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July 2, 2009

Elsevier Pays for Favorable Book Reviews

Posted by John Baez

We all know how Elsevier has been running fake medical journals for the drug company Merck, devoted to saying good things about Merck products. But this isn’t all they’re up to.

For example, on a recent thread here at the nn-Café, Ben pointed out an interesting BBC news report. Apparently Elsevier offered Amazon gift certificates to academics who would write 5-star reviews of their textbook Clinical Psychology!

Caught red-handed, Elsevier blamed this action on an unnamed ‘rogue employee’. They did not say whether any disciplinary action would be taken.

Let me quote the relevant portion of the BBC report:

It’s no surprise that the recent actions of science publisher Elsevier caused a storm. The firm offered a $25 (£15) Amazon voucher to academics who contributed to the textbook Clinical Psychology if they would go on Amazon and Barnes & Noble (a large US books retailer) and give it five stars. Elsevier was quick to disown the actions of its marketing employee and emphasise that it had all been a mistake.

“The company doesn’t pay for positive reviews,” says Tom Reller, director of corporate relations. “This was a recent employee error. We haven’t given out any gift cards under the programme.”

He emphases that the rogue employee had gone a long way beyond normal publishing practice.

“Encouraging interested parties to post book reviews isn’t outside the norm in scholarly publishing, nor is it wrong to offer to nominally compensate people for their time.

“But in all instances the request should be unbiased, with no incentives for a positive review, and that’s where this particular e-mail went too far.”

Does anyone know more about this incident, or similar incidents? It would be very interesting if this were not the only case of Elsevier paying for good book reviews.

Posted at July 2, 2009 11:25 AM UTC

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Re: Elsevier Pays for Favorable Book Reviews

Here are some more details, from Inside Higher Ed:

Here’s what the e-mail – sent to contributors to the textbook – said:

“Congratulations and thank you for your contribution to Clinical Psychology. Now that the book is published, we need your help to get some 5 star reviews posted to both Amazon and Barnes & Noble to help support and promote it. As you know, these online reviews are extremely persuasive when customers are considering a purchase. For your time, we would like to compensate you with a copy of the book under review as well as a $25 Amazon gift card. If you have colleagues or students who would be willing to post positive reviews, please feel free to forward this e-mail to them to participate. We share the common goal of wanting Clinical Psychology to sell and succeed. The tactics defined above have proven to dramatically increase exposure and boost sales. I hope we can work together to make a strong and profitable impact through our online bookselling channels.”

The e-mail message was not intended, of course, for potential purchasers of the book. But one of the contributors – George Tremblay of Antioch University in New England – e-mailed his friends and colleagues his response, which isn’t what Elsevier’s marketing division was looking for:

“As a contributor to an Elsevier textbook, I received the invitation below,” he wrote (above the text of the e-mail from Elsevier). “You might want to reconsider any weight you accord to those Amazon reviews, considering the probability that at least some of them are being bought. I told them this one backfired, as I’d be forwarding it to a listserve of academic psychologists – the very potential audience for the book (which I hasten to add, I actually do hope will succeed, but Elsevier should be ashamed of themselves).”

Tremblay said he has received two calls from Elsevier officials telling him that the e-mail did not reflect company policy and that the officials were “eager to appear responsive.”

Posted by: John Baez on July 3, 2009 8:19 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Elsevier Pays for Favorable Book Reviews

> has received two calls from Elsevier officials

OfficialsSSS ? Plural ? That means that the statement that the whole thing was a mistake of ONE MARKETING employee is a conscious misrepresentation. In this respect the behaviour is like in the case of chaossf: over there Elsevier representatives said “we did not know”, but after they were warned and after they replaced the editor, they still went on to publish the backlog of over 900 papers accepted in the problematic purely peer reviewed period of the old editor, and charged their subscribers for this material of questionable and not reeximined quality. Look: apologies are of NO value whatsoever if the behaviour continues AFTER the offense is acknowledged, and promises given (we did not know, Elsevier is commited to hi standards…).

Posted by: Zoran Skoda on July 7, 2009 8:51 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Elsevier Pays for Favorable Book Reviews

has received two calls from Elsevier officials

OfficialsSSS ? Plural ? That means that the statement that the whole thing was a mistake of ONE MARKETING employee is a conscious misrepresentation.

Actually, I don't read it that way. This plurality consists of two officials claiming that the e-mail was bad; these two officials appeared responsive to Tremblay. This comes after, and contradicts, the one offending e-mail to Tremblay.

Posted by: Toby Bartels on July 7, 2009 9:35 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

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