Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Argh, these pharmaceuticals...

This is the second article in the series of "Argh, these...", which brings to your attention things that "are, but shouldn't be" (The first one being "Argh, there reviewers...")

This was recently published in The Scientist [Merck published fake journal]:
"Merck paid an undisclosed sum to Elsevier to produce several volumes of a publication that had the look of a peer-reviewed medical journal, but contained only reprinted or summarized articles--most of which presented data favorable to Merck products--that appeared to act solely as marketing tools with no disclosure of company sponsorship".
(You may need a subscription to read the full article. This just means that you have to register).

So... WTF, man?
"The claim that Merck had created a journal out of whole cloth to serve as a marketing tool was first reported by The Australian about three weeks ago. It came to light in the context of a civil suit filed by Graeme Peterson, who suffered a heart attack in 2003 while on Vioxx, against Merck and its Australian subsidiary, Merck, Sharp & Dohme Australia (MSDA)."
Vioxx was one of the drugs being not only advertised in this so-called journal entitled "The Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine", but also "positively reviewed" by 9 out of 29 articles in one of the issues that were recovered by The Scientist. The journal doesn't even have a web site! Further, it featured some 'review' articles which only cited 1 or 2 articles...

So, as Bayman points out, would have we noticed this situation if it hadn't been by this man who is suing? Is it possible that other 'supposedly' legitimate journals exist, which are in fact being supported, without disclosure, by pharmaceutical companies?

[Hat Tip]:Bayblab



el astudillo said...

It is not strange this story... today it seems very easy to have a journal... even some publishing companies are offering to open your journal, even with open access, just to make money. I believe we need more serious tools and systems to keep track of a journal, besides the index factor (which also, as you posted before, can be discussed).
Good work, as always. You can visit me at

Alejandro Montenegro-Montero said...

Thanks for your comments.

It just seems ridiculous that things like this can happen. Or maybe the word I’m looking for is embarrassing…. We should, as Bayman points out, be cautious, as this may not be an isolated case.

I don’t think the problem is related to the “seriousness” (as you point out) of journal metrics or to journal metrics at all, though.

If anything, this may be related to “journal reviewing”: analyzing journals before they are, for example, indexed.

And of course, this exists.

Even if starting a journal is as easy as you suggest, those ephemeral low-quality publications won’t get indexed in the big electronic databases (such as Medline, Scopus, etc.) and will only reach a limited number of people. As you may be aware of, you have to apply to get indexed in them, and fulfill several requirements (including having a website, DOI, certain amount of articles published, regularity in publication, etc).

So, journals will be reviewed first. And yes… I know there are several crappy journals around that are indeed indexed, but to the very least, they have a website and an editor!
(More than you can say about "The Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine")

And also, if you are not indexed, you don’t get an IF.

So, even though we could discuss the importance of journal metrics and their implications (and importantly, their misuse) I don’t think they are related to the matter being discussed here: publishing misconduct due to undisclosed conflicts of interest, and just straightforward marketing and deceit.