Thursday, June 4, 2009

Fraud Watch: Elsevier makes an announcement

Last month I wrote about the sci-tech-medical publisher Elsevier: how it had "published" several more-or-less fake journals in the service of Merck Pharma. Elsevier now acknowledges that those publications "should not have been called journals" and that it "... will review practices related to all article reprint, compilation or custom publications and set out guidelines on content, permission, use of imprint and repackaging to ensure that such publications are not confused with Elsevier's core peer reviewed journals and that the sponsorship of any publication is clearly disclosed."*

Elsevier's corporate position could be no other than this. They're demanding that we presume their innocence.

Since the fraudulent publications [those identified so far] were published between 2000 and 2005, negotiations leading up to publication probably began in the late 1990s. Thirty years ago, several STM publishers were already making arrangements with pharma houses although so far as I know, none sold their souls quite so blatantly. Hard to believe that in those decades, nobody within Elsevier looked enviously at those big bucks and said, "I want me some of that." Hard to believe that in any well-run company, project after project came and went, and nobody at any level from freelance copy-editor to the president stopped to wonder about the rules they were edited by, or who the editors were, or the niceties of production, or where the money came from for manufacturing and who approved those budgets, or why journals never had any need for order fulfillment, or where those numbers on the bottom line came from, or what they meant. Nobody ever wondered.

Controller: "Now this, this $500,000 -- what's this half million in income from?"
Random Elsevier Employee: "Merck bought a half million dollars worth of copies of a journal. That's so cool."
C: "What journal? We have to keep track of these things!"
REE: "Um, Journal of House Finch Cardiology, March of oh-one, I think it was."
C: "Journal of House Finch Cardiology? We publish that? I never heard of it. Does it have an outside owner? Is it a nonprofit? Do we own it? Do we pay the editor-in-chief any kind of stipend? We never had any start-up costs that I recall. How many editorial and production employees are assigned to it?"
REE: "I'm not sure. There's a lot of freelancers out there."
C: "And subscribers? We don't have any subscription income coming --" shuffles through papers "-- in from JHFC. Are we claiming a subscriber base when we sell advertising? Because it's illegal to claim subscriptions if we don't have any. We can be audited, you know."
REE: "I don't know. That's above my pay grade."
C: "Ah! That's all right then."

That conversation never happened. Anywhere inside Elsevier? At any time over the past twelve years? Honestly, that doesn't sound like the people I know in STM publishing, who are some of the most intelligent people in publishing, and who are often the first people to notice that the king is buck naked.

*It was reported at today.

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