Elsevier tweaks custom pub rules

Publishing company Elsevier is revising its policies and procedures for partnering with pharmaceutical companies to create custom publications in response to recent media attention over a fake journal, called the __Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine__ (__AJBJM__), created by the company and paid for by Merck.

By | June 4, 2009

Publishing company Elsevier is revising its policies and procedures for partnering with pharmaceutical companies to create custom publications in response to recent media attention over a fake journal, called the __Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine__ (__AJBJM__), created by the company and paid for by Merck. Elsevier provided __The Scientist__ with the names of additional custom publications produced by the company's Australia office from 2000-2005, that an Elsevier spokesperson admitted "should not have been called 'journals'." According to Elsevier, these other publications differed from __AJBJM__ in that they were not sponsored by a single corporation, but were instead paid for by selling "clearly-marked" advertisements purchased by several pharmaceutical companies. Like __AJBJM__, the additional publications did not contain original research. Sponsors had some editorial input, but not as much as Merck had over __AJBJM__, the spokesperson said. "We don't have any indication that any one of our advertisers or sponsors had the level of sponsor-editorial control that existed in [__AJBJM__]." In April, __The Scientist__ linkurl:reported;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/55671/ that __AJBJM__, a title published by Elsevier's Australian pharmaceutical services division, Excerpta Medica, from 2002 to 2005, was paid for by Merck but lacked any disclosure of Merck's financial involvement in the project. The vast majority of articles it contained presented data favorable to Merck's drugs Fosamax and Vioxx. Elsevier accepted blame for the improper publishing practices and later said that it was "conducting an internal review" of its custom publishing practices. The company now states that it plans to craft new guidelines regarding these practices by the end of June. "Elsevier will review practices related to all article reprint, compilation or custom publications and set out guidelines on content, permission, use of imprint and repackaging to ensure that such publications are not confused with Elsevier's core peer reviewed journals and that the sponsorship of any publication is clearly disclosed," the company said in a linkurl:statement;http://www.elsevier.com/wps/find/authored_newsitem.cws_home/companynews05_01233 released today (June 4). According to an Elsevier spokesperson, the guidelines will be written by managers involved in the publication of Elsevier's core scientific, technical, and medical (STM) journals in concert with regional leadership from the company's many international pharmaceutical services divisions. In a May 7 statement issued by Elsevier, Michael Hansen, CEO of the company's Health Sciences Division, stated that "from 2000 to 2005, our Australia office published a series of sponsored article compilation publications, on behalf of pharmaceutical clients, that were made to look like journals and lacked the proper disclosures." At that time, Elsevier provided __The Scientist__ with the names of six publications (including __AJBJM__) produced by its Australia office that it said contained faults and deficiencies similar to those in __AJBJM__. Now, though, Elsevier has changed its assessment of the series of publications. "Within the '__Australasian Journal of__' series, the __Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint__ [__Medicine__] is the only title identified as single sponsored without proper disclosure," the statement reads. Like __AJBJM__, the other journals in this series -- the company added three more titles to those it listed in May -- contain no original, peer-reviewed research and consist largely of reprinted articles, and summaries of previously published research papers. Unlike __AJBJM__, however, which was sponsored only by Merck, with the pharmaceutical company heavily influencing the editorial content of the journal, the other titles were bought through ad sales to a multitude of pharma companies, the names of which Elsevier declined to disclose. The discrepancies between Elsevier's previous and current assessments of these titles results from a more thorough internal investigation, according to the company spokesperson. "We knew that they came out of [the Australia] office. We knew that the practice existed. But we hadn't looked though all the files" including financial documents, emails, and paper records, he said of the company's previous assessment. Now, he continued, Elsevier believes that the other eight titles did not contain the same problems as __AJBJM__. Elsevier provided __The Scientist__ with the complete list of all nine journals. They are: The __Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine__, the __Australasian Journal of Neurology__, the __Australasian Journal of Hospital Medicine__, the __Australasian Journal of General Practice__, the __Australasian Journal of Cardiology__, the __Australasian Journal of Cardiovascular Medicine__, the __Australasian Journal of Clinical Pharmacy__, the __Australasian Journal of Clinical Practice__, and the __Australasian Journal of Musculoskeletal Medicine__. __The Scientist__ has reviewed copies of __AJBJM__ and has requested copies of the eight additional titles, but has not yet obtained or reviewed any of them. Elsevier declined to reveal how much Merck paid to have __AJBJM__ published. "As a matter of policy, we don't discuss the details of specific transactions with our customers," the Elsevier spokesperson said. But the publisher did reveal a range of how many copies of the nine journals were distributed in Australia. "Single issues were typically distributed to between 2,000 and 10,000 general practitioners (GP) in Australia, and the company is aware of one issue that went to 20,000 (the estimated total number of GPs in Australia)," today's Elsevier statement reads. Elsevier also provided __The Scientist__ with the names of 13 other titles that were meant to serve as custom publications similar to the other "__Australasian Journal of__" titles that were printed in Australia. These titles were registered by its Australia office in the first half of this decade and assigned International Standard Serial Number (ISSN) numbers, but they were never printed. Instead, they served as placeholders in the same way that URLs can be reserved for future web sites. They are: The __Australasian Journal of Pediatrics__, the __Australasian Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology__, the __Australasian Journal of Dentistry__, the __Australasian Journal of Infectious Diseases__, the __Australasian Journal of Pain Management__, the __Australasian Journal of Respiratory Medicine__, the __Australasian Journal of Sexual Health__, the __Australasian Journal of Psychiatry__, the __Australasian Journal of Asthma__, the __Australasian Journal of Gastroenterology__, the __Australasian Journal of Hospital Pharmacy__, the __Australasian Journal of Depression__, the __Core Journals in Oncology__.
**__Related stories:__***linkurl:Elsevier published 6 fake journals;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/55679/
[7th May 2009]*linkurl:Merck published fake journal;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/55671/
[30th April 2009]


Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 9

June 6, 2009

They goofed and should just cease and desist!
Avatar of: daniel miller

daniel miller

Posts: 40

June 6, 2009

They are revising their policies!!??\n\nIt shouldn't take a policy to know that you don't do this kind of thing. One wonders what else they're doing that isn't on the up and up if they can't figure out this one from the very beginning.
Avatar of: Neil Toner

Neil Toner

Posts: 6

June 8, 2009

Judging by the comments so far I would say Elsevier has seriously underestimated the intelligence and good sense of ethics that still exist in our society.\n\nSuch inappropriate responses as "reviewing" a clearly unethical behavior only serve to make people question the company's credibility even more.\n\nHere is what is expected of an organization in this situation in order to re-establish trust.\n\n"We were wrong, we are sorry, we will not do it anymore and here is all the information on the agreements or partnerships in question."\n\nBeing honest is not easy but it is simple.\n\nNo bureaucratic reviews, downplaying, or misdirections are necessary.
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 2

June 20, 2009

I just came across an interesting database that lists traceable comments on published material that could be of scientific value in the future:\nwww.sciencecomment.com

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