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In Study, Open Access Science Journals Accept Fake Papers

By Daniel R. Levine, Contributing Writer

More than half of over three hundred fee-based, open access science journals accepted a bogus research paper for publication in a study conducted by John N. Bohannon, a visiting scholar at the Harvard Program in Ethics and Health.

After using a computer algorithm to generate 304 versions of a generic scientific paper, each with grave errors, Bohannon submitted 10 a week over the past year to various free-to-view journals. 157 out of the 304 bogus papers were accepted by an open access journal.

Bohannon’s report, which was published in the October 4 issue of the journal Science, described the fake research papers as “a scientific version of Mad Libs.”

Critics of the study were quick to point out that Science, a subscription-based academic journal, might have a bias against its open access competitors.

“He should have taken a random sample of open access journals and subscription journals, a broad spectrum from both business models,” said Lars Bjørnshauge, founder of the Directory of Open Access Journals, a database of quality-controlled open access journals.

Bohannon, however, rejected the notion that his study unfairly targeted open access journals.

“A whole lot of hay has been made about whether Science is out to get open access journals, or has hired out a hit on perceived open access competitors,” Bohannon said. “It’s just so wrong-headed, I don’t even know where to begin.”

In the study, Bohannon targeted 167 journals listed in the Directory, which he called a “‘who’s who’ of credible open access journals.”

Bohannon said he aims to protect open access journals rather than attack them.

“It is by and large a really good thing for science that [the open access business model] exists and that it’s thriving,” Bohannon said. “[It’s] fantastic that you will no longer need to be a member of a rich university to read the scientific research that you paid for with your own tax dollars. I’m completely behind it. Every reasonable science advocate should be behind it.”

Bjørnshauge also argued that Bohannon’s findings exaggerated the influence of sham journals.

“There’s a lot of hype about bogus publishers, but they don’t really have any business,” Bjørnshauge said. “A marginal number of open access journals have problems with peer review. Organizations like the DOAJ, the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association, and others are trying to deal with that.”

According to Bjørnshauge, “all parties are interested in pointing out those publishers and putting them out of business.”

In the weeks since the initial deluge of criticism, Bohannon said his report has brought renewed attention to standards of academic integrity in research publications.

“I’ve been contacted by Indian journalists and they say that they’ve been investigating these guys for years,” Bohannon said. “They’re so happy to have hard evidence in hand now so they can really go after them.”

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