‘F for Fake’ in peer-reviewed journals

F for Fake was the film master Orson Welles’ last released film; it was a small documentary on the art forger Elmer de Hory, with a side serving of Clifford Irving (the author of the fake Howard Hughes autobiography), and explored the nature of authorship and authenticity. We now have a burgeoning ‘F for Fake’ scandal in peer-reviewed open-access scientific journals which can’t–or won’t –detect bogus research. A Science Magazine (American Association for the Advancement of Science–AAAS) journalist, John Bohannon, drafted a ‘spoof’ paper which was submitted to 304 peer-reviewed, open-access journals. It detailed the anticancer qualities of a chemical derived from lichen. Despite the complete fabrication of the discovery, the researcher and his university in Africa, as well as its obviously flawed methodology, over half accepted it for publication. Many of these open-access journals are ‘pay-for-play’ with murky origins, but others are owned by well-known publishers such as Wolters Kluwer, Sage and Elsevier. The article concludes that subscription journals are not immune, either. For those of us who seek published research on the efficacy of studies on healthcare technology, especially those from the developing world, it is ‘Trust, But Verify’ time. Who’s Afraid of Peer Review? (Science). A digest of the Science article plus extra stings from subscription journals–including Science–appeared in Quartz (Atlantic Media). 

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