What’s Going on at Virology Journal?

January 29, 2012


Virology Journal is an open-access journal published by BioMed Central, a division of Springer Science+Business Media. The journal uses the author-pays model (gold OA) to finance its publishing, charging USD $1935 per article published, with discounts granted to member institutions.

The journal’s editor is Dr. Robert Garry of Tulane Medical School in New Orleans.

Recently, it has been observed that three individual authors have had numerous articles published in the journal in a short time period.

Here is the data: 

1. Sajida Hassan                  14 articles published in Virology Journal since 2010

2. Muhammad Idrees            24 articles published in Virology Journal since 2009

3. Sadia Butt                        10 articles published in Virology Journal since 2009 

The URLs under the names generate a search in BioMed Central listing each link to a search that brings up each author’s articles. In each case, the articles have five or more authors. 

The obvious questions are: How can these authors be so prolific? How can their institution afford all these author fees? Why do they elect to publish in the same journal all of the time? 

It appears that the Higher Education Commission, Pakistan may have bankrolled the author fees. The authors are affiliated with the Centre of Excellence in Molecular Biology (CEMB) in Lahore, Pakistan, an organization known for corrupt practices

Many of these authors’ articles seem to be variations on a theme, and it appears that they are taking the “least publishable unit” approach to scholarly publishing. 

I don’t imply that any unethical practices are occurring here. I am trying to understand how open-access publishing has changed scholarly communication. I see a perhaps unhealthy connection between a system that judges researchers by the number of their publications and a system that generates revenue by charging researchers for each publication. 

Most of these authors’ articles cite their earlier articles in the same journal, a practice that lifts up the journal’s impact factor. The impact factor is the proportion of cites to recent items to the number of recent items. In this case we have authors publishing over a dozen articles per year in the same journal, each citing his or her earlier articles in the journal, a situation that drives up the journal’s impact factor. 

This augmented impact factor, along with the revenue generated by author fees, motivates the journal to accept articles on the same topic by the same authors, as is the case here.

All about the International Scholarly Research Network

January 26, 2012
International Scholarly Research Network

Part of the International Scholarly Research Network's home page.

The International Scholarly Research Network (ISRN) is not really a network. Instead, it’s a publisher, or more precisely, a publisher’s imprint. ISRN is a brand of Hindawi Publishing Corporation based in Cairo, Egypt.

Hindawi publishes 86 titles under this brand, and the titles all begin with the initialism ISRN. Alphabetically, the first is ISRN Agronomy, and the last is ISRN Zoology. The journals all fall into the areas of science, technology and medicine.

This imprint is not on my list (above) of questionable publishers, but I am monitoring its progress. ISRN uses the gold open-access model of financing scholarly publishing. That is, it charges authors upon acceptance of an article. The normal fee for ISRN titles is US $500 per article, but some of the titles temporarily have no fees, and the publisher claims to waive fees for authors from certain developing countries.

The journals do not have editors. Instead, they have unusually large editorial boards, with many titles having as many as two hundred members or more, from around the world. Submissions are sent to two of the editorial board members who quickly review the paper and reply to Hindawi with their comments. Some unknown person at Hindawi then makes the final decision on whether to accept or reject the paper, or to return it to the author for revision.

Large editorial boards also help recruit article submissions; in this model the board members effectively function as salesmen for the journal, as the publisher makes its money not from subscriptions but from author fees.

The coverage of the journal titles is broad. Two examples are ISRN Botany and ISRN Civil Engineering. Broad journal coverage is typical of publishers that use the author-pays model. The broader the coverage a journal has, the more papers fall within its scope, generating more submissions and making more money for the publisher.

The journals then lack focus; they become loosely-connected anthologies, incoherent and desultory. Lacking editors-in-chief, they are faceless components of scholarly communication.

I will continue to monitor the progress of Hindawi’s International Scholarly Research Network brand.

Scholarly Open-Access Publishing and the “Imprimatur of Science”

January 25, 2012
The AIDS conspiracy

Peer review and boundary work are essential in science.

Nattrass, Nicoli. (2012). The AIDS conspiracy: Science fights back. New York: Columbia University Press.

Chapter 7 of this forthcoming book is entitled “Defending the imprimatur of science,” and in it I found much that indirectly relates to scholarly open-access publishing.

The author tells the story of an Elsevier journal called Medical hypotheses that some AIDS denialists used to legitimize their arguments that HIV doesn’t cause AIDS.  Summarizing, Nattrass wrote, “The episode highlights the importance of peer review as a core scientific value” (p. 135).

She defines and discusses boundary work, which is work by scientists that essentially draws a line between what counts as science and what doesn’t.

Medical hypotheses allowed denialists’ work to be published without peer review, while still conveying scientific status. Defending peer review, Nattrass states that “For all its faults, peer review remains an essential mechanism for the allocation of trust in the results of others” (p. 139).

Many questionable open-access publishers are making a mockery of peer review. Unfortunately, it’s hard for us to observe and validate their peer-review practices, for they are not transparent.

These publishers and their journals are enabling more denialists and other pseudo-scientists to cross the boundary of science. By claiming to be publishers of peer-reviewed, scholarly journals, the publishers purport to possess the imprimatur of science.

The appearance of numerous questionable scholarly publishers threatens the boundary between science and quackery. It may become difficult or impossible for science to defend itself against the hoards of bogus journals.

Nattrass concludes, “Respect for the evidence and for the people who generate it is essential for the functioning of the scientific community” (p. 140).

The predatory open-access publishers do not respect the evidence or the people who create it. They do not care about the boundary between science and pseudo-science. They only care about generating income from the open-access publishing model and are a threat to the future of science and scholarly communication.

Note: Nattrass’ book will be published in March, 2012. The cited page numbers above are from the uncorrected proof.

The Continuing Story of the African Journal of Business Management

January 15, 2012
The African Journal of Business Management

The African Journal of Business Management

In an earlier blog post, I described a scam involving the African Journal of Business Management, a journal that is published by Academic Journals, in Lagos, Nigeria.

The scam involved the review process. An author submitting a paper was asked to provide the names and email addresses of two potential reviewers. Some authors reportedly abused this process and created two fake identities, along with two new email addresses, submitting these names and emails as the two reviewers.

Not surprisingly, these bogus reviewers praised the papers they reviewed, and the papers were published in the journal. Eventually some began to learn of and reveal the scam.

One description of the scam appeared on the Dawn.com website.

After I wrote my original blog post, I learned how the journal, despite being a scam, had gained legitimacy in the eyes of some.

The journal appeared on the Thomson Reuters Master Journal List for science. This listing is selective, but the requirements for getting a title on the list are not that difficult.

The list itself is open access; you don’t need a subscription to it like you do for Web of Science or Web of Knowledge. The vast majority of the world’s population does not have access to Web of Science or Web of Knowledge, so for them, the free Thomson Reuters Master Journal List really functions just like Web of Science. Inclusion on this list, despite the low barrier, effectively confers legitimacy in the developing world.

The home page of the African Journal of Business Management boasts that it is “covered by ISI Social Science Citation Index,” citing the name of a proprietary list, not the free one.

Also, as a result of my earlier blog post, and more importantly the Dawn.com article and the work of others in Asia, the journal has been de-listed from the Thompson Reuters list, a victory for all who demand high standards in scholarly open-access publishing. Seeing the scam Thomson Reuters removed the fraudulent journal from its list.

A New Open-Access Scholarly Publisher and an Old Scam

January 14, 2012

In an earlier blog entry, I described a journal that presents itself as a platinum open-access journal. In platinum open-access, there is no charge for the author or for the readers; the work is subsidized by grants, voluntarism, etc.

Now, thanks to a tip, I may have discovered another. Unlike the first one which was a single journal, this one is a new publisher with sixteen titles.

Science Journal Publication [sic] is based in Warri, Delta State, Nigeria. Many publishers lie about or hide their headquarters location, but I’ve found that when a publisher claims to be from Warri State, they are generally telling the truth.

Science Journal Publication [sic]

Although this publisher charges authors US $500 per accepted article, it boasts a generous fee waiver program for authors in developing countries.

Because Science Journal Publication [sic] is new, its titles have very little content. One of its titles, Science Journal of Sociology and Anthropology, has three articles, and one correspondent pointed out to me a revealing error.

Demand for money

Below the abstract, in the place where the article’s keywords ought to be, is the statement “The demand for money was considered.”

I am not sure exactly what this means, but it seems very suspicious. In the other case, I described a publisher that demanded money just before the acceptance decision was to be made, an implied tit-for-tat request. Does this publisher run the same scam?

I am not able to access this publisher’s web page from my office. My university’s IT department blocks the site, citing malware.

I think it is safe to say that scholars should avoid submitting articles to Science Journal Publication [sic].

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