Friday, September 1, 2017

Are Drug Companies Supporting Predatory Journals and Conferences?

An article in Bloomberg Businessweek,,August 29, 2017, and reprinted in the September 4, 2017, issue of Bloomberg BNA’s Expert Evidence Report (a resource for lawyers) includes a detailed exposé of the pharmaceutical industry’s participation in flaky medical journals and conferences. It focuses on OMICS International, which threatened a librarian who called it “predatory,” with a billion dollar lawsuit. (An example of the articles OMICS publishes is here.) Excerpts from the BNA report follow, but the article is worth reading in full.
... Omics [claims] 1,000 open-access journal titles that post 50,000 articles annually in fields including medicine, technology, and engineering. It has also built a robust conference division that will hold about 3,000 events worldwide this year. ... Professors and researchers have identified [its CEO and founder, Srinubabu] Gedela as the progenitor of a fraudulent empire that's eroding public trust in scientific inquiry. He denies it all, continuing to extend his global reach from Hyderabad. And he has received help from an unexpected source: the pharmaceutical industry, which regularly publishes in the company's journals and attends its conferences, bringing Omics both credibility and the funds to grow.

... The National Institutes of Health ... banned Omic's journals from indexing in PubMed Central, one of the world's primary databases for medical research, given “serious concerns” about its practices. In 2013, HHS accused Omics of trademark infringement and using the names of employees at the NIH and PubMed Central “in an erroneous and/or misleading manner.” ...
According to financial documents filed with the Indian government, Omics's fiscal 2016 revenue was $11.6 million and profit about $1.2 million. ...

The online journals featured on the Omics home page are rife with grammar glitches and low-resolution headshots. Despite such obvious red flags, Bloomberg Businessweek found that researchers at major pharmaceutical companies, including AstraZeneca, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Gilead Sciences, and Merck, submit to Omics journals and participate in their conferences. Pfizer, the biggest U.S. drugmaker, has published at least 23 articles since 2011, including two since the FTC's lawsuit [accusing OMICS of fraud].

Pfizer wouldn't respond to study-specific questions and declined interview requests. “Our priority is to publish Pfizer-sponsored clinical research in a transparent, accurate, and fair manner,” spokesman Steven Danehy wrote in an email. “We are concerned by the allegations brought forward by the FTC and await the outcome of the investigation.”

AstraZeneca Plc, the second-biggest drugmaker in the U.S., has published at least five articles in Omics journals since 2011 ... When contacted by Bloomberg Businessweek, spokeswoman Abigail Bozarth said AstraZeneca has asked staff to no longer publish in “identified predatory journals,” yet declined to say when that policy change was made. ...

Drugmakers have fueled Omics's rise by also sponsoring and attending conferences, which Gedela says generate 60 percent of Omics's revenue. In a meeting room at the company, photographs taken at conferences, beginning in 2010, show the names of Novartis, Axis Clinicals, and Agilent Technologies as sponsors on screens behind speakers. Drugmaker employees often lead workshops at the events ... Agilent, Axis, and Merck didn't respond to requests for comment. Eli Lilly declined to discuss its involvement with the conferences. Novartis spokesman Eric Althoff declined to comment specifically on Omics, saying his company reviews quality of agenda and “legitimacy of the organization” when conferences seek its sponsorship. GlaxoSmithKline spokeswoman Mary Anne Rhyne says the company allows authors to pick their own journals, though in-house experts suggest reputable publications when asked. Omics conferences “were not on our radar as problematic,” she says, adding: “It's not always easy to spot questionable outlets. Staff training in this area is ongoing.”
Any claim that it is not easy to spot OMICS conferences as “problematic” is preposterous. Five minutes of Googling would do it. Any suggestion that these companies need to await the outcome of an FTC complaint to determine that OMICS (or other publications) are not appropriate venues for publishing their research is silly. The websites of (and the spam from) many of these journals give lip service to peer review and quality editing, but they are filled with obvious warning signs that belie these protestations.

Of course, big pharma is hardly the only source of revenue for OMICS, BIT Group Global, and the flotilla of other flaky publishers and conference organizers. Universities need policies that discourage their faculty from padding CVs with membership on the editorial boards of certain journals; from resorting to publishing in these journals; and from dallying in Dalian.


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