‘Predatory’ publisher hit with lawsuit

4 minute read

US authorities allege the academic journal publishers “regularly deceive consumers” and lack quality control

Alleged lack of quality control and dubious practices by a scientific journal publisher have prompted US authorities to act

Academics have welcomed the launch of a US government lawsuit against a journal publisher for misleading and exploiting researchers, including doctors.

It is hoped the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) case against the company will stem the tide of ‘predatory’ publishers, said to be diluting trust in the scientific process.

OMICS Group boasts more than 700 open-access journals and 3000 conferences, with the backing of more than 50,000 editorial board members, but has been accused of deceiving consumers about the quality of its services and its fees.

The group claims its journals follow rigorous peer-review and have editorial boards comprising prominent academics, the FTC says.

“In reality, many articles are published with little to no peer review and numerous individuals represented to be editors have not agreed to be affiliated with the journals,” the commission alleges.

It is only after researchers have had their article accepted for publication that OMICS reveals hidden costs to publish researcher’s articles, sometimes in the thousands of dollars, the FTC alleges.

At that stage, researchers are not allowed to withdraw their articles, making the research ineligible for publication in another journal, the consumer protection agency says.

Associate Professor Jeffrey Beall, chronicler of suspect publishers, labelled OMICS “the most notorious and predatory scholarly publisher ever to exist”.

The rise of open access publishing, where the author of the paper pays for publication rather than the academic or medical libraries, is “easily exploited”, Professor Beall told The Medical Republic.

Numerous corrupt, open-access journals and publishers have exploited the open-access model and victimised researchers, he says.

“OMICS continues to publish junk science, and it continues to spam, quickly accept submitted articles and then invoice the authors. If the author asks to withdraw the paper, they require a payment, leaving the author stuck between deciding to pay the publishing fee or the withdrawal fee,” he said.

A legal spokesman for the company said the FTC’s allegations were “baseless” and they were “confident enough that we can defend our actions”.

Monash University’s Associate Professor Michael Brown said there was effectively no quality control in these journals, meaning anti-vaccination arguments could be published by those pushing an agenda.

Professor Brown, who’s previously warned fellow academics about the dubious practices of predatory publishers and conference organisers, said they might provide a way of legitimising these sorts of views.

Dr Rachael Dunlop (PhD), a university medical researcher and sceptic, said the publications “muddy the waters of scientific progress”.

“It used to be the case that if you could say your work was peer reviewed, that was a stamp of quality,” she said. “These days, not at all.”

The current lawsuit should be the impetus for academic institutions to warn their academics they would not reward research published in these type of publications, Dr Dunlop said.

OMICS is running a number of medical and other scientific conferences in Melbourne in November.

“This [lawsuit] is definitely not going to influence the upcoming conferences in Australia by any means and the conferences will be organised as per the schedule,” the OMICS spokesman told The Medical Republic.

The FTC’s lawsuit claims the group includes the names of prominent researchers as participants and presenters at the conferences without their knowledge or consent.

One past attendee of an OMICS conference told The Medical Republic she was “angry and frustrated” after flying to Toronto, Canada, only to find the program had completely changed and advertised speakers were absent.

The conference, which was named almost identically to a respected journal, had audience sizes of no more than 20 people, she reported.

The Monash University PhD student also had to ask the company to remove her name and photo from a banner across their website, promoting her as a “renowned guest speaker”.

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