This summer, Ottawa Citizen reporter Tom Spears was sitting by a lake on vacation when he opened a spam email from a publisher. Amused to see the sender was a journal focused on bioethics, he got an idea.
I thought, what if I just throw something outrageous at them?
The situation should sound familiar to readers who follow such “sting” operations: Spears submitted a fake paper to the so-called “predatory” journal, it was accepted one month later with no changes, and published.
But after Spears submitted a comment on the paper saying it was “a steaming pile of dung from start to meaningless finish” (which the journal never posted), wrote an article about it (picked up by other outlets, including The Huffington Post Canada) — surprise, surprise! — the paper was retracted.
Most authors don’t celebrate retractions. But Spears told us he felt “sheer triumph:”
The point of this was to draw attention to what idiots they are. This proves I got their attention.
Here’s the backstory.
The spam email was from the Journal of Clinical Research & Bioethics, published by OMICS International. It inspired Spears to throw together a fake paper that would eventually be titled: “The Voluntary Nature of Ethical-Moral Behaviour in the 21st Century (or in Any Other): A Personal Perspective:”
I was sitting at a summer cottage, looking out at Lake Huron at 6 AM, and I started to type. I stole some Aristotle, changed some words around.
He threw in some “silly Canadian references,” and mentioned Slytherin, one of the houses in the Harry Potter book series.
It wasn’t exactly high-brow work.
After the paper was quickly accepted, the publisher asked him for $949 — he talked them down to $399 (“It was sort of like haggling over used furniture,” he recalled) but ultimately never paid. The article was published anyway.
The project gained more of an urgency once Spears learned OMICS had bought two publishers of Canadian journals, as he reports in the Ottawa Citizen:
OMICS International, based in India, bought Pulsus Group and Andrew John Publishing this year. Both were reputable medical journal publishers, but under OMICS they have been used as fronts for “predatory” publishing. This is the practice of publishing fake or incompetent research for cash, because it makes unqualified authors look legitimate.
Once Spears saw the article was online, he submitted a comment to the journal which read:
I wrote this article and let me assure you it is a steaming pile of dung from start to meaningless finish. Mostly it’s stolen from Aristotle, with words changed to avoid being caught as flagrant plagiarism. Many sentences aren’t even sentences…
Shame on anyone who thinks this is research. And peer review? Ridiculous.
Although the comment was never posted live on the site, the current issue of the journal includes this retraction notice for the paper:
The article entitled “The Voluntary Nature of Ethical-Moral Behavior in the 21st Century (or in Any Other): A Personal Perspective” has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Clinical Research & Bioethics considering the statements provided in the article as personal opinion of the author which was found not having any conflict or biasness towards anything. As the article was a perspective one, information provided by the author was considered as an opinion to be expressed through publication.
Soon after the publication of the paper, we witnessed some serious concerns and many of them argued that the paper is a personal perspective and had not discussed any relevant ethical issue considered under the journal scope. Moreover, the paper is neither innovative nor thought provoking.
Publisher took decision to make the article online solely based on the reviewers suggestion which considered the article not but a personal opinion of the author. However, it is found that the article has some unavoidable mistakes and issues, therefore, being retracted from the journal.
The retraction notice includes the reviewer’s comments on the manuscript:
The author presents his personal perspective on an old problem that is the independence of moral expression of academics in their professional environment. In my opinion, it is an interesting point of view that is worthy to be published. The manuscript is brief and clearly written with a perfect use of the language. A historical review about the problem and a comparative presentation of the author’s perspective could be added, but the author declares that he is presenting just his personal perspective.
Reading the retraction was gratifying, Spears told us:
I’ve never been kicked out of an academic publication before. I’ve been accepted by a lot of these places, but to be singled out as worthy of an actual notice — that’s pretty cool.
One of the journal’s editors-in-chief, Richard Boudreau, told us he hasn’t been involved with retractions at the journal, and didn’t know anything about this one — indeed, he hadn’t even read the paper:
I’ve never read this paper, I’ve never even heard of it…As the current editor of the journal, I have zero idea what this is about.
OMICS International is on Jeffrey Beall’s list of “potential, possible, or probable” predatory publishers. Earlier this year, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission sued the publisher, alleging it has been deceiving readers about reviewing practices, publication fees, and the nature of its editorial boards.
Like Retraction Watch? Consider making a tax-deductible contribution to support our growth. You can also follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook, add us to your RSS reader, sign up on our homepage for an email every time there’s a new post, or subscribe to our daily digest. Click here to review our Comments Policy. For a sneak peek at what we’re working on, click here.