Medicine, a journal published by Wolters Kluwer Health, switched from a subscription model to gold (author pays) open access in late 2014. Since the journal transitioned the pay-to-publish mega-journal model, Medicine has declined in quality and published at least one questionable article.
The journal’s current impact factor is 5.723, which is a leftover from its years as a high-quality subscription journal publishing only 6 issues each year. The impact factor will certainly decrease in the near future now that 52 issues per year are being published under the new open-access model.
But the current impact factor means that, for this year, researchers who need to publish a paper in a journal with high impact factor can buy the prestige associated with the inflated metrics of Medicine. And the journal is — for the most part — accommodating the hordes.
In 2013, the journal published six issues. In mid-2014, when the switch to mandating an author fee was implemented, the journal began publishing weekly issues. Each issue has 20 to 40 articles, and the author fee is $1,400. If about 30 articles are published per issue, that translates into $2,184,000 in income for the year (30 articles x 52 issues x $1,400), an amazing amount for a single journal.
The subscription version of Medicine had a 24-member editorial board composed of researchers from leading medical institutions, including an editor-in-chief from Johns Hopkins. The editorial boards (the plural is not a typo –- separate boards for Medicine, Medicine: Breast Cancer, and Medicine: HIV/AIDS are listed on the Medicine website) of the relaunched Medicine have more than 750 members — and the Medicine website lists no editor-in-chief or lead section editors for the 43 specialty areas that Medicine covers.
The only people named as senior editors are a few Wolters Kluwer staff who oversee the hundreds of editorial board members. This lack of oversight by independent editors not tasked with revenue generation may be why this article made it through the review process and was published in the journal:
The paper is entitled “The Effectiveness and Safety of Acupuncture for Patients with Alzheimer Disease: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials.” It was published in Medicine in volume 94, issue 22 in June, 2015.
The paper makes bold and perhaps unwarranted conclusions about Alzheimer’s disease treatment:
In conclusion, the results of the meta-analysis indicate that acupuncture may be more effective than drugs, and may also enhance the effect of donepezil in improving the cognitive function of patients with AD (p. 8).
The paper has been criticized on PubPeer, with the commenter saying,
The primary claim of the article is corrupt in the sense that it is proffering a causal relationship between acupuncture and improvement in certain indices of awareness and cognitive ability without attempting to control for variation or the strong placebo effect that we know exists for acupuncture.
An earlier blog post inspired by the article led the blogger to conclude, “IT IS HIGH TIME THAT RESEARCHERS START THINKING CRITICALLY, PEER-REVIEWERS DO THEIR JOB PROPERLY, AND JOURNAL EDITORS STOP PUBLISHING SUCH MISLEADING ARTICLES” [upper case from the original author].
It is unfortunate that the journal Medicine and its publisher, Wolters Kluwer Health, are effectively taking the low road, lowering standards and apparently accepting most articles submitted, even poor-quality articles like the one described here.
This is the danger of the open-access mega-journal model with no independent oversight: the default will be for the editorial staff — all of whom are employees tasked with making money for their employers — to accept almost every article, regardless of quality or even validity, because each accepted submission generates substantial profit for the publisher.
Hat tips: Dr. Kathryn H Jacobsen, Dr. Joshua Tan