A look at the original sting operation John Bohannon did on open access scientific journal review processing.
Guest essay by Howard Booth
In reading some of the responses to Chocolate covered science: The terrible state of scientific publishing that WUWT put up on May 30th, some respondents correctly alluded to the fact that John Bohannon’s target in that sting was more precisely the media not the process of getting published into a scientific journal. Mr. Bohannon was under a deadline to support the mocumentary being produced and didn’t want to get slowed down by a peer review process, so he short-cut the process by selecting journals he knew would have low publishing standards knowing that at least one of the 20 to which he submitted would surely pick him up. Several did, so the real sting of the media could begin.
But in rereading the article, it is interesting to note how and why he knew which journals to select to short-cut the process, which is related to why he was approached to do this mocumentary. Bohannon had done a previous sting operation on the open access journal publication process, which is what prompted the producers of the television show to reach out to him. In that original sting, he explored the somewhat murky world of open-access scientific publishers. The effort amounts to a research survey project of its own, and the results were published in Science Magazine article Bohannon wrote in October of 2013.
He created a hopelessly flawed research paper entirely from thin air making sure to splash it with enough obvious red flags that it shouldn’t have passed initial editorial consideration, let alone assignment for peer review. If somehow a journal would still offer to publish, he would then claim that he had found a fundamental flaw in the research which may mean it should be withdrawn, and of course some still offered to publish for a fee. Furthermore he gathered meta-data on the publishers to see how real they were, tracking email headers, web site IP addresses, and bank clearing house locations to see if their location matched their claims.
He plotted their locations and the results are quite interesting, with places like Africa, China, and India have some of the lower standards, but a significant percentage of western based operations also had poor records. He offered some anecdotes about interaction with respected publishing houses, and a couple of closures that happened as a result of his sting.
In total the “paper” was accepted by 157 journals, many of which have very official sounding names that parallel legitimate venues. Interestingly the pass/fail rate of approved journals in the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) was not that much different than the “predatory” list that Jeffery Beall maintains of dubious journals. A peer also suggested that the results would not have been that different had he taken the paywalled subscription-based group on, though that was not studied. The bottom line appears to be that if you know how to navigate the scientific publishing world, you can get almost anything published for a fee.
I recommend you review the entire article over at Sciencemag.org.