Predatory journals aren't just a scam: they're also how quacks and corporate shills sciencewash their bullshit

Inside the Fake Science Factory (German/English subtitles) documents Svea Eckert and team's years of investigation into predatory journals and the criminals behind them.

Predatory journals are fake scientific/scholarly journals that pretend to be "open access" journals and solicit fees from the people who submit to them to pay for editing and peer review. But they're just publishing mills that print anything (as pranksters routinely demonstrate) and hire anyone to sit on their "prestigious" editorial boards (ditto).

There are two prevailing stories about who publishes in these journals: naive scholars early in their careers who get suckered in, and desperate or crooked academics looking to burnish their credentials in order to progress in their fields (Eckert's team documents scholars at top universities like Stanford and Yale who have done this).

But Inside the Fake Science Factory reveals a much uglier and more evil side to these journals: they are widely used by criminals and corporate lobbyists to give a veneer of scientific credibility to dangerous nonsense.

The documentary profiles First Immune, a corporation with an expensive, untried alleged quack cancer remedy whose CEO David Noakes is going on trial in the UK for "conspiracy to manufacture a medical product without a license." Noakes and First Immune were heavy users of fake journals, publishing dozens of papers in them, then using these publications to lure people with potentially fatal illnesses into paying them for "therapies."

(The documentarians demonstrate how easy this is by successfully submitting a paper arguing that beeswax is better than chemotherapy for treating cancer to the Journal of Integrative Oncology, published by WASET)

But petty quacks are small potatoes for fake science companies: their big customers are corporations like Astrazeneca, Philip Morris, and the nuclear safety company Framatone, who cite their articles in scam journals as evidence of the scientific rigor of their products and services, fooling both customers and regulators.

The documentary identifies some of the perpetrators behind the scam journals (and their accompanying scam "conferences" which consist of a handful of people standing around hotel ballrooms for a couple hours, but later padding their CVs with the papers they've delivered at learned conferences). The documentary claims the WASET scam empire is run by a Turkish family, Cemal Ardil and his children Bora and Ebru, whose 5,000 "journals" and conferences brought in $4.1 million in 2017, according to the documentarians.

They also finger OMICS (sued by the FTC in 2016).

The team behind the doc presented their findings (and the ways they punked the scammers) at Defcon this year. I'm not sure if their presentation will be online, but I'm definitely watching their doc.

The ease with which people can be duped into taking false medical advice was driven home by Eckert and co, who submitted a research paper to the WASET Journal of Integrative Oncology that claimed that bees wax was a more effective cancer treatment than chemotherapy. The paper was accepted and published in the journal with minimal revisions.

As detailed by Eckert and her colleagues, similar tactics are used to publish studies and host conferences funded by major corporations as well, including the tobacco company Philip Morris, the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, and the nuclear safety company Framatone. When the predatory journals publish these companies’ research, they can claim it is “peer reviewed” and thereby grant it an air of legitimacy.

Taken together, the predatory publishers investigated by Eckert and her colleagues only represent about 5 percent of the total research published every year. While this doesn’t pose an existential threat to science as a truth-seeking process, it does work to erode public trust in legitimate research.

Eckert, Krause, and Sumner argue that that the rise of predatory journals makes it imperative that the general public, researchers, and academics stay on their guard to combat the proliferation of bogus research. Science, like democratic politics, has been responsible for some of the greatest advances in the wellbeing of humanity, but that doesn’t mean it’s immune to being undermined by a small group of persistent bad faith actors.

Hundreds of Researchers From Harvard, Yale and Stanford Were Published in Fake Academic Journals [Daniel Oberhaus/Motherboard]

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