Fallout from Science’s publisher sting: Journal closes in Croatia

Screen Shot 2013-10-17 at 10.11.01Science‘s John Bohannon has recently revealed the extent of poor or non-existent peer review in some journals that call themselves peer-reviewed, as we reported on here.

Now, an open-access publisher based in Rijeka, Croatia, called InTech, has cancelled its journal that was targeted and exposed by Science’s investigation. The journal was going to charge 400 euros to publish the paper by Bohannon.

The International Journal of Integrative Medicine has been “discontinued”, does “not accept submissions” and “is no longer active” states the publisher’s website.

The notice, posted just a day after Science published its piece, says:

“We regret to inform you that as of October 4th, 2013, the International Journal of Integrative Medicine is no longer active.

Authors who have paid the Article Processing Charge (APC) when submitting their research paper to this journal, will be refunded in full.

Articles published in the International Journal of Integrative Medicine up-to-date, will remain available online on the journal’s webpage.

For any further information regarding the International Journal of Integrative Medicine, please contact us at iim@intechopen.com.

In an e-mail from InTech, which I already reported in Croatia’s Jutarnji List, InTech blames its scientific editors who operate outside the actual firm.

The journal’s double blind peer-review system failed in this instance, they say, and the work of scientific editors and peer-reviewers showed itself to “be flawed, inadequate and superficial.”

InTech accepts a big mistake made by its outside collaborators who had (it is now clear) too much independence in their work based on professional trust …. Because of this, we decided to cease publication of the journal and so protect international scientific community and our collaborators.

InTech called Science‘s sting indicative of an

overarching problem in publishing and the need for stricter supervision of work by outside science editors and peer-reviewers.


10 thoughts on “Fallout from Science’s publisher sting: Journal closes in Croatia”

  1. Well, this is too bad for those who submitted legit if low-impact work to that journal- one of the scary prospects with these fly-by-night digital publishers going under for any reason is the potential loss of real science or clinical research. Is there a role for the archive.org ‘archive team’ or similar to catch more vulnerable output before it goes down the memory hole? Worse, one could argue that well-meaning people who submitted their work have it tainted now- not adequately peer-reviewed, but published and thus not resubmittable without ‘self-plagiarism’.

    1. It states that any published work will remain available… and any submitted work that wasn’t physically published (even if fees were paid) should still be submittable to other journals, in the same way that I can submit to Nature after my paper gets rejected from PLOS ONE with no ethical problems.

      So the only problem lies with authors who had their work published in this journal… and my answer to them is as follows: we as scientists must be smart! We have to be careful and submit only to journals that we know have ethical standards! There are open access journals that publish reviewer/editor names! Submit to those and show the world that another legit scientist staked their name to your paper! Or submit to a journal that has a long, strong track record… PLOS ONE seems to be doing mostly OK and allows submission of no-impact articles, so send away! And if you submit to a journal and don’t receive a high quality review, you should probably pull your article prior to final publication and send it somewhere else! (I think this is OK, but I’d have to triple check).

      1. Sure, your paper’s ‘up’, in a tainted journal- and who knows how the publisher will do in future given these revelations, threatening even that if servers go dark.

        Certainly PLOS One and many other open-access journals do far better in their reviews- probably even some of the ‘basement business’ journals that spam my inbox from time to time do so. One of the best reviews I’ve read came from such a journal, probably an adaptation of an MS thesis.

        My worry is for those scientists from smaller nations or those with developing research infrastructures who saw such an open-access journal and view it as a means of disseminating their work to the larger world. Effectively the journal scammed them. (Obviously there may be others, even a majority, who saw it for what it was; in this case, I have no sympathy, but it is hard to discern naïveté from malice without careful inspection.)

  2. If academics push for reform and scrutiny, many journals will not be able to stand the pressure! What justifies the principle of compelling authors to pay to publish although they provide material content and substance ? Don’t journals make money when people visit their sites?

    1. I understand your concerns, but both your questions have equally legitimate answers.

      First, look at it from the taxpayer’s point of view. We (usually) pay for the scientist’s salary and facilities, pay again for the grant which funds the research, pay a third time for the (usually public) entities that pay for the subscriptions to non-open journals, then pay a fourth time in some combination of time and fees to get access to them at our local academic libraries (or pay prohibitive fees to the publisher). In addition to obvious fairness and public cost issues, consider: it won’t be obvious for another half-generation or a bit more, but open access has been part of the biggest boost to public appreciation of science since Sputnik. Sure, we seldom have the right background for what we read on-line, and have all kinds of weird ideas and preconceptions — so we sound dumber than ever. But in fact what’s happening is that the public is asking science questions it wouldn’t even have known how to ask 20 years ago.

      Second, publishers do not make money just because someone visits their websites. Conceivably, they could. Unfortunately, science publishers have historically been a tiny, unimaginative group, tied to a particular business model which is looking a bit antiquated. I’m sometimes tempted to apply the same description to academic science, but it would be really unfair. I’ll give in to the temptation only to the extent of a quotation from Ghostbusters: “Just type something, will ya’! We’re paying for this stuff.”

    2. How would journals make money from people visiting their site?

      I guess only if they fill it with ads.

      PLoS, perhaps the best known and respected OA publisher, shows the potential problem with that approach: the papers published in the PLoS journals average around 1000-10000 views over their entire lifetime since PLoS has started. Now for some assumptions:
      1. The OA journal in question can get to the same level of views/article as PLoS
      2. Cost for publication is about 500 dollar for the entire process (website maintenance, lifelong storage, peer review/editorial support, processing/making publication ready, etc)

      This means you’d need a CPM of 50-500 dollar, which is probably 50 times higher than most companies would be willing to pay. Which, in turn, means at least 50 ads for your single view of a paper.

      I think I’ll pass on that concept.

    3. No, they lose money- servers and bandwidth are not free. Nor is typesetting, editing, etc. Some journals (Biotechniques for example) can make their dime from ads but they are a minority. The only other option is to close access and make people pay for access or have deep pockets. That said page charges for closed journals are annoying, but the professional typesetting and editing does cost everywhere. I’d agree for closed, for-profit publishers that these charges could be better absorbed.

  3. I don’t buy their explanation of how it happened. InTech’s actual business model is largely based on exploiting such “overarching problems in publishing”. They send out thousands of “invitations to contribute” to just about anyone who ever published on some subject & is willing to pay. Here is an exchange I had with one of their representatives 3 years ago. (all identifying details removed for legal reasons)

    Dear Dr. XXX,

    We recently contacted you with a proposal to submit a chapter to the
    forthcoming book, “ZZZ”.

    As a global leader in Open Access publishing, InTech’s editorial team has
    helped over 60,000 academic authors publish in excess of 850 books. The
    success of “ZZZ” will depend upon the contribution of experts
    like you within your field.

    Call for book chapters(For Selected and Invited Authors Only)
    ZZZ Edited by: To preserve the integrity of the review process the identity of the editor will
    be disclosed upon final chapter submission.
    By publishing with InTech you will increase your citation rate, enhance your
    profile within the wider scientific community, retain full copyright of your
    work, receive a full color hard copy of the book and benefit from having the
    support of a dedicated Publishing Process Manager who will guide you through
    the publishing process.

    To cover the costs of the publication process, all accepted chapters require
    the payment of an Article Processing Charge (APC).

    Please let me know if you are interested in participating in this project.
    Kind regards,  YYY /Publishing Process Manager/
    Dear Ms. YYY,

    Please remove me from your list & don’t contact me with similar invitations
    in the future.



    P.S. While I fully support the open access of public to scientific
    publications, I consider the approach based on APC to be deeply flawed &
    wasteful. Most highly regarded journals in my field permit all authors to
    post the postprints of accepted papers on their personal webpages. Anyone
    can access my publications for free if they are interested. Your model will
    primarily attract the authors whose work would have difficulties passing the
    usual peer review in serious journals. As such, it not only wastes the
    authors’ money (& that of their institutions) to enrich your company, but
    also wastes the attention of readers. In any reputable collection, an
    invitation like yours would be signed by the editor(s), whose scientific
    reputation could be at least a partial quality guarantee.
    [I’ll skip her reply since it is largely contained in my last letter.]
    Dear Ms. YYY,

    I have decided to respond to your personal email out of respect for the time
    you spent “addressing” my reservations. [Even though your letter appears to
    mainly repeat the standard marketing points undoubtedly used by your company
    on the web and elsewhere.]

    Below I briefly respond to your points — just in case you are curious why I
    find them to be utterly unconvincing.

    However, I do not have time or energy to continue this discussion. Please do
    not expect me to reply in the future.



    > Dear Dr. XXX,
    > Thank you for your e-mail and for supporting Open Access.
    > I would like to reflect on some of the problems you have raised.
    > You stated that most highly regarded journals permit all authors to post
    > the postprints of accepted papers on their personal webpages. Let me
    > inform you that we allow the same, since every author keeps all the
    > copyrights to his work and can use that work in any manner that he or she
    > wishes.

    You are (intentionally?) missing the point: those journals have higher
    prestige/quality control AND don’t charge the authors any fees AND advertise
    just as heavily (not to mention that they don’t need much advertising) AND
    they don’t mind my making pre/post-prints available for free AND some of
    them even allow the authors to retain the copyright. The reason is simple —
    most of the better ones are published by scholarly societies (e.g., …)
    and are not in this game to make money. In contrast,
    your company is a business, using open access as an excuse to charge
    exorbitant fees, attracting primarily those who would not be able to publish
    their work through the usual channels.

    > It is true that anyone can access your publications for free on your
    > personal web page, but how many of them actually do? Our websites
    > constantly increase traffic and number of downloads, so far we have had
    > more than 3.500.000 chapter downloads from all over the world.

    On average, there are between 7 to 20 downloads of papers from my personal
    web site per month (yes, I do track those statistics). This does not even
    include the downloads of my pre-prints from arxiv.org
    The numbers accurately reflect the level of interest in my work — it’s not
    a cancer cure, but there are enough serious researchers around the world
    following it. The usual procedure for them is as follows:

    1) find a paper in a reputable journal, which appears interesting based on
    an abstract freely available from that journal’s website;

    2) if their university library subscribes to this journal, download the
    paper from there;

    3) if not, google the article title to find the author’s webpage or the
    arxiv.org preprint;

    4) read the paper for free in its entirety.

    > The point is that we advertise, promote and actively attract readers to
    > our web page. Also, more important fact is that, by publishing with us,
    > your work will be distributed to scientific databases, indices and search
    > engines (Mendeley, Google Scholar, Cite Seer, Research Gate and InTech
    > Open).

    This point of yours assumes that I am ignorant of how Mendeley, Google
    Scholar, and Cite Seer work. Any reputable journal or book collection will
    be included in them. Many disreputable ones will be as well.

    > Professors with stellar reputation and track record have already published
    > with InTech, and they found our business model, author support during the
    > process and final quality of our publications more than satisfactory.
    > To name just a few of our authors with such a reputation:
    > – Dr. XYZ1 (8 chapters published with InTech), Osaka
    > University (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/XYZ1)
    > – Dr. XYZ2 (this year’s IEEE Award winner, 6 chapters published
    > with InTech), Tokyo University, Yale University
    > – Dr. XYZ3, University College London Hospital.

    I really cannot speak for the motives of others. But I will note that there
    are a lot of people in academia susceptible to flattery & willing to
    compromise for the sake of convenience or congeniality. Alternatively, in
    some branches of science/engineering, having a venue for an extremely rapid
    publication to stake out one’s priority might trump all other
    considerations. However, I wonder if the above 3 researchers have paid your
    usual publication fees for all their chapters. And I don’t think that they
    would be thrilled to learn that you are using them in your promotional
    literature to enlist more authors. Should I perhaps forward our email
    exchange to all 3 of them, asking for their opinions?

    > Regarding the quality guaranteed by the editors invitation – our process
    > is structured in the way that all the communication is led through
    > Publishing Process Managers and authors like that because of the personal
    > approach. But the Book Editor is still the person who guarantees the
    > quality of the book.

    There is nothing personal about this approach. The name & reputation of the
    editor could be an important factor for authors to decide whether they want
    to contribute. Most contacted authors will simply guess that you currently
    don’t have an editor appointed yet or are working with someone, whose
    credentials would hardly attract other researchers.

    > I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this particular matter.

    Now that you do know my thoughts on the subject, I suggest we stop this
    exchange. I need to get back to work & you surely have many more gullible
    authors to invite for many more collections.

  4. I like qqq’s comment: “There are open access journals that publish reviewer/editor names! Submit to those and show the world that another legit scientist staked their name to your paper!”

    To compliment, journals that publish the entire peer-review chain (e.g. F1000Research) make it easy to spot how good the review process was, and if some poor paper squeaked through. In this technology age, these approaches should become more universal, both in open and subscription journals.

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