Merck paid Elsevier to create fake medical journal

In a delightful case of hypocrisy, the mega-academic publisher Elsevier produced a fake medical journal - with the superficial appearance of legitimacy - for money. Apparently the pharmaceutical company Merck needed another journal to publish favorable articles about Vioxx, and Elsevier was happy to oblige. This is on top of Merck's activity paying doctors to list their names as authors on studies favorable to Vioxx - studies that the doctors had little or no involvement in - which I blogged about in May and October of last year.

The new findings were reported recently in The Scientist (free subscription required), and they came to light in The Australian a few weeks prior to that. We only learned about this fraud - and that's what it is - because of a lawsuit filed by an Australian man who suffered a heart attack while on Vioxx. In testimony at the trial, a medical editor testified that
"Only close inspection of the journals, along with knowledge of medical journals and publishing conventions, enabled me to determine that the Journal was not, in fact, a peer reviewed medical journal, but instead a marketing publication for MSD[A]." (MSDA is a subsidiary of Merck.)
The fake journal is called The Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine, and it is published by Elsevier.

Why is this especially hypocritical? Well, it shows that large publishers, including Elsevier, who have been opposing open access so vigorously, are, well, just blowing smoke in our eyes (to put it politely). Elsevier and others claim that they are guardians of academic quality and integrity, and that they provide an invaluable (or at least very expensive) service by editing the many journals that they sell to libraries and scientists around the world. As the open access movement has gained momentum, they even created an anti-open-access lobbying group, PRISM which they claim will help "to safeguard the scientific and medical peer-review process."


Now it turns out that this is just the tip of the iceberg. As The Scientist reported last week, Elsevier published not one, but at least 6 fake journals since the year 2000, all sponsored by (still-unnamed) pharmaceutical companies. Remarkable.

As a fellow blogger commented:
"The bitter irony is that Elsevier, along with the other major academic publishers, have spent the last few years ceaselessly lobbying against the open access movement, on the grounds that open access journals can’t be trusted to maintain the high quality of peer review that the commercial publishers provide."
The hypocrisy is breathtaking. It's stories like these that feed the paranoia of anti-big-pharma groups and other conspiracy theorists. Once in a while, there really is a conspiracy.

p.s. the blogosphere has many posts on this episode. See Jonathan Eisen's post, which has links to others.

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