Did FWS Officials Use a Predatory Journal to Publish Questionable Science?

Buried ethics?

Buried ethics?

A blog called The Equation reported recently that two U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) officials used flawed models to determine the range of the endangered American burying beetle (Nicrophorus americanus) and then used a predatory journal to publish their findings, perhaps hoping to make the flawed models appear scientific. This animal is fully protected under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, one of the most powerful environmental laws in the world. It contains significant criminal or civil penalties for harming a listed species.

The blog, published by the Union of Concerned Scientists, indicates that the scientists used the flawed models to make the beetle’s range appear smaller so it would not be a concern for the proposed fourth phase of the Keystone Pipeline System. Apparently, seeking a quick and easy publication, the authors sought out and used a journal from a predatory publisher. The Keystone Pipeline System is a highly controversial project that crosses a number of States.

The article, entitled “Using Spatial Models to Target Conservation Efforts for the Endangered American Burying Beetle,” was published in volume 7 (2013) of the Open Entomology Journal, published by Bentham Open, a publisher that has been on my list since 2010.

The article has five authors, including two from the FWS and three from the University of Oklahoma’s Oklahoma Biological Survey.


A bug in the system.

According to the journal’s “Instruction for Authors” page, the article processing charge (APC) for a research journal is US$800 (the information is buried at the end of a very long web page, typical of predatory publishers, who often like to bury this information, hoping to hook authors who don’t realize there is a fee). I wonder who paid the APC or whether it was waived for this article. Did the government pay? I sure hope not.

This may be an example of people using the quick and easy publishing services of questionable open-access journals in order to promote a particular agenda. You can promote any hypothesis in predatory journals regardless of its scientific merit.

Predatory journals are more interested in earning money from the authors than they are in presenting their readers with solid, peer-reviewed science.

Beetle picture reproduced here under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. This is a derivitive work (cropped) of an original by Lymantria, and sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

Edited 2014-03-25 with some additional wording for clarification.

5 Responses to Did FWS Officials Use a Predatory Journal to Publish Questionable Science?

  1. Carla says:

    The Union of Concerned Scientists blog has a good, thorough reporting of this including information on two investigations into the scientific integrity of the senior officials involved. http://bit.ly/1eKciF8

  2. Miguel Roig says:

    Thanks for the heads-up, Carla. For whatever reason, that shortened URL did not work for me. Here is the long version of the URL: http://blog.ucsusa.org/scientific-integrity-beetles-and-the-u-s-fish-and-wildlife-service-408

  3. Jill M says:

    The reporting on the UCS blog states that the article was supposedly retracted by FWS, but it still appears on the Journal’s website with no mention of retraction. Since the FWS managers were found to have engaged in misconduct, is there any information whether the authors from U. of Oklahoma have also been disciplined? This appears to be more than just a case of publishing in a predatory journal.

    • Only a publisher can retract a published paper. An author can request that it be retracted, but the actual retraction is the function of the journal/publisher. Right everyone? Therefore, the Fish and Wildlife Service cannot properly say it has retracted the article. It may have requested the article’s retraction.

      I have no information about the OU authors being disciplined. Also, let’s not minimize the malevolence of using a predatory journal to promote a scientific point. That’s really what my blog post is about, not the purported bad science.

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