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Impact factor. An October Science story examining paper acceptance practices at open-access journals has prompted a publishing association to take action against several publishers.

Impact factor. An October Science story examining paper acceptance practices at open-access journals has prompted a publishing association to take action against several publishers.

C. Smith/Science

Open-Access Group Sanctions Three Publishers After Science 'Sting'

A leading trade association for the publishers of free, open-access (OA) scientific journals has expelled two of its members, and put a third on probation, as a result of a controversial investigative journalism project published earlier this year by Science. The Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association (OASPA) announced today on its blog that it is terminating the memberships of publishers Hikari Ltd. and Dove Medical Press and placing the membership of SAGE Publications “under review” for 6 months.

Last month, reporter John Bohannon sparked extensive debate with a story, part of a larger special issue on how scientists communicate with each other, which documented lax standards for accepting manuscripts at a number of OA journals. He found that dozens of free journals accepted a fake and obviously flawed study that he had created. The “sting” prompted fierce debate, with some critics arguing that Bohannon’s methods were flawed and designed to undermine the OA movement, while others said the story highlighted an important problem in the rapidly growing OA industry.

When the story appeared, OASPA, which includes more than 50 major scientific publishers and related organizations among its members, issued a statement noting that Bohannon’s story “provides some useful data about the scale of, and the problems associated with … low-quality publishers,” and promising to “issue a fuller response … once we have had a chance to review the data in more detail.”

In today’s statement, OASPA says its review revealed problems serious enough to merit action at three journals that accepted the fake paper: Clinical and Experimental Medical Sciences, published by Hikari Ltd. of Ruse, Bulgaria; Drug Design, Development and Therapy, published by Dove Medical Press, which has offices in the United States and the United Kingdom; and the Journal of International Medical Research, published by SAGE Publications of Thousand Oaks, California.

“[T]here was a lack of sufficient rigour in editorial processes at all three of the journals in question, and that for Hikari and Dove the issues may extend wider than the single affected journal,” the group writes in its statement. Hikari and Dove can reapply for membership in 12 months, the group says, while it will consider readmitting SAGE for full membership in 6 months “if there is evidence that its processes have been sufficiently strengthened.”

The groups says it has also moved to “strengthen its own membership procedures,” in part by adding “more detailed questions about the editorial process” to its membership application.

“In conclusion, although we have unfortunately now terminated memberships as a result of the Science news article, positive outcomes have also arisen from its publication,” the group writes.

A Hikari employee reached by ScienceInsider declined comment on the announcement. Dove did not respond to requests for comment.

In a statement, SAGE wrote: “We welcome OASPA’s investigation into the quality of research published by its members and will fully cooperate with the 6-month review. We have already taken steps to ensure that the peer review process of the Journal of International Medical Research is much more robust and are confident that OASPA will find our processes more than sufficiently strengthened when they undertake the review. Any paper with similar flaws would not get through either stage of the peer review process of JIMR today.”

“SAGE is committed to ensuring that the peer review and acceptance process for all of our journals, whether traditional subscription-based or open access, is robust and to working with OASPA to ensure this. We are pleased that OASPA has recognized our efforts and that they will allow us to formally remain a member of the organization while our official status is put under review.”

You can see SAGE’s full statement here.

*Update, 11 November, 5:25 p.m.: SAGE's statement has been added to the article.