Today, Science reported that a fake article that "[a]ny reviewer with more than a high-school knowledge of chemistry and the ability to understand a basic data plot should have spotted" had been placed in 61 percent of the 304 open-access journals it had been submitted to.
The paper was authored by John Bohannan, who has a PhD in molecular biology from Oxford, under an assumed name, "Ocorrafoo Cobange," who claimed to be a biologist at "the Wassee Institute of Medicine in Asmara." Neither Cobange nor the institute purporting to employ him exist; however, despite the forged credentials and grossly problematic content, the majority of journals to which Bohannan submitted the paper accepted it.
Though Bohannan was encouraged that 20 percent of the journals to which he submitted his obviously flawed paper rejected it outright, he was much more concerned with the gate-keeping -- or lack thereof -- that guided the publications that eventually accepted his paper.
Some asked for no revision; others, superficial revisions for style and format; but most worrying were those, like the Journal for International Medical Research, which accepted his paper and asked for $3,100 to publish his "findings." Links to all the papers and the correspondence relating to them can be found here.
The potential damage to the public from what Jeffrey Beall calls "predatory publishers" can be far-reaching. Academic articles, even in the sciences, are cited by legal professionals in order to determine matters of law. They form the basis for government grants, which directly effects which lines of research are funded. Moreover, they are used by corporations as material evidence in the implementation of drug trials.
If used wrongly, a paper as patently false as Bohannan's -- which claimed that a cell-killing "drug" could not only cure cancer, but was so effective it should bypass human trials -- could lead to the death of hundreds of the most desperate and vulnerable patients.
["Two scientists examine a green fluid" on Shutterstock]