Respected medical journal turns to dark side
by Tom Spears
A respected Canadian medical journal that was sold to offshore owners last year is now printing scientific junk for hire, but still trading on its original good name.
Experimental & Clinical Cardiology was published in Oakville, Ont., for 17 years and had a solid reputation for printing original medical research. It was sold in 2013, and its new owners say they are in Switzerland, but do their banking in Turks and Caicos. And for $1,200 U.S. they'll print anything even a garbled blend of fake cardiology, Latin grammar and missing graphs submitted by the Citizen.
The journal was flagged last month by Jeffrey Beall, a university librarian in Colorado who compiles a widely-followed list of predatory publishers. These are in the business of printing research that isn't good enough for real science journals. They make it look legitimate, charging a fee to authors desperate to boost their careers.
Now this one has a special Canadian connection. As well, it is demonstrating a new and wildly profitable model for predatory journals. Instead of running a cheap startup website and hunting for clients, it took over the identity and readership of an established business. This is paying off spectacularly. Experimental & Clinical Cardiology published 142 articles in July alone, worth a total of $170,000 U.S. for one month. It operates online only and doesn't bother with editing, so it has almost no costs. The result is sloppy, or worse. Some articles are called 'Enter Paper Title' the layout instructions instead of the intended title. One is filled with visible paragraph markers. Some authors names are missing.
Scientists are worried because academic journals do more than print research. They also screen it by sending it to independent reviewers, experts in the field who can weed out low-quality work. But the predatory journals skip this step. They accept everything verbatim, making it appear that experts have approved it. To test the journal, the Citizen sent in an outrageously bad manuscript. The title is a hodgepodge of medical-sounding words adding up to nothing: VEGF proliferation in cardiac cells contributes to vascular declension.
For the rest we plagiarized a study on HIV but replaced HIV with the word 'cardiacâ' throughout, to make it look (sort of) like cardiology. But it wouldn't impress anyone who knows the subject. We submitted detailed captions for graphs but there are no graphs. (We did a similar sting with other shadowy journals back in April. More than half of the 18 we approached snapped it up.)
Observers are now curious why the publishers are accepting this and other material without reviewing it, why the only phone number (for Toronto) they list is out of date, and why a company claiming to be in Switzerland wants payment sent to Turks and Caicos. Switzerland has banks, lots of them. And the journal's claim that it represents the International Academy of Cardiovascular Sciences? We contacted the academy at its Winnipeg office, and it denies any relationship emphatically. The cardiology journal didn't respond to repeated emails from the Citizen.
We don't have a clue who these people are, said Robert Kalina, who published the journal during its 17 legitimate years in Oakville. His company, Pulsus Publishing Group, has 10 medical journals. The cardiology journal was a money-loser, so Kalina was thrilled when some strangers from New York showed up last year to buy it. A few months later, the New Yorkers sold it to someone Kalina has never met. He thinks the new owners are in the Middle East. (One man who corresponded with the Oakville office a few times gave his name as Mark Williams but his English was awful and Kalina suspects a phony name.) Now the journal is booming.
Every few days, I look at their website and say to myself, these guys are doing well. Sometimes I say to myself I'm in the wrong business, Kalina said.
He notes that the new website makes it impossible to look up a specific author or topic because there's no search engine, only a chronological list of articles. It is very sad, he concludes.
Because scientists count their published articles as credentials, printing low-quality work is like selling fake degrees online. And as Beall asks in his blog, who wants to undergo medical treatment based on substandard or fake research?
Roger Pierson, a medical professor at the University of Saskatchewan, calls the journal's acceptance of the Citizen's bogus article astounding. He adds in an email: This seems like a good way to make an income without doing anything, and defraud the academic/scientific/medical community all at the same time. The sad part is that we have to wade through this crapola (i.e. when looking for recent research) to get the good papers It's an enormous time waster and that time is funded, in essence, by the taxpayers of the world. He calls fake journals truly damaging.
In mid-October, Ottawa will host the launch of the Canadian part of a global network called EQUATOR. Its purpose is to improve the reliability and value of medical research literature by promoting transparent and accurate reporting of research studies. Jeffrey Beall has the final word on the cardiology journal. He calls it heartbreaking.
HOW TO DO CARDIOLOGY RESEARCH IN HALF AN HOUR
We turned an existing HIV study into junk by changing HIV to cardiacâ over and over. Some lowlights from the resulting eight pages:
- cardiac-infected cells
In conclusion, cardiac integrates into genes associated with cancer
- Cell-to-cell spread of cardiac permits ongoing replication despite antiretroviral therapy.
- Persistent cardiac-1 replication is associated with lower antiretroviral drug concentrations
And here's a caption for a chart. Trouble is, there's no chart:
- Fig. 1. Representation of cardiac integration sites sampled through time. Panels (A to C) show the scaled representation of each gene with integration sites mapped for the three participants at three intervals (times in years given along the X-axis)
And the article's title? A meaningless jumble. Declension isn't even a medical term. It means a group of nouns in Latin that behave the same way.
[Note: One does have to wonder how much experimental and therapeutic research involving genetic engineering, synthetic biology, nanotechnology, stem cells, regenerative medicine, human embryo/fetal research, etc., is involved in this dark side of publishing -- especially when such data is then used in clinical trials using vulnerable human patients (including pregnant women and sterile men), as well as used as the basis for drug models concocted by the drug industry? The article first appeared here. -- DNI]