Fake Paper Exposes Failed Peer Review

The widespread acceptance of an atrocious manuscript, fabricated by an investigative journalist, reveals the near absence of quality at some journals.

Oct 6, 2013
Kerry Grens

FLICKR, SCREAMING_MONKEYHaving an authentic name, representing a real research institution, and offering actual scientific results are apparently not required for publication in many open access journals, Science has found. A completely invented scientist—“Ocorrafoo Cobange”—who worked at a fabricated institution—“the Wassee Institute of Medicine in Asmara”—was able to get the same terribly faked paper accepted for publication in 157 journals. “My hope is that now that we have a map of at least some of the good versus bad journals, scientists can submit their paper to one of the good guys and for the same amount of money get the real deal,” John Bohannon, the Science correspondent who did the investigation, told NPR.

Many of the journals were already flagged by Beall's List, which catalogs questionable publications, but others were present in the Directory of Open Access Journals, which aims to list credible publications. One example Bohannon highlighted in his report was a journal published by Sage, which was named “the Independent Publishers Guild Academic and Professional Publisher of the Year” in 2012. “The Sage publication that accepted my bogus paper is the Journal of International Medical Research. Without asking for any changes to the paper's scientific content, the journal sent an acceptance letter and an invoice for $3,100,” Bohannon wrote.

Bohannon's article details what others have also found: that open-access publishers have varied standards. But some have criticized the investigation as hostile toward open access, given that Bohannon didn't compare the acceptance rate among open access journals to those that require a subscription. “In short, Bohannon’s article isn’t really about open access. It’s about a flawed system of trusting journals and the inherent problems in peer review, but he targets only open access here,” Martin Eve from the University of Lincoln in the UK wrote at The Conversation.