Spoof medical paper accepted in 157 journals

More than 150 open-access journals accepted a spoof medical paper that was full of errors, according to the BMJ (4 October 2013).

Journalist John Bohannon crafted a spoof medical paper full of easily detectable flaws and submitted it to 304 open-access journals, with 157 accepting the paper. The results reveal "an emerging Wild West in academic publishing" with new journals profiting from the open-access model, in which authors rather than readers pay the cost of publication, Bohannon said.

He invented the names of authors and affiliations, such as Ocorrafoo Cobange of Wassee Institute of Medicine, and submitted in their names variations of the same basic paper claiming to have found anticancer properties in a molecule extracted from lichen.

The papers contained obvious flaws, such as claiming to have demonstrated a dose-response relationship when the data reflected nothing of the sort. To simulate poor English, the text was translated into French by Google Translate, then back into English.

The paper was accepted by the Journal of Natural Pharmaceuticals, with only superficial changes sought, while other versions were accepted by journals hosted by well-known publishers such as Sage and Elsevier.

The Sage journal that accepted the paper was the Journal of International Medical Research, which sent a letter of acceptance that asked for no changes but included an invoice for $3,100 U.S. (2,293 euros).

The journal's editor in chief, Malcolm Lader, emeritus professor at the Institute of Psychiatry in London, said, "I take full responsibility for the fact this spoof paper slipped through the editing process." Although, acceptance would not have guaranteed publication, he added, because it would have been subject to technical editing that is detailed and expensive. The $3,100 fee was to cover the cost of this process.

Elsevier told Bohannon it reviewed journals before they were hosted on the Elsevier platform and as a result of the sting would be conducting another review.

"Acceptance was the norm, not the exception," Bohannon wrote. It was even accepted by journals in nonrelated fields, such as the Journal of Experimental and Clinical Assisted Reproduction and the American Journal of Medical and Dental Sciences, which despite the journal's title is actually published in Pakistan.

As soon as the spoof papers were accepted, they were withdrawn by Bohannon, so they were never actually published.

Among the journals that rejected the paper were PLOS One and two journals published by Hindawi, an open-access publisher in Cairo.

The majority of decisions were made without peer review, with only 36 of the 304 submissions generating comments that recognized the flaws, BMJ said. In addition, 16 of those were accepted despite the referees' comments.

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