Elsevier publishes fake journal promoting Merck drugs

This is really outrageous if true and ought to lead to some serious consequences for Elsevier. An online magazine called The Scientist has reported that Elsevier published a two-off fake journal with reprinted and summarized articles that presented data favorable to Merck products. And that’s all that was in these journals. They were made to look like Elsevier’s peer-reviewed, indexed scientific journals, but were neither.

(Note: the link above goes to a blogged version of the article that bypasses the requirement to register on the website.)

6 comments on “Elsevier publishes fake journal promoting Merck drugs

  1. From what’s being said, this is a fairly standard practice in the pharmaceutical industry, at least in Asia (or Australasia?).

    The journal came to light because of a witness in the Australian class-action suit against Merck over their product Vioxx leading to a higher incidence of stroke and cardiac arrest. From what I can tell, the plaintiffs argue that Merck knew about these side effects and continued to push their product (until 2004).

    See http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,25311725-5013871,00.html and more from the Australian, etc.

    I agree that publishing a fake journal is outrageous, but marvel at the cultural differences between us and publishers – Elsevier has a whole pharmaceutical publishing division, http://www.elsevier.com.au/pharma/default.html.

    And besides, what is a little ink on paper when you profit from utter disregard for human life?

  2. This matter of the fake medical journal was not just an editorial error on the part of Elsevier that can be addressed with the kind of “apology” they offered. It is a policy, a money-making side business using the reputation of Elsevier to leverage deceptive pharmaceutical industry marketing. There appears to be an entire Elsevier imprint “Exceprta Medica” which consists of this kind of material (see below) of which the “Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine” is perhaps just one example. Of course, we do not know whether there are other Elsevier imprints with covert corporate propaganda camouflaged as legitimate scientific publishing.

    These are not bogus, corporate-sponsored literary journals whose quality and character do not effect the overall public interest greatly. These are scientific/medical journals whose publication and use in research and health policy and practice have significant public impact and where fraudulence is not just a matter of “bad form”, not simply a question of a victimless ethical breach or a violation of editorial standards with no consequence –it is something that borders on the criminal in its insidious effect on society.

    I believe it is the responsibility of librarians and our organizations to specifically expose this conspiracy between Merck and Elsevier to distort medical research and practice. If it is not our responsibility what does it mean to say that we are advocates for our user-communities? Of course, this _kind_ of operation must be denounced in general, but there is no way , given our profession’s intimate connections with Elsevier as a corporate entity, that we can responsibly turn a blind eye to the company’s betrayal of the trust of those whose interests we help safeguard.

    Librarians are major customers and clients of Elsevier. We have other issues with them of significance. But this one rises to the level where we must make it clear that we cannot and will not countenance silently this kind of corrupt, deceptive behavior and that all the self-serving corporate bribery of the American Library Association in the form of Elsevier “support” for the association cannot buy our complicity in protecting the reputation of Elsevier from the sanctions is so richly deserves. Librarians do not have clout in many areas of life, but here is one in which we certaily do and where it is clearly within our professional responsibilities to exercise it.

    The American Library Association and its relevant divisions must demand that Elsevier come clean about this editorial policy that corrupts the research process and the information environment and insist that the firm commit itself to standards of integrity and openness commensurate to the key role many of its fields of publication play in the public interest.

    The Social Responsibilities Round Table of ALA should entertain a resolution of its own, based on our own perspectives on this issue, to represent our position on the distortion and debasement of research and science by corporate greed and collusion of profit-making business entities conspiring against the public interest.

    Mark C. Rosenzweig
    Progressive Librarian

  3. This item on the Ouroboros blog shows that there is more than the AJBJM involved. I meantr to post this with the last comment.
    The plot thickens: More fake journals in the Elsevier/Merck story
    Posted by ouroboros

    Earlier in the week we learned about Elsevier publishing a fake “journal” for the pharmaceutical giant Merck. The Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine presented itself as a peer-reviewed publication with a prestigious editorial board, but in reality consisted entirely of reprinted articles and material favorable to Merck products like Fosamax. I assume that copies of the journal were used as marketing material, stuffed into conference schwag bags and clinicians’ hospital mailboxes — one step down from those ads that look like single-column articles in the newspaper, since neither Elsevier nor Merck took the trouble to write “ADVERTISEMENT” in little block letters at the top of AJBJM.

    Now, a cunning bit of “forensic librarianship” has revealed that this may have been merely the tip of the iceberg, and that AJBJM may have been one of a large stable of fake journals (”Excerpta Medica”), all devoted to accomplishing similar goals in different fields. In other words, Elsevier didn’t run a few copies of a bogus journal — it ran a whole bogus label. The original analysis can be found at Bibliographic Wilderness, with commentary at Caveat Lector and Open Reading Frame.

    (Hat tip to @kaythaney of Science Commons, whose tweet this morning pointed me in the direction of this news.)

  4. Mr. Rosenzweig said it well. We should not be complacent, therefore, complicit in this kind of behavior (indeed, criminal behavior).

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