Elsevier, the publisher of Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders (RASD) and Research in Developmental Disabilities (RIDD) is no stranger to controversy. It became the focus of a campaign in 2012 because of its pricing strategies and restrictive practices. Elsevier responded that the prices it charged were fair because of the added value it brought to the publishing process. Among other things they claimed that: "We pay editors who build a distinguished brand that is set apart from 27,000 other journals. We identify peer reviewers."
Well, the claim of added value is exploded by the recent revelations of goings-on at RASD and RIDD as documented in my recent blogposts here and here. One of the points to emerge from a detailed scrutiny of publications data is that not only was there evidence of the editor publishing numerous papers in his own journal: in addition, he was frequently bypassing the peer review process altogether. Evidence on this point is indirect, because the published journals do not document the peer review process itself. However, it is possible to look at the lag from receipt of the paper to acceptance, which can be extracted separately for each individual paper. I have looked at this further using merged data on publication lag with information available from Web of Science to create a dataset that contains all papers published in RIDD between 2004 and 2014, accompanied by the dates for receipt and acceptance of papers.
I was able to extract this information for 2060 papers. There were 23 papers for which the date information was not available: 15 of these were authored by the editor. The median publication lag for the remainder is shown by year in Figure 1. This shows a fascinating progression.
|Figure 1. Acceptance lags in days, and % papers with revision|
Between 2004-2006, it seems that RIDD was a perfectly normal journal. The lag from receipt to acceptance was 3-4 months, and nearly all papers underwent some revision during that period. Fewer than 4% of papers were accepted within 3 weeks. In 2007, the sister journal RASD was launched, and the editor started to accept papers with shorter lags and without revision. During 2008-2011, the median lag between receipt and acceptance fell to two weeks or less, and only a minority of papers underwent revision. Subsequently, this pattern of editorial behaviour was reversed to some extent, and by 2014 we were back to a median lag of 80 days with 78% of papers undergoing revision.
Nevertheless, all was not well. In my previous post, I noted that a group of people with editorial associations with these journals, Sigafoos, O'Reilly and Lancioni, had published numerous papers in RASD and RIDD. I had analysed the acceptance lags for RASD and shown they were substantially shorter than for other authors. Figure 2 shows part of a larger figure which can be found here; it demonstrates that remarkably short acceptance times for papers with Sigafoos as author (usually accompanied by Lancioni and O'Reilly) were also seen in RIDD. The full dataset on which these figures are based is available here*.
|Figure 2: Lag from receipt to acceptance for RIDD papers 2010-2014. Black dots show papers authored by Sigafoos|
It is difficult to believe that nobody at Elsevier was aware of what was going on. In 2011, at the height of the rapid turnaround times, there was a fivefold increase from the 2004 level of submissions. Many journals have grown in size over this period, but this was massive. Furthermore, the publisher was recording the dates of receipt and acceptance with each paper: did nobody actually look at what they were publishing and think that something was odd? This was not a brief hiccup: it went on for years. Either the publisher was slumbering on the job, or they were complicit with the editor.
Most academics find publishing a paper a stressful and tedious business. How nice, then, you might think, to have a journal that speeds the process along and avoids the need to grapple with reviewer comments. I have heard from several people who tell me they published a paper in RIDD; when it was accepted without review, they were surprised, but hardly in a mood to complain about it. So does it matter?
Well, yes. It matters because RIDD and RASD are presented to the world as peer-reviewed journals, backed up by the 'distinguished brand' of Elsevier. We live in times when there is competition for jobs and prizes, and these will go to those who have plenty of publications in peer-reviewed journals, preferably with high citations. If an editor bypasses peer review and encourages self-citation, then the quality of the work in the journal is misrepresented and some people gain unfair advantages from this. The main victims here are those who published in RASD and RIDD in good faith, thinking that acceptance in the journal was a marker of quality. They will be feeling pretty bitter about the 'added value' of Elsevier right now, as the value of their own work will be degraded by association with these journals.
It is not surprising that Elsevier wants to focus on the future rather than on the past. They are a signatory to the Committee on Publication Ethics, and the discovery that two of their journals have flouted numerous of the COPE guidelines is an embarrassment that could have commercial implications. But I'm afraid that, while I understand their position, I don't think this is good enough. Those who published good work in journals where the publisher failed in its duty of oversight deserve an acknowledgement that there were problems and an apology.
* Update 23rd March 2015: Data now added for Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders in a separate Excel file.
I could not agree more. And besides Elsevier apologizing to the authors for conning them into publishing in a fake academic journal, it should refund the subscription fees to universities for those two journals as well as any publication charges to the authors. Academic publishing has become all about money, so let's not reduce this to some sort of ideal that allows them to get away with an apology. This looks like it's fraud and should be investigated as such by the authorities so that publishers, editors, authors, and universities that derived a monetary benefit through the alleged misrepresentation are forced to pay restitution.ReplyDelete
I agree with you Dorothy. I don't think they need to only apologise, I think they should apologise, reduce the prices of these journals or refund the subscription fees and publication charges and in my opinion tell others of this serious issue.ReplyDelete
They need to take this issue seriously and by telling others of this issue, it may reduce the respect the journal gets. This in turn will reduce its impact factor and make it less internationally-renowned. Therefore, the editors will have to do something to make the journal credible. I find this behaviour despicable.
The evidence may be indirect, but it is still evidence that can help science.
There is certainly enough evidence of fraud to launch formal investigations by the authorities in the US (not sure about European laws). Those investigations would either turn up evidence or not in the journals' publication management systems' files, emails, or testimony. If there is nothing there, great! But the analysis on this blog so far certainly suggests the need for official investigation.Delete
Dorothy's really knocked it out of the park with this post. Sigafoos should retract all of the papers featured in "Figure 2" and resubmit them for proper peer review - just for starters.ReplyDelete
I'll say! Sigafoos's, Elsevier's, and Johnny Matson's Wikipedia entries are starting to reflect this scandal. They seem to be hoping it'll all just go away. But this isn't like some politician's escapade that will disappear from the news the moment someone else gets caught. If true, the way they ran these journals undermines fundamental principles and trust in science. They need to release statements that either explain it all away in a credible manner or admit they cannot and open investigations at Elsevier, LSU, and Victoria Uni.Delete
I think Elsevier need to answer the following questions:ReplyDelete
1) Did anyone at Elsevier know about the editorial practices at RIDD and RASD during the period this occured?
2) If yes: why did they not act?
3) If no: why not? Can we be sure that there aren't other similarly compromised journals still being published by Elsevier?
There is a fair point. However, I have this feeling that they must know, yet did not act as it may allow them to have some of the best journals.Delete
Remember, they have cognition, brain research, neuroimage and current biology some of the top journals in their field. It will be surprising if they did not know. I think we need to look at the history when each journal started to come in. For example, current biology was acquired by 1998 and RISD came in 1988, Mateson soon came after. Therefore, these journals may allowed Elsevier to have greater subscription fee, telling people this is where the good journals go and if may have allowed this behaviour to continue.
If Elsevier, Matson, Sigafoos and the others get away with this without an investigation it will only encourage others to do the same. If their are no consequences for fraud, which is what this looks like, and they are allowed to keep the money they got out of doing this, everyone else will realize they need to do the same to compete for citation share, subscription pricing, grants, salary, and everything else.Delete
See the following article for what sounds like similar behaviour in another field: http://www.iflscience.com/health-and-medicine/dozens-scientific-papers-withdrawn-probably-more-comeReplyDelete
Many contributors to the present discussion will agree with the concluding comment: "When fraud is exposed it can have devastating consequences for innocent co-workers, and is fodder for science's enemies".
Thank you for the link. With billions of euros at stake in grants and salaries, suicides, and bad treatment outcomes due to bogus medical tests it's time for the police to step in and investigate. This behavior can't be written off as a mere ethical lapse. It is blatant, criminal, fraud that puts people's lives at risk. If the universities that employ these people don't investigate them the universities should also be held liable.Delete
Failure to expose the fraud exposes innocent colleagues to worse consequences as they are passed over for grants, awards, jobs, promotions, recognition while cheaters are rewarded.Delete
I notice that Johhny Matson is still editor of Review Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders published by Springer. The managing editor is Michael L Matson. Editorial Board includes Jeff Sigafoos and Mark O'Reilly. Hopefully the Review process might be a little more stringent!ReplyDelete
These people have no shame apparently....Delete
National Public Radio's Science Friday had a segment today on "Publication Pollution" in science journals.ReplyDelete
"According to medical ethicist Art Caplan, science and medical journals are plagued by “publication pollution”—plagiarism, fraud, and predatory publishing. Caplan says that the problems persist because of denial within the scientific and medical communities."
Google "Are Scientific Journals Clogged With Publication Pollution" to listen to the podcast
Love the term "publication pollution." Describes perfectly the toxic effect that will ultimately kill research by making it impossible to trust anything published.Delete