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This Is Uncomfortable

FTC sues academic publisher for deceptive practices

Amy Scott Aug 30, 2016
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In light of the immense pressure to on academics to publish their research, many turn to predatory journals that have a price for publication. The FTC has charged the OMICS Group, Inc. with running such journals and obtaining hundreds or thousands of dollars from researchers.
Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

You’ve probably heard the phrase “publish or perish.” The intense pressure on academics to publish their scholarly research has given rise to what critics call a growing industry of predatory journals. Now the Federal Trade Commission is getting involved. The FTC has charged publisher OMICS Group, Inc. with tricking researchers into submitting articles, only to charge them hundreds or thousands of dollars.

“We’ve alleged that they’ve made a number of misrepresentations on how they market their journals,” said Gregory Ashe, a staff attorney with the Federal Trade Commission.

OMICS International publishes hundreds of journals, with names like Biology and Medicine and Journal of Physical Mathematics.

OMICS claims that manuscripts go through a standard peer review process, with experts in the field evaluating the research, Ashe said.

“But we believe that they do not do that in all cases,” Ashe said. A typical peer review process can take weeks or months, he said, but some authors receive emails from OMICS accepting their submission within days.

The FTC also alleges that the company falsely claims that certain respected academics sit on its editorial boards, and that it fails to disclose the fees it charges until after a paper has been accepted. In some cases, Ashe said, authors are not permitted to withdraw the work.

“Once you publish in a journal, even if it’s not a legitimate one, you can’t publish elsewhere,” Ashe said, according to ethical standards in academic publishing. “So they, to some extent, hold some of these authors hostage.”

Jeffrey Beall, an academic librarian at the University of Colorado-Denver, has identified more than a thousand publishers he considers predatory, on his blog Scholarly Open Access.

Published research can have a huge influence, Beall said, in medicine, public policy and the courts.

“It’s crucial that published research is scientific and has been properly vetted through peer review, but the predatory publishers are completely breaking down that whole peer review system and just publishing pretty much anything for money,” Beall said.

OMICS Group rejects all of the FTC’s claims, according to head of acquisitions and business development Suresh Chandra. In an interview, he defended the company’s peer review system and said OMICS complies when academics ask not to be named as part of an editorial board.

Rather than hiding its fees, Chandra also said the company clearly lists them for each journal.

“All the publication charges are very much clear on the website,” he said.  “On the home page you can see ‘article processing charges.’”

Those fees range from $319 for the Journal of Forensic Anthropology to $2,719 for Gynecology & Obstetrics.  

The FTC filed the case in a U.S. District Court in Nevada and seeks an injunction to stop the alleged practices.

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