Credit: biblioteekje (Flickr)Credit: biblioteekje (Flickr)

Who Was Stung – Open Access or Peer-Review?

by • October 10, 2013 • Neeley Remmers, Science Communication, Science NewsComments (0)3355

Neeley Remmers

You may have noticed this week that the Science world is abuzz with talk about Open Access Journals and the dangers of publishing in these journals versus traditional. The debate about whether or not to publish in Open Access journals is not new, but the debate has escalated due to the sting article published in Science written by John Bohannon. After reading the article, instead of questioning the credibility of Open Access Journals I was left questioning the failed peer review process that resulted in the acceptance of the fake articles. If you are unaware of the controversy behind the Open Access movement, here is a brief synopsis. As you may have noticed, online publishing is the hottest thing since sliced bread in the world of publication (just think of the huge sales brought in by the invention of tablets and e-readers). This has led to the creation of online scientific journals that earn a profit through authorship fees rather than relying on subscription fees like most magazines, and they publish their articles online so that the general public can read them for free. Those who favor traditional magazines (think Science, Nature, Cell) that require an active subscription or require you to purchase the article before you can read it, claim that the Open Access movement has led to the increased publication of poor-quality science. Some take it even further to say that by publishing in Open Access journals, you effectively drive your career into the dumpster as these journals are a “dumping-ground” for articles that are rejected at the “more prestigious” traditional journals.

Personally, I commend the Open Access movement for making research articles more readily available. I cannot count the number of times I would run into a road block with literature searches because my library did not have a subscription to a journal that published an article that had useful information for my projects. And let’s face it, unless you are a full-time professor with a couple R01 grants supporting your salary, it simply isn’t feasible for most to pay $30+ for an article that may or may not be entirely useful for your project.

Getting back to the sting, here is a brief summary of what went down for those who have not read the article yet. Bohannon composed an article containing data so inaccurate he claimed that anyone with a high school level knowledge of chemistry could recognize the lack of scientific soundness. He chose to submit this falsified paper to over 300 Open Access journals where just over 50% of the journals accepted the paper after asking for trivial revisions. In an article written by Curt Rice reflecting on this sting, you will find a more in-depth explanation of the sting itself and Open Access movement than what I provided here, a look into the peer review system, the corruption that comes with heightened pressure to publish, and flaws with the current publication process. Rice points out that what this sting really brings to light is the corruption that has ensued in the last few years in publishing by charging overpriced author fees, which can be seen in both Open Access and traditional journals, and the flaws in the current peer-review system that allows bad science to get published and how all journals are vulnerable to this. This in turn, is in-part facilitated by the increased pressure on scientists to publish and increased work-load of reviewers struggling to keep up (see Celine’s recent blog for more thoughts on the current state of scientific communication).

Personally, I agree with Rice in that this sting does not point a bad finger at Open Access (even though it was written in that context), but rather points out the flaws in the current scientific publication system and calls for changes to be made. Moral of the story, this sting really enforces the practice of critically reading articles to evaluate their scientific soundness on your own before accepting the results and conclusions

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