Shame on Elsevier

Update 8 May 2009, see some better analysis than mine of the role of Excerpta Medica here from Laika’s MedLibLog. (Thanks Christina Pikas for the pointer).

Honestly, I expect this from Merck, which doesn’t make it any more forgivable. But if I had influence over acquisitions (which I don’t), I’d be writing a letter to Elsevier threatening to boycott them as a publisher (print, electronic, and Science Direct!), being unable to trust their products to be legitimate.

From the bioethics blog, thanks to Warren Layton for the pointer:

The Scientist has reported that, yes, it’s true, Merck cooked up a phony, but real sounding, peer reviewed journal and published favorably looking data for its products in them. Merck paid Elsevier to publish such a tome, which neither appears in MEDLINE or has a website, according to The Scientist.

What’s wrong with this is so obvious it doesn’t have to be argued for. What’s sad is that I’m sure many a primary care physician was given literature from Merck that said, “As published in Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine, Fosamax outperforms all other medications….” Said doctor, or even the average researcher wouldn’t know that the journal is bogus. In fact, knowing that the journal is published by Elsevier gives it credibility!

I suggest that Elsevier needs to get a message from libraries that selling it’s imprint to the highest bidder will hurt their bottom line. We ought not to spend huge money (and we do spend HUGE money) for questionably legitimate products from a publisher of ill repute.

If Elsevier was willing to prostitute their imprint once, how many more fake journals may also be included in their catalog, and in ScienceDirect?

From The Scientist:

In testimony provided at the trial last week, which was obtained by The Scientist, George Jelinek, an Australian physician and long-time member of the World Association of Medical Editors, reviewed four issues of the journal that were published from 2003-2004. An “average reader” (presumably a doctor) could easily mistake the publication for a “genuine” peer reviewed medical journal, he said in his testimony. “Only close inspection of the journals, along with knowledge of medical journals and publishing conventions, enabled me to determine that the Journal was not, in fact, a peer reviewed medical journal, but instead a marketing publication for MSD[A].”

Forensic Librarianship

This makes me think, a librarian, especially a medical librarian, should not be an ‘average reader’, not even if ‘average’ means ‘MD’. A research librarian ought to be by profession an expert in ‘knowledge of journals and publishing conventions’ in their area of specialty, right? And in evaluating credibility, authenticity, and authority of apparently scholarly literature.

Any medical librarians read this blog? How easily would you have noticed the questionable character of this journal? Would you have noticed it on casual review, or only on careful examination?

Even more importantly, would you have noticed if you saw an article from this ‘journal’ in an online database in electronic form out of context, rather than in the context of a complete paper issue?  Which is increasingly the only place we all see journal articles.

You’ve got to register for a free account to see em, but you can see PDFs of two issues here and here.

What responsibility do librarians have to detect such things on behalf of our patrons? Is it feasible to expect us to be able to do that, or is the increasingly giant body of mostly electronically read literature way out of our ability to be expected to ever catch anything like this?  And if even professional experts in publishing conventions can’t reasonably be expected to catch it… what does this say about scholarly output in general?

The fake Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine does not seem to appear in Ulrichs, although the PDFs show that the printed journal claimed to have an ISSN 1447-5529.   Odd to me that it’s not in Ulrichs, I’d think Ulrichs would have a feed of all assigned ISSNs to populate their db. Wonder if it’s been removed from Ulrichs since the news broke?  (Hey, any LC readers want to check with the ISSN office and see if that ISSN was really registered? Although I guess it wouldn’t necessarily have been registered through LC, which is only ISSN registrar for US publications?)

Excerpta Medica Communications

It does appear in Worldcat, bearing that ISSN, published by ‘Excerpta Medica Communications’ (which does appear on the verso of the PDF the Scientist provided; “A Division of Elsevier Australia”). The State Library of New South Wales is presumably embaressed.  The State Library of NSW holds another journal from that same publisher, the “Australasian journal of musculoskeletal medicine” under ISSN 1446-4489. Which also does not appear in Ulrichs.

Hmmmm. WorldCat lists 50 publications by Excerpta Medica Communications.  Certainly I’d think anything published under this imprint, if not anything by Elsevier in general, is suspect — oh yeah, for sure: “Excerpta Medica is a strategic medical communications agency. We partner with our clients in the pharmaceutical and biotech industries to educate the global health care community…”  They don’t mention “by publishing marketting materials that look like scholarly journals published by Elsevier, a respected publisher.”  Actually, they sort of do say that, but not in so many words, on their website!

This product was clinically proven to be very safe and effective. But, because the volume of published clinical support was not at the level of its competitors, fewer medical professionals were familiar with the client’s product and, as a result, it was not well established within the marketplace. The client was also seeking approval on an additional indication for the product….

Excerpta Medica drew from its extensive experience in publishing to create a company-sponsored journal that focused on providing scientifically sound, clinically pertinent, and timely information on cardiovascular disease….

The publication was launched in December 2004 and continues to run today. Circulation has increased from 10,000 at launch to 17,000 currently and includes such specialties as cardiology, diabetology, nephrology, internal medicine, and general practice. The 70% increase in subscription numbers was the result of growing interest from both the client and physicians. Additionally, Excerpta Medica has recently launched 2 special editions translated specifically for the Greek and Spanish markets.

Note well that they don’t mention the name of the journal in this case study, like any PR firm, they need to advertise their successes without ruining them by admitting them.

I’d be asking Elsevier how many ‘sponsored journals’ from Excerpta Medica or any other subsidiary are included in our Science Direct subscription.

Where does it end up indexed?

I’m very curious if any articles from this fake journal were indexed in our aggregators. Unable to find any examples.  As of now it’s got nothing in PubMed, or in a federated search of any of the federated-searchable resources in my libraries “medicine” grouping.

Some articles in the PDFs claim “available at http://www.sciencedirect.com”, but those are mostly reprints from other Elsevier journals. I couldn’t find anything actually from The Australasian Journal of Bone & Joint Medicine in Science Direct.  Perhaps Excerpta Medica publications and other fake Elsevier publications are kept out of Science Direct and other aggregators?  Or perhaps it’s been removed since the fake journal news broke. I’m not sure which hypothesis seems like the bigger conspiracy theory.

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15 Responses to Shame on Elsevier

  1. Pingback: Caveat Lector » Blog Archive » The value of a brand

  2. the problem with the big E is that they try to have it both ways. With the El Nachie thing, they said – we do not mess with editorial decisions, we just print the journal. At the same time, they’re like: it’s a wonderful journal, after all WE print it, only the best from us. this is why i don’t use SD as a “database” – it’s not. librarians with collection development decisions most certainly do research all of this prior to purchase, but with the big packages, we get a lot of things that we not only do not want or need, but don’t want to be known as having.

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