While we are often among the first to chuckle at a good sting of a predatory publisher, there have probably been enough of them by now to have made the point.
And even Ottawa Citizen reporter Tom Spears — whose stings have been among the most hilarious — seems to agree. He didn’t want to spoof another predatory journal by submitting a fake article (his last one was retracted in 2016 after he told the publisher it was a “pile of dung”). But when an invitation came towards the end of November, he just couldn’t help himself.
The invitation was from Intellectual Consortium of Drug Discovery and Technology Development, Inc. — often just called “Consortium” — to be on its editorial board. Too curious to resist, Spears accepted. Then, he was told, he had to write an editorial.
So one night in December, he sat down and wrote something connecting predatory-prey relationships in nature to predatory publishing — calling out the publisher along the way. Spears told us:
I just had some fun with it. And then they went and published the silly thing.
After Spears wrote a story in the Ottawa Citizen about the article, the article disappeared on Tuesday from the Journal of Applied Molecular Cell Biology — as did Spears’s name from the editorial board. (Spears’s story includes a screen capture of his name and fake affiliation on the publisher’s site. You can also see one here.)
There was no retraction in the formal sense, they just made it quietly disappear.
Spears also archived a version of the editorial, which is worth a read. Here are some excerpts:
The example of the white suckers [ a common freshwater Cypriniform fish] that are born every minute is emblematic of journals like this. In the ecosystem of scientific academia, as in nature, there must be a natural balance in the structure of predation. Predators consume that which is presented to them. In a not dissimilar way, journals partake of the opportunity to welcome the little fishes of the publishing world in with gently smiling — oh, you know the rest.
If the dopiness of open-access journals like this one is not sufficient to prove their character, then their devotion to self-aggrandizement and malodor are strong indicators of the way forward as defined by their devotion to nooky everywhere in the learned world. How long will it be before cellular biology unlocks the secrets of the greatest humans diseases? And what role will biology laboratories play in this endeavor? We do not yet know the answers, but this is the best time in the history of science to publish the latest studies on the subject. Researchers may conveniently park any ethics at the door.
What’s remarkable about this editorial, Spears told us, is that it wasn’t really “fake” — he wrote what he really believes about open-access journals that publish anything as long as you pay:
It’s sort of juvenile, really. Unlike a fake article, I would submit that this does express my true views.
Except, of course, his listed affiliation as “Canada Research Chair, Chateau Lafayette campus, Ottawa, Canada:”
My endowed chair is maybe on the fake side.
We’ve contacted the editor of the journal, Azharul Islam, a postdoc at Louisiana State University, who told us he has resigned as editor-in-chief. In regards to this particular article, he told us:
[Intellectual Consortium of Drug Discovery and Technology Development, Inc. (ICDTDI)] policy provides opportunities for authors whose article provide healthy and constructive criticism of the research journals (including ICDTDI’s journals), research publication, and the methodology…The article entitled “SCIENTIFIC COMMUNICATION IN AN ERA OF PROGRESS: LESSONS FROM CELLULAR BIOLOGY” was not peer-reviewed but accepted for publication following the merit of artistic writing by the editorial board member, Tom Spears who succinctly connected a biological phenomenon to the current situation of “predatory” journals. Hence, this article was published online before retraction.
However, there is a clause in the ICDTDI policies which is taking serious action against any misconducts which includes ghostwriting or misrepresentation in any form to publish any literary work within its journals. It may include retraction of the literary work, providing the author opportunity to explain his action before retraction, and in the worst case scenario retraction without prior notice following blacklisting the author.
The primary reason for the withdrawal of the above article from the journal was that the author, Mr. Tom Spears misrepresented himself as “Canada Research Chair” rather than his real position as Scientific Writer for the Ottawa Citizen newspaper to gain a position within the journal’s editorial board and publish his literary article.
Consortium is on Jeffrey Beall’s list of “potential, possible, or probable” predatory publishers. Its website also includes the logo for OMICS International; Spears notes in his story the journal told him it’s “affiliated with OMICS, but not owned by it.” Spears spoofed OMICS last year by submitting a fake article to the Journal of Clinical Research & Bioethics, then commenting on the paper that it was “a steaming pile of dung from start to meaningless finish.” Not surprisingly, that paper was also quickly retracted.
Spears told us after last year’s sting, he didn’t intend to launch another against a predatory publisher:
I was really planning not to do anything with this, because I keep trying to get away from these guys.
Indeed, last month, Spears received a letter from a lawyer representing OMICS, asking him to apologize for submitting the fake article to the Journal of Clinical Research & Bioethics and misrepresenting his affiliation. We asked Spears if he was concerned about any repercussions after he essentially did the same thing to a different journal:
Not too worried yet.
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