Science Magazine Conducts Sting Operation on OA Publishers



In its issue being released tomorrow (October 4, 2013, volume 342, p. 60-65), Science magazine is publishing a six-page article detailing a sting operation it conducted on scholarly open-access publishers.

The article is entitled “Who’s Afraid of Peer Review?” It reports on a research project conducted by Science‘s John Bohannon, who wrote several versions of a bogus science article about the cancer-fighting abilities of a compound extracted from lichen.

Over a year’s time, he submitted the bogus paper to various open-access journals and recorded how many accepted it. The article found, “By the time Science went to press, 157 of the journals had accepted the paper and 98 had rejected it.” The author classifies the journals he submitted to as being on Beall’s List, DOAJ (Directory of Open Access Journals), or both.

The ones on my list had a higher rate of acceptance, and the article says, “The results show that Beall is good at spotting publishers with poor quality control.” Unfortunately, for journals on DOAJ but not on my list, the study found that 45% of them accepted the bogus paper, a poor indicator for scholarly open-access publishing overall.

When a publisher offered to accept and publish the paper, the author immediately withdrew it. Remarkably, several journals published the papers anyway. I was able to find four of them and I make them available here:

  1. Arthogalin inhibits the growth of murine malignant prostate sarcoma cells in vitro
  2. Nephrosterinic acid inhibits the growth of murine malignant pleural sarcoma cells in vitro
  3. 7-Chloronorlichexanthone Inhibits the Growth of Murine SV40 Transformed Lymphoid Sarcoma Cells in vitro
  4. Schizopeltic Acid Inhibits the Growth of Murine Polyploid Pulmonary Blastoma Cells in vitro

The first one is published in the Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacological Research, published by Global Research Journals, which is on my list.

The second one was published in the Scientific Journal of Medical Science, published by SJournals, which is on my list. This article appears to have been removed by the publisher.

The third one was published in OMICS Publishing Group’s journal Medicinal Chemistry, but the article has been removed from the OMICS website. I am not surprised to see that OMICS fell for the sting operation. OMICS usually publishes most of the articles submitted to it and then demands payment from the surprised authors.

The fourth one was published in the Journal of Biochemical and Pharmacological Research, published by Research Publisher, which is on my list.

The Science researcher used made up names and made up institutes, some of which are quite amusing.

I’ve known for a long time that predatory publishers are corrupting open access, that they are accepting papers unworthy of bearing the imprimatur of science, and that they are hurting researchers, science, and science communication. I am delighted that the research reported in the Science article confirms this.

34 Responses to Science Magazine Conducts Sting Operation on OA Publishers

  1. ED says:

    Looking forward to reading the issue…great validation of your work, Jeffrey!

  2. L. Brin says:

    Did he also submit his article to non-OA journals?

  3. Mike Taylor says:

    He did NOT submit his articles to non-OA journals, citing long turnaround times as making it impractical. Which instantly makes the whole process completely meaningless, like any other experiment with no control group.

    Note also (from the article): “The paper was accepted by journals hosted by industry titans Sage and Elsevier”. I assume these will now go on the list of predatory OA publishers.

    • Rob Rittenhouse says:

      I agree that this doesn’t really tell us much about whether open access really makes a difference. It would seem that Dr. Beall’s list may be a good quality indicator but even prestigious publishers let poor papers through.

    • Tomasz Leski says:

      I do not think it is completely meaningless. It just does not prove that OA is different from non-OA in this regard. However it shows the extent of fraud and/or flawed peer review in the OA sector. It was an interesting experiment and I think it should be done regularly by companies indexing/ranking journals. Journals and publishers (OA and non-OA) who accept these kind of papers should be publicly listed and removed from serious indexes.

    • David Ross says:

      I would like to point out that the Journal of International Medical Research (JIMR), published by SAGE, did not accept the article submitted to it for publication as it stands. It was accepted subject to further editorial queries being answered to the satisfaction of the journal. This is clearly laid out in the correspondence with the author.

      JIMR is a long-established, respected journal that has been publishing quality research for 41 years. It is JCR-listed and its rejection rate was 62.5% in 2012. Professor Malcolm Lader Ph.D., M.D., F.R.C. Psych., F. Med. Sci., Emeritus Professor, King’s College London is the Editor of the journal and has been for the last 25 years. It has a world class Editorial Board.

      JIMR has operated a two-stage review process, specific to this journal. First, the editor performs an initial review of a submission and then, once a paper has passed this initial review stage, it is accepted subject to a detailed technical edit, which is undertaken by at least two experienced medical technical editors. It is not uncommon for articles to be rejected at this stage.

      We are extremely concerned that a paper with fundamental errors got through the initial stage, and are taking steps to ensure that it cannot occur again, but are confident that the technical edit would have revealed the errors.

      SAGE is committed to ensuring that the peer review and acceptance process for all our journals, whether traditional subscription-based or Open Access, is robust.

      A fuller statement is posted on the SAGE website:

      David Ross
      Executive Publisher, Open Access

    • You are mistaken, Mike. The study was clearly meaningful. You seem to be inferring the study was intending to compare OA with print – it was not. Bohannon was not testing the degree to which OA journals might systemically differ from print journals. He was testing whether or not there is a systemic problem in the OA venue. If you read the article, Bohannon started with a listing of OA journals, and then ruled out some journals. He explains his rational for not including all journals on the list (i.e, some were not in the relevant natural sciences, some required significant upfront fees, and a few other criteria). This left Bohannon with 304 journals in the proper area of study. He then submitted an indisputable “fiction posing as science” manuscript to each. He changed the author name on the manucripts, but all were fictitious names at fictitious universities. He made five versions of the same manuscipt, but all had obvious flaws than any academic in the field would notice (e.g., the methodology was flawed as well as the inferences from the falsified data). Despite clear and obvious flaws, 158 journals accepted the manuscript for publication. While you are certainly correct that this study does not compare print with open access, it clearly demonstrates that there is a serious flaw with the OA venue – the fact that over half of the OA journals chose to publish the manuscript suggests a systemic flaw.

  4. MK says:

    I must admit I have some concerns about Elsevier’s Procedia, which publishes conference proceedings. One paper I recently saw has the following under the abstract:

    © 2013 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd.
    Selection and/or peer-review under responsibility of the {conference organizers – in this case a university}

    It carries Elsevier’s name and logo, but Elsevier have washed their hands of the peer review process, which doesn’t strike me as a wise move.

  5. Alex SL says:


    Unfortunately I do not quite understand what you are saying. Were you under the assumption that the publishing company had anything to do with reviewing in any case? In the journals where I publish, the reviewers are chosen by the editors, and the editors are scientists who are not Elsevier staff, in many cases doing it pro bono as a service to the community.

    Really the commercial publisher often merely runs a journal for some scientific society – reaping handsome profits in the process, of course, but without any influence on the content beyond the option of not renewing the contract if they think the journal hurts their image.

  6. Enrico says:

    True, there is no control group. But other than that, this interesting operation confirmed the extent of the problem. Thanks to JB and to Science!

    • Ken Witwer says:

      There was no control group for OA vs traditional, but there was a control group for the question of reputable vs disreputable OA: the journals NOT listed by Beall as predatory. Their performance as a group was still low, but much better than that of publishers on Beall’s list.
      I’m open to being convinced otherwise, but it seem to me that a traditional editor (whose position depends on picking solid and innovative papers and whose journal, despite being maligned as purely profit-oriented, doesn’t necessarily get any extra money from paper ‘n’), is less likely to send a poor-quality article for review and then accept it compared with an editor at an OA journal of any sort. In OA, cashflow depends on that nth paper. The situation is obviously much worse at predatory OA journals, where the “editor” may not even be a professional scientist with reputation at stake. Still, the fact that even PLOS ONE sent this abomination out for review is symptomatic of an industry-wide problem. Traditional publishing is far from perfect, but with OA, too, noble goals have often been churned by reality into less-than-ideal outcomes.

  7. brembs says:

    All this discussion about an anecdote. If you prefer data over anecdotes, just see this paper, rejected by Science Magazine:

  8. Hello, I have translated your work in this page into Turkish and wanted our scholars to see what is happening in OA world. Please find the translation at in several hours.

  9. […] e link miei. Commento di Jeffrey Beall e di Retraction […]

  10. James LaRue says:

    I think the phrase ‘Scientific Club’ is sometimes appropriate. Not only do the publishers make a profit, the authors submitting the articles stand to gain funding by being published in the public eye, so to speak. Hence, the reviewers may have a bias. So, more open access journals, is a good thing, but of course, one has to expect the bad. My latest submission to an Elsevier, was rejected. My 75 year old editor noted that clearly, the article was never read; and then she asked is the reviewer had access to spell-check; she is feisty.

  11. […] “Science Magazine Conducts Sting Operation on OA Publishers”… […]

  12. John says:

    OMICS never change. Dont Submit to OMICS

  13. Ahmad Jamali says:

    In my view, this has to do with job promotion pressure in developing
    countries on the one hand, and ethical failure of authors on the other.
    Governments, too, add fuel to this trend. For instance, a department in the
    Iranian government launched an indexing service as a rival to ISI/SSCI, and
    named it ISC ( To date, it has indexed many predatory
    pseudo-scientific journals; the process is easy. There is a university
    professor at Shiraz university, you act according to his advice, and your
    journal gets indexed in ISC–you ask for author fees and share some part of
    it with him. University instructors and professors are also happy with this;
    many (if not almost all) of them are not university material; they are
    low-profile people who have received university degrees and diplomas based on
    political/religious quota. For example, instead of qualifying in university
    entrance exams, you may have fought for 6 months in Iran-Iraq war and
    qualified to enter university; while in the university, you joined certain
    religious/political cults that have the habit of threatening professors and
    intimidating them into giving you the scores you want, and you can be sure
    you will graduate with distinction; then, you receive government quota again,
    go to universities again, complete a graduate degree, and then get employed
    (based on government quota again). Then you decide to qualify for
    associationship and then professorship, but you are not university
    materials–you do not have the potential. So, you get published in predatory
    journals, and get qualified; the people who are in charge of deciding on your
    promotion application are not better then you, so you can be sure you will
    get promoted. As such, associationship and professorship has mushroomed in
    Iran in the past 15 years. This trend is cancerous, and the few university
    professors who are indeed ethical and knowledgeable are eventually silenced,
    laid off, or forced to resign–join in or ship out, that simple. Iranian
    authors and university professors (especially those affiliated with Islamic
    Azad University and Payam Noor University) cannot and must not be
    academically trusted, unless proven otherwise. The same holds for the
    majority of authors from China, Malaysia, Most parts of Africa, Eastern
    Europe, Most parts of South America, the Arab world and the Middle East
    (except Jordan, UAE, and Israel), Pakistan, India, and Turkey.

    • Farid says:

      I disagree with what you say, The ministry of science and research and technology of Iran has prepared a real black list containing some journals from Beall’s list and many other from well-known publishers like ELSEVER, Springer, etc. The people in that ministry are looking to discourage people for publishing on journals, which are blacklisted.

    • Mojgan Mirlohee says:

      I don’t see the motivation behind your comments and claims. In any population there are elements who try to go around the rules and norms. Same thing is true in Iran, China, and elsewhere. Type casting Azad University as a source of misconduct is just plain wrong. Again, I don’t see what and for whom you are trying to prove a point.

  14. Farid says:

    “There is a university professor at Shiraz university, you act according to his advice, and your journal gets indexed in ISC–you ask for author fees and share some part of it with him.”
    This expression is not true! This is false statement, ISC is funded by government of Iran and the person has not and will not receive any money from journals’ owners. Most journals indexed in this index are run by universities or societies and they are also funded by government of some Islamic countries

    • Ahmad says:

      Oh, ya? Call Dr. Ayatollah Razmjoo and conspire with him,, ask him to talk to Dr. Jafar Mehrad, and get your predatory journal indexed. That simple!

  15. Wayne Dawson says:

    Perhaps this is minor. However, one concern with this “sting operation” is that the editors (and the reviewers) are supposed to assume that authors submit their manuscripts in good faith. Then it is the job of reviewers and the editors to (1) decide if the work fits the journal’s mission (2) to determine if the study fits the appropriate standards of the field and (3) to catch any detectible errors. Under normal circumstances, it probably should _be_ in that order.

    When that trust is broken, there is already something seriously wrong with the system. Of course, we should question everything, but we don’t need to assume that all NYT journalists are telling lies and falsifying data either. Why then should we assume up front that authors of professional institutions of higher learning, national research labs or corporate research labs are so mendacious? That is why we, as scientist, are so outraged when we are fed bald faced lies and fraud in any journal – regardless of its reputation. It breaks the trust.

  16. Kourosh says:

    I’m not completely agreed with Ahmad or Farid.
    Of course in any places (Univ. Inst. R&D) you can find cheap researches. Iran is one of them, like Turkey, China, Europa or even US. I know there are a few unusual processes to qualify in Iran but I’ve seen many similar issues in European countries (Germany, Italy, France and now in Austria!). Yes, this is fact; they can easily defense from their job when we talk about money, so it is possible and not limited only to Iran.

  17. Liam Mac Liam says:

    I was just checking back on this issue and note that OASPA has taken action against the journals identified in the sting.

    I also came across Phil Davis’ comment that
    “Bohannon reports that Beall was good at spotting publishers with poor quality control (82% of publishers on his list accepted the manuscript). That means that Beall is falsely accusing nearly one in five as being a ”potential, possible, or probable predatory scholarly open access publisher” on appearances alone.”

    Jeffrey, I wonder have you responded to this somewhere? It would appear to be a pretty fundamental issue.

    • The sting is not the only measure. As usual, Davis’ logic is seriously flawed. Consultants like him use social media as a way to drum up business for themselves, so everything they say has a potential conflict of interest.

  18. Rupesh Kumar says:

    Looking forward to reading the issue…great validation of your work, Jeffrey!

  19. OMICS never change. Please dont submit to OMICS

Leave a Reply -- All comments are subject to moderation, including removal.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: