Science magazine has published an interesting and disconcerting article on the peer review process carried out at many open-access journals. This definitely shows that one cannot just accept the findings of a paper, simply because it has been published in an ostensibly “peer reviewed” journal.
On 4 July, good news arrived in the inbox of Ocorrafoo Cobange, a biologist at the Wassee Institute of Medicine in Asmara. It was the official letter of acceptance for a paper he had submitted 2 months earlier to the Journal of Natural Pharmaceuticals, describing the anticancer properties of a chemical that Cobange had extracted from a lichen.
In fact, it should have been promptly rejected. Any reviewer with more than a high-school knowledge of chemistry and the ability to understand a basic data plot should have spotted the paper’s short-comings immediately. Its experiments are so hopelessly flawed that the results are meaningless.
I know because I wrote the paper. Ocorrafoo Cobange does not exist, nor does the Wassee Institute of Medicine. Over the past 10 months, I have submitted 304 versions of the wonder drug paper to open-access journals. More than half of the journals accepted the paper, failing to notice its fatal flaws. Beyond that headline result, the data from this sting operation reveal the contours of an emerging Wild West in academic publishing.
It’s also essential to note that several of these fake papers were accepted for publication by journals that are run, hosted, or overseen by respected names in scientific publishing, like Sage and Elsevier.
With so much of the “science” that guides or directs energy production and energy policy taking on an “applied” or “anti-” activist nature, it behooves us to check (wherever possible) the reliability of journals and publications before accepting their findings at face value.