking advantage of that in order to build prophets and taking advantage of scientists to who had desperate to get published in the publish. This you'll perish culture of science. Some of them are taking up the offer because they're being tricked by the predatory publishers. And that's why I use the term predatory because they're preying on them. They're they're preying on their weaknesses that people need to get published so people are earning degrees. People are getting promotions at universities. People people earning tenure in some cases based on a publications in low quality fake predatory journals that don't conduct any peer review and have have almost no settling at all they accept everything and we've also learned that Pharmaceutical companies are publishing their research to justify the the efficacy of their new medicines are using predatory journals to do that as well. What do you think the key drivers of the predatory journal Sane has been? It's easy easy money. As Jeffrey bills blacklist of predatory journals grew in influence as did. His reputation publishes publishes and others pushed back angrily at him at his criteria for inclusion on the least at his lone ranger approach at his singular antagonism some of open access publishing some went straight to his universities ladyship to attack his credibility and he became a kind of hybrid of hero in. I'm Tara how did his university respond for the most part for the first few years they were supportive of me and the legal office did help me. It is some tricky situations you know that I had gotten in because of the threats from the publishers but towards the end I think they grew weary of me a and the support decreased. Did you ever receive pressure to shutdown. You'll blog from your university. I received a pressure but it wasn't pressure to shut shut down the blog. Things became increasingly uncomfortable towards the end before I retired I retired a year ago. Did it become uncomfortable. The university he did that some things I used to have an office and they took me out of an office and put me into a cubicle. They hired a new person to work in the library. He had two years of library experience and they made him be my supervisor. And you know part of Predatory publishing there's a broader context to it. There's a social movement behind open access publishing. A lot of people want to kill off the traditional publishers and had them all replaced with open access journals so that everybody throughout the world connects us all published research and it's a very Left wing social movement. And so the person that came in as my supervisor was among among those people and so we had strikingly kingly different ideologies about scholarly publishing so. That was way that they were pressured. Me Why did you shut down bills least in in. I think it was two thousand seventeen. Taint it has reincarnated with anonymous editors in some sense to protect themselves from what you went through. But why did you decide to shut it down. Well in January worry of that year I learned that the university was working with one of the publishers on my list and the results of that was that the university initiated a research. I misconduct investigation against me and I knew I hadn't engaged any research. Misconduct myself because research misconduct means means of falsification fabrication or plagiarism. By definition and I knew I hadn't done any of that yet they started this case against me and I felt very stigmatized pies by it and that kind of sealed it for me with the university I take another action against me and now here was something major. A research misconduct case. And that's why I decided to stop the list. What was the outcome of that case the outcome in July of twenty seventeen was snow? Research misconduct found that. Make you feel it made me feel horrible. I felt like my own university that I worked at for seventeen years. I was turning against me and I felt stigmatized and I felt like I really can continue the work. And that's why I shut down the blog and the lists you. I think that was a trigger for that action. Sure it was the publisher that they worked with was a big one and the predatory Tori publishers. The ones that are doing really well are rich. They have lots and lots of money. They can hire lawyers to go after people and they can organiz well. And there are several very large very successful predatory publishers out there and and they have a lot of power and they. We'll go after anybody who threatens their income was that publisher the publisher was frontiers. So you'd assist them to be a predatory publisher and yeah and I had lots of evidence from stuff that they had published. They published an article about Chem trails in the Sky Cam conspiracy theory yeah. They published an article about that which they quickly retracted. After I wrote a blog post about it. They they published an article saying that. HIV doesn't cause AIDS. So I had lots of lots of solid evidence that they weren't really conducting Valla Peer Review. I mean that's bad science. It's not necessarily making them and predatory publisher plenty of crap lanes in good journals But it gets gets retracted and publishing junk. Science is one of the criteria that I use to evaluate publishers. I mean you're if you submit at an article to a publisher thinking it's good publisher when they're publishing crap science poor science that is a type of predation against honest researchers. They don't want to be associated shared with junk science a spokesperson for the University of Colorado Denver. Where Jeffrey held a tenured faculty position would not comment on any research misconduct misconduct investigation but tolls friction that the university quote defended and supported Professor Bills Academic Freedom to pursue predatory publishing as part of? He's scholarship junk. hunk is the science in predatory journals. You and colleagues have have conducted a study to analyze the quality of the research that the studies that Mike it into that are accepted by predatory journals. What's striking observations? Did you make the Quick Tanko. Messages at the quality of reporting of these articles is really horrendously bad epidemiologist David Moa at the University of Ottawa. And when we compare that to do what we might consider is the legitimate literature it. It's very very much worse. And that's not to say that there aren't problems in the quality of reporting sorting of Legitimate Journal. There are but when we moved to predatory journals it suggests that there's the the screening that's going on so for example. We consider peer review in a sense of screen of the integrity. And the scientific composer of the research is perhaps not going on many of these papers. These are funded by Reputable agencies and so in a country like Canada where much research is paid out of You taxpayer dollars. It's really very very wasteful. It scientifically very problematic won't be seeing won't be cited and of course it's a waste of money any and it. It may also contribute to sort of adding layers of fakeness to what people are trying to get at is the truth because they don't conduct a proper period view and their publishing bogus science. If you have an agenda A nonscientific agenda agenda pseudoscientific agenda. You can use predatory publishers to publish your work. You know two of the biggest open questions in in science are what what is the nature of dark matter and what is the nature of dark energy this is from cosmology. And there's no scientific consensus as to the answers to those two questions in their big big questions in cosmology and physics. The biggest questions of all I think so but those questions have been answered. Many times in predatory journals are knows. There's lots of people writing articles claiming that they've discovered the answers to those questions in the predatory. Publishers are happy to accept them as long as the authors pay the fee and and they're published. There's some out there that would happily publish your paper saying that. Vaccines Cause Autism or that. There's no global warming occurring or that nuclear power is is going to destroy everybody. A bread causes cancer. Anything you want to write you can ride it and they'll publish as long as you. Pay The fee David. Mo- assays that like fake news scientists and citizens and clinicians and now struggling to distinguish fact from fiction in predatory publications and he wants a global observatory. Set Up to scrutinize they practices the problem. Is that many of these predatory predatory journals they are now making their way into Trusted sources over example for many researchers clinicians enjoy patients. They may look a pubmed put out by the National Library of medicine. The United States and big data rice of scientific pipers a huge database. And and what we see is that they're getting infiltrated. With articles from predatory journals they are funded by esteemed institutions funding institutions such as the National Institutes of health. And what is the patient to do. What's a clinician to do? Will these people make decisions based on on on that sort of evidence and I think that that's an incredibly problematic. Geoffrey beale believes makes international will survive despite the recent US federal fifty million dollar court ruling against them but we'll save science from they sorts of publishers of predatory journals. I don't see the problem going away. In fact. In some a lot of countries the open access advocates have been successful flagging governments. To pass laws requiring federally funded work to be published in open access journals. So they're there. When the predatory publishers here about these laws they are ecstatic about them because it helps them because a certain percentage of the people are going to be publishing in in the predatory journals whether by mistake or or intentionally in they will be the market the market is there and it's encoded in law now increasingly so they had a we stop the open access movement? which many says a positive thing you don't From being infiltrated by predatory publishes. I don't know a way to stop them. Publishers have freedom of the press. And there's really no laws. They're not breaking any laws in most cases unless they engage in and identity theft or other things like that but for the most part they're they're completely sanctioned by by governments because of freedom of the press. Uh John Behan. I think we're GONNA have to reinvent how we do things this old fashioned way of submitting a paper and having some mysterious peer review ooh that no one ever sees happened behind a curtain and results in yesterday. No I think we may have to really put some effort into alternative models and they do exist. I it's just that that's a big culture change. You could make pure review transparent for example you can have the review part of the record of the paper. Let's really embarrassing harassing. It's scary for most scientists to think of a worldwide. That's the norm. So there's a lot of resistance there are certainly if it's on the to open up that whole peer review prices Isis and in fact even crowd source at. Yeah that's one way forward another would be you have some kind of Global Auditing System. Where you know someone like me me doing a sting operation like I did is just continuously rolling along to find out if you're keeping your word of doing period view that's expensive and unlikely likely to happen because everyone has to agree to do it well in some sense? Some might be surprised to hear that it's not happening at all and that anyone everyone pretty much anyone could establish a scientific journal put it online make it look legit and start making money. Oh Yeah you and I could make a journal right now. I can and fifteen minutes to wordpress site and attach a bank count to it. I mean what he reckon these a fancy name. What should we used? Ralian Million Journal of Melbourne San Francisco Melbourne Frisco Journal where we can work. On that the John Bohannon Geoffrey Beale and David Moa joining may today and thank you for your ears. Thanks to co-produce Jane Lee Talk to me on twitter at the tash cashew Mitchell or email me at the science friction website. 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