Published online 15 June 2009 | Nature | doi:10.1038/news.2009.571

News

Editor will quit over hoax paper

Computer-generated manuscript accepted for publication in open-access journal.

The editor-in-chief of a journal is to resign after claiming that the publisher, Bentham Science Publishing, accepted a hoax article for publication without his knowledge.

The fake, computer-generated manuscript was submitted to The Open Information Science Journal by Philip Davis, a graduate student in communication sciences at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, and Kent Anderson, executive director of international business and product development at The New England Journal of Medicine. They produced the paper using software that generates grammatically correct but nonsensical text, and submitted the manuscript under pseudonyms in late January.

Davis says he decided to submit the fake manuscript after receiving several unsolicited invitations by e-mail to submit papers to open-access journals published by Bentham under the author-pays-for-publication model. He wanted to test if the publisher would "accept a completely nonsensical manuscript if the authors were willing to pay".

Davis was informed by Bentham on 3 June that his manuscript was accepted for publication. The publisher requested that Davis pay US$800 to its subscriptions department, based in the United Arab Emirates, before the article was published. At this point, Davis retracted the article.

In February, Davis had submitted another computer-generated paper to The Open Software Engineering Journal, also published by Bentham Science Publishing, but this paper was rejected one month later. It was submitted under different pseudonyms but with the same bogus academic affiliation as the accepted fake paper — the Center for Research in Applied Phrenology, supposedly based in New York.

Bambang Parmanto, an information scientist at the University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and editor-in-chief of The Open Information Science Journal, told Nature that he had not seen the manuscript or any peer review comments before it was accepted. Nor was he informed that the manuscript had been accepted for publication.

"I think this is a breach of policy," he says, adding: "I will definitely resign. Normally I see everything that comes through. I don't know why I did not see this. I at least need to see the reviewer's comments."

Under review

Parmanto says that Bentham Science Publishing told him that the manuscript had been reviewed by one member of the journal's editorial board. Parmanto contacted the publisher after learning of the hoax paper on 10 June when Davis and Anderson went public with their experiment.

"The peer review didn't work," says Parmanto, who now fears that the journal's publishing system could be open to abuse. "The publisher could take advantage of the fees, and that is why I want to leave," he says.

In a statement, Mahmood Alam, director of publications at Bentham Science Publishing, told Nature in an e-mail that "submission of fake manuscripts is a totally unethical activity and must be condemned."

He defended Bentham's peer review process, saying, "a rigorous peer review process takes place for all articles that are submitted to us for publication. Our standard policy is that at least two positive comments are required from the referees before an article is accepted for publication." In this particular case, "the paper was reviewed by more than one person".

Alam claims that those behind the fake paper "had also tried to do this earlier [sic] in a different journal, but failed in their attempt due to our peer review system. Our suspicions were aroused this time and in an effort to unmask their identities the normal publication process was carried out on the second fake article. When they received repeated requests from us for more information and their credit card and other payment details they withdrew this paper."

Davis disagrees. "They have made no attempt to get in touch with me to find out my true identity," he says, adding that the last communication he received from the publishers was the acceptance letter of 3 June. He points out that the paper rejected by The Open Software Engineering Journal was submitted after the manuscript that was eventually accepted by The Open Information Science Journal, not before it, and adds that he received no comments back from anyone who had reviewed either manuscript.

ADVERTISEMENT

Davis says that it is "puzzling" that Bentham should try to establish his identity by requesting his credit card details, particularly as he used different pseudonyms on each paper.

Peter Suber, a philosopher at Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana, and a proponent of open-access publishing, is worried that the case could turn people against the author-pays open-access model. "There are many legitimate and rigorous open-access journals that use this same business model," he says. 

Comments

If you find something abusive or inappropriate or which does not otherwise comply with our Terms or Community Guidelines, please select the relevant 'Report this comment' link.

Comments on this thread are vetted after posting.

  • #60610

    An Irish newspaper recently published a fairly glowing report in the end sourced from a pay for publish journal. Now, the research may be fine but it struck me that this needed to be noted. JustinI @webs.com

Commenting is now closed.