A blog at The Scientist magazine recently reported on a “fake” peer-reviewed journal that drug manufacturer Merck created along with the help of well-known academic publisher Elsevier. The journal was handed out to medical professionals as a way to advertise several Merck products.
The journal in question, the Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine, had the appearance of a typical scholarly journal, but it wasn’t.
It may have fooled a few doctors, but knowledgeable researchers could quickly tell that it wasn’t what it appeared to be.
What tipped them off?
- It wasn’t indexed in MEDLINE, the database a researcher would expect to see it indexed in.
- There was no website where researchers could find further information about the journal’s contents or submission procedures.
- The ads and articles were weighted heavily toward Merck products.
- Review and meta-analysis articles had very few references.
Could you spot a bogus journal or article?
We all like to think that we’re hard to fool, but unless you have a strong understanding of the literature in your field, you may actually be pretty gullible. The Capella librarians are often asked questions about how to analyze an article, and we often see articles that aren’t up to the standards that learners want to use.
While it’s unlikely that you’ll run across a journal purposely designed to fool you, there are other items that you should avoid using when doing scholarly research:
- Course papers by other students. These are all over the web, some even listed in Google Scholar.
- Non-peer-reviewed content from peer-reviewed journals. Things like book reviews and commentaries are in the journal, but not peer-reviewed themselves.
- Websites on your topic. They are tempting because they’ll often give a nice overview of a topic, and may even be by an expert. But they are NOT the same as a scholarly article that is posted to the internet.
- Marketing articles. Just as with Merck, many companies use articles or newsletters to advertise their services or products. They mix marketing messages with more general information to pull in readers and subtly influence them.
- Trade journals. Don’t get me wrong, trade journals and other professional literature are great, but they’re not the same as a peer-reviewed scholarly journal. You need to make sure you have the right resource for the task at hand.
Of course, the best way to protect yourself from being fooled is knowledge. Know what scholarly articles look like. Know what is going on in your field. Know who might want to fool you.