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May 4, 2009

The Foibles of Science Publishing

Posted by John Baez

The latest news about Elsevier journals and Scientific American.

Fans of Chaos, Solitons and Fractals will be pleased to hear that Elsevier also publishes a phony medical journal: the Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine! It’s run by the pharmaceutical company Merck, the secret goal being to advertise Merck products:

In a mealy-mouthed statement, Elsevier says that it “does not today” consider this publication “a journal” — despite its title.

You can see PDF files of the first two issues here, together with an analysis of them:

Note the “honorary editorial board”.

Meanwhile, Scientific American may have taken a turn for the worse. Ad pages are down 18 percent this year. Now the editor in chief and president are gone, and staff have been cut 5 percent:

Hayes is a senior writer for American Scientist, but he seems to be bemoaning rather gloating over this turn of events. Bercovici is a bit more snide.

By the way: I urge everyone to subscribe to American Scientist, which is really quite good. In the latest issue, I enjoyed this article:

It argues for an origin of life in what are now metabolic processes like the citric acid cycle, rather than in information-transmission processes (as in the RNA world hypothesis.)

The physicist in me likes the idea of using thermodynamics to think about the origin of life.

Posted at May 4, 2009 1:17 AM UTC

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14 Comments & 1 Trackback

Re: The Foibles of Science Publishing

Thanks for the link to The origin of Life. Thermodynamics and life science is a proud tradition dating back to D’Arcy Thompson (On Growth and Form) and Schrodinger (What is Life?). I’ve done some work here you might find interesting. link

Posted by: Nick Porcino on May 4, 2009 6:33 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: The Foibles of Science Publishing

RNA world is a hypothesis with working experiments that actualy make RNA molecules reproduce, evolve and compete, with evolving strategies, for resources like living life. See tha works of Gerald F. Joyce and collaborators, some summaries of their recent research 1,2, 3, 4 The article on RNA species evolving competing strategies can be freely accessed at PNAS.

Does the methabolic origin for life model have also a nice working experimental model?

Posted by: Daniel de Franša MTd2 on May 4, 2009 3:05 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Scripps RNA; Re: The Foibles of Science Publishing

Scripps Research Institute (2009, January 10). How Did Life Begin? RNA That Replicates Itself Indefinitely Developed For First Time.
ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 10, 2009

ScienceDaily (Jan. 10, 2009) — One of the most enduring questions is how life could have begun on Earth. Molecules that can make copies of themselves are thought to be crucial to understanding this process as they provide the basis for heritability, a critical characteristic of living systems. New findings could inform biochemical questions about how life began.

Now, a pair of Scripps Research Institute scientists has taken a significant step toward answering that question. The scientists have synthesized for the first time RNA enzymes that can replicate themselves without the help of any proteins or other cellular components, and the process proceeds indefinitely….

Posted by: Jonathan Vos Piost on May 4, 2009 4:51 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: The Foibles of Science Publishing


Via Peter Suber comes word that Elsevier published fourteen other dubious Australasian Journals in various medical fields.

The story of science publishing sometimes sounds like the Abridged History of Russia: “Somehow, it got worse.”

Posted by: Blake Stacey on May 9, 2009 1:49 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: The Foibles of Science Publishing

Bob Grant reports in The Scientist,

An Elsevier spokesperson told The Scientist in an email that 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. These titles were: the Australasian Journal of General Practice, the Australasian Journal of Neurology, the Australasian Journal of Cardiology, the Australasian Journal of Clinical Pharmacy, the Australasian Journal of Cardiovascular Medicine, and the Australasian Journal of Bone & Joint [Medicine]. Elsevier declined to provide the names of the sponsors of these titles, according to the company spokesperson.

Via Ben Goldacre.

Posted by: Blake Stacey on May 9, 2009 4:31 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: The Foibles of Science Publishing

Doctor not told about Vioxx ‘role’

From the article:

PHARMACEUTICAL giant Merck & Co named an Australian arthritis expert as an editorial board member of the phoney medical journal it used to promote its drug Vioxx without even telling him.

The Federal Court yesterday heard James Bertouch, a chairman of rheumatology at Sydney’s Prince of Wales Hospital and Merck’s first witness called to defend a class action, was shocked to see his name on the Merck-sponsored journal, which the company tried to pass off as an independent publication.

Posted by: Greg Egan on May 9, 2009 2:32 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: The Foibles of Science Publishing

The story of Elsevier and the drug company Merck is in tomorrow’s Guardian (British newspaper; don’t know if it’s only in the online version).

An un-sub-edited, hence slightly more lively, version of the story is here on Ben Goldacre’s site. He winningly describes the fake academic journals publishing only positive things about Merck drugs as ‘fanzines’.

Posted by: Tom Leinster on May 9, 2009 4:29 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: The Foibles of Science Publishing

Wow: the mathematicians have taken over Ben Goldacre’s comments section. Something to do with this blog, I suspect.

Posted by: Tom Leinster on May 9, 2009 9:14 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: The Foibles of Science Publishing

After reading some of the comments at Goldacre’s blog:

I just want to point out that placing your article in the public domain is a reasonable response to a copyright request from a journal. This gives them all of the rights they desire (eg translation) and gives you all of the rights you desire (eg posting a copy on your website).

Posted by: saul on May 9, 2009 11:29 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: The Foibles of Science Publishing

Thanks for the link to Ben Goldacre’s post, Blake and Tom.

Merck sounds bloody awful:

The first fun thing to come out in the Australian one is email documentation showing that staff at Merck made a “hit list” of doctors who were critical of the company, or of the drug. This list had words like “neutralise”, “neutralised” and “discredit” next to the names of various doctors. “We may need to seek them out and destroy them where they live,” said one email, from a Merck employee.

Posted by: John Baez on May 9, 2009 9:24 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: The Foibles of Science Publishing

I was lucky enough to go to a few lectures by Eric Smith at a school on complex systems. He’s an excellent speaker and the subject is fascinating. Interestingly he started his career in high energy physics and worked on string theory for a while. See his CV. He’s well worth looking out for.

Posted by: Jonathan on May 10, 2009 10:49 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: The Foibles of Science Publishing

Would a publisher accept a completely nonsensical manuscript if the authors were willing to pay Open Access publication charges? Philip Davis decided to find out.

Posted by: Thomas on June 11, 2009 11:00 PM | Permalink | Reply to this
Read the post Elsevier Pays for Favorable Book Reviews
Weblog: The n-Category Café
Excerpt: Elsevier offered gift certificates to academics to write 5-star reviews of a book on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
Tracked: July 2, 2009 11:49 AM

Re: The Foibles of Science Publishing

There are Physics Foibles. Can you name some?

Posted by: melvin goldstein on November 28, 2010 8:50 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: The Foibles of Science Publishing

Numbers are the Supreme Court of science. However Godel proved that we may not prove everything using numbers. Physics needs numbers. There must be Physics Foibles. Always more to prove.

Posted by: Melvin Goldstein on July 21, 2012 7:14 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

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