Scientific publications which have undergone peer-review are supposed to be the epitomy of quality. The assumption is that scientists have critically evaluated the study. While reviewers may not agree upon the interpretation of the data, they are endorsing the methods and the statistical analysis.
A proliferation of new journals is changing the scientific environment. It is increasing demand for expert reviewers. New journals create alternatives to traditional journals for researchers seeking publication, especially if the traditional journals have a history of tough reviewers. When editorial boards are populated by the ‘old guard’, new theories can be squashed by common perspectives. Alternatively, new journals relying upon less traditional leadership may be more receptive to emerging theories. It is also possible that the rapid expansion of journals is overloading the availability of expert reviewers. The consequence could be less thorough reviews by over-committed experts. It could also be that submitted manuscripts may be read by someone with less subject expertise. Can this dilution lead lead to the publication of material by peer-reviewed journals which doesn’t meet expert expectations? Maybe.
A discovery of a human skeleton found in Flores Indonesia was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. As reported by Robin McKee at The Guardian, this paper is creating a furor among experts.
Jeffrey Beall, a librarian at the University of Colorado Denver who regularly identifies questionable journals, wonders if the International Journal of Science & Research has been hijacked by a new owner in Scholarly Open Access,
In the end, it doesn’t matter who the publisher of the International Journal of Scientific Research is. It’s a horrible journal, and serious scholars should not submit their work to it.
In a similar fashion, Tom Spears at the Ottawa Citizen reports that a respected Canadian cardiology journal has been sold off-shore and is now publishing junk science in Respected Medical Journal Turns to Dark Side. He quotes a University of Saskatchwan professor,
Roger Pierson, a medical professor at the University of Saskatchewan, calls the journal’s acceptance of the Citizen’s bogus article “astounding.” He adds in an email: “This seems like a good way to make an income without doing anything, and defraud the academic/scientific/medical community all at the same time.
“The sad part is that we have to wade through this crapola (i.e. when looking for recent research) to get the good papers … It’s an enormous time waster and that time is funded, in essence, by the taxpayers of the world.”
The problem isn’t confined to the fact that scientists have to wade through the literature looking for good papers. The problem is that not everyone can recognize the difference. And the persistence of these ‘questionable’ papers contributes to the persistence of misinformation.
In an era of print media stored in libraries, experts served as gatekeepers in the review process and later as filters. Obscure or questionable papers were simply left on library shelves. These citations were not incorporated into the published literature or disseminated widely. All of these actions minimized the impact of research which was poorly executed or flawed.
In an era of online, global access, especially open-access, anybody can ‘google’ peer-reviewed papers. How is a non-expert but interested party to know when experts consider a study ‘solid’ or ‘crapola’?
I suspect everyone, especially non-scientists, may become increasingly dependent upon vigilant forums such as RetractionWatch and their weekend reads.