PLG statement on Elsevier’s fake journals

Progressive Librarians Guild Calls for Elsevier to End Corrupt Publishing Practices and for Library Associations to Take Advocacy Role on Behalf of Scientific Integrity

Progressive Librarians Guild. May 12, 2009.

Elsevier, which describes itself as the “world’s leading publisher of scientific and health information,” was partner to the efforts of Merck & Co. to promote a hazardous drug that caused harm to the health of many unwitting victims and compromised the medical judgment of physicians worldwide. (1)

The scandal involving Elsevier (2) has surfaced in the course of a class-action suit against pharmaceutical giant, Merck & Co, Inc., for continuing to sell its anti-inflammatory drug, Vioxx, after it became aware of the drug’s potential cardiovascular risks. Merck paid Excerpta Medica, a division of Elsevier, to publish a compilation of reprinted articles as a fake journal, the Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine (AJBJM), to appear as a legitimate, scholarly peer reviewed medical journal, the type that Elsevier publishes. AJBJM carried articles about Vioxx without disclosure that the publication was sponsored by Merck itself as part of its efforts to continue to promote its very profitable but increasingly questionable and dangerous anti-inflammatory. Elsevier, in publishing and distributing this bogus journal, was partner to the efforts of Merck to promote a hazardous drug that caused harm to the health of many unwitting victims and compromised the medical judgment of physicians worldwide.

Elsevier has apologized for its publication of AJBJM, stating that in publishing the fake journal it did not meet its own criteria for “high standards for disclosure.” PLG asserts that the matter of AJBJM was not just an accidental editorial error on the part of Elsevier. It was a money-making business using the reputation of Elsevier to leverage deceptive pharmaceutical industry marketing of a harmful product. In fact a total of six titles in a “series of sponsored article publications” were put out by their Australia office and bore the Excerpta Medica imprint from 2000 to 2005. (3).

The Progressive Librarians Guild believes it is the responsibility of librarians and their organizations to expose the conspiracy between Merck and Elsevier to distort medical research and subvert the peer review process. If it is not the responsibility of information professionals, what does it mean to say that we are advocates for our user-communities? This type of corporate PR packaged and distributed as scientific research must be denounced as deceptive, destructive and dangerous, in spite of our profession’s intimate and unavoidable connections with Elsevier, one of the library world’s biggest vendors and a major corporate supporter of the American Library Association and the Medical Library Association. Can librarians responsibly turn a blind eye to the company’s betrayal of the trust of those whose interests we help safeguard?

The American Library Association, specifically the Social Responsibilities Round Table (SRRT), must demand that Elsevier be transparent about its editorial policies and practices that corrupt the research process and the information environment. ALA and other library organizations, such as the Medical Library Association, must insist that Elsevier and its divisions reveal all covert corporate involvements in sponsored pseudo-scholarship, especially the role of MECCs (medical education and communication companies), which are paid to “ghostwrite” disingenuous articles. Elsevier must commit itself to ending such activity and must apply consistent standards of research integrity and transparency commensurate to the key role many of its fields of publication play in spheres affecting the public interest.

The Progressive Librarians Guild decries the distortion and abuse of research and science by corporate greed exemplified by Elsevier and Merck, and calls upon librarians to educate the public and researchers about all instances of collusion of academic and scholarly publishing with profit-making business entities in palming-off corporate propaganda through deceptive publishing practices, which debase scholarship and science, conspire against the public interest, and pollute the well of genuine scholarly information and communication.

(1) Bob Grant, “Merck published fake journal,” The Scientist 30th April 2009.

(2) *Elsevier, which describes itself as the “world’s leading publisher of scientific and health information,” is a division of Reed-Elsevier, a major global publisher of scientific, professional, and business journals (the parent company includes RBI-US which owns Library Journal, one of the foremost professional journals in the field of librarianship). Recently, the company’s involvement in the global arms trade as a major organizer of international arms fairs made it the target of a successful international corporate campaign – the firm reluctantly divested itself of the business – which called into question Elsevier’s corporate ethics. See “Reed Elsevier and the arms trade revisited.” By Pelly M, Gilmore I. Lancet. 2007 Mar 24; 369 (9566):987; discussion 989-90.

(3) Bob Grant, “Elsevier Published 6 Fake Journals.” The Scientist, May 7, 2009.