Junk science under spotlight after controversial firm buys Canadian journals
Published Thursday, September 29, 2016 10:00PM EDT
Last Updated Friday, September 30, 2016 10:02AM EDT
Researchers are coming forward with examples of junk science distributed by an international company that now has ties to respectable Canadian journals.
OMICS Group Inc., an online publishing firm headquartered in India, has been accused of duping academics and publishing bogus research with little to no vetting by experts in the field.
A CTV News/Toronto Star investigation found that OMICS purchased two Canadian companies, Andrew John Publishing and Pulsus Group, which have been publishing a number of respected medical journals in fields like cardiology, pathology and optometry.
Many scientists, doctors and editors said they were outraged and concerned that a company like OMICS can now essentially hijack the good name of Canadian publications. A number of journals that were published by Andrew John or Pulsus have since terminated contracts with OMICS.
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission filed a lawsuit against OMICS last month, alleging that the company is “deceiving academics and researchers about the nature of its publications” and falsely claiming that its journals follow rigorous peer-review protocols.
“Some the individuals we’ve spoken to compared it to the Wild West of academic publishing,” FTC staff attorney Ioana Rusu told CTV News from Washington, D.C.
“And given that we have these statutes that allow us very broad authority to go after deceptive and unfair practices in the market place, we felt that we had a role here and we could step in and establish some sort of line in the sand as to what was appropriate and what was not in the academic journal publishing industry.”
OMICS has denied all allegations against the company listed in the FTC suit and elsewhere.
One of the hundreds of journals that appear online under the OMICS banner is called Epidemiology: Open Access. In March, it published a “review article” titled “Turning Nature Against Man: The Role of Pandemics, Vaccines and Genetics in the UN’s Plan to Halt Population Growth.”
The author is listed as Kevin Galalae, “founder and director of Center of Global Consciousness” from Ayr, Ont. No other credentials for him are listed.
The paper’s rambling abstract claims that the United Nations and governments around the world are adopting a “new strategy of population control” that includes “chemically-induced sterility and morbidity.”
The article’s conclusion? “All epidemics and pandemics of the past 30 years are fabrications of the UN system and its partners in crime.”
Among the paper’s citations are writings from a conspiracy theorist who claimed that AIDS is a man-made virus, created to control the world population.
In an email to CTV News, Galalae said that OMICS charges authors “about $350” to publish their articles, but waived the fee in his case.
One researcher said it's an example of the dangerous power of so-called predatory publishers that will distribute almost anything, without proper checks and balances.
“It’s just junk,” Eduardo Franco, the chair of the oncology department at McGill University in Montreal, told CTV News.
“I doubt very much that an article like that would pass peer review. This is the problem with predatory publishing -- a lot of people with an agenda come to a publisher and they will be successful,” he said.
The FTC lawsuit also alleges that OMICS has falsely advertised academic conferences around the world, telling paying attendees that prominent researchers will be among the speakers, when that is not the case.
“For example, they’ll send out marketing materials listing certain conference organizers and speakers, and when the individuals show up to the conference they realize that the speakers or those organizers never actually agreed to be part of the conference at all,” said Rusu.
“It would be very difficult for us to step in and say, ‘This is a credible scientific conference,’ or, ‘This is a credible journal’ as opposed to a non-reputable one, but we’re not approaching it in that matter,” Rusu added. “We are looking specifically at what is OMICS is telling authors and telling editors and the public and then what it is actually doing.”
When CTV News stopped by an OMICS-run conference on international drug safety in Toronto this week, there were just a handful of attendees present. They travelled to Toronto from various countries and paid anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars to attend. Most of them said they were happy to be at the conference and none of those interviewed were aware of the allegations against OMICS.
But Franco said scientists often receive spam emails from predatory publishers, asking them to attend dubious conferences or make presentations there. Collecting registration fees for “vanity conferences” is the main goal for such companies, he said.
Franco was once asked to be part of a dental conference, even though his expertise is cancer epidemiology.
His photo and biography are still listed on an OMICS-affiliated website promoting the “27th World Dental Convention and Expo,” even though he has asked to have it taken down.
Calls for a government investigation
Some scientists and politicians are now calling on the Canadian government to investigate OMICS and the broader issue of predatory publishers.
NDP health critic Don Davies called OMICS’s acquisition of Canadian publishing companies “a very serious issue” for the integrity of Canada’s medical and scientific publications.
“It’s critical to our reputation on the world stage,” Davies said in Ottawa on Thursday. “I understand the Americans are looking into this company and are investigating and I would hope the Canadian government would do the same thing.”
A spokesperson for Health Minister Jane Philpott said that she would look into the issue, but Health Canada does not control the content of medical journals.
With files from CTV’s medical specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip